Poag et al v. City of Florence Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the defendants' motion to dismiss the claims asserted in plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint is GRANTED; it is ORDERED that all of plaintiffs' federal claims are DISMISSED with prejudice; plaintiffs' state law claims are DISMISSED, but without prejudice to plaintiffs' right to refile them in a state court; costs are taxed to plaintiffs. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 10/12/2016. (AHI)
2016 Oct-12 PM 03:09
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LUANNA POAG, WILLIAM
ROBERT HARRY, and MIRIAM )
CITY OF FLORENCE,
ALABAMA, GUY LAMBERT,
JEFF STANFIELD, and JOHN
Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-1088-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs, Luanna Poag, William Robert Harry, and Miriam Ann Haney, filed
a First Amended Complaint on August 12, 2016, against defendants City of Florence,
Alabama (“the City”), and Guy Lambert, Jeff Stanfield, and John Hamm, all of whom
are police officers for the City.1 The First Amended Complaint asserts claims pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful search and seizure (Counts I and II), unlawful arrest
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint). The caption of the First Amended Complaint also
lists four additional defendants: Zach Maxwell; Dustin Key; Jason Novak; and Eric Pollard. See
id. at 1. Even so, the body of the First Amended Complaint does not contain any allegations against
those defendants. The court will presume that, when drafting the First Amended Complaint,
plaintiffs’ attorney simply copied the heading from the original Complaint, which did name those
additional defendants, see doc. no. 1 (Complaint), but that plaintiffs did not intend to assert any
claims against those four additional defendants in the First Amended Complaint. That presumption
is further supported by the fact that plaintiffs moved to voluntarily dismiss all claims against
Maxwell, Key, Novak, and Pollard on August 12, 2016, the same date the First Amended Complaint
was filed. See doc. no. 16 (Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss Certain Defendants).
and detention (Count III), excessive force (Count IV), and failure to train (Count V),
as well as supplemental state law claims for false arrest/false imprisonment (Count VI)
and trespass (Count VII, improperly labeled as “Count V”).2 The case presently is
before the court on defendants’ motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).3 Upon consideration of the
motion, briefs, and First Amended Complaint, the court concludes that the motion is
due to be granted.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a
complaint for, among other reasons, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a),
which requires that a pleading contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While that
pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations,” Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:
A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation
See doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint).
Doc. no. 20.
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” [Twombly, 550 U.S., at
555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]”
devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570.
A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id., at 556. The plausibility standard
is not akin to a “probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a
sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a
complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s
liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of
‘entitlement to relief.’” Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First,
the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained
in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a
motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the
complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule
8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical,
code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of
discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.
Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives
a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states
a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where
the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged — but it has not
“show[n]” — “that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc.
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to
dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they
are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.
While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis and alterations supplied).
II. ALLEGATIONS OF PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT
Plaintiffs Luanna Poag and Robert Harry reside together at 2404 Chickasaw
Drive: an address that is located in an upper-middle-class, single-family, low-crime,
residential neighborhood in Florence, Alabama.4 Chickasaw Drive is approximately
three-quarters of a mile in length, and there are approximately fifty-five homes on the
street. As is usual in urban areas, odd-numbered and even-numbered properties are
located on opposite sides of the street.5 There are “more than twelve” homes either
within or bordering what plaintiffs refer to as “the ‘2400 block of Chickasaw Drive.’”6
The house occupied by plaintiffs Poag and Harry is an all-brick, ranch-style home of
approximately 1,500 square feet, and it is situated on a lot of approximately 138 feet
by 125 feet.7 The home has a front porch with an entrance and a large picture window
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶¶ 5, 7, 25.
Id. ¶ 26.
Id. ¶¶ 27-28.
Id. ¶ 30.
facing Chickasaw Drive, and an attached carport located on the northern side.8 The
distance from the northwest corner of the carport to the northern property line is
approximately forty feet.9
An “older couple” resided at 2410 Chickasaw Drive on July 4, 2014.
35. At all times relevant to this matter, an older couple resided at
2410 Chickasaw Drive, in Florence, Alabama. The 2410 property is
located north of the Poag/Harry property. The lot of the 2410 property
is approximately 138 feet by 125 feet with a brick, ranch-styled home
located on the lot. The 2410 residence has a front porch and entrance that
face Chickasaw Drive. The distance from the northwest corner of the
2410 residence to the Poag/Harry property line is approximately 75 feet.
36. Thick trees, bushes, and an intermittent fence physically
separate the 2410 property from the Poag/Harry property. Any view of
the Poag/Harry home, including the carport, from the front porch of the
2410 residence, would be obstructed by the structure of [the] 2410 home
itself and/or by the trees, bushes, and an intermittent fence located along
the property line. It is not possible for someone who is sitting on the front
porch of the 2410 residence to observe any activities in the Poag/Harry
home, carport or curtilage.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 35-36 (alteration supplied).
