Shelton v. Jackson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION - For the reasons discussed above, the court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Chief Jacksons motion for summary judgment. Chief Jackson is entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Sheltons wrongful search and seizure claim under the Fo urth Amendment along with her Alabama state law claims for false arrest/false imprisonment, wantonness, and negligence, and these claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Chief Jacksons motion is DENIED with respect to Ms. Sheltons excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment and her assault and battery claim under Alabama state law. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 4/8/2016. (KEK)
2016 Apr-11 AM 09:05
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOHN JACKSON, individually and )
in his official capacity as Chief of
Police for the City of Dora, Alabama, )
Case No.: 6:12-cv-2204-MHH
Plaintiff Latonvia Shelton sued defendant John Jackson individually and in
his official capacity as Chief of Police for the City of Dora, Alabama. Ms. Shelton
alleges that Chief Jackson violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment and
Alabama state law. (Doc. 1; Doc. 30). Chief Jackson asks the Court to enter
judgment in his favor on Ms. Shelton’s claims because, he argues, Ms. Shelton
cannot prove her claims, and he is immune from Ms. Shelton’s claims. (Doc. 102;
For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that there are material
questions of fact regarding Ms. Shelton’s excessive force and assault and battery
claims, and Chief Jackson is not entitled to immunity as to those claims.
Therefore, the Court has denied Chief Jackson’s motion for summary judgment on
Ms. Shelton’s Fourth Amendment excessive force claim and her assault and
battery claim under Alabama state law. (Doc. 111). Chief Jackson is entitled to
summary judgment on Ms. Shelton’s Fourth Amendment wrongful search and
seizure claim and her false arrest, negligence, and wantonness claims under
Alabama state law. The Court has entered judgment for Chief Jackson on those
claims. (Doc. 111).
Summary Judgment Standard
“The court 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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a
motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the
record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information,
affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the
motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must
view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir.
2015). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other
materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3).
Relevant Facts and Procedural Background1
On June 21, 2010, while serving as the Chief of Police for the Dora Police
Department, defendant John Jackson arrested Ms. Shelton at her home. (Doc. 1031, p. 2). Ms. Shelton’s claims against Chief Jackson arise out of her arrest. (See
Doc. 1; Doc. 30).
Approximately one week before her arrest, Ms. Shelton had surgery on her
left knee. (Doc. 103-2, p. 39). Ms. Shelton took Lortab, a prescription pain
medication, and she “wasn’t feeling like [her]self” after her surgery. (Doc. 103-2,
p. 40). When asked if she felt mentally stable in the days following her surgery,
Ms. Shelton replied that she felt “like something was wrong.” She stated: “My
body—my body was just different. And I had so many things going on I just—I
just wasn’t myself.” (Doc. 103-2, p. 44). Ms. Shelton admits that there are gaps of
time that she cannot remember between June 13, 2010 and June 21, 2010. (Doc.
103-2, pp. 45–46).
In her brief in opposition to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Ms. Shelton did not
provide citations to the record in her statement of facts. She cited to her deposition and to
affidavits sporadically in the argument section of her brief. (Doc. 105). Rule 56(c)(1) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that “[a] party asserting that a fact cannot be or is
genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the
record . . . ,” and Rule 56(c)(3) states that “[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but
it may consider other materials in the record.” Accordingly, in this opinion, the Court draws the
statement of the relevant facts from Ms. Shelton’s deposition testimony, the affidavits that the
parties have provided, and the defendant’s statement of facts. The Court disregards Ms.
Shelton’s statement of facts to the extent that it is not supported by the Rule 56 record. The
Court views the summary judgment evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Shelton.
In the days leading up to her arrest, Ms. Shelton placed several 911 calls to
the Dora Police Department. Ms. Shelton called 911 on the afternoon of June 18,
During the call, she asked the dispatcher to give Chief Jackson the
following message: “I didn’t like the way he disrespected me yesterday, so he
don’t work for Dora Police Department no more, tell him he works for me.” (Doc.
103-2, pp. 42–43). Ms. Shelton does not remember placing the call, and she does
not know why she said Chief Jackson worked for her. (Doc. 103-2, pp. 43–44).
Ms. Shelton also called 911 on June 21, 2010 at approximately 3:00 a.m. to
report that her car had been stolen from her driveway. (Doc. 103-2, pp. 51–53).
Ms. Shelton told the dispatcher she believed her daughter or her ex-husband may
have taken the car because Ms. Shelton “was getting ready to go to Sandestin and
they didn’t want [her] to go out of town because [she] just had a knee replacement
. . . .” (Doc. 103-2, p. 53). Ms. Shelton asked the dispatcher to “send somebody
that’s going to be quick about” getting to her house. (Doc. 103-2, p. 52). Ms.
Shelton does not remember making the call or reporting her car stolen. (Doc. 1032, p. 54).
Later in the morning on June 21, at approximately 9:45 a.m., Ms. Shelton
called 911 again to ask why the police had not yet come to her house after she
reported her car stolen. (Doc. 103-2, pp. 55–56). Ms. Shelton told the dispatcher,
“I just called and asked [Chief Jackson] to come to my house. He said he was on
his way. I’ve been out here 30 minutes. Could you call him?” (Doc. 103-2, p.
56). Ms. Shelton does not remember placing this call. (Doc. 103-2, p. 57).
