Harris v. The City of Prattville, et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: For the reasons stated, the City of Prattville and Chief Wadsworth are entitled to summary judgment on all of Mr. Harris's § 1983 claims. It is ORDERED that Defendants' 18 Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as further set out in the opinion and order. A separate final judgment will be issued. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 6/27/2012. (dmn,)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
KENNETH RAY HARRIS,
THE CITY OF PRATTVILLE, et al.,
CASE NO. 2:11-CV-31-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Kenneth Ray Harris brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against
Defendants City of Prattville and Prattville Chief of Police Alfred Wadsworth. The
case is before the court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 18).
Mr. Harris has responded to this motion (Doc. # 23), and Defendants have replied
(Doc. # 26).
The summary judgment motion has been fully briefed and is ready for
disposition. Upon careful consideration of the briefs, the relevant law, and the record
as a whole, the court finds that the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be granted
on all of Mr. Harris’s claims.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Subject matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.
The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate
allegations in support of both.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.’” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d
1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party moving
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 record,
including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating
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. Id. at 322-24.
If the movant meets its evidentiary burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving
party to establish, with evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine issue material
to each of its claims for relief exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S.
at 324; Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). What is
material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “The mere existence of some factual
dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an
issue affecting the outcome of the case.” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333
F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation
A genuine issue of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces
evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor.
Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275,
1279 (11th Cir. 2001). However, if the evidence on which the nonmoving party relies
“is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). “A mere ‘scintilla’ of
evidence supporting the [nonmovant’s] position will not suffice; there must be enough
of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party,” Walker v.
Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990), and the nonmoving party “must do
more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create
a genuine issue of material fact and do not suffice to oppose a motion for summary
judgment. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam).
Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by appropriate
evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his case and
on which the plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due
to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.
On summary judgment, the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to
the nonmovant. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1190 (11th Cir. 2002). Hence,
“the ‘facts, as accepted at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings, may not
be the actual facts of the case.’” Id. (quoting Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, 208
F.3d 919, 925 n.3 (11th Cir. 2000)).
III. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This case arises out of an arrest performed by officer Ronald Davis.1 The facts,
construed in the light most favorable to Mr. Harris, follow.
Officer Davis was previously dismissed from this case upon motion of Mr. Harris.
(Doc. # 53.) Counts III, IV, V, and VI of Mr. Harris’s Complaint were against Officer Davis,
and alleged malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment and state law, and state law
claims for false imprisonment, assault, and battery. Only Counts I and II remain.
On June 8, 2006, the City of Prattville police department responded to a
domestic disturbance call on Skidmore Avenue in Prattville, Alabama. Among the
police officers dispatched to the scene was Patrol Officer Corporal Ronald Davis.
Police arrived at the residence shared by Mr. Harris and his wife, Kelli Harris. The
Harrises were not causing a disturbance when the officers arrived at their house. The
officers entered the backyard and encountered Mr. Harris, who was repairing a broken
The responding officers were under the belief that Mr. Harris had
outstanding warrants for his arrest. Officers handcuffed Mr. Harris and placed him
in a patrol car while they investigated the warrants to ascertain whether he was the
same Kenneth Harris named in the warrants.
While Mr. Harris was in the patrol car, an argument occurred between Kelli
Harris and Officer Davis. In the course of this argument, Mrs. Harris and Officer
Davis got into a heated exchange, and Mrs. Harris retreated into the house. Shortly
afterwards, Officer Davis broke down the door and entered the residence. Officer
Davis threw Mrs. Harris to the floor and struck her repeatedly with his hand, injuring
her head, dislocating her shoulder, and breaking her ankle.
Meanwhile, it was determined that Mr. Harris did not have any outstanding
warrants for his arrest. Mr. Harris was released from handcuffs upon his wife being
removed from the house. Mrs. Harris was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Mr.
Harris was allowed to follow his wife to the hospital. While at the hospital, Mr. Harris
became involved in a verbal dispute with Officer Davis, as well as with other
Prattville police officers who were at the hospital on an unrelated matter. As Mr.
Harris attempted to enter his wife’s hospital room, Officer Davis confronted and
cursed Mr. Harris, telling him that he was not allowed to be present with his wife
since she was under arrest. Mr. Harris stated that he had a right to be with his wife
and could not be excluded from the hospital room. Mr. Harris did not raise his voice
to Officer Davis, but Officer Davis yelled and swore at him, using multiple
profanities, and ordered him out of the hospital room where Mrs. Harris was being
treated.2 A doctor at the emergency room intervened, and ordered both Mr. Harris and
Officer Davis to leave the room.