Plaintiff Miriam Ann Haney is a friend of both Poag and Harry, and she was an
overnight guest in their home on July 4, 2014.10 The three plaintiffs were inside the
home during the afternoon hours of that national holiday, preparing for a holiday cookout. The weather was clear, and the home and surrounding areas were lit by the
Id. ¶ 31.
Id. ¶ 32.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶ 11.
38. In the afternoon hours on July 4, 2014, as Ms. Haney and Ms.
Poag were sitting on the couch talking, Ms. Haney looked through the
“storm door” of the carport entrance and noticed men walking around
inside the carport of the Poag/Harry home. Ms. Haney informed Ms.
Poag of what she saw.
39. Ms. Poag, who was unarmed, and was wearing sweat pants and
a t-shirt, opened the door that led to the carport.
40. Upon opening the door, Ms. Poag was immediately faced with
two armed police officers from the City of Florence, Defendants Guy
Lambert and Jeff Stanfield, who had guns pointed directly at her. With
guns drawn, Defendants Stanfield and Lambert began yelling commands
and orders at Ms. Poag, demanding that she leave the interior of her home
and place her hands on the wall of the carport. One of the officers, either
Defendant Lambert or Defendant Stanfield, was in “swat” type attire and
had a large assault rifle pointed directly at Ms. Poag. The other officer,
either Defendant Lambert or Defendant Stanfield, was in a regular police
uniform and had his service weapon pointed directly at Ms. Poag.
41. When Ms. Poag went to the door, she was not armed, nor did
she appear to be armed. Ms. Poag was not injured, nor did she exhibit
any signs of being injured. She was not, initially, nervous or fearful, nor
was she acting in a nervous or fearful manner. She was not dressed in an
unusual manner for the time of day or season. She did not attempt to
evade the interaction with Defendants Stanfield and/or Lambert, nor was
she acting in an evasive manner. Ms. Poag was not intoxicated, nor was
she acting in an intoxicated manner. Ms. Poag was not having an
emotional breakdown or psychotic break, nor was she behaving in an
emotional or psychotic manner. Ms. Poag was not having a heart attack
or other medical emergency, nor did she appear to be having a heart
attack or other medical emergency.
42. Upon seeing Defendants Stanfield and Lambert in her carport
Id. ¶ 37.
and even after being confronted by Defendants Stanfield and Lambert at
gunpoint, Ms. Poag did not lock the doors, shut the curtains, slam the
door in the officers’ faces, refuse to answer a ringing phone, shout or
cuss, instruct anyone in the house to run or hide, attempt to discard
evidence of some crime, or attempt to flee. She saw Defendants Lambert
and Stanfield in her carport and did nothing more than open the carport
door and comply with their forceful and armed demands.
Id. ¶¶ 38-42.
Officers Lambert and Stanfield did not possess, or present Poag with, a warrant
before asking her to leave the interior of her home, and they did not obtain her consent
before requiring her to leave.12 They also did not
inform Ms. Poag they had received a call about activities on the
Poag/Henry property; ask Ms. Poag for identification; briefly question her
about the events of the day; ask whether she heard a gunshot; ask whether
she, or anyone else in the home, had fired a gun on the property or in the
home that day; ask whether she, or anyone in the Poag/Harry home had
been shot; inquire about whether she, or anyone in the home, was in need
of law enforcement assistance; inquire about whether she, or anyone in
the home, was in need of medical assistance or emergency medical
services; ask whether she, or anyone in the home, had shouted anything
such as “help murder.”
Id. ¶ 44. Once Lambert and Stanfield detained Poag at gunpoint in her carport, Poag
was not free to leave.13
46. After hearing the commotion, Plaintiffs Harry and Haney both
came to the door that lead [sic] to the carport of the Poag/Harry home. As
with Ms. Poag, Plaintiffs Harry and Haney were immediately faced with
two armed police officers from the City of Florence, Defendants Guy
Id. ¶ 43.
Id. ¶ 44.
Lambert and Jeff Stanfield, who had guns pointing directly at them. With
guns drawn, Defendants Lambert and Stanfield began barking orders at
Plaintiffs Harry and Haney, demanding that they leave the home and
place their hands on the wall of the carport next to where Ms. Poag was
47. When Plaintiffs Harry and Haney went to the door, neither
were [sic] armed, nor did either appear to be armed. Neither was injured,
nor did either exhibit any signs of being injured. Neither was initially
nervous or fearful, nor was either acting in a nervous or fearful manner.
Neither was dressed in an unusual manner for the time of day or season.