Approximately one hour after that call, Ms. Shelton’s cousin, Tonya
Williams, called the Dora Police Department to report that Ms. Shelton had
threatened to kill herself. (Doc. 103-2, p. 57; Doc. 103-3, p. 2). The transcript of
Ms. Williams’s call is as follows:
Ms. Williams: Is [Chief Jackson] in?
Dispatcher: He’s out on the road on patrol, can I take a message?
Ms. Williams: [Ms. Shelton, my cousin,] just called and said she was
going to kill herself if he didn’t get to her house. Can you get [Chief
Jackson] just to meet me up there? . . . I’m on my way up there now.
Dispatcher: What’s your name?
Ms. Williams: Tonya Williams.
Dispatcher: Tonya. Okay. I’ll tell him.
(Doc. 103-2, p. 57). Ms. Shelton disputes that she told Ms. Williams she was
going to kill herself, but she does not dispute that Ms. Williams placed the call
reporting her alleged suicide threat to the police department. (See Doc. 103-2, p.
58; Doc. 105, p. 6).
After Ms. Williams’s call, the dispatcher reported Ms. Shelton’s suicide
threat to Chief Jackson. (Doc. 103-1, p. 2). Because he was concerned for Ms.
Shelton’s life, Chief Jackson drove to Ms. Shelton’s house, and he met Ms.
Williams there. (Doc. 103-1, p. 2). When Ms. Williams and Chief Jackson
arrived, Ms. Shelton was on the phone. (Doc. 103-2, p. 59; Doc. 109-1, ¶¶ 2–3).2
Ms. Williams walked in Ms. Shelton’s house, and Chief Jackson followed her.3
(Doc. 103-2, p. 60). Ms. Shelton put the phone down and asked Ms. Williams why
she was in her house. (Doc. 103-2, p. 60). The situation then deteriorated.
According to Ms. Shelton, Ms. Williams then:
said she was worried about me and I told her that I asked her not to
come here. And I got angry—I got angry with her and I grabbed her.
I grabbed her. [. . .] And I told her that I wanted them out of my
house. I told them they had to leave my house. And I grabbed [Ms.
Williams] and I was pulling her out of my house and I—I was using
force, pulling her out of my house. [. . .] And I was shaking her and
pulling her out of my house and [Chief Jackson] snatched me off [Ms.
Williams] and he started to take me out [the] door . . . . [. . .] He
started to pull me down [the] steps  and [Ms. Williams] told him
that—not to hurt me, I had just had surgery, not to hurt me. And he
was pulling me and I was telling him that he was hurting me. And he
was hurting me. So [Ms. Williams] come out, he come out, I come
out, [sic] and he told me that . . . I was going to jail. [. . .] And . . .
when [Chief Jackson] put the handcuffs on me I was facing [Ms.
Williams] and [she] was still standing in the garage. And I told [Ms.
Ms. Shelton submitted a signed affidavit on June 12, 2015 after this Court granted her motion
for leave to supplement her brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (See Docs.
107, 108 & 109). Chief Jackson argues that the Court should not consider Ms. Shelton’s
affidavit, see Doc. 110, pp. 8–9, but he did not move to strike the affidavit. The Court has
considered Ms. Shelton’s affidavit to the extent it is consistent with her deposition testimony.
The Court has disregarded the portions of Ms. Shelton’s affidavit that contradict her deposition
Chief Jackson denies that he entered Ms. Shelton’s house with Ms. Williams. He attested:
“Williams entered Shelton’s house, while I remained at the door. Williams attempted to speak to
Shelton in the kitchen area, but Shelton rapidly charged toward Williams, and grabbed her.
Shelton was also acting very upset, and screaming at Williams. When I saw Shelton physically
engage Williams, I was immediately concerned for Williams’s safety, so I entered the kitchen,
and separated the two women.” (Doc. 103-1, pp. 2–3).
Williams] that she was a dirty MF for bringing the police to my house
and she had no right to bring the police to my house and she had no
right to be at my house at all because I didn’t call [her]. [. . .] And I
told her that I hated her . . . [a]nd I was never going to speak to her
again. [. . .] I spit on her and I told her she was a dirty—a dirty
motherfucker. . . . I spit on her in the face.
(Doc. 103-2, pp. 61–67).
Chief Jackson stated that he was concerned for Ms. Williams’s safety and
decided to place Ms. Shelton under arrest “[b]ased on [her] activities and apparent
mental state . . . .” (Doc. 103-1, p. 3). Chief Jackson put Ms. Shelton in handcuffs
“out of concern for the safety of [Ms.] Williams and [him]self.” (Doc. 103-1, p. 3).
“When [he] saw [Ms.] Shelton spit on [Ms.] Williams, after seeing [her] physically
engage [Ms.] Williams previously, it confirmed [his] belief that [Ms.] Shelton was
a danger to herself and others, and needed to be taken into custody.” (Doc. 103-1,
According to Chief Jackson, he “escorted [Ms.] Shelton into [his] patrol car,
taking care not to use too much force, or have her head hit any part of the patrol
car.” (Doc. 103-1, p. 3). Ms. Shelton disputes Chief Jackson’s statement. She
testified that “before putting her in the car, [Chief] Jackson ‘banged’ her head on
the trunk or rear of his police vehicle up to four or five times.” (Doc. 103, p. 8 n.1
(citing Ms. Shelton’s deposition testimony, pp. 126–28); Doc. 109-1, ¶ 9).
Chief Jackson did not speak to Ms. Shelton during the drive to the police
station. (Doc. 103-1, p. 3; Doc. 103-2, p. 68). When they arrived at the Dora
police station, Chief Jackson brought Ms. Shelton into the dispatch area in the
station. (Doc. 103-1, p. 3).
