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Davis v. Edwards

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

February 21, 2018

MARY LEE DAVIS, as Administrator of the Estate of Fletcher Ray Stewart, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN EDWARDS, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID A. BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Mary Lee Davis, as administrator of the Estate of Fletcher Ray Stewart, alleges constitutional violations and a state law wrongful death claim against Defendants, Bryan Edwards, Rico Hardnett, Christopher Fenn, and the City of Dadeville in connection with an alleged unlawful Terry[1]stop and seizure which resulted in the fatal shooting of Fletcher Ray Stewart.[2]

         Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 89, 97, 107, 129). The parties have been afforded an opportunity to fully brief the matters, and the court heard argument on February 6, 2017. For the reasons stated herein, it is the RECOMMENDATION of the undersigned that the Plaintiff's Motions for Partial Summary Judgment (Docs. 89, 97) be denied; Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 129) be granted as to counts I, II, III, and VII, and denied as moot as to counts V and VI; and Defendant Bryan Edwards' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 107) be granted in part as to Plaintiff's claim of an unlawful arrest in count II, and i n all ot her r espects, it is recommended Bryan Edwards' motion for summary judgment be denied.

         I. JURISDICTION

         Subject matter jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) as to Plaintiff's federal causes of action, and the court has supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds sufficient information of record to support both. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391. On January 5, 2017, this matter was referred to the undersigned by the Honorable Clay D. Land for disposition or recommendation on all pretrial matters. (Doc. 35); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Rule 72, Fed. R. Civ. P.; United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of State of Georgia, 896 F.2d 507 (11th Cir. 1990).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997).

         Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.” Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1263 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         III. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Parties and Claims

         Plaintiff Mary Lee Davis (“Davis”) is the niece and appointed administrator of the Estate of Fletcher Ray Stewart, deceased (“Stewart”). (Doc. 27, ¶ 4). She initiated this action in October 2016 against numerous Defendants alleging constitutional violations and state law claims. (Doc. 1). Davis sought and was granted leave to amend her complaint. (Docs. 25, 26). The First Amended Complaint is the operative complaint. (Doc. 27). Counts IV, V, VI, VIII, and part of VII of the Amended Complaint have been dismissed. (Doc. 142). The Defendants that remain are Bryan Edwards (“Edwards”), Rico Hardnett (“Hardnett”), Christopher Fenn (“Fenn”), and the City of Dadeville. Counts I, II, and III of the First Amended Complaint assert claims for constitutional violations against Edwards, Hardnett, and Fenn for liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 27). Count I alleges these Defendants conducted an unlawful Terry stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id., ¶¶ 34-37. Count II alleges these Defendants are liable for an unlawful seizure or arrest. Id., ¶¶ 38-41. Count III claims Edwards, Hardnett, and Fenn used unlawful and excessive force. Id., ¶¶ 42-45.

         The claims remaining in Count VII seek to hold Hardnett, Fenn, and the City of Dadeville liable for non-negligent state law claims of wrongful death under Ala. Code §6-5-410 (1975). Id., ¶¶ 72-74. These claims were dismissed without prejudice, but Plaintiff was given the opportunity to amend. (Doc. 142 at 2). If she chose to amend her wrongful death claims against these Defendants, Davis was to file her amended pleading no later than January 15, 2018. See (Doc. 150). No amended pleading was filed.

         Factual Background

         On February 11, 2015, Stewart's nephew, Bennie Welch, saw Stewart walking alone on Booger Hollow Road at approximately 11:30 a.m. (Doc. 109-5, ¶ 3). According to Welch, Stewart was angry and said he was going home to get his gun. Id. About fifteen minutes later, he saw Stewart on Booger Hollow Road with “what appeared to be a 9 mm or 40 caliber pistol.” Id., ¶ 4. Because he was concerned that Stewart might hurt someone, Welch called 911 to report Stewart's actions. Id., ¶ 5. When Welch was driving home, he saw Stewart again waving the pistol. Id. When Welch arrived home, he heard six gunshots. Id. Stanley Cameron was with Welch at the time and provided an affidavit filed by Edwards which is consistent with Welch's statement. (Doc. 109-6).

         Pertinent excerpts of the 911 call by Welch consisted of the following exchange:

911 Operator: Tallapoosa 911. Where's your emergency?
Welch: It's on Booger Hollow Road.
911 Operator: Where at on Booger Hollow Road, sir?
Welch: Yes, ma'am. My Uncle Fletcher. He just -you know Fletcher Ray-- don't you- Stewart?
911 Operator: Yes, sir.
Welch: Okay. Well, he just - he just walked past us, and he's rasing [sic] all kind of Cain, and he's got a pistol in his pocket.
Male Speaker: He flashed it. I seen it.
Welch: Yeah. He showed it -you know, pulled it out when he walked by. You hear me?
911 Operator: Yes, sir. I'm listening. What's the address that you're at?
Welch: What's this address? 78 Hollow Springs Road.
911 Operator: Okay. I'm not showing a 78 Hollow Springs Road. Oh, here it is. All right. And what's your name, please?
Welch: My name is Benny Welch.
911 Operator: All right. So we'll send someone out there. Okay?
Welch: Okay. I don't want to see him get hurt or nothing. You know what I'm saying?
911 Operator: Yeah, I understand. When was the last time you saw him?
Welch: A couple of days ago. He was fine then.
911 Operator: When was the last time you saw him holding the gun?
Welch: I just now seen him. He's walking down ...

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