Neither attempted to evade the interaction with Defendants Stanfield
and/or Lambert, nor was either acting in an evasive manner. Neither was
intoxicated, nor was either acting in an intoxicated manner. Neither was
having an emotional breakdown or psychotic break, nor was either
behaving as though he or she were having an emotional or psychotic
episode. Neither was having a heart attack or any other medical
emergency, nor did either give the appearance of having a heart attack or
any other medical emergency.
48. Upon discovering there were police officers on the Poag/Harry
property, and even after Plaintiff Poag had already [been] forced from the
home and detained at gunpoint, neither Plaintiff Harry nor Plaintiff Haney
locked the doors, shut the curtains, slammed the door in the officers’
faces, refused to answer a ringing phone, shouted or cussed, instructed
anyone in the house to run or hide evidence of some crime, or attempted
to flee. They merely responded to a commotion in the carport and
complied with Defendant Stanfield and Lambert’s forceful and armed
Id. ¶¶ 46-48 (alteration supplied).
Officers Lambert and Stanfield did not possess, or present Harry and Haney
with, a warrant before asking them to leave the interior of the home, and they did not
obtain Harry and Haney’s consent before requiring them to leave.14 As with Poag, the
officers did not provide Harry or Haney with any information about why they were
present in the home carport, and they did not ask any questions to determine whether
anyone in the home had been shot or needed police assistance.15 Once Lambert and
Stanfield detained Harry and Haney at gunpoint in the carport, they were not free to
Soon after Officers Lambert and Stanfield entered the carport and detained
plaintiffs, defendant John Hamm arrived on the scene with four other officers, who
“took positions” on the property.17 The seven armed officers surrounded plaintiffs,18
even though none of them observed any suspicious or illegal activity, had a physical
description of any potential suspects or victims, asked for clarification as to the address
of the 911 call that had resulted in their dispatch to Poag and Harry’s property,
attempted to independently corroborate the statements made by the 911 caller,
observed any guns, or saw or heard anything that would lead them to believe that
anyone in the residence was in need of emergency assistance.19 Officer Hamm then
Id. ¶ 49.
Id. ¶ 50.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶ 50.
Id. ¶ 52. The four other officers who arrived with defendant John Hamm were Zach
Maxwell, Dustin Key, Jason Novak, and Eric Pollard — the same officers who were named in
plaintiff’s original Complaint but omitted from the First Amended Complaint. See supra, note 1.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶ 52.
Id. ¶ 53.
entered the carport and joined Officers Lambert and Stanfield in their detention of
“Shortly thereafter,” Officers Stanfield and Hamm moved from the carport to the
interior of the home and searched the home, with their weapons drawn, for
approximately five minutes.21 They did not have a warrant to conduct such a search.22
In addition, plaintiffs allege that:
58. At some point after the incident, Plaintiffs learned a neighbor
had called 911 on July 4, 2014 to report hearing what sounded like a
gunshot and someone saying the words “help murder.” The caller, who
was the older male resident of the 2410 residence, acknowledged that he
was the individual who called 911 on July 4, 2014. Because he was
aware of “Neighborhood Watch” signs, he called 911 to report what
sounded like a high caliber gunshot, and a woman utter the words “help
murder.” He stated the sounds came from 50 feet away from where he
was sitting on the front porch of the 2410 property. He called 911 to
report what he heard, even though he thought the sounds could have
come from the television set. He admitted he was perplexed. He also
informed the undersigned that with the exception of speaking with the
undersigned, her deceased father, Robert Gonce, and the 911 dispatcher,
he had only spoken to one (1) police officer, who he believed was a
sergeant. He stated he reported to that officer the very same information
he reported to the undersigned and to Mr. Gonce.
59. On July 4, 2014, the 911 caller’s report was based solely on
what the 911 caller reported, that was solely “auditory.” The 911 caller
never observed anything. Rather the 911 caller reported to the
undersigned that he heard two things: a gun shot and the words “help
murder,” and he thought those sounds could have come from a television set.
Id. ¶ 54.
Id. ¶ 55.
Id. ¶¶ 56-57.
60. No one else in the neighborhood, not even the 911 caller’s
spouse, reported hearing a gunshot or the words “help murder” on July 4,
2014. No one, not even the 911 caller’s spouse, could corroborated [sic]
the 911 caller’s statements about what he heard.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 58-60 (emphasis in original, footnotes
Constitutional Claims Against The Individual Officers
The individual defendants — Florence Police Officers Guy Lambert, Jeff
Stanfield, and John Hamm — assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity for
plaintiff’s constitutional claims.
The doctrine of qualified immunity protects
governmental officials who are sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money damages in
their personal, or individual, capacities, but only so long as “their conduct violates no
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The doctrine
requires that a defendant claiming immunity must initially “prove that ‘he was acting
within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred.’” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Courson
v. McMillian, 939 F.2d 1479, 1487 (11th Cir. 1991)). That threshold inquiry is easily
satisfied here, as the individual defendants were engaged in law enforcement functions
on the date and at the time of the events that led to plaintiffs’ complaint.
