Turner v. The City of Dothan et al
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 4/30/15. (djy, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, SOUTHERN DIVISION
THE CITY OF DOTHAN, a
Municipality, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff John Turner brought this action against the
defendants (the City of Dothan and a number of its police
violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights
under the United States Constitution as well as violations
case is now before the court on the defendants’ objection to
The motion to dismiss will be granted and the
objection to Turner’s amended complaint will be overruled as
This case arises out of late-night 9-1-1 call to the
police from Turner’s residence.
In November 2008, someone
from the residence started to call 9-1-1 but hung up before
A Dothan policeman came to the house to
After the policeman entered, Turner asked him to leave.
Following a discussion, the policeman used his taser several
arrived at the house and proceeded to threaten, punch, and
Turner claims he was not resisting.
asserting illegal police conduct during the above incident.
However, at the same time Turner was bringing this case in
federal court, he was being prosecuted in state court for
assault and resisting arrest based on the same incident.
litigation--in response to the state prosecution.
for the defendants objected.
In May 2011, this court conducted an on-the-record call
defendants’ counsel explained that he objected to a stay of
the litigation unless Turner’s counsel provided assurance
that the federal case would be dismissed should Turner be
convicted in state court.
Turner’s lawyer stated that he
had “no intent on going forward with the case if [Turner]
When pressed, he agreed to do more
agreed, he would provide the court a signed statement from
Turner promising to dismiss the federal case should Turner
statement or else the motion for a stay would be denied.
discontinue existing pretrial deadlines with an accompanying
The declaration reads:
“COMES NOW Plaintiff John Turner, and
pursuant to the verbal order of the Court,
expresses the following as his declaration
of intent with regard to the future
progress of this case: In the event
Plaintiff is found guilty of the charges of
assault and resisting arrest currently
pending against him in the case of City of
Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama,
he will dismiss this federal civil suit;
however, in the event Plaintiff is found
not guilty of the charges, he will go
forward in prosecuting this federal case to
Dec. to the Court (doc. no. 41) at 3.
declaration, and it was notarized.
Turner signed the
After receiving this
declaration, the court discontinued all deadlines, stayed
this litigation, and required the parties to provide monthly
joint reports on the status of the criminal case.
Around three years later, in March 2014, a state jury
found Turner not guilty of aggravated assault but guilty of
The stay was dissolved the same month.
Turner moved to amend his complaint in October 2014.
defendants with time to file an objection.
filed a timely objection to the amended complaint and moved
The defendants argue that their objection to the amended
granted because Turner made a valid contract to dismiss the
case should he be found guilty in state court and because
declaration to the court.
The court finds that Turner is
bound by his contract; therefore, it need not address the
As this court has previously discussed, federal courts
have taken different approaches in interpreting contracts,
such as settlement agreements, that resolve federal claims.
Hogan v. Allstate Beverage Co., 821 F. Supp. 2d 1274, 1279
(M.D. Ala. 2011) (Thompson, J.).
While some have applied
federal common law, others have looked to state courts.
The only appreciable difference that could be relevant is
However, Turner submitted a signed, written document valid
therefore need not resolve which law applies.
defendants use state law, because Turner does not challenge
its use, and because the court does not discern any material
difference between federal and state law on the matter at
issue, the court relies on state law below.
A valid contract requires “an offer and an acceptance,
consideration, and mutual assent to terms essential to the
formation of a contract.”
Shaffer v. Regions Fin. Corp., 29
So. 3d 872 (Ala. 2009).
“[I]t is well settled that where
there is uncertainty and ambiguity in a contract, it is the
duty of the court to construe the contract so as to express
Dynamics, Inc., 20 So. 3d 783, 791 (Ala. 2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
“[I]f the contract is ambiguous,
parol or extrinsic evidence will be allowed to clarify the
Marriott Int’l, Inc. v. deCelle, 722 So. 2d 760,
762 (Ala. 1998).
As a threshold matter, the court interprets Turner’s
declaration to the court as a written memorialization of the
contract between Turner and the defendants.
