Harris v. Byner
OPINION AND ORDER that the 37 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant M. D. Byner and the 39 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by plaintiff Eric Harris are denied as further set out in the opinion and order. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 1/14/2014. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(dmn, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
CIVIL ACTION NO.
OPINION AND ORDER
defendant M.D. Byner, an officer with the Montgomery,
Alabama Police Department.
Harris sues Officer Byner in
Harris’s rights under the Fourth Amendment as enforced
through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that he committed the statelaw tort of false imprisonment.
Jurisdiction is proper
(supplemental jurisdiction). This cause is now before the
court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.
Both motions will be denied.
I. SUMMARY-JUDGMENT STANDARD
“A party may move for summary judgment, identifying
each claim or defense--or the part of each claim or
defense--on which summary judgment is sought.
shall grant summary judgment 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 court must view the admissible
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
The facts, as can be discerned from the somewhat
sparsely developed evidentiary record in this case, are
Late one night, Montgomery Police
Officer R.F. Hubbard observed a car driving erratically.
The car nearly hit a pole and sign and then veered into an
By the time Hubbard and another officer
located the car, the driver had abandoned it and fled on
Hubbard learned that the car was registered to
Harris and had not been reported stolen. Hubbard impounded
the car and authorized the tow company to release the car
Some six hours later, before anyone contacted him to
pick up his car, Harris called the police to report that
his car had been stolen.
Officer Byner, who was neither
present during the chase or investigation the night before,
nor aware of those events at this point, responded to
He ran a computer check on
the car to determine if it had already been located. After
running that search, Byner received a message to call
Montgomery’s Department of Communications.
He did so, and
was told that hours earlier an unknown individual had used
a car with that license plate and vehicle-identification
number to elude officers and then left the car on the side
of the road to flee on foot.
Byner states that, from his
experience as a law-enforcement officer, he knows that it
is common for an individual fleeing from the police in his
own car to leave the car, flee on foot, and report the car
stolen a short time later.
The situation before Byner
appeared to fit this pattern.
According to Harris, Officer Byner handcuffed him,
said something like “YOU know what happened to your car,
don’t you,” and told Harris to stand by his car while Byner
“checked on things.” Affidavit of Eric L. Harris (Doc. No.
40-1) at 1 (emphasis in original, internal quotation marks
Harris felt insulted and that he had been
treated as a criminal for no reason. Harris believes Byner
racially profiled him by assuming that because Harris is
black he was likely the perpetrator. Byner points out that
he is also black.
Officer Byner does not dispute that he handcuffed
Harris nor that he suspected Harris of being the driver
that Hubbard observed the night before.
He states that he
told Harris that he was not under arrest, but that he was
being detained for investigative purposes.
no additional justification for the decision to handcuff
After handcuffing Harris, Byner again contacted the
Department of Communications, this time seeking to obtain
a description of the individual who fled from the car
during the night.
After a couple of minutes, he was told
that officers involved in the incident were not able to
handcuffs and told him how to retrieve his car. The entire
encounter between Harris and Byner lasted approximately
Harris filed suit asserting a violation of his rights
under the Fourth Amendment and a claim of state-law false
Officer Byner moved for summary judgment,
claiming qualified immunity as to Harris’s constitutional
claim, and Alabama state-agent immunity as to his state-law
Harris also moved for summary judgment.
immunity, he is entitled to summary judgment with regard
to the § 1983 claim.
“The doctrine of qualified immunity
protects government officials ‘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.’” Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457
U.S. 800, 818 (1982)).
In deciding whether an official is
entitled to this immunity, courts analyze (1) whether the
plaintiff has shown an actual violation of his right and
established at the time it was violated.
Id. at 232. The
sequence in which these questions are analyzed is left to
the court’s discretion.
Id. at 236.
The court will first
It generally prohibits state actors from
seizing an individual absent sufficient justification.
United States v. Dunn, 345 F.3d 1285, 1288 (11th Cir.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has noted
three categories of police-citizen interactions.
States v. Hastamorir, 881 F.2d 1551, 1556 (11th Cir. 1989).
Non-coercive interactions with police do not implicate the
Brief detentions for further
investigation, known as “Terry stops,” must be justified
by reasonable and articulable suspicion.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
Id.; see also
Finally, full arrests
Hastamorir, 881 F.2d at 1556.
The parties frame this case as a dispute over how to
categorize the interaction: was it a Terry stop or an
But this disagreement obscures what the court
believes is the more critical issue in this case: Officer
Byner has pointed to no circumstance that might justify his
decision to handcuff Harris.