The next step generally is to apply a two-part test. The first step is for the court
to determine whether the facts, viewed “in the light most favorable to the party
asserting the injury,” show that “the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right?”
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). If that question is answered affirmatively,
the court will proceed to analyze the second aspect of the two-part inquiry: i.e.,
“whether the right was clearly established.” Id. Strict adherence to the order of those
two inquiries is not required, however. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236
(2009) (“On reconsidering the procedure required in Saucier, we conclude that, while
the sequence set forth there is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as
mandatory.”). Instead, in appropriate cases, it is within a district court’s discretion to
assume that a constitutional violation occurred in order to address, in the first instance,
the question of whether such a presumed violation was “clearly established” on the
date of the incident leading to suit. Id.
When determining whether the unlawfulness of an official’s actions was “clearly
established,” the pertinent question is whether the state of the law on the date of the
defendant’s alleged misconduct placed defendants on “fair warning that their alleged
treatment of [the plaintiff] was unconstitutional.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741
(2002) (alteration supplied); Williams v. Consolidated City of Jacksonville, 341 F.3d
1261, 1270 (11th Cir. 2003) (same).
The Supreme Court has rejected the requirement that the facts of previous cases
must always be “materially similar” to those facing the plaintiff. Hope, 536 U.S. at
739. Instead, in order for a constitutional right to be deemed “clearly established,”
its contours “must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right. This is not to say that
an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very
action in question has previously been held unlawful, see Mitchell [v.
Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511,] 535, n. 12, 105 S. Ct. 2806, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411; but
it is to say that in the light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be
apparent.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S. Ct. 3034,
97 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1987).
Hope, 536 U.S. at 741 (alteration in original). An officer can receive “fair notice” of
his or her unlawful conduct in various ways.
First, the words of the pertinent federal statute or federal
constitutional provision in some cases will be specific enough to establish
clearly the law applicable to particular conduct and circumstances and to
overcome qualified immunity, even in the total absence of case law. This
kind of case is one kind of “obvious clarity” case. For example, the
words of a federal statute or federal constitutional provision may be so
clear and the conduct so bad that case law is not needed to establish that
the conduct cannot be lawful.
Second, if the conduct is not so egregious as to violate, for
example, the Fourth Amendment on its face, we then turn to case law.
When looking at case law, some broad statements of principle in case law
are not tied to particularized facts and can clearly establish law applicable
in the future to different sets of detailed facts. See Marsh [v. Butler
County, Ala.], 268 F.3d [1014,] 1031-32 n.9 [11th Cir. 2001]. For
example, if some authoritative judicial decision decides a case by
determining that “X Conduct” is unconstitutional without tying that
determination to a particularized set of facts, the decision on “X Conduct”
can be read as having clearly established a constitutional principle: put
differently, the precise facts surrounding “X Conduct” are immaterial to
the violation. These judicial decisions can control “with obvious clarity”
a wide variety of later factual circumstances. These precedents are hard
to distinguish from later cases because so few facts are material to the
broad legal principle established in these precedents; thus, this is why
factual differences are often immaterial to the later decisions. But for
judge-made law, there is a presumption against wide principles of law.
And if a broad principle in case law is to establish clearly the law
applicable to a specific set of facts facing a governmental official, it must
do so “with obvious clarity” to the point that every objectively reasonable
government official facing the circumstances would know that the
official’s conduct did violate federal law when the official acted.
Third, if we have no case law with a broad holding of “X” that is
not tied to particularized facts, we then look at precedent that is tied to the
facts. That is, we look for cases in which the Supreme Court or we, or the
pertinent state supreme court has said that “Y Conduct” is
unconstitutional in “Z Circumstances.” We believe that most judicial
precedents are tied to particularized facts and fall into this category. . . .
When fact-specific precedents are said to have established the law, a case
that is fairly distinguishable from the circumstances facing a government
official cannot clearly establish the law for the circumstances facing that
government official; so, qualified immunity applies. On the other hand,
if the circumstances facing a government official are not fairly
distinguishable, that is, are materially similar, the precedent can clearly
establish the applicable law.
Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1350-52 (11th Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original,
alterations supplied). See also Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011) (“We do
not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the
statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”).
Search and seizure claims
Plaintiffs assert that defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights when
they: (1) “entered the carport and curtilage of the Poag/Harry home without consent,
a warrant, or exigent circumstance and without probable cause” (Count I);23 (2)
“entered the interior of the Poag/Harry home without consent, a warrant or exigent
circumstance and without probable cause” (Count II);24 and (3) “entered Plaintiff
Poag’s and Plaintiff Harry’s home and arrested and detained at gunpoint Plaintiffs
Poag, Harry, and Haney without consent, a warrant or exigent circumstance and
without probable cause.”25
As an initial matter, the court observes that the carport of Poag and Harry’s
home was entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protection as the interior of the
home itself. “A home’s curtilage, ‘[t]he private property immediately adjacent to a
home[,] is entitled to the same protection against unreasonable search and seizure as
the home itself.’” United States v. Noriega, 676 F.3d 1252, 1262 (11th Cir. 2012)
(quoting United States v. Taylor, 458 F.3d 1201, 1206 (11th Cir. 2006)) (alterations in
“It is a ‘basic principle of Fourth Amendment law’ that searches and seizures
inside a home [or its curtilage] without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.”
