United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action proceeds on Defendant R Marshall Hess's Motion for
Summary Judgment on Plaintiff Christopher Fuqua's 42
U.S.C. § 1983 unlawful seizure, false arrest, and
excessive force claims pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to
the United States Constitution, and state law claims of false
arrest, false imprisonment, and assault and battery. Hess
prevails on Fuqua's Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure and
false arrest claims, yet genuine issues of material fact
preclude summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment excessive
force claim. Furthermore, state-agent immunity bars
Fuqua's false arrest and false imprisonment claims, yet
genuine issues of material fact regarding the assault and
battery claim preclude summary judgment.
for the reasons set out herein the court
GRANTS in part and DENIES
in part Defendant Hess's motion.
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. Rule 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment
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 demonstrates the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v.
Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).
movant sustains its burden, a non-moving party demonstrates a
genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which
a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor.
Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d
1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
The non-movant sustains this burden by demonstrating
"that the record in fact contains supporting evidence,
sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion."
Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116
(11th Cir. 1993). In the alternative, the
non-movant may "come forward with additional evidence
sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial
based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency."
Id. at 1116-17; see also Doe v. Drummond
Co., 782 F.3d 576, 603-04 (11th Cir. 2015),
cert, denied, 136 S.Ct. 1168 (2016).
"court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc, 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)
(citations omitted). "'Credibility determinations,
the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate
inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a
judge.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).
"Thus, although the court should review the record as a
whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving
party that the jury is not required to believe."
Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (citation omitted).
"That is, the court should give credence to the evidence
favoring the nonmovant as well as that 'evidence
supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and
unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes
from disinterested witnesses.'" Id.
"mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate
time for discovery and upon motion, 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, 477 U.S. at 322. "In such a situation,
there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material
fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an
essential element of the nonmoving party's case
necessarily renders all other facts immaterial."
Id. at 322-23. In addition, a movant may prevail on
summary judgment by submitting evidence
"negating [an] opponent's claim," that
is, by producing materials disproving an essential element of
a non-movant's claim or defense. Id. at 323
(emphasis in original).
exists no issue for trial unless the nonmoving party submits
evidence sufficient to merit a jury verdict in its favor, if
the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly
probative, the court may grant summary judgment.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. That is, the movant
merits summary judgment if the governing law on the claims or
defenses commands one reasonable conclusion, but the court
should deny summary judgment if reasonable jurors could
"differ as to the import of the evidence."
Id. at 250.
afternoon of September 13, 2014, Plaintiff Christopher Fuqua
and his pregnant girlfriend, Luphelia McDade, hosted a
football-watching party at their residence in Sheffield,
Alabama. (Doc. 43-1, FuquaDep. ("Fuqua Dep."), at
42; Doc. 45-2, McDade Dep. ("McDade Dep."), at
32-33). Fuqua's sister, Tiffany Fuqua,
attended the party with three children: two teenaged
daughters, approximately 15 and 16 years old at the time, and
a five-year-old offspring. (Doc. 45-3, T. FuquaDep. ("T.
Fuqua Dep."), at 10-13). At some point, McDade left and
returned home with groceries, and Fuqua and the guests
assisted in taking the groceries inside the home. (McDade
Dep. at 34-35, 36, 38, 40, 172; Fuqua Dep. at 55, 61; T.
FuquaDep. at 17-18, 20-21).
with the foregoing events, Fuqua's neighbor approximately
404 feet away, Dustin Tyler Roberts, observed and heard from
his front porch what he interpreted as an altercation at
Fuqua's home. (Doc. 43-5, Roberts Decl.). He described a
vehicle with approximately three African-American women
arrive at the home, and then the women proceeded inside.
(Id., ¶ 3). Subsequently, he perceived the
women exit the home and apparently engage in an argument with
Fuqua and McDade. Roberts heard shouting, and the close
proximity of the people to each other contributed to his
belief a fight occurred. (Id., ¶ 4). Roberts
called 911 and reported a domestic dispute involving a
pregnant woman at a house with a black Chevrolet truck and a
Chrysler Pacifica parked outside. (Id., ¶ 5).