“It is well settled that, under the Fourth Amendment,
‘[t]he scope of a detention must be carefully tailored to
its underlying justification’ and that the ‘investigatory
methods employed [during a detention] should be the least
intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel
the officer’s suspicion in a short period of time.’”
ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic, 458 F.3d 1295, 1306 (11th Cir.
2006) (quoting Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983)).
That is, as the Supreme Court explained in Terry itself,
even where sufficient initial justification exists, a
seizure may still be found to be unreasonably intrusive.
“[O]ur inquiry is a dual one--whether the officer’s action
reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which
justified the interference in the first place.” Terry, 392
U.S. at 19-20; see also Croom v. Balkwill, 645 F.3d 1240,
1248 (11th Cir. 2011) (considering separately whether
seizure was “lawful at its inception” and whether it was
“lawful in its scope and duration”).
In this case, Officer Byner argues that his seizure of
Harris was a Terry stop.
The court agrees that this
interaction was a Terry stop and that the seizure was
1. The Eleventh Circuit has articulated four nonexclusive factors to consider determining whether a
seizure was a de facto arrest or a Terry stop: (1) the
law enforcement purposes of the detention; (2) the
diligence with which the police pursue the investigation;
(3) the scope and intrusiveness of the detention; and (4)
the duration of the detention. United States v. Acosta,
363 F.3d 1141, 1146 (11th Cir. 2004). Weighing all these
factors, and particularly considering that the entire
interaction took only eight minutes, the court agrees
with Byner that this interaction is more in the nature of
a Terry stop than an arrest.
However, the court cannot find on this slim record that
Byner’s decision to handcuff Harris was reasonably related
in scope to the circumstances which justified the seizure
in the first place.
Officer Byner has offered no explanation for the
handcuffing whatsoever. He has not contended, for example,
that Byner or anyone else was in danger; he has not
contended that Harris constituted a flight risk; and he has
not contended that the handcuffs were required to maintain
the status quo.
Indeed, he has not articulated any
justification for the use of handcuffs at all.
The use of handcuffs in a Terry stop without any
justification is a Fourth Amendment violation.
Further, the court concludes that Byner did have
Byner states that in his
experience it is common for an individual who has eluded
police to abandon his car and later report it stolen;
Harris has not offered any evidence to rebut this
Given that Harris’s apparently innocuous
conduct of calling the police to report the car stolen
fit with Byner’s experience of this pattern, the court
concludes on this record that Byner’s suspicion was
Harris does not argue that Byner lacked
reasonable suspicion, only that he lacked probable cause.
a Sheriff’s Deputy, working as a school-resource officer,
detained and handcuffed a student.
458 F.3d at 1301.
court determined that the deputy had reasonable suspicion
to detain the student, having witnessed her threaten a
Id. at 1305.
However, the court found that the
“By his own admission, Deputy Bostic did
not handcuff Gray to effect an arrest of
Rather, his handcuffing of Gray
Nonetheless, during an investigatory
stop, an officer can still handcuff a
detainee when the officer reasonably
believes that the detainee presents a
potential threat to safety. See United
States v. Hastamorir, 881 F.2d 1551, 1557
(11th Cir. 1989); United States v.
Blackman, 66 F.3d 1572, 1576–77 (11th
Cir. 1995); United States v. Kapperman,
764 F.2d 786, 790–91 & n. 4 (11th Cir.
The problem in this case for
Deputy Bostic is that, at the time Deputy
Bostic handcuffed Gray, there was no
indication of a potential threat to
anyone’s safety. ... Deputy Bostic does
not even claim that he handcuffed Gray to
protect his or anyone’s safety. Rather,
Deputy Bostic candidly admitted that he
handcuffed Gray to persuade her to get
rid of her disrespectful attitude and to
impress upon her the serious nature of
committing crimes. In effect, Deputy
Bostic’s handcuffing of Gray was his
attempt to punish Gray in order to change
her behavior in the future. Thus, Deputy
reasonably related to the scope of the
circumstances that justified the initial
Id. at 1305-6. In other words, the court found that Bostic
had used handcuffs without any safety rationale, and with
only the illegitimate justification of punishing Gray.
That use of handcuffs without any legitimate justification
suspicion, was unreasonable and unconstitutional.