Ms. Shelton testified that Chief Jackson pulled her
across the parking lot into the police station. (See Doc. 103-2, p. 70; Doc. 109-1,
After they entered the station, Chief Jackson stood behind Ms. Shelton and
began to remove the handcuffs. (Doc. 103-1, p. 3; Doc. 103-2, p. 75). After he
removed one cuff, Ms. Shelton turned and hit Chief Jackson in the head with both
her hand and the attached handcuff. (Doc. 103-1, pp. 3–4; Doc. 103-3, p. 2; see
also Doc. 109-1, ¶ 11). Chief Jackson stated he “was almost knocked over by
[Ms.] Shelton’s attack, [and he] pushed Shelton away, onto the dispatch desk.”
(Doc. 103-1, p. 4). He contends that he “did not punch or attack [Ms.] Shelton, but
merely attempted to hold her down so that [he] could put handcuffs back on her.”
(Doc. 103-1, p. 4).
Ms. Shelton disputes Chief Jackson’s account of the incident in the booking
room. She testified:
A: [Chief Jackson] took one of the handcuffs off of me and I hit him.
I turned around and hit him in the face. [. . .] I remember hitting him
. . . on the jaw. . . .
Q: . . . You hit him pretty hard, right?
A: I can’t remember. But I hit him.
Q: Okay. Did you knock him—knock his—
A: No. I didn’t hit him like that because he didn’t move. He turned
around—he turned around at me and he picked me up and he threw
me on this desk right here and he kept beating me and beating me and
beating me, beating me, beating me, beating me. And I tried to—my
legs was [sic] hanging down off of the desk and I was trying to sit up
and he kept hitting me, hitting me . . . .
(Doc. 103-2, pp. 75–76; 4 see also Doc. 109-1, ¶ 12). Ms. Shelton testified that she
takes responsibility for hitting Chief Jackson and admits it is wrong to hit a police
officer, though she also stated Chief Jackson was “hitting [her] before [she] even
hit him.” (Doc. 103-2, p. 94).
Dessie Robinson, the jailer/dispatcher for the Dora Police Department,
witnessed the incident and stated that after Ms. Shelton hit Chief Jackson, he
“pushed [Ms.] Shelton away from his face and down on the dispatch desk where
she continued to scream, kick, and repeatedly tried to strike him.” (Doc. 103-3, p.
2). Chief Jackson stated “[b]ecause of [Ms.] Shelton’s violent displays at her
home, and now within the [p]olice [s]tation, [he] feared for the safety of [Ms.]
Robinson and [him]self, and made the decision to attempt to subdue [Ms.] Shelton
with OC spray, a.k.a. ‘pepper spray.’” (Doc. 103-1, p. 4).
After Chief Jackson sprayed Ms. Shelton with the OC spray, she grabbed
Ms. Robinson and “buried her face into [Ms. Robinson’s] chest.” (Doc. 103-3, p.
2). Ms. Shelton “remember[s] crying and . . . standing there and [her] body was
The balance of Ms. Shelton’s testimony regarding this incident is not part of the Rule 56
burning.” (Doc. 103-2, p. 78). Chief Jackson left the booking room after spraying
Ms. Shelton with the OC spray “to recover his own breath.” (Doc. 103-3, p. 2).5
Ms. Robinson then took Ms. Shelton to a jail cell, and Ms. Robinson
“advised [Ms. Shelton] to get into the shower and brought her a towel and a cup so
she could rinse off the spray.”
(Doc. 103-3, p. 2). Ms. Shelton remembers
“throwing water on [her] body,” and testified she “washed [the spray] off from the
toilet and the sink . . . .” (Doc. 103-2, pp. 78–79).
After Chief Jackson sprayed Ms. Shelton with the OC spray and Ms.
Robinson placed Ms. Shelton in a jail cell, Chief Jackson and Ms. Shelton had no
further physical or verbal interactions. (Doc. 103-1, p. 4; Doc. 103-2, p. 81). Ms.
Shelton was charged with domestic violence for the incident with Ms. Williams
Donald Eric Dollar, an inmate in the Dora jail on June 21, 2010, attested that he witnessed the
incident in the booking area between Chief Jackson and Ms. Shelton. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 6–7).
According to Mr. Dollar, he “could see [Ms. Shelton] being strong armed by [Chief] Jackson as
he was pushing her toward the woman[’s] cell. The chief had her arms behind her back. [. . .]
Ms. Shelton was screaming very loud[ly] and unintelligently [sic] while the Chief was pushing
her toward the  cell. [. . .] Suddenly, [he] saw Chief Jackson grab Ms. Shelton by the hair in
the back of her head and slammed her into the women[’s] cell. She screamed louder. Then the
Chief and officer Tim Hyde commenced ‘macing’ Ms. Shelton for about three-four minutes. She
was still screaming out in pain.” (Doc. 105-1, p. 7). Mr. Dollar’s statement conflicts not only
with Chief’s Jackson’s statement regarding the incident, but also with Ms. Shelton’s deposition
testimony. Because Mr. Dollar’s statement conflicts with Ms. Shelton’s own testimony, the
Court will not consider the statement on summary judgment. See Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d
1272, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005) (en banc) (“When the nonmovant has testified to events, we do not
. . . pick and choose bits from other witnesses' essentially incompatible accounts (in effect,
declining to credit some of the nonmovant's own testimony) and then string together those
portions of the record to form the story that we deem most helpful to the nonmovant. Instead,
when conflicts arise between the facts evidenced by the parties, we credit the nonmoving party's
version.”) (emphasis and internal footnote omitted). Even if the Court considered Mr. Dollar’s
statement, it would have no impact on the Court’s decision.
and harassment for her attack on Chief Jackson, and she was held in the Dora jail
with a $500 bond.6 (Doc. 103-1, p. 4).
