United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
§ 1983 case, the police used Plaintiff Trinell King as
unwilling bait in an impulsive fishing expedition that,
unsurprisingly, went awry. Mr. King claims that Defendants
Corey Archer, Ricky Pridmore, and Andrew Hill, all officers
with the City of Warrior police department, violated the
Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of substantive due
process by acting with deliberate indifference to his health
and safety. Mr. King also brings state-law claims of
negligence, wantonness, and false imprisonment. The case is
now before the court on the Officers' motions for summary
judgment as to all claims. (Docs. 63, 67). Also before the
court is the Officers' “Motion to Strike.”
court will DENY the Officers' motion to strike. (Doc.
85). The court will GRANT the Officers' motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 63, 67).
short, Mr. King asserts that the Officers threatened to
injure him or prosecute him on false charges unless he agreed
to help them in their half-baked sting operation. Mr. King,
who received several gunshot wounds as a reward for acting as
the Officers' lure in the botched sting, explains that he
only agreed to help the Officers because of these threats.
King argues that, because, by threatening him, the Officers
deprived him of his ability to choose whether he participated
in the dangerous sting, the Officers are liable under the
Fourteenth Amendment for their deliberate indifference to the
safety risks posed to him by the operation. On similar
grounds, Mr. King claims that the Officers acted with
negligence and wantonness and that their acts resulted in his
false imprisonment. The Officers raise qualified immunity as
to the § 1983 claim and state-agent immunity as to the
for the purpose of deciding the Officers' entitlement to
qualified immunity, the court assumes that Mr. King has shown
that the Officers acted to deprive him of his Fourteenth
Amendment right to substantive due process. But to overcome
the qualified immunity defense, Mr. King must also show that
the right violated by the Officers was clearly established,
which, in this case, requires Mr. King to establish that a
reasonable officer would have known the
Officers' acts rendered Mr. King's consent to
participate in the sting operation involuntary. Here,
although the Officers' acts may have left Mr.
King with the belief that he had no choice but to
participate in the sting, the same acts would not have been
plainly or obviously coercive to a reasonable
officer. Hence, the constitutional violation asserted by
Mr. King is not clearly established.
Officers are entitled to qualified immunity as to Mr.
King's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim
and state-agent immunity as to Mr. King's state-law
claims. The court will GRANT the Officers' motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 63, 67). The court explains its
decisions in further detail below.
judgment is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide
cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court
reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two
things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact
exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
moving party “always bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,
and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The moving
party can meet this burden by offering evidence showing no
dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving
party's evidence fails to prove an essential element of
its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Id. at 322-23.
the moving party meets its burden of showing the district
court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the
burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to
demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact
that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats
& Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).
In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must
“view the evidence presented through the prism of the
substantive evidentiary burden, ” to determine whether
the nonmoving party presented sufficient evidence on which a
jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254
(1986); Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d
570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). And the court must view all
evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Graham
v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th
Trinell King enjoyed the morning of September 28, 2015,
cruising Highway 31 near Warrior, Alabama, in his
girlfriend's bright red Chevy Monte Carlo. His passenger,
Donovan Brown, a convicted felon, carried a pistol and
apparently few qualms about using it.
Mr. King drove had no license plate. And at around 9:45 AM on
that early-fall Monday, Defendant Ricky Pridmore, an officer
with the City of Warrior police department, saw Mr. King and
the Monte Carlo, noticed that it lacked a license plate, and
consequently conducted a traffic stop. During the stop,
Officer Pridmore discovered that Mr. King also did not have a
driver's license. And, worse, Mr. King was serving a
criminal sentence, having been released on probation. Mr.
King's choices to drive a car without a license plate,
drive a car without a valid driver's license, and
associate with a convicted felon would have been sufficient
under Alabama law to revoke his probation.
Officer Pridmore returned to his patrol car to attempt to
verify Mr. King's and Mr. Brown's identities, Mr.
Brown told Mr. King that he was carrying a gun, that he had
outstanding warrants for his arrest, and that he wanted to
flee. Almost as soon as he said those words, Mr. Brown bailed
out of the car and fled into the woods alongside the highway.
Mr. Brown fled, Officer Pridmore quickly detained Mr. King
and secured him inside the patrol car. Defendant Corey
Archer, a lieutenant with the City of Warrior police
department, arrived on the scene minutes later. Defendant
Andrew Hill, a detective, also arrived at the scene. The
three officers-assisted by Officer Pridmore's K-9-then
began searching for Mr. Brown in the nearby wooded area.
King remained detained in Officer Pridmore's patrol
vehicle for the duration of the search, which lasted until
around 11:00 AM. During that time, Mr. King freely offered
assistance to the Officers, telling them what he knew about
Mr. Brown-including that Mr. Brown had a gun-and showing the
police where he picked up Mr. Brown. The Officers'
search, however, was unsuccessful.
Officers called a tow truck to remove the Monte Carlo from
the scene; they intended to write Mr. King a ticket and then
grab lunch. Yet, before towing the vehicle, the Officers
devised a plan to catch Mr. Brown. Their plan required Mr.
King relates the events, the Officers surrounded Mr. King-who
remained handcuffed in the back of the patrol car-and told
him that, if he refused to play the role of bait, they would
tow his girlfriend's car and bring “serious”
charges against him. And, the Officers summarily informed Mr.
King that if he “fuck[ed] over” the police, they
would “fuck [him] over” as well. (Doc. 81 at 17).
deposition, Mr. King testified that he perceived this latter
statement as a threat to physically injure him because
“in the streets” such statement could mean
“anything, ” including physical violence. (Doc.
65-3 at 53). In an affidavit submitted after his deposition,
King averred that his belief that the Officers would
physically injure him as reprisal for refusing to cooperate
was the main factor motivating him to help in the sting
point during the exchange, Mr. Brown called Mr. King's
cell phone. At the Officers' direction, Mr. King answered
the call, said that he had been released, and asked Mr. Brown
about his current location. Mr. Brown told Mr. King that he
was in the woods nearby. At the Officers' direction, Mr.
King offered to pick up Mr. Brown.
Archer and Detective Hill planned to use Mr. King to capture
Mr. Brown. They told Mr. King to pick up Mr. Brown in the
Monte Carlo and drive onto the nearby interstate highway. And
they told Mr. King that they and other officers-five or six
in total-would be following close behind. Lieutenant Archer
and Detective Hill planned to stop the vehicle on the
interstate, ideally in an area with a wall to prevent a
second escape by Mr. Brown. The Officers told Mr. King to
tell Mr. Brown to throw away his gun before allowing him into
King agreed to participate, but he maintains that he only did
so because the Officers threatened to hurt him or prosecute
him on false charges if he refused. The Officers removed Mr.
King's handcuffs and lowered the Monte Carlo from the tow
truck and returned its keys to him. Mr. King drove away as
directed and picked up Mr. Brown.
the ruse did not fool Mr. Brown. Mr. King tried to confirm
that Mr. Brown did not have his gun, but Mr. Brown, perhaps
contemplating revenge, lied and told him that he had left it
in the woods. Mr. King then drove toward the interstate
highway as directed. But Mr. King or Mr. Brown saw the
officers behind them before they drove onto the highway;
worse, the officers attempted to conduct the ...