Roberts's description matched Fuqua's home. (Doc.
43-4, Hess Decl. (Hess Deck"), ¶ 3; Doc. 43-3,
Cantrell Dep. ("Cantrell Dep."), at 14-15).
or shortly after Roberts's 911 call, Fuqua went to his
truck to retrieve some cigarettes. (Fuqua Dep. at 55, 61-62,
91, 101). City of Sheffield Officers R. Marshall Hess and
Regina Cantrell received the 911 dispatch call and proceeded
to Fuqua's residence. (Doc. 43-2, Hess Dep. ("Hess
Dep.), at 12, 14; Hess Deck, ¶ 2; Cantrell Dep. at 7-8).
They encountered Fuqua next to his truck with a door open.
(Hess Dep. at 22; Hess Decl., ¶3; Cantrell Dep. at
10-11; Fuqua Dep. at 100-01, 114).
officers informed Fuqua about the 911 call regarding the
supposed altercation. (Hess Dep. at 25; Cantrell Dep. at 15;
Fuqua Dep. at 91-92, 170). Fuqua denied any knowledge of a
confrontation. (Hess Dep. at 25, 78, 127; Cantrell Dep.
at 21; Fuqua Dep. at 92, 120, 199, 207). Hess then asked
Fuqua for his name and identification. (Cantrell Dep. at 22).
Fuqua gave his name and informed the officers his
identification was in his home. (Fuqua Dep. at 90, 92, 93,
99, 193; Cantrell Dep. at 27, 101). As he turned and walked
towards his home, Fuqua again denied any knowledge about an
altercation (Cantrell Dep. at 21; Fuqua Dep. at 168).
Fuqua admits that during these events, he was angry, he
raised his voice, and he used profanity, yet he denies
cursing specifically at Hess or that he was aggressive or
threatening. (FuquaDep. at 94, 95, 106, 120-21, 155, 156,
point, at either Fuqua's request or the children's
behest, McDade and Tiffany came onto the home's porch to
observe the encounter. (Fuqua Dep. at 6, 91, 94, 103, 104,
107, 180-81; McDade Dep. at 49, 60; T. FuquaDep. at 21-22).
Tiffany observed Fuqua walking toward the home with Hess
close behind or at his side. (T. Fuqua Dep. at 23, 25, 27,
58). She recounted Fuqua stating repeatedly he had not done
anything. (T. FuquaDep. at 23-24, 25). Tiffany does not
recall Hess responding. (T. Fuqua Dep. at 25). McDade
described a confused look on Fuqua's face rather than
anger. (McDade Dep. at 64-65, 82, 155-56). McDade recalls
Fuqua possibly expressing his belief he was going to jail,
although Hess had not informed him he was under arrest.
(McDade Dep. at 76; Hess Dep. at 61, 100). Fuqua testified he
believed he was going to jail and told McDade so, though,
again, Hess had made no specific statement to that effect.
(Fuqua Dep. at 94, 104, 105, 106, 116, 117, 119, 170).
point, Hess grasped Fuqua on the shoulder and instructed him
to stop walking. (Hess Dep. at 40; Fuqua Dep. at 94, 95-96,
100, 103). Fuqua stopped when Hess placed his hand on his
shoulder, and he then turned and talked to Hess, without
aggression or clenched fists. (Fuqua Dep. at 100, 114, 115,
116, 121-22, 123, 179). Fuqua instructed Tiffany to record
the encounter, prompting Tiffany to return inside the home
and retrieve her mobile telephone to record the events.
