Mahone v. City of Montgomery et al

Filing 28

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 20 Motion for Summary Judgment; GRANTED with respect to the false imprisonment/false arrest claim against Officer Bogan, and as to any claim against the City of Montgomery; DENIED with respect to the excessive force claim against Officer Bogan. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 10/13/2009. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(wcl, )

Download PDF
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION D A V I D MAHONE, P l a in tif f , v. CITY OF MONTGOMERY, et al., D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 2:09-CV-118-WKW [WO] M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is suit, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, has as its genesis a traffic stop that o c c u rre d in the early morning hours of January 28, 2008. Plaintiff David Mahone complains (D o c . # 1) that Montgomery police officers, and in particular Defendant Officer Dee Bogan, v io la te d his constitutional rights by stopping his vehicle without probable cause and then u sin g excessive force against him. He further claims that Defendant City of Montgomery is lia b l e for Officer Bogan's alleged acts. Defendants respond that there was sufficient cause to stop Mr. Mahone's vehicle, and that no excessive force was used. (Doc. # 7.) Defendants f ile d a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 20), to which Mr. Mahone has responded (D o c. # 23). Upon consideration, the court finds that the motion is due to be granted in part a n d denied in part. I . STANDARD OF REVIEW S u m m a ry judgment should be granted only "if the pleadings, the discovery and d is c lo s u re materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any m a te ria l fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 5 6 (c ). Under Rule 56, the moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing th e district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1 9 8 6 ). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no g e n u in e issue of material fact, or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present e v id e n c e in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of p ro o f . Id. at 322-24. "[T]he court must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 9 2 1 (11th Cir. 1995). O n c e the moving party has met its burden, "an opposing party may not rely merely on a lle g a tio n s or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must by affidavits or as o th e rw ise provided in this rule set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." R u le 56(e)(2). To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than s im p ly show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. In d u s . Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine factual dispute exists if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Damon v. Fleming S u p e rm a r k e ts of Fla., Inc., 196 F.3d 1354, 1358 (11th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). I I . DISCUSSION A . Officer Bogan's Liability W h ile Section 1983 provides a remedy for unconstitutional conduct under color of s ta te law, the doctrine of "qualified immunity protects a police officer from liability under 2 [ S e c tio n ] 1983 if he was acting within his discretionary authority and his conduct did not v io la te clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person w o u ld have known." Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165-66 (11th Cir. 2009) ( c ita tio n omitted). Qualified immunity bars claims for monetary damages made against o f f ic ia ls in their individual capacities. Id. A court is no longer required to determine whether a plaintiff's constitutional rights w e re actually violated before proceeding to determine whether the right violated was "clearly e sta b lis h e d ." Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S. Ct. 808, 818 (2009). In this case, however, there is no reason to depart from the "traditional approach," Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1166, and the c o u rt will accordingly examine the two counts asserted against Officer Bogan in turn under th is framework.1 Further, in the case of an excessive force claim, Eleventh Circuit precedent d ic ta te s that a plaintiff need not make an additional showing that the constitutional violation w a s "clearly established," once the violation has been shown. Fennell v. Gilstrap, 559 F.3d 1 2 1 2 , 1216-17 (11th Cir. 2009). 1 . False Arrest or Imprisonment In his complaint, Mr. Mahone alleges that he was pulled over and detained without p ro b a b le cause, thus violating his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure under th e Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1 1 3 0 , 1337 (11th Cir. 2007). This claim is denominated as one for false arrest and for false There is no dispute that Officer Bogan is acting within the scope of his discretionary authority as a police officer during the events in question. 3 1 im p riso n m e n t. The claims may be theoretically distinct, as false arrest implicates the Fourth A m e n d m e n t, while false imprisonment implicates the Fourteenth Amendment right to due p ro c e s s . Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1330 (11th Cir. 2009). But there is no need to d i stin g u i sh them here, because both turn on the question whether there was probable cause to detain Mr. Mahone for the relevant time period. Id. (quoting Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1 5 2 1 , 1527 (11th Cir. 1996)). "A warrantless arrest without probable cause violates the Constitution and provides a basis for a section 1983 claim, but the existence of probable cause at the time of arrest . . . c o n stitu te s an absolute bar to a section 1983 action for false arrest." Case, 555 F.3d at 13262 7 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Mr. Mahone was never formally arrested, b u t the parties do not dispute that he was subjected to a level of restraint constituting a " s e iz u re " for Fourth Amendment purposes, and the same analysis applies. See id. at 1326. " `P ro b a b le cause to arrest [or here, to seize] exists when law enforcement officials have facts a n d circumstances within their knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the s u s p e c t had committed or was committing a crime.'" Id. at 1327 (quoting United States v. G o n z a le z, 969 F.2d 999, 1002 (11th Cir. 1992)). "Furthermore, an officer need only have a rg u a b le probable cause, not actual probable cause, in order to qualify for immunity from a F o u r th Amendment claim." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1167. This means that, if an officer " re a s o n a b ly could have believed that probable cause existed," he cannot be held liable. Id. (citatio n omitted). 4 O f f ic e r Bogan's motion for summary judgment is supported by his affidavit stating th a t, as he followed the vehicle driven by Mr. Mahone, he observed the vehicle improperly c h a n g e lanes and fail to use a turn signal when turning, and that Mr. Mahone was driving in a circle through an area with a high crime rate at well below the speed limit. (Doc. # 20, Ex. 2 .) Mr. Mahone's own affidavit (Doc. # 23, Ex. 1) does not refute the allegation that he c o m m itte d the traffic violations or was driving in this manner. Mr. Mahone states only that a s he was driving, he noticed that some police cars were following him, and he then was p u lled over a short time later after making several turns. Indeed, Mr. Mahone's affidavit is e ss e n tia lly an admission that he was driving in an unusual manner by making repeated turns to no apparent purpose. T h ere is thus no competent summary judgment evidence to refute Officer Bogan's s ta te m e n t that Mr. Mahone committed traffic violations; the traffic violations, in turn, c o n stitu te d probable cause for the stop of Mr. Mahone's vehicle. T o the extent that Mr. Mahone's claim is based on the length of the traffic stop being e x c e ss iv e , it also fails. Mr. Mahone does not contest Officer Bogan's evidence that a " w in g s p a n search" of Mr. Mahone's vehicle revealed a BB pistol that resembled an actual g u n . (Doc. # 20, Ex. 2; Doc. # 23, Ex. 1.) Nor does Mr. Mahone take specific issue with the v a lid ity of this limited search of his vehicle. Having discovered an apparent firearm during a valid traffic stop in the middle of the night in a high-crime area, Officer Bogan did not act u n rea so n ab ly, or without at least arguable probable cause, in continuing to detain Mr. 5 M a h o n e for long enough to investigate the status of the gun and determine whether there w e re any warrants for Mr. Mahone's arrest. Important factors in determining the re a so n a b le n e s s of a period of detention pending an investigation are its "brevity" and " w h e th e r the police diligently pursued their investigation." United States v. Cooper, 873 F .2 d 269, 275 (11th Cir. 1989). Here, it appears undisputed that the stop lasted about half a n hour (less than the amount of time approved in Cooper), and that the officers involved u s e d that time to pursue their investigation of Mr. Mahone by checking for warrants, calling f o r a K-9 officer to come to the scene, and investigating the status of his BB pistol. F o r the foregoing reasons, there is no genuine issue of material fact with respect to M r. Mahone's claim for false arrest or false imprisonment. No reasonable jury could find th a t Officer Bogan lacked at least arguable probable cause to stop Mr. Mahone's vehicle and d e ta in him for the time period in question under the facts in evidence. The motion for s u m m a ry judgment is due to be granted as to this claim. 