According to Ms. Robinson, once in the jail cell, Ms. Shelton “continued her
erratic behavior.” (Doc. 103-3, p. 2). Ms. Shelton said:
she was a millionaire and now owned the City of Dora, had fired
Chief Jackson so that he now worked for her as security, had fired
Sheriff John Mark Tirey, that she had spoken to God and he had told
her to become a pastor and she could change her name to Rev.
Milkshake, that her family members had assaulted her and stolen her
14 Mercedes and refused to return them, that she made her millions
suing people and that her family was jealous of her because of that.
(Doc. 103-3, p. 2).
Chief Jackson feared for Ms. Shelton’s mental state and
“ordered that [she] be taken to the Walker Baptist Medical Center Behavioral Unit
for a psychiatric evaluation.” (Doc. 103-1, p. 4).
Ms. Shelton does not remember anything between when she went to the jail
cell until she was in the Walker Baptist Medical Center behavioral medicine unit,
and she does not know how she got to the medical center from the jail. (See Doc.
103-2, pp. 81, 83). Ms. Shelton did not know she was in the behavioral medicine
unit until the second or third day she was there. (Doc. 103-2, p. 82). Ms. Shelton
simply remembers that she “ended up at the [medical] center on the 23rd.” (Doc.
103-2, p. 83). Ms. Shelton spent a week at the behavioral medicine unit and was
released from the medical center on June 30, 2010. (Doc. 103-2, p. 89).
Ms. Shelton was found guilty of these charges in the Municipal Court of Dora, but the charges
were dismissed when she appealed to the Circuit Court of Walker County. (Doc. 103-2, p. 93).
After she was released from the medical center, Ms. Shelton went home, and
she testified she “remember[s] being so mixed up when I came home and so
confused about what was going on and what happened to me.” (Doc. 103-2, p.
90). Ms. Shelton admits that she does not recall much of what happened in the
days prior to her arrest through her release from the medical center and that she
was “having some mental problems during that time period.” (Doc. 103-2, p. 90).
Ms. Shelton testified “they told [her] at the hospital that [she] had a mental
breakdown and [she] still don’t [sic] know what that means.” (Doc. 103-2, p. 91).
Ms. Shelton filed this action on June 19, 2012. (Doc. 1). She initially
brought claims against Chief Jackson; the mayor of Dora, Alabama; and members
of the city council of Dora, and she amended her claims on August 30, 2012.
(Doc. 1; Doc. 30). This Court dismissed Ms. Shelton’s claims against the mayor
and city council members without prejudice on August 18, 2014; Chief Jackson is
the only remaining defendant. (Doc. 67). Ms. Shelton asserts claims against Chief
Jackson for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment and Alabama state law,
and she seeks damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama state law.
(Doc. 30). Chief Jackson moved for summary judgment on all of Ms. Shelton’s
claims against him. (Doc. 102).
A. Ms. Shelton’s Fourth Amendment Claims
Ms. Shelton asserts that Chief Jackson violated her constitutional rights
under the Fourth Amendment by wrongfully entering her home and arresting her
without a warrant or probable cause and by using excessive force when he arrested
her. (Doc. 30, pp. 5–6). Chief Jackson argues that he is entitled to summary
judgment on these claims because he had probable cause to enter Ms. Shelton’s
home and arrest her, and he used only de minimus force to make the arrest, so that
he is entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Ms. Shelton’s Fourth
Amendment claims. (Doc. 103, pp. 13–35).7
“‘Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials
sued in their individual capacities if their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.’” Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 733 (11th Cir.
2010) (quoting Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir 2002)) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Qualified immunity allows government officials,
Ms. Shelton argues that Chief Jackson cannot raise qualified immunity in his summary
judgment motion because he previously raised the defense in his motion to dismiss, and this
Court denied the motion. (Doc. 105, pp. 5, 10–11). Ms. Shelton’s argument fails procedurally.
When the Court examined Chief Jackson’s motion to dismiss, the Court could consider only the
allegations in Ms. Shelton’s amended complaint, and the Court had to view those allegations in
the light most favorable to Ms. Shelton. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). Now, discovery is complete,
and the Court must consider the facts developed during discovery when ruling on Chief
Jackson’s motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Accordingly, the Court’s prior
ruling on Chief Jackson’s motion to dismiss does not preclude him from raising qualified
immunity in his motion for summary judgment.
including police officers, “‘to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear
of personal liability or harassing litigation, protecting from suit all but the plainly
incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law.’” Id. (quoting Lee
v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002)).
To receive qualified immunity, a police officer must establish “that he was
acting within his discretionary authority . . . .” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194 (citing
Courson v. McMillian, 939 F.2d 1479, 1487 (11th Cir. 1991)). A government
official acts within the scope of his discretionary authority when his actions “(1)
[are] undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and (2) [are] within the
scope of his authority.” Roberts v. Spielman, 643 F.3d 899, 903 (11th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559, 1566 (11th Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation
If the officer demonstrates that he acted within the scope of his discretionary
authority, then to avoid the immunity defense, the plaintiff must demonstrate that
the officer violated a clearly established constitutional right. Lee, 284 F.3d at
1194. “For a constitutional right to be clearly established, its contours must be
sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002) (quoting Anderson
v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)) (internal citation and quotation marks
“The inquiry into whether a right is clearly established ‘must be
undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general
proposition.’” Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Coffin
v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011)). The Eleventh Circuit has “‘said
many times that if case law, in factual terms, has not staked out a bright line,
qualified immunity almost always protects the defendant.’” Id. (quoting Priester v.
