Garner v. City of Ozark, et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 8 ) is GRANTED as to Counts One, Four, Eight, and Nine, as further set out. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on February 19, 2015. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SPRING GARNER, as parent
and next friend of Wynter Stokes,
CITY OF OZARK, et al.,
CASE NO. 1:13-CV-90-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Counts
One, Eight, and Nine against Officer Dodson in his individual capacity, and Count
Four against the City of Ozark. (Docs. # 8, 9.) Plaintiff’s other claims have been
resolved in Defendants’ favor. (See Docs. # 31, 45.) Per the directive of the
Eleventh Circuit, Plaintiff’s Rule 56(d) motion for discovery has been denied. (See
Doc. # 43.) Plaintiff has been allowed additional time to respond to the motion for
summary judgment (see Doc. # 45), but she has not supplemented her original
responses (see Docs. # 23, 26), which primarily respond to separate motions to
dismiss and for reconsideration. Upon consideration of Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment, the record, and relevant law, the court concludes that the
motion is due to be granted.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Subject-matter jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and
1343. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate “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 court must view the evidence and
the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.
Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).
The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
This responsibility includes
identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute
of material fact. Id. Or a movant who does not have a trial burden of production
can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party “cannot produce
admissible evidence to support” a material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); see
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 advisory committee’s note (“Subdivision (c)(1)(B)
recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials. . . . [A]
party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that
a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry
its burden as to the fact.”). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to establish – with evidence beyond the pleadings – that a
genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S.
A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party
produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor.
Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).
Plaintiff Spring Garner is the mother and legal guardian of her incompetent
son, Wynter Stokes, who is autistic and “completely non-verbal.”
at ¶¶ 2, 11.) Plaintiff brings this suit as parent and next friend of Wynter. At the
time of the events at the basis of this suit, Wynter was eighteen years old. Plaintiff
and her son live in Ozark, Alabama. Defendant Officer Phil Dodson is employed
by the City of Ozark as a policeman who works with a police dog.
According to the Complaint, on the evening of April 5, 2011, Wynter left
home without his mother’s knowledge and wandered to Eufaula Street in Ozark
where he wound up at the Brasher residence. Mrs. Brasher notified the Ozark
police that someone (Wynter) was in their yard and would not acknowledge her
when spoken to or asked to leave. Officer Dodson is alleged to have arrived “on
the scene” (Compl., at ¶ 22), although this is false, according to Officer Dodson’s
unrefuted testimony. Another unidentified “white male officer” met with Mr.
Brasher who reported to that officer that the suspicious person had been on the
porch and was unarmed. (Compl. at ¶ 23.) Mr. Brasher allegedly told the officer
with whom he spoke that the person who had been on his property was “different”
and possibly autistic. (Compl. at ¶ 23.)
The allegations concerning Mr. Brasher’s statements to police are
unsupported by any evidence. Yet Plaintiff’s Complaint assumes that Officer
Dodson knew that Wynter was possibly autistic when he encountered Wynter and
commanded his canine to attack Wynter multiple times, allegedly without
provocation or cause. (Compl. at ¶¶ 30–33.) Plaintiff alleges that Officer Dodson
could have restrained Wynter with handcuffs, eliminating the need to repeatedly
command the canine to attack. As a result of the canine apprehension, Wynter
suffered injuries requiring medical treatment and has endured emotional distress
and trauma.1 Plaintiff has not amended her pleading.
According to Officer Dodson’s Affidavit (Doc. # 9-1), he was dispatched to
assist another officer with a burglary-in-progress on Eufaula Street. On the way,
Officer Dodson passed a black male wearing a light-colored shirt about five blocks
from the Brasher residence. Officer Dodson confirmed with a radio dispatcher that
Plaintiff has submitted photographic evidence confirming that Wynter was substantially
the person he observed walking briskly away from the Brasher residence matched
the description of the burglary suspect, and he turned his car around. Thus, he
never arrived at the scene of the reported burglary.
Officer Dodson located Wynter near the intersection of Eufaula Street and
South Union Avenue. Officer Dodson, who was in uniform and in an identified
police vehicle with activated blue lights, confronted Wynter, who tried to flee.
Officer Dodson says he grabbed Wynter’s shirt and asked for his name. Wynter
tried to pull away. Officer Dodson grabbed Wynter’s arm, and Wynter allegedly
grabbed Officer Dodson’s throat. Officer Dodson pushed Wynter away from him.
