United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Todd brings this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against two officers in the Lauderdale County, Alabama
Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Terry Woods and Deputy Michael
Gean (collectively the Defendants). Todd alleges that the
Defendants, acting in their individual capacities, violated
his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth and Fourth
Amendments when they arrested him on several misdemeanor
charges purportedly without probable cause. The Defendants
have now jointly moved for summary judgment on the grounds of
qualified immunity. Doc. 42. This motion is fully briefed,
docs. 43; 50; 54, and ripe for review. After careful
consideration of the record and the parties' arguments,
the court finds that the Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity and that their motion is due to be
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.”
Id. at 255. Indeed, it is explicitly not the role of
the court to “weigh conflicting evidence or to make
credibility determinations.” Mize v. Jefferson City
Bd. Of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see
also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (explaining
“[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge”).
“mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations
are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment
motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326
(11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park,
Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Nor will “a . . . ‘scintilla of evidence in
support of the nonmoving party . . . suffice to overcome a
motion for summary judgment.'” Melton v.
Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th
Cir. 2004)). Instead, if “the record taken as a whole
could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial,
'” and summary judgment is appropriately granted.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted).
January 24, 2015, a family friend, Chris Woods, contacted
Todd, a veteran Alabama state trooper who was off-duty at the
time, regarding a stolen all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Docs. 17
at 2-3; 20 at 2; 50 at 20. At Woods' request, Todd called
the Lauderdale Sheriff's Department to report the vehicle
stolen. Id. Later that day, Todd, accompanied by his
wife and children, visited Woods' home where they were
eventually joined by a third man, Dustin Kelly. Id.
After consuming approximately three beers, Todd went for an
evening drive with Woods and Kelly. Doc. 17 at 4.
after leaving Woods' residence, the three men learned
that Wesley Holloway had just listed an ATV, very similar in
appearance to the one stolen from Woods, for sale on a social
media website. Doc. 50 at 20-21. In response to this news,
Woods, Todd, and Kelly met up with several other people, one
of whom knew Holloway and thought she could persuade him to
return the missing ATV. Id. at 21. Woods, for his
part, planned to offer Holloway money in exchange for the
safe return of the ATV. Id. Accordingly, sometime
after midnight, the group drove to the Holloway residence.
Doc. 50 at 21. Todd later testified that he did not notice
either a posted “No Trespassing” sign or a gate
impeding access to the property. Doc. 44-15 at 24, 25, 34.
the group arrived at Holloway's residence, two
individuals approached the front door and knocked several
times. Doc. 50 at 22. Holloway refused to answer and instead
called the police at around 1:00 a.m. to report that unknown
individuals were “beatin' on [his] door.”
Doc. 44-17 at 3. Holloway also called his father who arrived
at the property before the police. Docs. 50 at 22; 43 at 4;
44-9 at 3. Todd and Woods exited their vehicle at this point
and approached Holloway's father, doc. 50 at 22,
prompting Holloway, who had armed himself with a rifle, to
emerge from the residence. Docs. 17 at 6; 20 at 2; 43 at 4. A
short time thereafter, Defendant Gean, responding to the
9-1-1 call, reached Holloway's home and took control of
the situation. Docs. 50 at 22; 44-16 at 37. Both Holloway and
Gean testified that they recognized Todd as a state trooper.
Docs. 44-3 at 3; 44-9 at 3; 44-16 at 36-37.
Woods, Deputy Gean's supervisor and the other defendant
in this case, arrived at the scene a few minutes later and
assumed command. Docs. 44-3 at 2-3; 44-16 at 37-39. Given
Holloway's status as a fellow law-enforcement officer,
Sergeant Woods contacted then Chief Deputy District Attorney
Will Powell and asked Deputy Gean to describe the situation
to Powell over the phone. Docs. 44-3 at 2-3; 44-16 at
39-40. Powell instructed the officers to charge
Todd, and the other adults with him, with a series of
misdemeanor offenses, including criminal trespassing in the
second degree, disorderly conduct, harassment, and public
intoxication. Docs. 44-3at 3; 44-16 at 39-41. Pursuant to
this instruction, the Defendants arrested Todd and
transported him to the county jail where he posted bond
approximately eight hours later. Docs. 17 at 8-10; 20 at 3.
Ultimately, the Chief Magistrate for Lauderdale County found
that no probable cause existed to issue a warrant for
Todd's arrest, effectively concluding the criminal
proceedings underlying this case. Docs. 50 at 24; 20 at 3;
51-7 at 2-3.
sole issue before this court is whether the Defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Todd's
wrongful arrest claim. The defense of qualified immunity
reflects both “the need to hold public officials
accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the
need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and
liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009).
Accordingly, “government officials performing
discretionary functions are immune not just from liability,
but from suit, unless the conduct which is the basis for
[the] suit violates clearly established federal statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Sanders v. Howze, 177 F.3d 1245, 1249
(11th Cir. 1999). “‘[A]ll but the plainly
incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal
law'” are entitled to the protection of qualified
immunity. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th
Cir. 2002) (quoting Willingham v. Loughnan, 261 F.3d
1178, 1187 (11th Cir. 2001)). Qualified immunity, however,
“does not extend to one who knew or reasonably should
have known that his or her actions would violate the
plaintiff's federal rights.” Gaines v.
Wardynski, 871 F.3d 1203, 1207 (11th Cir. 2017).
threshold matter, a public official must have acted within
the scope of her discretionary authority to invoke qualified
immunity. Jones v. Fransen, 857 F.3d 843, 851 (11th
Cir. 2017). The term discretionary authority includes
“all actions of a governmental official that (1)
‘were undertaken pursuant to the performance of [her]
duties, ' and (2) were ‘within the scope of [her]
authority.'” Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559,
1566 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Rich v. Dollar, 841
F.2d 1558, 1564 (11th Cir. 1988)). When conducting this
inquiry, Eleventh Circuit precedent requires the district
court to put aside “the fact that [the act] may have
been committed for an unconstitutional purpose, in an