City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 208 F.3d 919, 926 (11th Cir. 2000)).
The Court examines Chief Jackson’s immunity defense first with respect to
Ms. Shelton’s Fourth Amendment warrantless entry and arrest claim and then with
respect to her Fourth Amendment excessive force claim.
1. Fourth Amendment Warrantless Entry and Arrest
“Under the Fourth Amendment, an individual has a right to be free from
‘unreasonable searches and seizures[,]’ and an arrest is a seizure of the person.”
Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1326 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Skop v. City of
Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1137 (11th Cir. 2007)). Generally speaking, a law
enforcement officer may not enter a person’s house or arrest a person without a
warrant. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980) (“It is a basic principle of
Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant
are presumptively unreasonable.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a person’s home, and any resulting
search or seizure, violates the Fourth Amendment unless it is supported by both
probable cause and exigent circumstances.” Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707
F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2013). Ms. Shelton argues that Chief Jackson violated
her Fourth Amendment rights by entering her home and arresting her without
probable cause or a warrant. The Rule 56 record demonstrates that Chief Jackson
is entitled to qualified immunity as to this Fourth Amendment claim because
exigent circumstances enabled him to enter Ms. Shelton’s house, and he had
probable cause to arrest her.
Exigent circumstances exist “‘when there is compelling need for official
action and no time to secure a warrant.’” U.S. v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331, 1334
(11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509 (1978)). “The
Supreme Court has long recognized that emergencies sometimes obviate the need
to obtain a search warrant prior to entering a private residence.” Id. at 1335; see
also United States v. Burgos, 720 F.2d 1520, 1525–26 (11th Cir. 1983). Such an
emergency may exist when a police officer reasonably believes a person’s life is in
danger. Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1337 (“Although the Fourth Amendment protects
the sanctity of the home, its proscription against warrantless searches must give
way to the sanctity of human life.”). Indeed, “‘the Fourth Amendment does not bar
police officers from making warrantless entries and searches when they reasonably
believe that a person within is in need of immediate aid.’” Id. at 1336 (quoting
Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978)).
In this case, Chief Jackson went to Ms. Shelton’s house in response to an
emergency call concerning a reported suicide threat, and he entered the house
because he believed that Ms. Shelton was in danger. As a police officer, Chief
Jackson was authorized to respond to the emergency call, even if the report
regarding Ms. Shelton’s suicide threat proved to be inaccurate. See Roberts, 643
F.3d at 904 (holding a police officer acted within the scope of his discretionary
authority when he responded to a call about a possible suicide threat at the
plaintiff’s home and remained on the property for a brief period of time after the
plaintiff asked him to leave); Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1340 (“The fact that . . . the
information ultimately proves to be false or inaccurate does not render the police
action any less lawful.”). Thus, Chief Jackson acted within his discretionary
authority when he entered Ms. Shelton’s house.
Once inside the house, Chief Jackson had probable cause to arrest Ms.
Shelton. “[T]he existence of probable cause at the time of arrest is an absolute bar
to a subsequent constitutional challenge to the arrest.” Brown, 608 F.3d at 734.
“In a long line of cases, [the Supreme Court has] said that when an officer has
probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence,
the balancing of private and public interests is not in doubt.
The arrest is
Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 171 (2008).
Probable cause exists when the facts known to the officer “are sufficient to cause a
person of reasonable caution to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being
committed.” Brown, 608 F.3d at 734 (citing Madiwale v. Savaiko, 117 F.3d 1321,
1324 (11th Cir. 1997)).
Under Alabama law, “[a] person commits the crime of harassment if, with
intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she  [s]trikes, shoves,
kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him or her to physical contact.”
Ala. Code 1975 § 13A-11-8. Chief Jackson explained that he arrested Ms. Shelton
after he saw her physically assault Ms. Williams because he was concerned for Ms.
Ms. Shelton acknowledges her use of force against Ms. Williams but argues
that the force was lawful, and as a result, Chief Jackson did not have probable
cause to arrest her. (Doc. 105, pp. 22–23). Under Ala. Code 1975 § 13A-3-25(a),
“[a] person in lawful possession or control of premises . . . may use physical force
upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it
necessary to prevent or terminate what he reasonably believes to be the
commission . . . of a criminal trespass . . . .” To commit a criminal trespass, an
individual must “knowingly enter or remain unlawfully in or upon premises.”
Ala. Code 1975 § 13A-7-4(a).
Ms. Shelton’s entitlement to the protection of Ala. Code 1975 § 13A-3-25(a)
is doubtful, but the Court need not resolve the issue.
“To receive qualified
immunity, an officer need not have actual probable cause, but only ‘arguable’
probable cause.” Brown, 608 F.3d at 734. Even if Ms. Williams committed a
criminal trespass and Ms. Shelton reasonably believed that force was necessary to
terminate Ms. Williams’s trespass, Chief Jackson remains immune to suit for Ms.
The record does not contain any evidence that Chief Jackson was aware that
Ms. Williams had been asked to stay away from Ms. Shelton’s house. (See Doc.