(Fuqua Dep. at 100, 107, 117, 125; T. Fuqua Dep. at 26;
McDade Dep. at 83, 167). Upon the door closing behind her,
Hess deployed his taser against Fuqua, without warning and
without first asking Fuqua to place his hands behind his
back. (Fuqua Dep. at 100, 118, 119-20, 125, 171; McDade Dep.
at 77). Neither Tiffany nor McDade recall Hess saying
anything, such as a directive, warning, etc., before he tased
Fuqua the first time. (T. FuquaDep. at 25; McDade Dep. at
93-94). The taser struck Fuqua on the side of his chest, and
he dropped to his knees. (Fuqua Dep. at 125, 127, 135; McDade
Dep. at 77, 82, 84, 121, 160, 166; Doc. 43-9 at 20, 22).
returned and captured two recordings of the incident, both of
which chronicled events after the afore-mentioned
tasing. The first recording establishes
Fuqua's repeated use of profanity in a raised
voice. The audio recording also establishes
Hess and Cantrell commanded Fuqua to roll over several times.
Tiffany also recalled hearing the officers instruct Fuqua to
roll over. (T. Fuqua Dep. at 50). Fuqua objected to rolling
over onto the taser barbs, which remained lodged in his
chest. (Fuqua Dep. at 125, 135, 172, 173). Hess
then tased Fuqua a second time. Fuqua ended on his
stomach, with his hands behind his back for
handcuffing.(FuquaDep. at 126, 135; Hess Dep. at 70,
94, 98, 117).
then pulled Fuqua to his feet and escorted him to a patrol
car. Fuqua testified the tasings rendered his gait wobbly.
(Fuqua Dep. at 126). Hess pulled out a stun gun to tase Fuqua
a third time due to perceived noncompliance in walking, but
Fuqua told him there was no need to use it because he would
comply with Hess's instructions. (Fuqua Dep. at 127,
128-29). Tiffany and McDade testified Hess deployed the taser
a third time in an effort to compel Fuqua to walk correctly
as they proceeded to the patrol car. (T. FuquaDep. at 52-53,
54, 65, 69;McDade Dep. at 127, 128, 129-30, 168-69, 176, 177,
180, 182). However, the taser did not deliver a
charge.(T. Fuqua Dep. at 52-53, 54, 65, 70, 71;
McDade Dep. at 127, 182). Fuqua testified Hess tased him only
twice during the entire incident. (Fuqua Dep. at 23, 134).
subsequent judicial proceedings, the Sheffield municipal
court convicted Fuqua of disorderly conduct and resisting
arrest on January 7, 2015. (Doc. 43-6 at 8; Doc. 43-7 at 8).
Fuqua appealed to the Colbert County Circuit Court, which
dismissed the charges on the City of Sheffield's motion
on June 8, 2015. (Doc. 43-6 at 26; Doc. 43-7 at 18).
testified that he encountered Hess approximately two months
before the incident in question, at a convenience store. Hess
approached Fuqua about leaving a child in a car outside the
store and gave him a warning. Fuqua claimed Hess told him to
stay out of Sheffield. (Fuqua Dep. at 71-74). Hess recalled
talking to Fuqua at a convenience store and giving him a
verbal warning about illegally parking in an alleyway. (Hess
Dep. at 33-34, 36).
stated previously, Fuqua claims Hess violated his Fourth
Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizures, false
arrests, and excessive force. Hess argues he deserves
qualified immunity from Fuqua's claims. As the following
analyses portray, Hess gamers qualified immunity on the
unlawful seizure and false arrest claims, yet genuine,
disputable issues of material fact preclude summary judgment
on Fuqua's excessive force claim.
immunity protects government officials performing
discretionary functions in their individual capacity from
civil suit and liability "insofar as their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known."
Hill v. Cundiff, 797 F.3d 948, 978 (11th
Cir. 2015) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)). "When a court concludes the defendant
was engaged in a discretionary function, '"the
burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the defendant is
not entitled to qualified immunity."' Hill,
797 F.3d at 978 (citation omitted). There exists no dispute
Hess performed discretionary functions in these
circumstances, so Fuqua bears the burden of persuasion on the
balance of the qualified immunity inquiry: Hess violated a
constitutional right, and the right was clearly established
at the time of the alleged violation. Id. (citation
omitted). Courts retain discretion to adjudicate one prong
without addressing the other. Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
court will first determine whether Hess violated any of
Fuqua's constitutional rights. Examining whether Hess
violated a constitutional right rests upon the standards
applicable to the substantive doctrine at issue. In assessing
qualified immunity, a court may not resolve genuine disputes
of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment.
the foregoing concepts demonstrates Fuqua may proceed under
§ 1983 only as to his excessive force claim.