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶ 81.
Id. ¶ 83.
Id. ¶ 35.
Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980) (alteration supplied).
But we have also recognized that this presumption may be overcome in
some circumstances because “[t]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth
Amendment is ‘reasonableness.’”[Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S.
398, 403 (2006)]; see also Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. , , 130
S. Ct. 546, 548, 175 L. Ed. 2d 410 (2009) (per curiam). Accordingly, the
warrant requirement is subject to certain reasonable exceptions. Brigham
City, supra, at 403, 126 S. Ct. 1943.
One well-recognized exception applies when “‘the exigencies of
the situation’ make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that [a]
warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth
Amendment.” Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 394, 98 S. Ct. 2408, 57
L. Ed. 2d 290 (1978); see also Payton, supra, at 590, 100 S. Ct. 1371
(“[T]he Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the
house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably
be crossed without a warrant”).
Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459-60 (2011) (first, fifth, and sixth alterations in
original, other alterations supplied).
One exigency that will justify a warrantless search is the “emergency aid”
exception. Under that exception, “law enforcement officers may enter a home [or its
curtilage] without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or
to protect an occupant from imminent injury.” Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 403-04
(alteration supplied) (citing Mincey, 437 U.S. at 392; Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S.
103, 118 (2006)). The police officers’ subjective intent is irrelevant; instead, the
officers must only demonstrate “an objectively reasonable basis for believing . . . that
a person within [the house] is in need of immediate aid.” Fisher, 558 U.S. at 47
(alteration in original, citations and internal quotation marks omitted).26
Here, defendants Lambert, Stanfield, and Hamm assert that they were justified
by exigent circumstances when they stepped onto plaintiffs’ carport and, thereafter,
entered into both the sunroom and the home itself, as well when they detained
plaintiffs. They rely primarily on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in United States v.
Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002). The pertinent facts of that case were stated
At 10:22 p.m. on August 4, 1999, Officer Norman Bernard of the
Alexander City Police Department received a dispatch from a 911
operator to investigate a report of gunshots and arguing emanating from
3785 Washington Street. Officer Bernard proceeded immediately to the
location of the disturbance. En route, the officer received a second
dispatch from the 911 operator indicating the caller was reporting
continued gunshots and arguing. Officer Bernard arrived at the
designated address at approximately 10:29 p.m., within a minute of the
second dispatch from the emergency operator. Providing back-up in a
separate patrol car was Officer Marcus Billips, who also responded to the
Upon arrival, Officer Bernard pulled into the driveway of the
residence located at 3785 Washington Street, a mobile home occupied by
Appellant. The officer illuminated the residence with his headlights and
spotlight. On the porch of the residence were Appellant and his wife,
Lena Holloway. Due to the high-risk nature of the 911 call, Officer
Bernard drew his service weapon as he exited his vehicle. From behind
There technically also remains a requirement that a search conducted under emergency
circumstances be supported by probable cause. United States v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331, 1337-38
(11th Cir. 2002). That inquiry, however, is effectively subsumed by the emergency inquiry. As the
Eleventh Circuit has held, “in an emergency, the probable cause element may be satisfied where
officers reasonably believe a person is in danger.” Id. at 1338.
his car door, Officer Bernard instructed Appellant and his wife to raise
their hands into view. Appellant complied; his wife did not. As directed,
Appellant stepped off the porch and walked towards Officer Bernard and
Officer Billips. As Appellant proceeded towards the officers, a third
individual, later identified as neighbor Mike Machado, emerged from
behind a horse trailer parked in the yard. The neighbor also was ordered
to raise his hands and walk towards the officers. Both Appellant and his
neighbor were instructed to lie on the ground facing away from the
officers, their palms facing up.
Although the two men were compliant, Mrs. Holloway refused to
leave the porch, and instead sat down on a chair. Despite several verbal
commands, Mrs. Holloway refused to move. Suddenly, a child appeared
in the doorway of the residence. The child was ordered back into the
house. Ultimately, because of Mrs. Holloway’s unresponsiveness,
Officer Bernard threatened to employ his pepper spray. Finally, with
encouragement from Appellant, Mrs. Holloway stepped off the porch, but
refused to raise her hands. By this time, Sergeant Randy Walters, who
had arrived on the scene to provide additional support, stepped in to
secure Mrs. Holloway.