The two struggled once more in the same manner. During the confrontation,
Officer Dodson did not realize that Wynter suffered from a disability.
Wynter fled on South Union Avenue toward College Street. Officer Dodson
says that he warned Wynter that he would dispatch his canine if Wynter did not
stop running. When Wynter continued running, Officer Dodson commanded the
canine to stop him. The dog successfully apprehended Wynter. Officer Dodson
ordered the dog to return and ordered Wynter to stay on the ground. However,
Wynter stood up and continued running. Officer Dodson commanded the dog to
take Wynter down two more times because Wynter would not stay down after
Another Officer, Anthony Spedale, arrived at the intersection of East
Avenue and Eufaula Street. Officer Spedale ordered Wynter to stay on the ground,
but Wynter jumped a fence and entered the grounds of a plant nursery. Officer
Dodson commanded his dog to climb the fence and search the premises for
Wynter. When the dog alerted to heavy brush, Officer Dodson commanded the
dog to apprehend Wynter there, and the dog engaged Wynter for what Officer
Dodson reports was thirty seconds. A third officer, Officer Tripp, arrived and he
and Officer Spedale handcuffed Wynter. A fourth officer, Corporal Jesse Kellum
transported Wynter to Dale Medical Center for treatment.
against Wynter arising from the events on April 5, 2011, have been dropped,
according to Plaintiff. (Doc. # 26, at 4.)
Officer Dodson represents that he had no knowledge of Wynter’s autism
until after Wynter was in police custody. Officer Dodson says that he determined
that Wynter was a threat to him, other responding officers, and the public. He
justified his use of force based on Wynter’s resistance (grabbing Officer Dodson’s
throat) and the initial report that Wynter had tried to enter a home. There is no
testimony or evidence in the record to contradict Officer Dodson’s account.
Plaintiff filed this suit on February 12, 2013. Defendants responded by
filing a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. (Docs. # 8, 9.) On April 3,
2013, this court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment without
prejudice and granted Plaintiff’s request for leave to conduct discovery prior to
responding to the motion for summary judgment.
(Doc. # 21.)
immediately moved for reconsideration of that order, which the court denied on
October 10, 2013, after further briefing. The same day, a separate memorandum
opinion and order issued dismissing, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Counts Two,
Three, Five, and Seven, all claims brought by Plaintiff on her own behalf, all
official-capacity claims against Officer Dodson, and the claims for punitive
damages against the City of Ozark. (Doc. # 31, at 10.)2
Defendants appealed the court’s order allowing Plaintiff to conduct
discovery prior to consideration of Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, as
well as the court’s non-ruling on the City of Ozark’s arguments for the dismissal of
Counts Eight and Nine. The Eleventh Circuit remanded on October 17, 2014, with
instructions to consider Defendants’ motion for summary judgment without
allowing Plaintiff to conduct discovery per Rule 56(d). (Docs. # 43, 44.) The
Circuit also instructed the court to consider the City of Ozark’s immunity defense
to Counts Eight and Nine. Upon remand, Counts Eight and Nine against the City
of Ozark were dismissed on immunity grounds. (Doc. # 45.) Defendants have
There is no Count Six in the Complaint.
filed an answer without waiving or withdrawing their motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. # 47.)
Remaining are Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim for excessive force in violation of the
Fourth Amendment (Count One), state-law assault and battery claims against
Officer Dodson in his individual capacity (Counts Eight and Nine), and Americans
with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim against the City of Ozark (Count Four).
Defendants request summary judgment on each of these claims.
Count One – Excessive Force
Officer Dodson argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on the
excessive force claim brought against him in his individual capacity.
Qualified Immunity Standard
“[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions generally are
shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified
a muscular doctrine that impacts on the reality of the workaday world
as long as judges remember that the central idea is this pragmatic one:
officials can act without fear of harassing litigation only when they
can reasonably anticipate – before they act or do not act – if their
conduct will give rise to damage liability for them.
Maddox v. Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1120 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted).
Because qualified immunity is meant to relieve
officials from the burden of trial or protracted litigation, qualified immunity
questions should be settled “at the earliest possible stage of litigation.” Hunter v.
Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991).