In 2011, what
Turner wanted was essentially a stay of the case, and the
Turner would not pursue his federal litigation should he be
found guilty in state court.
Turner accepted this offer by
submitting a written declaration to the court memorializing
defendants did not oppose the stay, and, in return, they
received a promise of dismissal if Turner was found guilty
interpreting the valid contract.
declaration promised to dismiss the federal case if he was
found guilty of one, but not all, of the state charges.
dismiss the suit; but, in the event Turner is “found not
guilty of the charges,” he will go forward with the federal
Dec. to the Court (doc. no. 41) (emphasis added).
The conjunctive “and” in the first section could be read as
Turner agreeing to drop federal charges only if he were
found guilty of both crimes rather than just one.
implies that he will only go forward with the federal suit
if he was “found not guilty of the charges.”
evidence and concludes that Turner agreed to dismiss the
federal suit if he was found guilty of either charge in
Kelmore, 20 So. 3d at 791; see also Alfa Life
(“[I]f the trial court finds the contract to be ambiguous,
it must employ established rules of contract construction to
resolve the ambiguity.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
First, Turner’s motion to discontinue deadlines, to which
his declaration is attached, clarifies the ambiguity.
states that “in the event [Turner] is found not guilty of
all charges, he will prosecute this federal case to its
adjective “all” makes clear that even if Turner is found not
guilty of one charge, but guilty of another, he will not
prosecute the federal case.
Second, and most importantly,
Instead of arguing that he does not have to dismiss
under the contract because he was found guilty of one rather
than both crimes, Turner contends that he never received
valid consideration for his waiver of constitutional rights.
He cites Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316, 322
(5th Cir. 2003), where the court noted, in the context of
statutory rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29
U.S.C. §§ 2601-2604, that there must be consideration when a
recently fired employee signs away her rights to any claim
arising under federal, state, or local law.
This cited case
consideration when the defendants agreed not to oppose the
Moreover, the equities differ.
Plaintiffs in civil
constitutional claims or to drop others while litigating.
This decision is not comparable to an unrepresented employee
best to enforce those rights during litigation.
federal-court case if he was found guilty of a crime in
state court based on the same facts.
He was subsequently
found guilty in state court but sought to continue this
suit rather than dropping it as promised.
The court will
deny this attempt and hold Turner to his agreement.*
As an alternative ground, the court also would dismiss
the case based on judicial estoppel. There are two factors
in the judicial-estoppel test: Turner must have taken
inconsistent positions, and these positions must have made
a mockery of the judicial system. Robinson v. Tyson Foods,
Inc., 595 F.3d 1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
positions--that is, he promised to stop litigating his
federal case if he were found guilty in state court on
either charge but now is trying to litigate his federal
claim despite the guilty verdict. Although Turner contends
that the inconsistent positions must be in different
proceedings rather than in the same litigation, the court
See Wright & Miller, 18B Fed. Prac. &
Proc. Juris. § 4477 (2d ed.) (“There is no reason to
suppose that a court is helpless to protect itself against
inconsistent positions taken in the course of a single
An appropriate judgment will be entered.
DONE, this the 30th day of April, 2015.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson___
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
ongoing proceeding.”); see also New Hampshire v. Maine, 532
U.S. 742, 749 (2001) (describing inconsistent positions as
“prevailing in one phase of a case on an argument and then
relying on a contradictory argument to prevail in another
phase”); In re Carbon Dioxide Indus. Antitrust Litig., 229
F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2000) (“Having induced the court
to rely on a particular erroneous proposition of law or
fact, a party in the normal case may not at a later stage
of the case use the error to set aside the immediate
consequences of the error.”).
Turner also has made a mockery of the judicial system
because his errors were “intentional contradictions, not
simple error or inadvertence.” Id. at 1275 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Allowing Turner to litigate his
federal case after he agreed to dismiss it would create the
perception (and the reality) that the court was misled and
would “impose an unfair detriment” on the defendants, who
would have to continue litigating a case that should have
See Maine, 532 U.S. at 751 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
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