After Mrs. Holloway was placed under control, Officer Bernard
turned his attention to Appellant. The officer handcuffed Appellant and
quickly patted him down to see if he was concealing a weapon. Officer
Billips then engaged in the same procedure with respect to Mr. Machado.
Once they were secured, the two men were placed separately in the
officers’ patrol cars. Altogether, approximately ten minutes elapsed from
the time the officers arrived on the scene to the time those present were
Having placed Appellant safely into his patrol car, Officer Bernard
approached the residence to check for victims and weapons on the
premises. In doing so, the officer observed several beer cans strewn
about the yard and porch. As he stepped onto the porch, Officer Bernard
saw a shotgun shell on top of the picnic table. Glancing around for a
corresponding weapon, the officer located a model 870 Remington
shotgun leaning against the side of the mobile home, approximately three
feet from where Appellant had been standing when the officers first
arrived. The safety was disengaged. Additional shotgun shells, two
expended and one live, were found lying in the grass by the side of the
residence. Officer Bernard locked the weapon in the trunk of his patrol
car and returned to the house to continue his search for victims and
investigate the disturbance. No victims were found.
After ensuring that everyone on the scene was safe, Officer
Bernard approached Appellant to inform him of the 911 call and to
explain the officers’ reasons for securing those present on the premises.
As Officer Bernard was explaining the officers’ actions, Appellant
interrupted to describe what had transpired earlier that evening.
According to Appellant, the commotion began when three males standing
on the railroad tracks behind Appellant’s mobile home started throwing
rocks at his house and horses. In an effort to ward off the men, Appellant
fired his shotgun into the air above the railroad tracks.
In light of his conversation with Appellant, Officer Bernard left to
speak with Sergeant Walters. According to Sergeant Walters, Appellant’s
account of the evening’s events matched an account given by Mrs.
Holloway. Based on this information, Sergeant Walters determined there
was sufficient cause to arrest Appellant. Appellant was then placed under
arrest by Officer Bernard at approximately 11:05 p.m., 36 minutes after
the officers first arrived on the scene.
Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1332-33 (footnote omitted). Holloway ultimately was indicted
by a federal grand jury for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).27 He moved to suppress any evidence of the firearm seized on
That statute provides, in pertinent part, that:
It shall be unlawful for any person –
(1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
the property, claiming that the search of his home violated the Fourth Amendment.
The district court denied the motion to suppress, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that
decision on appeal. Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1333, 1341.
The Eleventh Circuit found in the Holloway case that the officers “did not
violate the Fourth Amendment when they conducted a warrantless search of
[Holloway’s] home.” Id. at 1338 (alterations supplied). When the officers arrived at
the Holloway residence, everything they observed was consistent with the dispatch
reports of arguing and gunshots. Id. They were, therefore, justified by the exigent
circumstances presented in entering the home without a warrant to conduct a search.
Id. It was irrelevant that the officers did not ultimately locate any victims, because
they “reasonably believe[d] an emergency situation necessitate[d] their warrantless
search.” Id. at 1340 (alterations supplied). The officers also were justified by safety
concerns in temporarily securing the individuals present at the Holloway home prior
to conducting their search, because they had “reasonable cause to believe they were
entering a volatile and potentially dangerous situation based on the prior report of
gunshots.” Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1340. Finally, once the officers were lawfully
to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or
affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or
ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign
18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (alteration and ellipsis supplied).
present inside the home, they were justified in seizing Holloway’s gun, which was in
plain view. Id. As such, “neither the emergency search of [Holloway’s] residence nor
the seizure of the shotgun violated the Fourth Amendment’s proscription against
unreasonable searches and seizures.” Id. at 1341 (alteration supplied).
This court agrees with defendants that the Holloway decision precludes a finding
that plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures
were violated. As in Holloway, the officers in this case received a dispatch based upon
a 911 call indicating a potentially life-threatening situation, including a report of
gunshots and a cry of “help murder.”28 Therefore, even though Officers Lambert and
Stanfield did not possess a warrant, their entry into the carport of the house occupied
by Poag and Harry was justified for the purpose of determining whether anyone inside
posed a threat, was injured, or needed police assistance. The subsequent, warrantless
entry of Officers Stanfield and Hamm into the interior of the home itself was justified
for the same reason. Finally, the officers were justified in temporarily detaining
plaintiffs until they knew whether plaintiffs, or anyone else who might be inside the
home, presented a threat to their own safety or to the safety of others.
Plaintiffs focus on the fact that the neighbor who placed the 911 call acknowledged that
the gunshot noises he heard could have emanated from the television. But it appears that the
neighbor only made that acknowledgment after the fact, during an interview with plaintiffs’
attorney. There is no indication that the neighbor made any such acknowledgment during his 911
call, or that the officers had any other reason to believe that the reported gunfire actually might have
been television noise.