It is the burden of the defendant-official who invokes qualified immunity to
establish that he was acting within his discretionary authority. Maddox, 727 F.3d
If he satisfies that burden, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the
defendant violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established
when the defendant acted. Id. Rights are clearly established if the plaintiff offers:
“(1) case law with indistinguishable facts clearly establishing the constitutional
right; (2) a broad statement of principle within the Constitution, statute, or case law
that clearly establishes a constitutional right; or (3) conduct so egregious that a
constitutional right was clearly violated, even in the total absence of case law.” Id.
at 1121. In Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002), the Supreme Court advised
that case law precedents “involving fundamentally similar facts can provide
especially strong support for a conclusion that the law is clearly established, [but]
they are not necessary to such a finding.” Even so, since Hope, the Supreme Court
Plaintiff does not dispute that Officer Dodson was acting within his discretionary
authority as an Ozark police officer.
has continued to eschew broad statements of principle in favor of factually similar
case precedents when deciding whether Fourth Amendment violations were clearly
established. See, e.g., Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S. Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014) (“[T]his
is an area in which the result depends very much on the facts of each case. . . . .”)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Officer Dodson contends that the repeated utilization of his police dog to
apprehend Wynter was warranted and that it was reasonable for him to believe that
Wynter would pose a threat to anyone he met as he fled the police. Additionally,
Officer Dodson asserts that Plaintiff cannot produce any clearly established
Eleventh Circuit or Supreme Court authority prohibiting a police officer from
deploying a canine to stop a fleeing suspect under similar circumstances.
The Supreme Court has held that “all claims that law enforcement officers
have used excessive force . . . in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other
‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989).
Determining whether an officer used a reasonable amount of force “requires a
careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s
Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at
Id. at 396 (internal quotations omitted).
Courts must not apply a
mechanical test but should pay careful attention the facts of individual cases,
particularly “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively
resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396. Furthermore,
the court must assume the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and
must take into consideration that police are often required to make split-second
decisions under tense and uncertain circumstances. Id. at 396–97.
As Officer Dodson notes, the Eleventh Circuit has applied Graham’s
standard in published opinions involving canine apprehensions at least three times.
See Edwards v. Shanley, 666 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2012); Crenshaw v. Lister, 556
F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam); Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla.,
208 F.3d 919 (11th Cir. 2000). In Priester, the Eleventh Circuit declined to extend
qualified immunity to a police officer who used his canine on a compliant suspect
who neither fled from nor threatened officers. 208 F.3d at 927. In Crenshaw, the
court held that officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the plaintiff
was suspected of committing armed robbery, had actively fled the police, had
attempted to hide in dense woods in the night, and under the circumstances, was
reasonably assumed to have been armed and dangerous. 556 F.3d at 1292. In
Edwards, the Circuit denied qualified immunity where an officer unreasonably
permitted his canine to attack the plaintiff for several minutes, causing extensive
physical injury, where the plaintiff was “laying prone with hands exposed and
begging to surrender.” 666 F.3d at 1296.
Officer Dodson compares and contrasts the facts of this case with the
circumstances in each of these three Circuit cases, arguing that his use of force was
reasonable in view of: (1) Wynter’s status as a suspect in an attempted home
burglary; (2) Wynter’s attack upon Officer Dodson; (3) Wynter’s repeated
disobedience of Officer Dodson’s commands; (4) Wynter’s flight in the dark; and
(5) Wynter’s final apprehension while hiding in a wooded area. Officer Dodson
also stresses that, unlike some police officers to whom immunity has been denied,
he exercised restraint by ordering his dog to release Wynter every time that Wynter
ceased resisting apprehension and detention. Officer Dodson also notes that there
is no binding Eleventh Circuit or Supreme Court case law with materially similar
facts that would have placed him on notice that his exercise of force was unlawful.
Plaintiff has responded by resting on and elaborating upon the allegations in
the Complaint that Wynter is “completely nonverbal,” “autistic,” or “visibly
disable[d] or special needs.” (Doc. # 23, at 5.) She contends that Officer Dodson
“failed to recognize” these characteristics as indicators of Wynter’s autism. (Doc.
# 23, at 3.) Plaintiff has suggested that Officer Dodson “clearly overreacted in his
general assessment of the situation.”
(Doc. # 26, at 4.)
She further disputes
Officer Dodson’s testimony that Wynter attempted to enter the Brasher residence
or that he assaulted Officer Dodson. (Doc. # 26, at 4–5, 8.) However, Plaintiff has
not produced evidence to substantiate her positions on these matters or to
otherwise rebut Officer Dodson’s testimony.