Hess Possessed Reasonable Suspicion to Initially Stop
Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim rests upon Hess's
initial stop and detention in Fuqua's front yard. The
Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable
searches and seizures. A Fourth Amendment seizure occurs
"when there is a governmental termination of freedom of
movement through means intentionally applied."
County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 844
(1998) (citations and emphasis omitted). The Supreme Court
delineates at least three categories of police-citizen
encounters meriting different levels of Fourth Amendment
scrutiny: "(1) brief, consensual and non-coercive
interactions that do not require Fourth Amendment scrutiny .
. .; (2) legitimate and restrained investigative stops short
of arrests to which limited Fourth Amendment scrutiny is
applied . . .; and (3) technical arrests, full-blown searches
or custodial detentions that lead to a stricter form of
Fourth Amendment scrutiny" United States v.
Perkins, 348 F.3d 965, 969 (11th Cir. 2003)
exists no dispute Hess seized Fuqua during the encounter in
the yard, as Hess stopped Fuqua to question him about the
reported domestic disturbance, and he grasped Fuqua's
shoulder to prevent him from proceeding into his home. The
inquiry ensues whether these initial seizures, which manifest
as investigative stops short of arrest, were unreasonable.
inquiry proceeds under the reasonable suspicion standard. The
standard established in Terry v. Ohio permits
officers to detain citizens briefly to investigate "a
reasonable suspicion that such persons are involved in
criminal activity." United States v. Pruitt,
174 F.3d 1215, 1219 (11th Cir. 1999); see also
United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 229 (1985)
("if police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in
specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter
was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed
felony, then a Terry stop may be made to investigate
that suspicion."). Reasonable suspicion exists as a
"commonsense, nontechnical conception" for
examining "the factual and practical considerations of
everyday life on which reasonable and prudent" persons,
"not legal technicians, act." Ornelas v. United
States, 517 U.S. 690, 695 (1996) (citations omitted). As
a "fluid concept" that gathers "substantive
content from the particular context in which the
standard" is assessed, "one determination [under
the reasonable suspicion standard] will seldom be a useful
precedent for another." Id. at 696, 698
courts have divined some precepts for the Terry
standard. "Although the reasonable suspicion must be
more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or
hunch, the likelihood of criminal activity need not rise to
the level required for probable cause, and it falls
considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the
evidence standard." United States v.
Bautista-Silva, 567 F.3d 1266, 1272 (11th
Cir. 2009) (citing, inter alia, United States v.
Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274, (2002)) (other citations and
internal alterations omitted). "The officer's
reasonable suspicion must be based on 'specific
articulable facts, together with rational inferences from
those facts.'" Id. (citation omitted).
must review the "totality of the circumstances" to
determine whether an officer possessed "a particularized
and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing."
Id. (quoting Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273).
"This process allows officers to draw on their own
experience and specialized training to make inferences from
and deductions about the cumulative information available to
them that might well elude an untrained person."
Id. (quoting Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273);
see also United States v. Reed, 402 Fed.Appx. 413,
415 (11th Cir. 2010) ("Reasonable suspicion
analysis is not concerned with 'hard certainties, but
with probabilities . . . .' '[T]he determination of
reasonable suspicion must be based on commonsense judgments
and inferences about human behavior.") (quoting
United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981);
Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 125 (2000)).