2 . Excessive Force M r . Mahone alleges that Officer Bogan further violated his Fourth and Fourteenth A m e n d m e n t rights by using excessive force during the course of the traffic stop. According t o Mr. Mahone's affidavit, he was not confrontational or aggressive with any officers, but th e y nonetheless "grabbed [him] by the shoulder and smashed [his] head against the side of th e [car] door." (Doc. # 23, Ex. 1.) This is said to have resulted in pain, dizziness, and lig h th e a d ed n e ss , as evidence of which Mr. Mahone submits records from his emergency 6 ro o m visit the next morning. (Doc. # 23, Exs. 1, 3.) Officer Bogan's affidavit, supported by th e affidavits of several of his fellow officers and that of a TV-station cameraman riding a lo n g with Officer Bogan, states that there was no such violent physical contact between O f f ic e r Bogan and Mr. Mahone, and Mr. Mahone was not observed to have any injuries by th e time he was released from the scene. (Doc. # 20, Exs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) T u rn in g to the qualified immunity analysis, it is necessary first to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact has been created as to whether the violation of a c o n stitu tio n a l right occurred. An excessive force claim "must be analyzed under the Fourth A m e n d m e n t's `reasonableness' standard," which "requires balancing the nature of the Fourth A m e n d m e n t violation against the government's interests." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1166. T h e inquiry "is an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are `o b je c tiv e ly reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without re g a rd to their underlying intent or motivation." Id. at 1166-67. The issue here, however, is a factual, and not a legal, one. Officer Bogan does not d isp u te that "smashing" a nonconfrontational person's head into a police car would constitute e x c es s iv e force; rather, he alleges that he never did such a thing. Officer Bogan's version o f the facts is supported by a greater number of witnesses than Mr. Mahone's, who primarily re lie s on his own recollection of the events that night. Nonetheless, the affidavits of the E M T 's who responded to Mr. Mahone's residence later that night (Doc. # 20, Exs. 6, 7), as w e ll as the hospital records from Mr. Mahone's visit to the emergency room the next 7 m o rn in g (Doc. # 23, Ex. 3) provide at least some support for Mr. Mahone's story, as he c o m p la in e d of being physically mistreated by the police and of physical symptoms, such as b lu rre d vision and numbness, from a very short time after the alleged events would have ta k e n place. Officer Bogan and the City point out that the hospital records and observations of the E M T 's did not note much in the way of obvious physical symptoms, but Mr. Mahone's p rim a ry complaints were of a less readily observable nature, and there is no assertion in the m e d ic a l records of a belief by the EMTs or hospital personnel that Mr. Mahone was being d is h o n e st in his report of his symptoms. Moreover, contrary to the City's assertion, it is not c le a r from their face whether the medical records' statement that Mr. Mahone suffered a w ris t sprain and head contusion was entirely based on Mr. Mahone's self-reporting, or was b a se d on the independent assessment of medical personnel. A c c o rd in g ly, there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Officer Bogan v iolated Mr. Mahone's right to be free from the use of excessive force during their encounter. A s explained earlier, Mr. Mahone need not make an additional showing that the alleged c o n s t itu t io n a l violation of his right to be free from the use of excessive force was clearly e sta b lis h e d . The motion for summary judgment is due to be denied with respect to the e x c es s iv e force claim against Officer Bogan. B . Municipal Liability " A city may only be held liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 when the injury caused was 8 a result of municipal policy or custom." Lewis v. City of W. Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d 1 2 8 8 , 1293 (11th Cir. 2009). This "may include a failure to provide adequate training if the d e f ic ie n c y `evidences a deliberate indifference to the rights of [the city's] inhabitants.'" Id. (q u o tin g City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)). M r. Mahone does not even attempt to show how the City of Montgomery could be f o u n d liable under this standard. His complaint (Doc. # 1) rests on a bare theory of r e sp o n d e a t superior, while his summary judgment response (Doc. # 23) contains no a d d itio n a l argument on this issue. None of the proffered summary judgment evidence, which in c lu d e s an affidavit from Mr. Mahone (Doc. # 23, Ex. 1), an affidavit from Officer Bogan ( D o c . # 23, Ex. 2), and medical records from Mr. Mahone's visit to the hospital the next m o rn in g (Doc. # 23, Ex. 3), has any relevance to whether the City failed to properly train or s u p e rv is e its police officers. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to this claim, and s u m m a ry judgment is due to be granted with respect to the City of Montgomery. I I I . CONCLUSION D e f en d a n ts ' motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 20) is GRANTED in part and D E N I E D in part. It is GRANTED with respect to the false imprisonment/false arrest c laim against Officer Bogan, and as to any claim against the City of Montgomery. It is D E N IE D with respect to the excessive force claim against Officer Bogan. D O N E this 13th day of October, 2009. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 9

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?