While the Gray court applied the standard articulated
in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341-2, to assess the
reasonableness of school seizures by police officers, Gray,
458 F.3d at 1304, the Gray court relied on Terry and its
progeny because the T.L.O. standard “mirrors the standard
announced in Terry v. Ohio governing the reasonableness of
Id. at 1305.
Gray was therefore
decided under the same standard applicable in this case.
Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly made it
clear that officers must justify the use of handcuffs with
some legitimate rationale above and beyond the existence
of mere reasonable suspicion.
See United States v. Gil,
204 F.3d 1347, 1351 (11th Cir. 2000) (concluding that “to
investigation of the residence, handcuffing Ms. Gil and
reasonable”); United States v. Fields, 178 F. App’x 890,
reasonable action to protect themselves or to maintain the
status quo,” including the use of handcuffs for those
purposes); United States v. Lester, 477 F. App’x 697, 700
(11th Cir. 2012) (“officers may take reasonable steps
[including the use of handcuffs] to ensure their safety so
dangerous”); United States v. Williams, 185 F. App’x 866,
870 (11th Cir. 2006) (acknowledging that “handcuffing and
placement in a patrol car is a severe form of intrusion”
but concluding that “in this unusual case” the detention
was reasonable in light of reports that the defendant fired
a shotgun multiple times).2
The Eleventh’s approach to handcuffing during Terry
stops has also been echoed in other circuits. For example,
in United States v. Acosta-Colon, 157 F.3d 9 (1st Cir.
1998), the First Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “the
use of handcuffs, being one of the most recognizable
indicia of a traditional arrest, substantially aggravates
the intrusiveness of a putative Terry stop.”
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Id. at 18
The court therefore
required that, “when the government seeks to prove that an
investigatory detention involving the use of handcuffs did
not exceed the limits of a Terry stop, it must be able to
2. As Byner points out, the Eleventh Circuit has held
that handcuffing an individual does not necessarily
transform a Terry stop into a full arrest.
Hastamorir, 881 F.2d at 1556; United States v. Kapperman,
764 F.2d 786, 790 n.4 (11th Cir. 1985); United States v.
Blackman, 66 F.3d 1572, 1576 (11th Cir. 1995). But those
cases do not establish the proposition that handcuffing
cannot render a Terry stop unreasonably intrusive.
point to some specific fact or circumstance that could have
purposes of the stop without exposing law enforcement
officers, the public, or the suspect himself to an undue
risk of harm.”
Id. at 18-19 (emphasis added).
in Morris v. Noe, 672 F.3d 1185 (10th Cir. 2012), the Tenth
Circuit Court of Appeals noted that, while handcuffs do not
necessarily transform a Terry stop into an arrest, their
use will “generally exceed the scope of an investigative
detention” and must be independently justified.
1192 (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted).
the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in El-Ghazzawy v.
Berthiaume, 636 F.3d 452 (8th Cir. 2011), noted that
failure to require evidence of such a justification would
mean that “officers would be allowed to handcuff ...
virtually every suspect they encounter, without regard to
the nature of the crime, the behavior exhibited by the
suspect, or the circumstances surrounding the alleged
Id. at 458-9.
In this case, Byner has pointed to no “specific fact
or circumstance that could have supported a reasonable
belief” that handcuffs were required.
F.3d at 18.
Indeed, in Gray the officer had offered at
least some justification for the decision to use handcuffs,
albeit an illegitimate one.
Byner has not put forward any
justification for handcuffs at all.
There is no fact or
circumstance in this case to indicate any “potential threat
to anyone’s safety,” the only justification for the use of
handcuffs in a Terry stop recognized in Gray.
458 F.3d at
Nor are there facts to support other justifications
Byner might have argued for, such as maintaining the status
Indeed, even the notion that Harris could have been
a flight risk is utterly incredible on this record: After
all, it was Harris who called the police, and it was Harris
who then waited for the officer at his home.
In short, Byner applied handcuffs to Harris without
Gray and other Eleventh Circuit
any justification at all.
Therefore, Byner violated Harris’s Fourth Amendment right.
Harris must still show that the violation was clearly
officials, in their individual capacities, from suit unless
the law preexisting the defendant official’s supposedly
wrongful act was already established to such a high degree
that every objectively reasonable official standing in the
defendant official was doing would be clearly unlawful
Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d
given the circumstances.”
1275, 1282 (11th Cir. 2002).