On this record, the court finds as a matter of law that Officer Dodson’s
conduct was reasonable under the circumstances and that he did not violate
Wynter’s right to be free from excessive force. The result would likely be the
same even if Plaintiff had offered evidence showing that Wynter’s disability is so
patent that Officer Dodson should have known Wynter was autistic or otherwise
disabled. Plaintiff asks more of Officer Dodson than the law requires when she
argues that he should have appreciated Wynter’s autism.
First, it was nighttime, and it is not clear that a person’s patent autism could
be fully appreciated in the dark. Second, it was reasonable for Officer Dodson to
believe that the reason Wynter was refusing to answer him, evading him, and
attempting to flee was that he had attempted a burglary – not that he was nonverbal
and autistic. Cf. Bates ex rel. Johns v. Chesterfield County, Va., 216 F.3d 367, 372
(4th Cir. 2000) (“[I]n the midst of a rapidly escalating situation, the officers cannot
be faulted for failing to diagnose [the plaintiff’s] autism. Indeed, the volatile
nature of a situation may make a pause for psychiatric diagnosis impractical or
even dangerous.”) Finally, the existence of Wynter’s disability would not have
required Officer Dodson to subtract Wynter’s reported aggression from the
equation when deciding whether to use canine force to apprehend him. Cf. Hayek
v. City of St. Paul, 488 F.3d 1049, 1055 (8th Cir. 2007) (reasoning that, even if the
plaintiff’s son’s mental disability was established in the record, it “d[id] not change
the fact that he posed a deadly threat” to the defendant-officers).
Additionally, assuming Officer Dodson’s conduct violated Wynter’s
constitutional rights, Plaintiff offers no excessive force case precedent “‘on all
fours’ with the facts alleged in this case.” Jay v. Hendershott, 579 F. App’x 948,
951 (11th Cir. 2014). Neither has she argued that the general principle of the
Fourth Amendment “applies ‘with obvious clarity to the specific conduct in
question’” and that “it must have been ‘obvious’ to a reasonable police officer that
the pertinent conduct given the circumstances must have been unconstitutional at
the time.” Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1352 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting
United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997)). The court thus agrees with
Officer Dodson that his conduct did not violate clearly established law.
For these reasons, Officer Dodson is entitled to qualified immunity on Count
Counts Eight and Nine – Assault and Battery
Officer Dodson invokes discretionary-function immunity on Plaintiff’s state-
law assault and battery claims against Officer Dodson. Section 6-5-338 of the
Alabama Code provides that
[e]very peace officer . . . shall at all times be deemed to be [an]
officer[ ] of this state, and as such shall have immunity from tort
liability arising out of his or her conduct in performance of any
discretionary function within the line and scope of his or her law
Police officers are “peace officer[s] for purposes of § 6-5-338.” Borders v. City of
Huntsville, 875 So. 2d 1168, 1178 (Ala. 2003). The test set out in Ex parte
Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392 (Ala. 2000), defines Alabama’s doctrine of state-agent
immunity. The same test in Cranman for deciding state-agent immunity questions
“governs whether law enforcement officers are entitled to statutory, discretionaryfunction immunity under § 6-5-338(a).” Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608
F.3d 724, 741 (11th Cir. 2010). Under Cranman,
[a] State agent shall be immune from civil liability in his or her
personal capacity when the conduct made the basis of the claim
against the agent is based upon the agent’s
(4) exercising judgment in the enforcement of the criminal laws of the
State, including, but not limited to, law-enforcement officers’
arresting or attempting to arrest persons, or serving as peace officers
under circumstances entitling such officers to immunity pursuant to
Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So. 2d 300 (Ala. 2006) (modifying category (4) of
Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392, 405 (Ala. 2000)).4
There is little doubt that a police officer’s decision to use a canine to
apprehend a fleeing suspect is a discretionary act because “there is no hard and fast
rule as to the course of conduct that [he] must or must not take” when pursuing a
suspect, and the officer must use his “judgment” to determine “what is just and
proper under the circumstances.” Borders, 875 So. 2d at 1178. Cf. Thurmond v.
City of Huntsville, 904 So. 2d 314, 322 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004) (finding that a police
commander’s decision to march officers toward a crowd rather than using tear gas
was a discretionary act); City of Birmingham v. Sutherland, 834 So. 2d 755, 762
(Ala. 2002) (holding that an officer’s choice to make an arrest and choice of the
manner in which to make the arrest were both discretionary functions).
