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King v. Archer

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 6, 2018

TRINELL KING, Plaintiff,
v.
COREY ARCHER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this § 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).[1] Also before the court is the Officers' “Motion to Strike.” (Doc. 85).

         The court will DENY the Officers' motion to strike. (Doc. 85). The court will GRANT the Officers' motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 63, 67).

         In 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.

         Mr. 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 state-law claims.

         Only 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.

         The 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.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary 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).

         The 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.

         Once 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 Cir. 1999).

         FACTS

         Plaintiff 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.[2]

         The car 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.

         When 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.

         When 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.

         Mr. 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.

         The 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's assistance.

         As 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).

         In his 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, [3] Mr. 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 operation.

         At some 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.

         Lieutenant 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 the car.

         Mr. 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.

         But, 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 ...


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