105, p. 6). Accordingly, Chief Jackson had no reason to believe that Ms. Williams
was committing a criminal trespass or that Ms. Shelton was justified in forcibly
removing Ms. Williams from the premises. The record does demonstrate that
Chief Jackson witnessed Ms. Shelton grab and pull Ms. Williams with apparently
(Doc. 103-1, pp. 2–3; Doc. 103-2, pp. 61–62).
“reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge
as [Chief Jackson] could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest [Ms.
Shelton],” Chief Jackson had arguable probable cause to arrest Ms. Shelton.
Brown, 608 F.3d at 734 (quoting Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1232
(11th Cir. 2004)).
Ms. Shelton has offered no evidence that would allow her to establish that
Chief Jackson violated a known constitutional right either when he entered her
house or when he arrested her. With respect to the warrantless entry, there is no
evidence that suggests that Ms. Shelton’s cousin, the individual who called the
police to report Ms. Shelton’s purported suicide threat, was not a credible source.
Ms. Shelton has provided no evidence to dispute Chief Jackson’s assertion that he
reasonably believed she was in danger. With respect to the arrest, Ms. Shelton
acknowledges that when Chief Jackson intervened and arrested her, she was “using
force” against Ms. Williams, shaking her and “pulling her out of [the] house.”
(Doc. 103-2, pp. 61–62).
Therefore, Chief Jackson had—at least—arguable
probable cause to believe Ms. Shelton committed a criminal offense in his
presence, and he did not violate Ms. Shelton’s Fourth Amendment rights by
arresting her, even though he did not have an arrest warrant.
Ms. Shelton relies primarily on Sheth v. Webster, 145 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir.
1998), to support her argument Chief Jackson is not entitled to qualified immunity.
(See Doc. 105, pp. 11–14). The facts of Sheth v. Webster are easily distinguished
from the present case. In Sheth, a police officer responded to a dispute at a motel.
An occupant of the motel was demanding a refund from the plaintiff, the owner of
the motel. 145 F.3d at 1234. The plaintiff refused to refund the money unless the
occupant removed his belongings from the motel room. When the police officer
suggested the plaintiff was not familiar with U.S. law because she was Indian, the
plaintiff said to him, “[p]olice officers don’t know all the laws,  but I know some
laws and my rights.” Id. In response, the police officer pushed and struck the
plaintiff, handcuffed her, and arrested her. Id. at 1234–35. The Eleventh Circuit
held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity because no reasonable
police officer “could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest [the]
plaintiff.” Id. at 1238.
Unlike the officer in Sheth, Chief Jackson witnessed Ms. Shelton physically
grab and shake Ms. Williams. Ms. Shelton did not simply tell Ms. Williams and
Chief Jackson to leave her premises; she acknowledges that she used force to
accomplish her objectives.
(See Doc. 103-2, pp. 61–62; Doc. 105, p. 14).
Therefore, Sheth does not advance Ms. Shelton’s attempt to avoid Chief Jackson’s
qualified immunity defense.
Consequently, Chief Jackson is entitled to summary judgment on Ms.
Shelton’s claim that he violated her Fourth Amendment rights by wrongfully
entering her home and arresting her without a warrant.
2. Fourth Amendment Excessive Force
Even though Ms. Shelton failed to present a question of fact with respect to
her unlawful entry and arrest theory, she still may proceed with a Fourth
Amendment claim if she can establish that Chief Jackson violated her right to be
free from excessive force during the arrest. See Kesigner v. Herrington, 381 F.3d
1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2004).
“The Supreme Court has instructed that all claims
that law enforcement officers have used excessive force—deadly or not—in the
course of an arrest . . . should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its
reasonableness standard.” Jackson v. Sauls, 206 F.3d 1156, 1169 (11th Cir. 2000)
(quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989)) (emphasis and internal
quotation marks omitted).
“. . . Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to
make an arrest . . . necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of
physical coercion or threat thereof to effect [the arrest].” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396.
Accordingly, “the application of de minimus force, without more, will not support
a claim for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Nolin v. Isbell,
207 F.3d 1253, 1257 (11th Cir. 2000). However, “gratuitous use of force when a
criminal suspect is not resisting arrest constitutes excessive force.” Hadley v.
Gutierrez, 526 F.3d 1324, 1330 (11th Cir. 2008).
A court must evaluate allegations of excessive force objectively, without
regard to an officer’s subjective intent. Jackson, 206 F.3d at 1170. “A law
enforcement officer is entitled to qualified immunity if ‘an objectively reasonable
officer in the same situation could have believed that the force used was not
excessive.’” Brown, 608 F.3d at 733 (quoting Vinyard, 311 F.3d at 1346). An
officer is not entitled to qualified immunity if his conduct was “so far beyond the
hazy border between excessive and acceptable force that the officer had to know he
was violating the Constitution.” Hoyt, 672 F.3d at 978 (quoting Smith v. Mattox,
127 F.3d 1416, 1419 (11th Cir. 1997)) (internal quotation marks and alteration
In Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court identified several factors for
courts to consider when determining whether an officer’s use of force was
excessive. These factors include “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the
suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and
whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” 490
U.S. at 396. “Graham dictates unambiguously that the force used by a police
officer in carrying out an arrest must be reasonably proportionate to the need for
that force, which is measured by the severity of the crime, the danger to the officer,
and the risk of flight.” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1198.
Relying on Graham, the Eleventh Circuit held in Lee v. Ferraro that an
officer used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment when he
“slammed” the plaintiff’s head against the trunk of the officer’s vehicle after he
arrested her for honking her horn in traffic and secured her in handcuffs. 284 F.3d
at 1198. Like the plaintiff in Lee, Ms. Shelton testified that Chief Jackson banged
her head on the trunk of his car four or five times after he placed her in handcuffs.
