United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MARY LEE DAVIS, as administrator of the Estate of Fletcher Ray Stewart, deceased, Plaintiff,
BRYAN EDWARDS; JIMMY ABBETT; DAVID MCMICHAEL; WILLIAM HOUGH, TALLAPOOSA COUNTY, ALABAMA; DAVID BARBOUR; RICO HARDNETT; CHRISTOPHER FENN; and the CITY OF DADEVILLE, Defendants.
D. LAND U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
Bryan Edwards of the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office
and Officers Rico Hardnett and Christopher Fenn of the City
of Dadeville Police Department responded to a 911 call of a
man with a gun. Upon arrival and after a brief foot chase,
Edwards shot and killed the suspect, a intellectually
disabled man named Fletcher Ray Stewart. Plaintiff Mary Lee
Davis, as administrator of Stewart's estate, brought this
action against Edwards, Hardnett, and Fenn under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. The case was referred to the Magistrate Judge
for pretrial proceedings. All parties moved for summary
judgment. The Magistrate recommended that Plaintiff's and
Edwards' motions be denied, and that Hardnett and
Fenn's motion be granted. See R & R, ECF No.
165. Plaintiff and Edwards objected to the denial of their
motions for summary judgment. The Court reviews those
objections de novo. For the reasons explained in the
remainder of this Order, the Court (1) adopts the
Magistrate's recommendation that Plaintiff's motions
for summary judgment be denied; (2) adopts the
Magistrate's recommendation that Hardnett and Fenn's
motion for summary judgment be granted; and (3) rejects the
Magistrate's recommendation that Edwards' motion for
summary judgment be denied. Accordingly, summary judgment is
granted in favor of Edwards, Hardnett, and Fenn as to all of
IMMUNITY STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
evaluating a law enforcement officer's motion for summary
judgment based upon the defense of qualified immunity, the
Court must accept the plaintiff's version of the facts
and determine whether under those facts the officer's
conduct violated plaintiff's clearly established
constitutional rights. See Perez v. Suszczynski, 809
F.3d 1213, 1217 (11th Cir. 2016) (explaining that courts
“must review the evidence in this manner ‘because
the issues . . . concern not which facts the parties might be
able to prove, but, rather, whether or not certain given
facts showed a violation of clearly established
law'” (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d
1188, 1190 (11th Cir. 2002))); see also Lee, 284
F.3d at 1194 (emphasizing that the plaintiff must show the
violation of a clearly established constitutional right
“under the plaintiff's version of the
VERSION OF THE FACTS
Plaintiff's version of the facts is as follows:
February 11, 2015, Bennie Welch called 911 to report that his
uncle, Fletcher Ray Stewart, had a gun and was
“raisin' Cain” on Booger Hollow Road outside
of Dadeville, Alabama. The 911 dispatcher dispatched Edwards
to the scene and told him that Stewart was
“waving” a gun in the road. Hardnett and Fenn
provided back-up. Edwards had encountered Stewart on prior
occasions. Edwards arrived on the scene and saw Stewart
walking alone in the road. No. bystanders were nearby, and
Stewart was not brandishing a gun, threatening anyone, or
otherwise acting suspiciously. But, when Stewart saw
Edwards' police cruiser, he ran into the woods. Edwards,
Hardnett, and Fenn pursued him with their weapons drawn.
Edwards ordered Stewart to stop. Stewart eventually complied
and held his hands out to his side. Edwards yelled at Stewart
to tell him where the gun was. Stewart reached behind his
back. Edwards yelled again for Stewart to show him his hands.
According to Edwards and Hardnett, Stewart then took his
right hand from behind his back and raised a gun. Edwards
then fired six shots. Hardnett saw a pistol fly from
Stewart's hands after the shooting started, but neither
he nor Fenn saw a gun in Stewart's hands before the
shooting. Two shots hit Stewart, and Stewart died
from his injuries. After the shooting, the officers
discovered that Stewart had actually been holding a B.B. gun
that resembled a real pistol.
alleges that Defendants violated Stewart's Fourth
Amendment rights by (1) conducting an unlawful investigatory
stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); (2)
unlawfully seizing Stewart in violation of the Fourth
Amendment “at the time that [Stewart] submitted to
[Edwards'] orders or when defendant Edwards shot and
killed Mr. Stewart”; and (3) using excessive force
against Stewart in the shooting. See First Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 34-45, ECF No. 27.
disputes that Defendants were exercising discretionary
authority at the time of the alleged constitutional
violations. Therefore, to overcome qualified immunity,
Plaintiff's version of the facts must demonstrate a
violation of Stewart's Fourth Amendment rights
and that the rights were clearly established at the
time of the encounter. See Perez, 809 F.3d at 1218.
The Court analyzes Plaintiff's pre-shooting seizure
claims and Plaintiff's excessive force claims separately.
Plaintiff's Pre-Shooting Seizure Claims
enforcement officers may seize a suspect for a brief,
investigatory Terry stop where (1) the officers have
a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was involved in, or
is about to be involved in, criminal activity, and (2) the
stop ‘was reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances which justified the interference in the first
place.'” United States v. Jordan,
635 F.3d 1181, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Terry,
392 U.S. at 19-20). The reasonable suspicion standard
“is a less demanding standard than probable cause and
requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of
the evidence.” Id. (quoting Illinois v.
Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000)).
“the Fourth Amendment requires at least a minimal level
of objective justification for making [a] stop.”
Id. (quoting Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 123).
Determining whether reasonable suspicion existed is a
“totality of the circumstances” inquiry, and
“defensive behavior toward police is a relevant factor
in this inquiry.” Id. at 1186-87. When an
officer asserts the defense of qualified immunity to a claim
of an unconstitutional investigatory stop, “the issue
is not whether reasonable suspicion existed in fact, but
whether the officer had arguable reasonable
suspicion to support an investigatory stop.” Clark
v. City of Atlanta, 544 F. App'x 848, 853 (11th Cir.
2013) (per curiam) (emphasis added) (quoting Jackson v.
Sauls, 206 F.3d 1156, 1165-66 (11th Cir. 2000)).
the relevant inquiry is whether Edwards' seizure of
Stewart prior to the shooting was supported by
“arguable reasonable suspicion.” The Court finds
that it was. Edwards was informed that Stewart, who he knew
to be mentally unstable, was waving a gun on a public
roadway. When Stewart saw Edwards, Stewart ran into the woods
onto someone else's property. Under the totality of the
circumstances, Edwards had an arguably reasonable basis to
suspect that criminal activity may be afoot, which authorized
him to stop and question Stewart. Therefore, Edwards is
entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's pre-
shooting seizure claims. Similarly, and ...