As this court has explained:
“[The requirement that a right be clearly
established] is fundamentally a question
of fair notice: If the law does not make
the officer aware that his ‘conduct would
protected by qualified immunity, Saucier
v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001);
however, if the plaintiff can show that
‘a materially similar case has already
been decided’ in his favor, then fair
notice exists and qualified immunity does
not attach. Mercado v. City of Orlando,
407 F.3d 1152. 1159 (11th Cir. 2005).”
Schultz v. City of Brundidge, 2012 WL 705358 at *5 (M.D.
Ala. 2012) (Thompson, J.).
As discussed above, Gray is materially similar to the
There, as here, the officer handcuffed an
individual during a Terry stop that had been justified at
And there, as here, the circumstances did
The court acknowledges that the age of the plaintiff,
who was nine years old, played a role in Gray.
established law despite the factual difference. First, the
portion of Gray finding that the officer committed a
constitutional violation turns not on Gray’s age but on the
lack of any safety rationale for handcuffing her.
the Gray court relied on cases decided in the context of
Terry stops in general rather than only school- and minorspecific cases.
And, third, the Gray court noted that
there had been no cases “addressing before today when it
may be reasonable to use handcuffs in an investigatory stop
absent a safety rationale.” 458 F.3d at 1306 (emphasis
In other words, the Gray court viewed itself as
addressing the use of handcuffs in Terry stops generally,
not the use of handcuffs only on children.
considerations leave the court firmly convinced that Gray,
decided in 2006, gave Byner ample notice that unjustified
As such, he is not entitled to qualified
immunity, or to summary judgment, on the § 1983 claim.
Furthermore, even if the holding of Gray were not
sufficient standing alone to give Byner fair notice that
his conduct was unconstitutional, there is another aspect
of Gray that supports the court’s conclusion that Byner was
The Gray court concluded that, despite the
absence of any factually similar case-law, the officer was
not entitled to qualified immunity because his action was
an “obvious violation” of the Fourth Amendment.
F.3d at 1307.
The court recognized that, in so-called
“obvious clarity cases,” an officer’s conduct may be “well
beyond the hazy border that sometimes separates lawful
conduct from unlawful conduct, such that every objectively
reasonable officer would have known that the conduct was
Id. at 1306-7 (internal quotation marks and
In such a case, officers are on notice
despite the lack of factually similar case-law precedent.
See Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002) (suggesting
constitutional principles may give fair warning); id.
incapable of giving fair and clear warning’” and in some
identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious
clarity to the specific conduct in question, even though
the very action in question has [not] previously been held
unlawful’”) (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259,
271 (1997)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Gray court found that handcuffing a nine-year-old
during a Terry stop without a safety rationale in order to
punish her was an obvious violation of her Fourth Amendment
But, again, at least in Gray there was some
In this case, there is simply no
justification at all.
The court finds that the use of
handcuffing during a Terry stop with no justification is
“well beyond the hazy border that sometimes separates
lawful conduct from unlawful conduct, such that every
objectively reasonable officer would have known that the
conduct was unlawful,” Gray, 458 F.3d at 1306-7 (internal
quotation marks omitted); it is therefore obvious that such
use is unconstitutional.
Byner was on notice and is
therefore not entitled to qualified immunity.
Harris’s state-law claim of false imprisonment on the basis
of Alabama’s state-agent immunity doctrine as restated in
Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392 (Ala. 2000), and under 1975
Ala. Code § 6-5-338.
False imprisonment is defined by statute as “the
unlawful detention of the person of another for any length
of time whereby he is deprived of his personal liberty.”
1975 Ala. Code § 6-5-170.
Alabama law also specifically
authorizes officers to conduct Terry-type stops, 1975 Ala.
Code § 15-5-30, and to search for weapons on reasonable
In this case, the court has already determined
that Officer Byner’s initial seizure of Harris was a Terry
stop supported by reasonable suspicion; therefore, to that
point, there was no unlawful detention.
Cf. Upshaw v.
McArdle, 650 So. 2d 875, 878 (Ala. 1994) (existence of
probable cause warranted judgment for officer on falseimprisonment claim).
justified at its inception, but unreasonably intrusive in
its scope, can constitute “unlawful detention” for the
authorities indicate that a false-imprisonment claim is
See 35 C.J.S. False
viable under these circumstances.