Mr. Harris left his wife’s room, under protest, in an orderly fashion. Mr. Harris
left the emergency room area and used the courtesy phone at the entrance of the
hospital to complain to the hospital staff that the Prattville police were keeping him
from being able to see his wife. Mr. Harris then exited the hospital. As he was
walking away, Officer Davis yelled “hey” at him, causing him to turn. Officer Davis
then deployed his taser against Mr. Harris and placed him under arrest for disorderly
Although the sequence of events involving Mr. Harris’s conduct while at the hospital is
in dispute, on summary judgment, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
and thus, the court adopts Mr. Harris’s version of the facts for this motion.
conduct and resisting arrest. Mr. Harris alleges that there was no cause for Officer
Davis to use his taser.
After Mr. Harris had been tasered and arrested, he was placed in the back of a
police car. While he was waiting there, he saw Prattville Chief of Police Alfred
Wadsworth having a discussion with Officer Davis and another unidentified police
officer. Mr. Harris does not know what they were speaking about. However, Chief
Wadsworth saw that Mr. Harris was under arrest. There is no evidence that Chief
Wadsworth observed Officer Davis firing the taser or arresting Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris
was convicted of disorderly conduct in the Municipal Court. On appeal to the Circuit
Court of Autauga County, the criminal charges were dismissed by the City prosecutor
on January 29, 2009.
Mr. Harris filed the current lawsuit on January 12, 2011. His Complaint asserts
violations of federal law and rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to
the United States Constitution. Mr. Harris contends that the City of Prattville had a
custom or policy of hiring officers with malicious propensities, and of not disciplining
officers for falsely prosecuting citizens, and that this custom or policy resulted in
individuals being arrested and prosecuted without probable cause. Mr. Harris includes
in this claim that Chief of Police Wadsworth was “deliberately indifferent to the
constitutional rights” of Mr. Harris in this regard. (Complaint, Count I). Mr. Harris
also alleges a § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest and malicious
prosecution against Chief Wadsworth based on a theory of supervisory liability.
(Complaint, Count II). Chief Wadsworth is sued in his individual capacity only.
Harris does not oppose the City’s motion for summary judgment on Count I,
conceding that the evidence for his claims against the City is not greater than the
evidence presented in the related case involving Mr. Harris’s wife, Kelli Harris v.
Prattville, et al., 2008 WL 2704684, 2:07-CV-349 (M.D. Ala. July 7, 2008).
Therefore, summary judgment is due to be entered in favor of the City on Count I.
See, e.g., Coal. for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition v. City of Atlanta, 219 F.3d
1301, 1326 (11th Cir. 2000) (finding that a party’s “failure to brief and argue [an]
issue . . . before the district court is grounds for finding that the issue has been
The remaining claim is against Chief Wadsworth, alleging that Chief
Wadsworth is liable under the Fourth Amendment for false arrest and malicious
prosecution based on a theory of supervisory liability (Complaint, Count II). Mr.
Harris bases this claim solely on the fact that “Wadsworth had discussions with Davis
while the Plaintiff was in the backseat of a patrol car handcuffed.” (Doc. # 23, at 4.)
However, Mr. Harris contends that “by allowing Davis to take Kenneth Harris to jail
and swear out warrants for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest,” Chief Wadsworth
“approved and participated in the unlawful act which violated the constitutional rights
of Harris.” (Doc. # 23, at 4.) Mr. Harris’s argument for supervisory liability under
these circumstances fails as a matter of law.
“It is well established that § 1983 claims may not be brought against
supervisory officials on the basis of vicarious liability or respondeat superior.”
Keating v. City of Miami, 598 F.3d 753, 762 (11th Cir. 2010). However, supervisors
are liable under § 1983 “either when the supervisor personally participates in the
alleged constitutional violation or when there is a causal connection between actions
of the supervising official and the alleged constitutional violation.” Id. (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). A causal connection can be established by
evidence that supports an inference that the supervisor had the “ability to prevent or
discontinue any known constitutional violation by exercising his authority over the
subordinate who commits the constitutional violation and subsequently fails to
exercise that authority to stop it.” Id. at 765 (emphasis added). Mr. Harris argues that
Chief Wadsworth is liable under a supervisory theory based on his alleged personal
participation and his failure to stop his arrest and prosecution. (Doc. # 23, at 4-5.)