Plaintiff has made no argument in response to Officer Dodson’s plea for
discretionary-function immunity, even after being given the chance to supplement
her briefing. (See Doc. # 23, at 5 (merely requesting discovery prior to responding
to the summary judgment motion).)
Although Cranman articulates limited
exceptions for the application of state-agent immunity, see 792 So. 2d at 405
(precluding immunity when a state agent or officer “acts willfully, maliciously,
Prior to Hollis, category (4) of the Cranman restatement read: “(4) exercising judgment
in the enforcement of the criminal laws of the State, including, but not limited to, lawenforcement officers’ arresting or attempting to arrest persons.”
fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken
interpretation of the law”), there is no evidence that Officer Dodson should be
precluded from receiving immunity for any of those reasons.
Accordingly, the court finds that Officer Dodson is entitled to the statutory
discretionary-function immunity afforded by Alabama Code § 6-5-338(a).
Count Four – ADA Violation5
In Count Four, Plaintiff cites Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and
claims that the City of Ozark discriminated against Wynter by failing to train its
officers to properly recognize and deal with individuals with disabilities.
Title II of the ADA provides:
Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual
with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from
participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or
activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any
42 U.S.C. § 12132. A plaintiff alleging a violation of Title II must show
(1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was
either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public
entity’s services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise
discriminated against by the public entity; and (3) that the exclusion,
denial of benefit, or discrimination was by reason of the plaintiff’s
The court previously denied the City of Ozark’s motion to dismiss Count Four. (See
Doc. # 31, at 7–9.)
Bircoll v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 480 F.3d 1072, 1083 (11th Cir. 2007).
Bircoll is the leading Eleventh Circuit case applying the ADA to facts
involving law enforcement personnel. The plaintiff in Bircoll was deaf and was
arrested for driving while intoxicated. He sued the county whose officer arrested
him and claimed that the county subjected him to disability discrimination by
denying him effective communication in the roadside administration of field
sobriety tests, in the conveyance of a consent warning and Intoxilyzer test at a
police station, and in his incarceration.
The Eleventh Circuit did not decide “whether police conduct during an arrest
is a program, service, or activity covered by the ADA” because the disabled
arrestee-plaintiff could more easily rely on the final clause of Title II, which the
court described as “a catch-all phrase that prohibits all discrimination by a public
entity regardless of context.” Id. at 1084, 1085 (internal quotation marks omitted).
The court considered but rejected the position of the Fifth Circuit, which has held,
for policy reasons, that “Title II does not apply to an officer’s on-the-street
responses to reported disturbances or other similar incidents, whether or not those
calls involve subjects with mental disabilities, prior to the officer’s securing the
scene and ensuring that there is no threat to human life.” Hainze v. Richards, 207
F.3d 795, 801 (5th Cir. 2000).6 The Eleventh Circuit explained that
[t]he exigent circumstances presented by criminal activity and the
already onerous tasks of police on the scene go more to the
reasonableness of the requested ADA modification than whether the
ADA applies in the first instance. In other words, the question is
whether, given criminal activity and safety concerns, any modification
of police procedures is reasonable before the police physically arrest a
criminal suspect, secure the scene, and ensure that there is no threat to
the public or officer’s safety.
Bircoll, 480 F.3d at 1085 (emphasis added). This “reasonable-modification inquiry
in Title II–ADA cases is a highly fact-specific inquiry.” Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted). “What is reasonable must be decided case-by-case based on
numerous factors.” Id. at 1086. In Bircoll, the court ultimately found no ADA
In an unpublished decision involving another hearing-impaired arrestee, the
Eleventh Circuit cited other ADA precedents when elaborating that an ADA
“plaintiff can proceed on theories of intentional discrimination, disparate treatment,
or failure to make reasonable accommodations.” Rylee v. Chapman, 316 F. App’x
Other federal courts have taken stances similar to the Fifth Circuit’s. See, e.g., Tucker
v. Tennessee, 539 F.3d 526, 536 (6th Cir. 2008) (“Where . . . officers are presented with exigent
or unexpected circumstances, it would be unreasonable to require certain accommodations be
made in light of the overriding public safety concerns. Further, we rely on and expect law
enforcement officers to respond fluidly to changing situations and individuals they encounter.