Imprisonment § 35 (2013) (“Circumstances attending or
following a detention lawful in its inception may render
imprisonment.”); id. at § 38 (“A person who in arresting
or detaining a person imposes unnecessary force, hardship,
imprisonment.”); see also Landry v. A-Able Bonding, Inc.,
“[l]iability for false imprisonment is not foreclosed by
a lawfully executed initial arrest, for false imprisonment
may result from an unlawful detention following a lawful
justification during a Terry stop is obviously unreasonable
handcuffing without justification during a state-authorized
Terry-type stop is obviously unreasonable and thus violates
evidence establishing that Officer Byner handcuffed him
with no justification whatsoever establishes a viable
Officer Byner claims that he is nevertheless immune.
Under Alabama law,
appointed or employed as such peace
officer by the state or a county or
municipality thereof ... shall at all
times be deemed to be officers 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 enforcement
1975 Ala. Code § 6-5-338. Section 6-5-338, therefore,
overlaps with Alabama’s common-law doctrine of state-agent
In Ex parte Butts, 775 So. 2d 173, 177-78 (Ala.
2000), the Alabama Supreme Court adopted a restatement of
common-law state-agent immunity, first articulated by the
plurality in Cranman, as follows, in part:
“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 ... .
enforcement of the criminal laws of
State, including, but not limited
law-enforcement officers’ arresting
attempting to arrest persons; ....”
The court also recognized certain
exceptions to, or limitations on, this immunity as follows,
“[However,] a State agent shall not be
immune from civil liability in his or her
(1) when the Constitution or laws of the
United States, or the Constitution of
regulations of this State enacted or
promulgated for the purpose of regulating
the activities of a governmental agency
require otherwise; or
(2) when the State agent acts willfully,
maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith,
beyond his or her authority, or under a
mistaken interpretation of the law.”
Although this common-law doctrine speaks to “State
agents,” it has since been modified to be coextensive with
the § 6-5-338 statutory immunity offered peace officers for
“a county or municipality,” with the result that the
immunity in ¶ (4) above is no longer limited to state
employees but now extends to county and municipal police
Paragraph 4, along with the opening paragraph,
now reads, in part, as follows:
“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
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 § 6–5–338(a), Ala. Code
Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So.2d 300, 309 (Ala.2006).
Thus, even the exceptions to, or limitations on, stateagent immunity apply to § 6-5-338 as well. Downing v. City
of Dothan, 59 So. 3d 16, 19-20 (Ala. 2010).
Under the burden-shifting framework established by the
Alabama Supreme Court, the defendant bears the initial
burden of establishing that he was acting in a function of
the type that would entitle him to state-action immunity.
Ex parte Estate of Reynolds, 946 So.2d 450, 452 (Ala.
2006); see also Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240,
1255 (11th Cir. 2010). “If the State agent makes such a
showing, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show
Reynolds, 946 So.2d at 452.
In this case, there is no dispute that Byner was a
peace officer as defined in § 6-5-338(a).
The question is
performing a discretionary function for the purposes of
§ 6-5-338, and exercising judgment in the enforcement of
the criminal laws, for the purposes of Cranman.3
“those acts as to which there is no hard and fast rule as
to the course of conduct that one must or must not take and
those acts requiring exercise in judgment and choice and
involving what is just and proper under the circumstances.”
Borders v. City of Huntsville, 875 So. 2d 1168, 1178 (Ala.
2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
3. It appears these two formulations are essentially
equivalent, except that latter applies only to the
enforcement of the criminal laws, while the former
applies generally to discretionary functions.
Hollis, 950 So.2d at 309.
That difference does not
matter in this case, which relates to the enforcement of
the criminal laws.
therefore, “arrests and attempted arrests are classified
as discretionary functions.”
However, while police officers have discretion to
arrest or to attempt to arrest, that discretion is not
unbridled, and when an officer exceeds the legal bounds for
the exercise of that discretion, the discretionary-function
exception does not shield the officer.
For example, in
Telfare v. City of Huntsville, 841 So. 2d 1222, 1228 (Ala.
2002), the Alabama Supreme Court found an arrest to fall
outside the bounds of discretionary functions and the
exercise of judgment.
In that case, the court determined
that, under state law, an officer has no authority to
arrest for a misdemeanor not committed in his presence;
therefore, the officer had no discretion to do so, and the
arrest was not a discretionary function.
841 So.2d at
The court rejected immunity under both § 6-5-338(a)
After finding that the only issue to be resolved
was whether the officer in question had been performing a
discretionary function, the court adopted the federal
“arguable probable cause” standard to determine whether an
arrest without probable cause was within the officer’s
875 So. 2d at 1180.
Because the facts
surrounding the officer’s arrest of the plaintiff were
disputed, the appellate court was unable to determine
whether the officer had arguable probable cause and thus
was entitled to discretionary-function as a matter law.