Moreover, "[reasonable suspicion is determined from the
. . . collective knowledge of all the officers involved in
the stop." United States v. White, 593 F.3d
1199, 1203 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
case, the 911 call provided information indicating a possible
domestic dispute and sufficiently described Fuqua's
residence and the vehicles parked outside. Therefore, on
these undisputed facts no reasonable juror could deny the
officers possessed adequate, reasonable suspicion to initiate
contact with Fuqua to conduct an investigation. See
Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393, 403-04 (2014)
(911 call claiming eyewitness knowledge of alleged illegal
activity gave police reasonable suspicion to perform
investigative stop); Terry, 392 U.S. at 22 ("a
police officer may in appropriate circumstances and in an
appropriate manner approach a person for purposes of
investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is
no probable cause to make an arrest"); United States
v. Sanders, 394 Fed.Appx. 547, 549 (11th Cir.
2010) (officers' corroboration of anonymous 911 call
created reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain suspect
for an investigatory stop). Therefore, Hess deserves
qualified immunity and summary judgment on the unlawful
Hess Possessed Probable Cause to Question and Arrest
Fuqua's second Fourth Amendment claim avers Hess
perpetrated a false arrest under the circumstances of this
case. An arrest without probable cause constitutes an
unreasonable seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment.
Brown v. City of Huntsville, 608 F.3d 724, 734
(11th Cir. 2010). Conversely, an arrest buttressed
by probable cause constitutes an absolute bar to a Fourth
Amendment claim for false arrest. See Gurrera v. Palm
Beach Cnty. Sheriffs Office, 657 Fed.Appx. 886, 889
(11th Cir. 2016) (citing Marx v.
Gumbinner, 905 F.2d 1503, 1505 (11th Cir.
1990)); Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1326-27
(11th Cir. 2009). Therefore, to preclude qualified
immunity on a false arrest claim, a plaintiff must "show
alack of probable cause" for the arrest.
Gurrera, 657 Fed.Appx. at 889 (citation omitted).
enforcement officers may effect warrantless arrests
"where there is probable cause to believe that a
criminal offense has been or is being committed."
Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152 (2004)
(citations omitted). "Probable cause exists when
'the facts and circumstances within the officers'
knowledge, of which he or she has reasonably trustworthy
information, would cause a prudent person to believe, under
the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed ...
an offense.'" Miller v. Harget, 458 F.3d
1251, 1259 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Rankin v.
Evans, 133 F.3d 1425, 1435 (11thCir. 1998)).
For probable cause to exist, "an arrest [must] be
objectively reasonable under the totality of the
circumstances," Bailey v. Board of Cnty. Comm'rs
of Alachua Cnty., Fla, 956 F.2d 1112, 1119
(11th Cir. 1992), and an officer's subjective
intentions play no role in determining the existence of
probable cause. See Rankin, 133 F.3d at 1433-34.
"substance of all the definitions of probable cause is a
reasonable ground for belief of guilt. . . particularized
with respect to the person to be searched or seized."
Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003)
(citations omitted); see also United States v. $242,
484.00, 389 F.3d 1149, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004)
("Probable cause in this context is a 'reasonable
ground for belief of guilt, supported by less than prima
facie proof but more than mere suspicion-the same standard
used to determine the legality of arrests, searches, and
seizures in criminal law.'") (citations omitted).
"All we have required is the kind of 'fair
probability' on which 'reasonable and prudent people,
not legal technicians, act.'" Florida v.
Harris, 568 U.S. 237, 243 (2013) (citations and internal
alterations omitted). Although "not a high bar,"
probable cause "requires ... a probability or
substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual
showing of such activity." District of Columbia v.
Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018).
in qualified immunity determinations, assessing probable
cause commands a relaxed assessment. To obtain qualified
immunity on a Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim, an
officer need only sustain "arguable" probable
cause, not actual probable cause. Brown, 608 F.3d at
735. Arguable probable cause exists where "reasonable
officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same
knowledge as [a defendant] could have believed that probable
cause existed to arrest [a § 1983 complainant]."
Kingsland v. City of Miami,382 F.3d 1220, 1232
(11th Cir. 2004) (quotation marks omitted).
"Indeed, it is inevitable that law enforcement officials
will in some cases reasonably but mistakenly conclude that
probable cause is present, ...