Imposing a stringent requirement under the ADA is inconsistent with that expectation, and
impedes their ability to perform their duties.” (internal citation omitted)); Buchanan ex rel.
Estate of Buchanan v. Maine, 417 F. Supp. 2d 45, 73 (D. Me.) (collecting cases) aff’d sub nom.
Buchanan v. Maine, 469 F.3d 158 (1st Cir. 2006).
901, 906 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Schwarz v. City of Treasure Island, 544 F.3d
1201, 1212 n.6 (11th Cir. 2008)). Where the plaintiff alleges “a failure to make
reasonable accommodations, the defendant’s duty to provide a reasonable
accommodation is not triggered until the plaintiff makes a ‘specific demand’ for an
accommodation. Id. (citing Gaston v. Bellingrath Gardens & Home, Inc., 167 F.3d
1361, 1363 (11th Cir. 1999)).7 Plaintiff’s complaint and response to Defendant’s
motion (see Doc. # 23, at 5) suggest that Plaintiff is proceeding on the theory that
the City failed to train and to make reasonable accommodations.8
Federal courts have recognized two different scenarios of ADA violations
arising from arrests of disabled persons. Under the first scenario, the “police
mistake legal conduct caused by the [plaintiff’s] disability as illegal conduct.”
Glover v. City of Wilmington, 966 F. Supp. 2d 417, 428–29 (D. Del. 2013). For
example, in Glover, an officer mistook the plaintiff’s panic attack symptoms as
evidence that the plaintiff had been driving while intoxicated. Id. at 429. Under
the second scenario, the police fail to accommodate a disability once any exigent
Notably, Gaston was a ADA Title I employment case.
There is no allegation or argument that the City of Ozark police intentionally
discriminated against Wynter or others or that autistic people as a class have suffered disparate
treatment at the hands of the police. One court has suggested that a claim like Plaintiff’s could
be better developed and analyzed under a disparate impact theory. See Waller v. City of
Danville, Va., 515 F. Supp. 2d 659, 665 (W.D. Va. 2007) aff’d sub nom. Waller ex rel. Estate of
Hunt v. Danville, Va., 556 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2009) (“The act or omission involved in failing to
train police officers to deal with mentally ill individuals may have a disparate impact on such
individuals as a class. . . .”).
circumstances pass and the arrest is made. Id. Here, Plaintiff’s claim is akin to the
first scenario, as she complains that Wynter was pursued and apprehended because
Officer Dodson failed to recognize attributes of autism. (See Doc. # 23, at 4.)
The City of Ozark notes that because Wynter is, according to Plaintiff’s
allegations, nonverbal, there was no opportunity for Wynter to convey the
existence of his disability to Officer Dodson. The City contends that Wynter could
not have requested any sort of ADA accommodation. Plaintiff has not claimed an
accommodation should have been made for Wynter upon Wynter’s demand, but
rather, that the City should have both trained its police officers to recognize autism
and accommodated autistic persons in accordance with that training. Hence, in
view of Wynter’s nonverbal status, it would be unfitting to require him, as stated in
Rylee, to “make[ ] a specific demand for an accommodation” in order to support
his ADA claim. 316 F. App’x at 906.
The City of Ozark also contends that Officer Dodson’s actions, in light of
Wynter’s physical resistance with and flight from Officer Dodson, were reasonable
as a matter of law and not discriminatory.9 The City further asserts that Officer
Dodson’s uncontroverted testimony is that he did not know Wynter was autistic
The City of Ozark’s logic is basically that if there was no ADA violation in Bircoll,
where there were no exigencies, there could certainly be no ADA violation in this case, where
until after he was in custody. For that reason, there is no evidence that Officer
Dodson discriminated against Wynter “by reason of [Wynter’s] disability.”
Bircoll, 480 at 1083. Additionally, in its reply brief, the City notes that Plaintiff
has not identified “the legal source” of the City’s alleged training requirement.
(Doc. # 24, at 6.)
Plaintiff has not countered these arguments. (See Doc. # 23, at 4–5 (arguing
that she has pleaded a cognizable ADA claim and that she should be entitled to
discovery).) She has likewise not expressly proposed what accommodation(s)
should have been made for Wynter, although one would presume that Plaintiff
would argue that no force, particularly a canine, should have been used to
Upon consideration of the City of Ozark’s arguments, Bircoll, and additional
persuasive authority not cited by Defendants, the court finds that the City of Ozark
is entitled to summary judgment on the ADA claim.