(Doc. 103, p. 8 n.1; see also Doc. 103, p. 31). Although the undisputed facts
indicate that at the time of Ms. Shelton’s arrest she was screaming and spitting at
Ms. Williams, the Rule 56 record does not show Ms. Shelton posed an immediate
danger to Chief Jackson or Ms. Williams after Chief Jackson placed her in
handcuffs, and there is no evidence that she was actively resisting or trying to
evade arrest.8 Accordingly, there is a question of fact regarding Chief Jackson’s
alleged use of force at this juncture.9
Chief Jackson’s argument that he used only de minimus force is unavailing.
Indeed, Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253 (11th Cir. 2000), the primary case that Chief
Jackson relies upon, undermines his argument. In Nolin, the defendant officer
witnessed what he believed to be a fight between a criminal suspect and another
man. The officer saw the suspect “drag [the man] to the ground.” 207 F.3d at
1254–55. Based on those observations, the officer “grabbed [the suspect] from
behind by the shoulder and wrist, threw him against a van three or four feet away,
kneed him in the back and pushed his head into the side of the van, searched his
groin area in an uncomfortable manner, and handcuffed him.” Id. at 1255. Based
on those facts, the Eleventh Circuit held the officer’s use of force to make the
Although Ms. Shelton did strike Chief Jackson when he removed one of her handcuffs, that
does not necessarily show she posed an immediate threat to him when she was secured in the
The Lee decision pre-dated Ms. Shelton’s arrest and clearly established the constitutional right
of an arrestee to be free from excessive force after she is handcuffed. “Even though [the officer]
undoubtedly possessed the lawful power to effect a custodial arrest and secure [the suspect] with
handcuffs, a reasonable officer could not possibly have believed that he then had the lawful
authority to take her to the back of her car and slam her head against the trunk after she was
arrested, handcuffed, and completely secured, and after any danger to the arresting officer as
well as any risk of flight had passed. Once an arrestee has been fully secured, such force is
wholly unnecessary to any legitimate law enforcement purpose. [. . .] Slamming the head of a
handcuffed, subdued arrestee against the trunk of a car is objectively unreasonable and clearly
unlawful.” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1199–200 (emphasis in original).
arrest was not excessive, and the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at
The present case is easily distinguished from Nolin because the suspect in
that case had not been placed in handcuffs when the defendant officer used force to
arrest the suspect. Id. at 1254–55. The evidence here indicates that Ms. Shelton
was in handcuffs when Chief Jackson allegedly banged her head on the trunk of his
car. This distinction is material. Indeed, in a decision the Eleventh Circuit quoted
in Nolin, the Circuit “concluded that ‘once the plaintiff was handcuffed and taken
outside, no further force was needed.’” Id. at 1256 (alterations omitted) (quoting
Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1559 (11th Cir. 1993)).
Because there is no evidence that force was necessary after Chief Jackson
placed Ms. Shelton in handcuffs, a jury must decide whether Chief Jackson used
excessive force when he arrested Ms. Shelton.10 As a result, the Court denies
Chief Jackson’s motion for summary judgment on Ms. Shelton’s Fourth
Amendment excessive force claim. See Brown, 608 F.3d at 739–40.
B. Ms. Shelton’s State Law Claims
Chief Jackson contends that his alleged use of force could not be excessive because Ms.
Shelton did not receive medical treatment for the injuries she purportedly sustained during her
arrest. Chief Jackson cites no authority for his proposition. (Doc. 103, p. 32). Chief Jackson’s
argument is not persuasive. Physical injury is not a prerequisite to a Fourth Amendment
excessive force claim. In Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., the plaintiff did not seek medical
treatment for injuries resulting from the officer’s use of force. The Eleventh Circuit held that the
district court erred in entering judgment for the defendant based on the defendant’s qualified
immunity defense. 608 F.3d at 731, 740.
In addition to her Fourth Amendment claims, Ms. Shelton asserts Alabama
state law claims against Chief Jackson for false arrest and false imprisonment,
assault and battery, negligence, and wantonness. (Doc. 30, pp. 7–13). Chief
Jackson argues he is entitled to summary judgment on each of those claims in part
because he is entitled to discretionary function immunity under Alabama State law.
(Doc. 103, pp. 35–50).
Under Alabama law, municipal police officers are immune from state 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 duties.” Ala.
Code 1975 § 6-5-338(a); Sheth, 145 F.3d at 1237. Accordingly, an officer is
immune from civil liability “when the conduct made the basis of the claim against
the [officer] is based upon the [officer’s] . . . exercising judgment in the
enforcement of the criminal laws of [Alabama], including, but not limited to, lawenforcement officers’ arresting or attempting to arrest persons, or serving as peace
officers under circumstances entitling such officers to immunity pursuant to § 6-5338(a) . . . .” Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So. 2d 300, 309 (Ala. 2006) (emphasis
omitted). An officer is not entitled to discretionary function immunity when he
“acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority,
or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.” Id. at 305 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Ex parte Turner, 840 So. 2d 132, 136 (Ala. 2002), quoting in
turn Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392, 405 (Ala. 2000)); see also Brown, 608
F.3d at 741 (citing Cranman, 792 So. 2d at 405).
Analysis of discretionary function immunity under Alabama law is
analogous to federal qualified immunity.
