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R.R. v. Eaton

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

April 11, 2019

R.R., a Minor, By and through her Mother and Next of Friend Christie Rogers, Plaintiff,
DAVID EATON, Defendants.



         This cause is before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed September 27, 2018, by the sole defendant, David Eaton (“Defendant” or “Eaton”). (Doc. 44). Defendant seeks dismissal of all R.R.'s (“Plaintiff”) claims arising from the search of her grandmother's home, where she was then living, on May 9, 2015, when Eaton and Deputy Dill (“Dill”) entered the home to serve an arrest warrant on R.R.'s sister, Breana Clayton. (Doc.44). The motion has been fully briefed. The parties consented to dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge on September 28, 2016. (Doc. 14). Accordingly, the court enters the following Memorandum Opinion.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper “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). The party asking for summary judgment “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, 47 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no requirement, however, “that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Id. at 323.

         Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324 (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party need not present evidence in a form necessary for admission at trial; however, he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) 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.” Id. at 322.

         After the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for summary judgment, the court “shall” grant the motion if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. “[T]he 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.” Id. at 246. His guide is the same standard necessary to direct a verdict: “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52; see also Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n. 11 (1983).

         However, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The evidence supporting a claim must be “substantial, ” Marcus v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 379 (5th Cir., Unit B, 1981); a mere scintilla of evidence is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact. Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004); Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1249-50 (11th Cir. 2004). If the non-movant's evidence is so thoroughly discredited by the rest of the record evidence that no reasonable jury could accept it, the evidence fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of fact requiring a jury determination. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (“Respondent's version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him. The Court of Appeals should not have relied on such visible fiction; it should have reviewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.”); Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d 1288, 1290 n. 3 (11th Cir. 2009). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted); accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256 (11th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, the court must “view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” so there must be sufficient evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-movant need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference. Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n. 12 (11th Cir. 1988).


         For the purposes of summary judgment the court construes all facts in favor of the nonmovant, in this case the plaintiff. The following facts, so construed, are relevant for the purposes of summary judgment.

         Eaton is a deputy sheriff with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (“JCSO”) in Alabama. On May 9, 2015, Eaton was assigned to the “Birmingham Division, ” which is one of two divisions within the JCSO that is tasked with serving arrest warrants. On that date, the JCSO was conducting a “Saturday roundup, ” an operation in which the department seeks to serve arrest warrants based on a determination that people are more likely to be home on Saturday mornings than throughout the workweek. Eaton was assigned to a felony warrant for Breana Clayton. The address on the warrant was 2116 6th Place West, Birmingham, Alabama. That address is the home of Bettie Clayton, R.R.'s and Breana Clayton's grandmother. R.R. was living with Bettie Clayton on May 9, 2015, but Breana was not.

         The arrest warrant for Breana Clayton had been issued on April 30, 2015, in response to a report taken by the Hueytown Police Department on April 29, 2015, alleging that Breana Clayton had stolen multiple items from a Walmart store. The warrant listed Breana Clayton's address as 2116 6th Place West, though she was not residing with Bettie Clayton at the time. Breana Clayton had not provided that address to the Hueytown police and it is not clear how the address was obtained.[1]

         Eaton was first assigned the warrant a few days prior to the Saturday roundup. On May 6, 2015, he searched for Breana's address in the AlaCop database, an online portal that gives law enforcement access to the information contained in all Alabama driver's licenses. Eaton confirmed that the address listed on Breana Clayton's driver's license, issued in May 2011, was the same 2116 6th Place West listed on the warrant. Eaton did not take any further measures to ascertain whether Breana Clayton actually lived in the home. He agrees that he did not conduct surveillance at the address or talk to neighbors to attempt to confirm that Breana resided there. Eaton admits that he often encounters people who do not live at the address on their driver's licenses and that he often arrests people at addresses other than that stated on the arrest warrant.

         On May 9, 2015, Eaton and another deputy, Dill, went to the residence at 2116 6th Place West to attempt to serve the arrest warrant on Breana. Dill, who normally worked in the county jail, was partnered with Eaton because, during Saturday roundups, the JCSO will use deputies who are normally assigned to the jails to partner with warrant division deputies for safety purposes. Dill had no specialized training or experience in serving arrest warrants. The deputies arrived at the Clayton residence between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.[2] Outside of the home, there was one vehicle. Eaton did not check the vehicle registration or attempt to ascertain whether the vehicle belonged to Breana Clayton.

         At the Clayton residence the front door consisted of an outer security door made of a plexiglass and steel frame, inside of which was a standard wooden door. When Eaton knocked on the front door, Bettie Clayton came to the door and opened the inner wooden door, but left the outer security door closed and locked. Dill had gone to the back of the home to ensure that no one ran out of the house through other doors. Eaton spoke with Bettie Clayton and informed her that he was there to serve an arrest warrant on Breana Clayton. Bettie Clayton informed Eaton that Breana was not in the house, that she did not live there, and that she had not lived there for several months. Eaton neither asked Bettie Clayton about a familial relationship with Breana Clayton nor determined that one existed.[3]

         While this was occurring, plaintiff R.R., a thirteen-year old middle school student, was in her bedroom at the back of the house. Upon seeing a shadow outside of her bedroom window, R.R. briefly opened the blinds to see who was walking around the house. When she did, Dill saw the “movement” in the window and reported it to Eaton. There is no indication that Dill was able to see anything but “movement” in the window. He was not able even to say that a person caused the movement, or to see anyone that looked like Breana. Dill reported to Eaton only that he had seen “movement” in the window. Eaton instructed Bettie Clayton to open the security door, but she refused because, as she told him again, Breana Clayton did not live in the home and was not there. Eaton then used a crowbar and a sledgehammer to break open the security door and force entry into the home. At the time, he possessed only the arrest warrant for Breana; there was no search warrant for the home.

         Eaton went room to room inside of the home searching for Breana Clayton. Inside the home he encountered R.R., who was still in her pajamas in bed. She was the only other person in the house. He asked her for identification because he believed she looked like the driver's license photograph he had of Breana Clayton, who was 21 years old at that time. Because of her young age, she had no identification other than her middle school ID card, which she retrieved from a dresser. After he was satisfied that Breana Clayton was not in the home, he left a business card with Bettie Clayton and left the house.


         There are only two federal causes of action remaining in the lawsuit. Those claims are denial of due process[4] and unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. (Doc. 36). Eaton asserts that these remaining claims are appropriate for summary disposition because he is entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 44-1, p.10). The plaintiff asserts that Eaton does not have qualified immunity because no reasonable police officer would conclude, under these ...

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