First, with respect to the theory that the City of Ozark denied Wynter a
reasonable accommodation, Plaintiff has not proven that the City of Ozark’s
alleged discrimination or denial of accommodation was “by reason of” Wynter’s
autism. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; Bircoll, 480 F.3d at 1083. The record evidence is that
Officer Dodson lacked information about Wynter’s disability when he pursued him
and did not intuitively suspect that Wynter had a disability when he encountered
him. Therefore, Officer Dodson cannot be said to have denied an accommodation
to Wynter because of Wynter’s disability, or to have discriminated on the basis of
his disability. Other district courts have reached similar conclusions at summary
judgment. See, e.g., Redding v. Chesnut, No. 5:06-CV-321 (CDL), 2008 WL
4831741, at *8 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 3, 2008) (“Plaintiff does not appear to dispute that
[the officer] did not know or have reason to know that Plaintiff was
developmentally disabled when [the officer] knocked Plaintiff to the ground and
attempted to restrain him. For that reason, the Court cannot find that [the officer]
discriminated against Plaintiff ‘by reason’ of his disability.”); Bridges v. City of
Americus, No. 1:09-CV-56 WLS, 2014 WL 1315339, at *11 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 31,
2014) (“The evidence does not suggest that [the officer] knew that [the plaintiff]
suffered from a seizure disorder.”); cf. Hobart v. City of Stafford, 784 F. Supp. 2d
732, 758 (S.D. Tex. 2011) (requiring the plaintiff to “show either that he requested
an accommodation or that defendant otherwise had knowledge of an [his] disability
and needs, but took no action” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Moreover, at least two circuit courts of appeal have affirmed the grant of
summary judgment where the plaintiff could not satisfy this third element of a
Title II claim. See Bates, 216 F.3d at 373 (holding that the use of force was not
“by reason of [the plaintiff’s] disability, but because of [his] objectively verifiable
misconduct. Such reasonable police behavior is not discrimination.”); De Boise v.
Taser Int’l, Inc., 760 F.3d 892, 899 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting the same language
cited supra from Bates). The court adopts Bates to the extent that it agrees that
Wynter’s reported misconduct and flight – not his autism – was the reason Officer
Dodson used his canine to repeatedly seize Wynter.
Secondly and more significantly for purposes of the law in this Circuit,
under the fact-specific reasonableness inquiry required by Bircoll, 480 F.3d
at 1085–86, the court concludes that it would have been unreasonable for Officer
Dodson to have modified his protocol for apprehending a fleeing suspect given
Wynter’s reported status as an attempted burglar, his physical resistance to Officer
Dodson, his disobedience of Officer Dodson’s orders, and his flight. Based on the
perceived threat to public and officer safety and the need to pursue and detain
Wynter promptly, it would have been unreasonable under the circumstances for
Officer Dodson to have been required to assess and determine, prior to
commanding his canine to apprehend Wynter, whether Wynter suffered from
autism or some other disability.10
There is potentially another reason that Plaintiff’s “failure to train” claim under Title II
may fail. Plaintiff has claimed that the City of Ozark did not adequately train its officers and
thereby prevented them from making reasonable accommodations as required by the ADA, but
the text of Title II does not expressly require public entities to train their employees to recognize
disabilities. Other district courts have reasoned that the text of Title II cannot be read to require
training. See Waller, 515 F. Supp. 2d at 665 (“By its plain language, a violation of Title II does
not occur until there has been an exclusion or denial of participation in, or the benefits of, a
In accordance with the foregoing analysis, it is ORDERED that Defendants’
motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 8) is GRANTED as to Counts One, Four,
Eight, and Nine. A separate final judgment will issue.
DONE this 19th day of February, 2015.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
public entity’s services, which manifestly occurs well after any training of the public entity’s
agents.”); Thao v. City of St. Paul, No. CIV. 05-5306 PAM/RLE, 2006 WL 1004379, at *8 (D.
Minn. Apr. 13, 2006) aff’d, 481 F.3d 565 (8th Cir. 2007) (“A violation occurs when a disabled
individual is excluded from the participation in, or denied benefits of, a service, program, or
activity. Thus, a[n ADA] violation does not occur until the exclusion or denial occurs.”).
However, neither Waller nor Thao discusses specifically whether the general “discrimination”
prohibited by Title II can be construed broadly to create a duty to train.
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