An officer asserting discretionary
function immunity “bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff’s claims
arise from a function that would entitle [him] to immunity.” Ex parte Kennedy,
992 So. 2d 1276, 1282 (Ala. 2008) (citing Ex parte Estate of Reynolds, 946 So. 2d
450, 452 (Ala. 2006)). If the officer satisfies his burden, the burden then shifts to
the plaintiff to show that the officer is not entitled to discretionary function
In the present case, Chief Jackson was acting as a municipal law
enforcement officer when he entered Ms. Shelton’s house and arrested her. (See
Doc. 103-1). The Supreme Court of Alabama has held that “arresting a person is
an exercise of judgment—a ‘discretionary function’—and therefore, clothes the
officer in State-agent immunity.” Swan v. City of Hueytown, 920 So. 2d 1075,
1079 (Ala. 2005) (citing Cranman, 792 So. 2d at 405 and Telfare v. City of
Huntsville, 841 So. 2d 1222, 1228 (Ala. 2002)). Additionally, Chief Jackson’s
decisions regarding his response to the emergency call reporting Ms. Shelton’s
alleged suicide threat, including his entry into her home, were an exercise of
judgment that would entitle him to discretionary function immunity as a municipal
peace officer. See Ala. Code § 6-5-338(a); Swan 920 So. 2d at 1079.
Ms. Shelton argues Chief Jackson acted vindictively or maliciously when he
arrested her, so that he is not entitled to immunity as to her false arrest claim. (See
Doc. 105, p. 24). Ms. Shelton’s argument is based on her assertion that the arrest
would not have occurred if Chief Jackson and Ms. Williams left her home when
she asked them to. (Doc. 105, p. 24). Ms. Shelton’s argument misses the mark,
because the record, viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Shelton, indicates
that she did not simply tell Chief Jackson and Ms. Williams to leave her home.
Rather, Ms. Shelton acknowledges that she grabbed and shook Ms. Williams
before Ms. Williams and Chief Jackson could leave her home. (Doc. 103-2, pp.
61–62). Accordingly, Ms. Shelton has not shown Chief Jackson acted maliciously,
fraudulently, or with bad faith by arresting her.
Chief Jackson is entitled to
discretionary function immunity and summary judgment on Ms. Shelton’s false
arrest/false immunity claim.
Chief Jackson also is entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Shelton’s
negligence and wantonness claims. As Chief Jackson noted, Ms. Shelton does not
“assert any specific factual allegations against [him] in reference to any particular
actionable conduct.” (Doc. 103, p. 45; See also Doc. 30, pp. 8–9). Moreover, Ms.
Shelton did not respond to Chief Jackson’s arguments regarding her negligence
and wantonness claims. (See Doc. 105). Indeed, Ms. Shelton does not mention the
negligence and wantonness claims in her brief in opposition to Chief Jackson’s
motion for summary judgment. (See Doc. 105). As a result, Ms. Shelton has
abandoned these claims, and Chief Jackson is entitled to judgment in his favor as a
matter of law on Ms. Shelton’s negligence and wantonness claims. See Case, 555
F.3d at 1329 (“When a party moves for final . . . summary judgment, we have
stated that it becomes incumbent upon the nonmovant to respond by, at the very
least, raising in their opposition papers any and all arguments or defenses they felt
precluded judgment in the moving party’s favor.”) (internal quotation marks and
alterations omitted) (quoting Johnson v. Bd. of Regents, 263 F.3d 1234, 1264 (11th
Cir. 2001)); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir.
1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 817 (1995) (“[G]rounds alleged in the complaint but
not relied upon in summary judgment are deemed abandoned.”).
The immunity analysis favors Ms. Shelton with respect to her assault and
battery claim. “Under Alabama law, excessive force during an arrest constitutes
assault and battery.” Ruffino v. City of Hoover, 891 F. Supp. 2d 1247, 1279 (N.D.
Ala. 2012) (citing Franklin v. City of Huntsville, 670 So. 2d 848, 852–53 (Ala.
1995)). Chief Jackson argues he is entitled to discretionary function immunity and
summary judgment as to Ms. Shelton’s assault and battery claim because police
officers have a right to use some force to make an arrest, and he used only the
amount of force that was necessary in the situation. (Doc. 103, pp. 40–44). Ms.
Shelton has offered sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to her assault
and battery claim. (Doc. 105, pp. 26–28).
Although a police officer may use reasonable force when making an arrest
under Alabama law, the officer “may be held liable  if more force is used than is
necessary to effectuate the arrest.” Franklin, 670 So. 2d at 852 (citing Ala. Code
1975 § 13A-3-27 and Livingston v. Browder, 285 So. 2d 923 (Ala. Civ. App.
1973)). As discussed above, disputed evidence creates a question of fact regarding
Chief Jackson’s use of force during Ms. Shelton’s arrest. A jury must decide
whether Chief Jackson acted willfully or maliciously when he allegedly banged
Ms. Shelton’s head against the trunk of his vehicle after he handcuffed her. See
Brown, 608 F.3d at 742. Therefore, the Court denies Chief Jackson’s motion for
summary judgment as to the assault and battery claim.
For the reasons discussed above, the court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART Chief Jackson’s motion for summary judgment.
Jackson is entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Shelton’s wrongful search and
seizure claim under the Fourth Amendment along with her Alabama state law
claims for false arrest/false imprisonment, wantonness, and negligence, and these
claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Chief Jackson’s motion is
DENIED with respect to Ms. Shelton’s excessive force claim under the Fourth
Amendment and her assault and battery claim under Alabama state law.
DONE and ORDERED this April 8, 2016.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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