Because the defendant officers were justified in their warrantless entry into both
the carport and the home itself, and in their temporary detention of plaintiffs, no Fourth
Amendment violation occurred. At the very least, in light of Holloway, defendants did
not violate any of plaintiffs’ clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.
Accordingly, the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and
plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment unlawful search and seizure claims are due to be
Excessive force claim
Plaintiffs also contend that defendants’ detention of them while they conducted
a search of the premises constituted excessive force.29 “The Fourth Amendment’s
freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures encompasses the plain right to be
free from the use of excessive force in the course of an arrest.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284
F.3d 1188, 1197 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394-95
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶ 87 (alleging that defendants “entered Plaintiff
Poag’s and Plaintiff Harry’s home and arrested and detainment [sic] Plaintiffs Poag, Harry, and
Haney at gunpoint, which was an unreasonable and excessive use of force, and was without consent,
a warrant or exigent circumstance and without probable cause”). Defendants assert that the
excessive force claim should not be considered independently, and, indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has
held that claims for excessive force used during an unlawful arrest are subsumed by the underlying
unlawful arrest claim. Jackson v. Sauls, 206 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2000) (“Under this Circuit’s
law, however, a claim that any force in an illegal stop or arrest is excessive is subsumed in the illegal
stop or arrest claim and is not a discrete excessive force claim.”). However, if, as here, the
underlying arrest or seizure has been deemed to be constitutional, the excessive force claim should
be considered independently. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1197 (11th Cir. 2002) (“Once
summary judgment is granted in Ferraro’s favor on the wrongful arrest claim, Lee’s claim that the
officer used excessive force must be analyzed independently.’).
(1989)). The reasonableness inquiry is an objective one: “the question is whether the
officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances
confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Graham,
490 U.S. at 397 (citations omitted). In other words, “[a]n officer’s evil intentions will
not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force;
nor will an officer’s good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force
constitutional.” Id. (citations omitted) (alteration supplied).
The court may consider a number of factors when determining whether the force
applied was “reasonable” under the circumstances, including: (1) the “severity, or lack
of severity, of the alleged crime in issue,” id. at 396; (2) “whether the person against
whom the force was used posed an immediate threat to the safety of the police or
others,” id.; (3) “the need for the application of force,” Jackson v. Sauls, 206 F.3d
1156, 1170 n.18 (11th Cir. 2000); (4) “the relationship between the need and the
amount of force used,” id.; (5) “the extent of the injury inflicted,” id.; (6) “whether the
force was applied in good faith or maliciously and sadistically,” id.; (7) “the possibility
that the persons subject to the police action are themselves violent or dangerous,” id.;
(8) “the possibility that the suspect may be armed,” id.; (9) “the number of persons
with whom the police officers must contend at one time,” Jackson, 206 F.3d at 1170
n.18; and (10) “whether the suspect was resisting or fleeing.” Id.
“Use of force must be judged on a case-by-case basis ‘from the perspective of
a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.’” Post
v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1559 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting Graham, 490
U.S. at 396) (alteration supplied). “The calculus of reasonableness must embody
allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second
judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about
the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham, 490 U.S. at
The only use of force plaintiffs allege is defendants’ use of guns to secure
plaintiffs in the carport while they determined whether anyone in the house either
posed a danger to the officers or needed assistance. It is important to note that
defendants did not shoot plaintiffs, or even touch plaintiffs with their guns; instead,
they simply pointed the guns at plaintiffs in order to coerce their cooperation. The
Eleventh Circuit has held that “an officer’s drawing a weapon and ordering a person
stopped to lie on the ground does not necessarily constitute excessive force during an
investigatory stop.” Jackson, 206 F.3d at 1171-72. There is no reason to conclude,
under the circumstances presented here, that defendants’ use of guns in a show of force
was disproportionate to the demands of the situation. Defendants did not know any
whether crime had been committed, but the potential crimes reported to them by
dispatch included murder, the most violent of all crimes. As such, it was reasonable
for defendants to assume that plaintiffs might present an immediate threat to their own
safety or the safety of others. Defendants did not know whether plaintiffs were armed
or otherwise dangerous, or whether they might attempt to flee. Finally, plaintiffs were
not injured during the conrontation, and there is no indication that defendants acted
maliciously or sadistically.
In light of the foregoing circumstances, this court concludes that plaintiffs have
not stated a viable claim for violation of their right to be free from excessive force. At
the very least, they have not stated a clearly established violation of that right. As
such, defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment
excessive force claim is due to be dismissed.
Constitutional Claim Against the City of Florence
Plaintiffs assert the following to support their “Failure to Train” claim against
the City of Florence:
89. The City of Florence failed to train its police officers,
including Defendants named herein, with the necessary training so that
such officers could reasonably respond to incomplete, inaccurate and/or
uncorroborated information provided by a 911 caller without an excessive
show of force, excessive use of police presence, without drawing
weapons, and without violating the civil rights of innocent citizens.