Here, there is no evidence whatsoever that Chief Wadsworth was aware of any
constitutional violation. Plaintiff’s only allegation is that Chief Wadsworth and
Officer Davis had a discussion while he was under arrest in the patrol car. However,
this allegation fails to meet that standard for supervisory liability under § 1983
because it is insufficient to support an inference that Chief Wadsworth had any
knowledge that the arrest was without probable cause. Mr. Harris cannot point to any
content of the conversation to suggest that Chief Wadsworth knew there was a
constitutional violation occurring, because he has not provided any evidence related
to what was said during this brief conversation.3 The only evidence that there even
was a conversation is Mr. Harris’s affidavit stating that he saw Chief Wadsworth
speak to Officer Davis. This does not establish that Chief Wadsworth had any
knowledge that Mr. Harris’s rights were allegedly violated or that Officer Davis
lacked probable cause for the arrest.
Having conducted an independent review of the record, the court is unable to
conclude that there is any evidence to support that Chief Wadsworth even spoke to
Officer Davis about Mr. Harris that night. Chief Wadsworth’s deposition reveals that
he did not involve himself in an investigation of the incident involving the Harrises
until he received a phone call from Mrs. Harris a day after the incident. (Doc. # 18,
Ex. 2 at 6.) This is the only evidence of Chief Wadsworth’s knowledge of the events
Chief Wadsworth was deposed in connection to this lawsuit on April 15, 2008, but
neither party cites his deposition to reveal what might have been said between him and Officer
that night, and it suggests that he had not investigated anything connected with Mr.
Harris’s case prior to June 9, 2006. The evidence does not support that Chief
Wadsworth was knowingly supervising a constitutional violation during his discussion
with Officer Davis.
There also is not sufficient evidence from which it can be inferred that Chief
Wadsworth should have had knowledge of a violation. Mr. Harris’s testimony reveals
that the Chief was not present during the incidents leading to the arrest and did not
witness the conduct made the basis of the arrest for disorderly conduct by Officer
Davis. Mr. Harris was already under arrest, handcuffed in a patrol car when he first
saw Chief Wadsworth at the scene. (Doc. # 23, Ex. 1 at 45.) Mr. Harris alleges that
the Chief could have spoken with another officer on the scene, Chris Beste, who
supposedly would have given information to establish that Mr. Harris was not guilty
of disorderly conduct. Mr. Harris does not argue that Chief Wadsworth actually spoke
with Officer Beste. Nor has Mr. Harris demonstrated that Chief Wadsworth had a
duty or obligation to speak with Officer Beste or any other officer that night.
Furthermore, Mr. Harris bases his argument on Officer Beste’s deposition testimony,
taken years after the incident, which offered facts from his recollection of what
occurred inside the hospital, and did not support Officer Davis’s version of events.
However, even if Chief Wadsworth discussed the incident with Officer Beste the night
of Mr. Harris’s arrest, there is nothing in the record that shows what Officer Beste
said, or that he presented information to Chief Wadsworth that revealed a
There is no evidence that Chief Wadsworth personally participated in the
alleged constitutional violation or that there are “facts which support an inference that
the supervisor directed the subordinates to act unlawfully or knew that the
subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.” Keating,
598 F.3d at 762 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). There is no evidence
of any other involvement or participation by Chief Wadsworth in Plaintiff’s arrest or
prosecution. In Keating, the supervisors were held to have “unlawfully caused the
violation” because they personally directed the subordinate officers to act. Id. at 765.
There is no such evidence in this case. There is nothing to demonstrate that Chief
Wadsworth directed any action by Officer Davis on June 8, 2006. Nor did Mr. Harris
demonstrate that Chief Wadsworth had personal or firsthand knowledge of the facts
of the incident.
Absent personal participation, there must be a “causal connection between the
actions of the supervising official and the alleged constitutional violation.” Id. at 762.
Mr. Harris also has not demonstrated a causal connection between Chief Wadsworth
and the arrest and prosecution, or that Chief Wadsworth had knowledge of a
constitutional violation. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is due to be
For the reasons stated, the City of Prattville and Chief Wadsworth are entitled
to summary judgment on all of Mr. Harris’s § 1983 claims.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. # 18) is GRANTED. A separate final judgment will be issued.
DONE this 27th day of June, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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