United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division
YVONNE MOTE as the personal representative of the estate of Shane Watkins Plaintiff,
STEVEN MOODY and GENE MITCHELL Defendants.
C. BURKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Yvonne Mote, as the personal representative of the estate of
Shane Watkins, brings this action under Title II of the
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and §
504 of the Rehabilitation Act, against Sheriff Gene Mitchell
in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Lawrence County,
Alabama. Mote also brings an excessive-force claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, against Deputy Sheriff Steven Moody in
his individual capacity. Before the Court is Defendant
Mitchell's motion for summary judgment as to all claims
asserted against him. (Doc. 27). The motion has been fully
briefed by all parties. Mitchell argues that he is entitled
to Eleventh Amendment immunity and, alternatively, that the
undisputed facts do not support a claim under either the ADA
or the Rehabilitation Act. For the reasons that follow, the
Court finds that Mitchell's motion for summary judgment
is due to be GRANTED.
Summary Judgment Standard
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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary
judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must
cite "to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). "The court need consider only
the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in
the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view
the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of
the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply,
Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).
"[A]tthe 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 v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S.242, 249 (1986). "'Genuine
disputes [of material fact] are those in which the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
non-movant. For factual issues to be considered genuine, they
must have a real basis in the record.'" Evans v.
Books-A-Million, 762 F.3d 1288, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014)
(quotingMize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ, 93 F.3d
739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996)). "A litigant's
self-serving statements based on personal knowledge or
observation can defeat summary judgment." United
States v. Stein, 881 F.3d 853, 857 (11th Cir. 2018);
see Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244,
1253 (11th Cir. 2013) ("To be sure, Feliciano's
sworn statements are self-serving, but that alone does not
permit us to disregard them at the summary judgment
stage."). Even if the Court doubts the veracity of the
evidence, the Court cannot make credibility determinations of
the evidence. Feliciano, 707 F.3d at 1252 (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S.at 255). However, conclusory
statements in a declaration cannot by themselves create a
genuine issue of material fact. See Stein, 881 F.3d
at 857 (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife
Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).
the standard for granting summary judgment mirrors the
standard for a directed verdict. Anderson, 477
U.S.at 250 (citing Brady v. Southern R. Co., 320
U.S. 476, 479-480 (1943)). The district court may grant
summary judgment when, "under governing law, there can
be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict."
Id. at 250. "[T]here is no issue for trial
unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving
party .... If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted." Id. at 249-50 (internal citations
Statement of Facts
undisputed that Shane Watkins was shot and killed by Deputy
Steven Moody of the Lawrence County Sheriffs Department. The
plaintiff alleges that Watkins had multiple psychiatric
diagnoses, including schizophrenia, and that he was in a
mental health crisis prior to and at the time of the
shooting. On the morning of March 19, 2015, Shane
Watkins's mother, Maudie Watkins, called 911 after Mr.
Watkins, armed with a box cutter, threatened to commit
suicide and kill the family dog. (Watkins's deposition,
at 45). It is also undisputed that Mr. Watkins maintained
possession of the box cutter throughout the duration of the
incident. Deputy Moody was the first officer to respond to
the Watkins' residence and was aware that Mr. Watkins had
threatened to commit suicide and that, at some point, had
been armed with a knife or box cutter. Shortly after he
arrived, Deputy Moody shot Mr. Watkins outside of the house.
parties' allegations significantly diverge as to the
events that occurred after Deputy Moody arrived at the
scene. According to Deputy Moody, he received a
dispatch requesting assistance with a domestic violence issue
in which weapons were potentially involved. (Moody's
deposition, at 118). After arriving at the Watkins'
residence, Moody stated that he walked to the door and
briefly spoke with Mr. Watkins in a calm manner. However,
Moody stated that Mr. Watkins then pulled out a box cutter
and began yelling, '"Fuck you. Shoot me, '"
while moving toward him. (Moody's deposition, p. 65).
According to Moody, Watkins was moving toward him faster than
he was able to back pedal away. (Moody's deposition, at
35). After backing up for approximately 40-50 feet, Moody
stated that he shot Watkins at a range of four to eight feet.
(Moody's deposition, at 39). Moody claimed that he
repeatedly told Watkins to drop the box cutter as he backed
away from him. (Moody's deposition, at 86). Just before
Moody fired his weapon, another deputy, Shannon Holland,
arrived on the scene. According to Moody, Holland also drew
his weapon and yelled at Mr. Watkins to drop the box cutter.
Watkins's version of the events is quite different.
According to Ms. Watkins, Mr. Watkins was standing outside of
the house on a concrete parking pad when Deputy Moody pulled
his vehicle into her driveway. Ms. Watkins stated that Deputy
Moody got out of his vehicle with his gun already drawn,
moved around to the front of his vehicle for no reason, and
immediately fired four shots at Mr. Watkins without ever
telling him to drop the knife. (Watkins's deposition, at
48-49). According to Ms. Watkins, she begged Moody not to
shoot her son. (Watkins's deposition, at 49). Ms. Watkins
testified that Moody and another officer then moved Mr.
Watkins's body from the parking pad so that it would be
closer to Moody's vehicle. (Watkins's deposition, at
70-72). Ms. Watkins believes that the officers moved the body
to make it look like Mr. Watkins had charged at Moody.
Undisputed Facts Pertaining to Sheriff Mitchell
Sheriff Mitchell, it is undisputed that he was the Sheriff of
Lawrence County at all times relevant to this case. It is
also undisputed that he was not present at the scene.
Mitchell's only connection to this case arises from his
role as the Lawrence County Sheriff. The allegations against
Mitchell revolve around the plaintiffs contention that
Mitchell refused and/or failed to train his deputies in the
proper handling of the mentally ill. See (Doc. 1, at
6-7)("Defendant Mitchell also violated the ADA by
failing to train deputies regarding the handling of mentally
ill persons like Watkins."). Therefore, the plaintiff
says, Mitchell failed to accommodate Watkins under the ADA
and the Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiff also claims that
Mitchell, through the actions of Deputy Moody and Deputy
Holland, is liable for failing to accommodate Mr.