The court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary
judgment against the plaintiff and remanded the case for
resolution of those underlying disputed factual issues.
Here, while Officer Byner clearly has discretion under
state law to handcuff a person while conducting a Terrytype stop, that discretion, like all police discretion, is
not unbridled, and, when an officer exceeds the legal
This court has already found that Officer Byner
exceeded his authority when he handcuffed Harris with no
Alternatively, even if Officer Byner’s conduct in this
case could be viewed as a discretionary function under
Alabama law, he is still not entitled to immunity.
stated, Cranman, as modified, recognizes certain exceptions
to, or limitations on, immunity: if the police officer
“acted willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith,
or beyond his or her authority.”
Reynolds, 946 So.2d at
connected to the Terry stop, his conduct could be viewed
as nothing less than willful or in bad faith and simply to
hurt or embarrass Harris.4
Therefore, Byner’s motion is
denied as to the state-law claim as well.
4. It could be argued that Officer Byner’s conduct
also falls within another exception to immunity, as
beyond his authority. The court does not reach that
Harris also seeks summary judgment; as best as the
court can discern from his unclear briefing, his motion
relates only to his § 1983 claim.
Although the court has
concluded on this thin record that Byner violated Harris’s
Fourth Amendment rights, in the court’s view the prudent
course is to proceed to trial on both claims in order to
assure that the facts are fully aired. The court therefore
denies summary judgment to Harris on the § 1983 claim in
the exercise of discretion.
district court has the power to deny summary judgment in
a case where there is reason to believe that the better
course would be to proceed to a full trial.”
United Parcel Serv., Inc., 254 F.3d 1281, 1285 (11th Cir.
2001) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United
States v. Certain Real and Personal Prop. Belonging to
Hayes, 943 F.2d 1292, 1297 (11th Cir. 1991) (“A trial court
well-supported motion for summary judgment, if it believes
the case would benefit from a full hearing”); 10A Wright,
Miller & Kane, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2728 (3d ed.).5
5. The 2010 amendments to Rule 56 modified the
language of current subsection (a). From 2007 to 2010,
the word “shall,” in the phrase “The court shall grant
summary judgment,” was briefly changed to “should.” The
2007 amendments had used the term “should” to reflect
that cases interpreting the rule had recognized that
courts have some discretion to deny even a well-supported
summary-judgment motion. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) advisory
committee’s note to 2007 amendments.
This change was
reversed in 2010; the committee expressed concern that
interpreting the rule and concluded that, “Eliminating
‘shall’ created an unacceptable risk of changing the
summary-judgment standard.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) advisory
committee’s note to 2010 amendments. Despite the changes
in language, and in light of the committee’s concerns
about altering the established summary-judgment standard,
it is clear that precedential interpretations of the rule
preceding both the 2007 and 2010 changes remain good law.
See Farmers Ins. Exchange v. RNK, Inc., 632 F.3d 777, 782
n. 4 (1st Cir. 2011) (the 2010 amendments were “‘intended
to improve the procedures for presenting and deciding
summary-judgment motions’” but not “‘to change the
Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, Report of
the Judicial Conference, page 14 (Sept. 2009)) (emphasis
removed); Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Trotman, 2013 WL
1613243 at *1 n.1 (M.D. Ala. 2013) (Capel, M.J.)
(concluding that prior Rule 56 decisions continue to bind
the court). Under the pre-2007 rule, which used the same
“shall” terminology that is again in effect, the court
In this case, the court is of the opinion that the
better course is to proceed to trial.
The parties have
Officer Byner and Harris was an arrest or a Terry stop.
But the court has determined that the true issue here is
whether Officer Byner’s use of handcuffs was reasonably
related in scope to the circumstances which justified the
seizure in the first place.
As no depositions were taken
in this matter, and most of the evidence submitted at
justice will be better served by fully airing the events
of the day in question, particularly with regard to any
possible justification for the use of handcuffs.
The court therefore exercises its discretion to deny
Harris’s summary-judgment motion.
had discretion to deny a wells-supported summary judgment
motion. The court concludes it still does.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the motion for summary
judgment (Doc. No. 37) filed by defendant M.D. Byner and
the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 39) filed by
plaintiff Eric Harris are denied.
DONE, this the 14th day of January, 2014.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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