90. The City of Florence failed to provide its officers with the
necessary training regarding exceptions to the warrant requirement, such
[that] officers could reasonably respond to an incomplete, inaccurate
and/or uncorroborated information [sic] provided by a 911 caller without
an excessive show of force, excessive use of police presence, without
drawing weapons, and without violating the civil rights of innocent
91. These failures to train render the City of Florence liable, as the
duties assigned to police officers, and the need for more or different
training is so obvious, and the inadequacy is so apparent, that the lack of
training has and will likely continue to result in police officers violating
the civil rights of innocent citizens.
92. As a result of the City’s conduct, Plaintiff have been caused to
suffer injuries and damages, including embarrassment and humiliation,
and to incur expenses.
Doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶¶ 89-92 (alteration supplied).
The City asserts that plaintiffs’ claim is precluded by the Supreme Court’s
decision in Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
There, the Court held that a municipality cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
on a theory of respondeat superior: in other words, “a municipality cannot be held
liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor.” Id. at 691. Instead, a municipality may
be held accountable in damages for the conduct of a particular governmental actor only
when the plaintiff shows that execution of the municipality’s official “policy” or
“custom” effectively was the cause of the injury complained of. Id. at 694. Thus, “[t]o
impose § 1983 liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must show: (1) that his
constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that
constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy
or custom caused the violation.” T.W. ex rel. Wilson v. School Board of Seminole
County, 610 F.3d 588, 603 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d
1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004)) (alteration supplied).
This court agrees that plaintiffs cannot proceed with their claim against the City,
because plaintiffs have not demonstrated any underlying violation of their
constitutional rights. Accordingly, all of plaintiff’s federal claims against the City of
Florence are due to be dismissed.
State Law Claims
Jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ remaining claims — for false arrest/false
imprisonment and trespass under Alabama law — was based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1367,
the statute governing supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims. In cases where
the court’s jurisdiction is based solely upon a federal question, the district court has
discretion to entertain state claims that are “supplemental” to the federal claim. See 28
U.S.C. § 1367(a). The district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
the claim raises a novel or complex issue of state law,
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims
over which the district court has original jurisdiction,
(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has
original jurisdiction, or
(4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling
reasons for declining jurisdiction.
28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) (alteration and emphasis supplied). The Supreme Court added a
gloss to this statutory language in Carnegie-Mellon University v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343
(1988), when observing that
a federal court should consider and weigh in each case, and at every stage
of the litigation, the values of judicial economy, convenience, fairness,
and comity in order to decide whether to exercise jurisdiction over a case
brought in that court involving pendant [now “supplemental”] state-law
claims. When the balance of these factors indicates that a case properly
belongs in state court, as when the federal-law claims have dropped out
of the lawsuit in its early stages and only state-law claims remain, the
federal court should decline the exercise of jurisdiction by dismissing the
case without prejudice.
Id. at 349-50 (emphasis supplied) (citing United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs,
383 U.S. 715, 726-27 (1966)). “[I]n the usual case in which all federal-law claims are
eliminated before trial, the balance of factors to be considered under the pendent [now
supplemental] jurisdiction doctrine — judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and
comity — will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining
state-law claims.” Carnegie-Mellon, 484 U.S. at 350 n.7 (alterations supplied); see
also L.A. Draper & Son v. Wheelabrator-Frye, Inc., 735 F.2d 414, 428 (11th Cir.
1984) (stating that “if the federal claims are dismissed prior to trial, Gibbs strongly
encourages or even requires dismissal of state claims”) (emphasis supplied).
Here, all of plaintiff’s federal claims have been eliminated, and there is no
independent basis for this court to assert jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state law claims.30
Accordingly, this court will decline supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state
law claims, and will exercise its discretion to dismiss those claims.
IV. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
In accordance with the foregoing, defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims
asserted in plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint is GRANTED. It is ORDERED that
all of plaintiffs’ federal claims (Counts I-V) are DISMISSED with prejudice.
Plaintiffs’ state law claims (Counts VI and VII) are DISMISSED, but without prejudice
to plaintiffs’ right to refile them in a state court. Costs are taxed to plaintiffs. The
Clerk is directed to close this file.
DONE this 12th day of October, 2016.
United States District Judge
Plaintiffs cannot assert federal jurisdiction based on satisfaction of the requirements of the
diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because complete diversity of citizenship is not present. See 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (requiring that, in addition to an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000, the
civil action must be between “citizens of different States”). All plaintiffs and defendants are citizens
of Alabama. See doc. no. 17 (First Amended Complaint) ¶¶ 5, 8, 11, 14, 17. 20, 23.
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