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Mote v. Moody

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

February 28, 2019

YVONNE MOTE as the personal representative of the estate of Shane Watkins Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN MOODY and GENE MITCHELL Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LILES C. BURKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Yvonne Mote, as the personal representative of the estate of Shane Watkins[1], 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.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         "The 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).

         When 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)).

         In sum, 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 omitted).

         II. Statement of Facts

         A. Background

         It is 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[2], 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.

         The parties' allegations significantly diverge as to the events that occurred after Deputy Moody arrived at the scene.[3] 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.

         Ms. 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.

         B. Undisputed Facts Pertaining to Sheriff Mitchell

         As to 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. Watkins's disability.

         III. ...


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