Crocker v. Beatty et al
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT BEATTY AND GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT SNYDER. ORDER granting 143 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part 151 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Robin L. Rosenberg on 7/28/2017. (kpe)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CASE NO: 2:16-CV-14162-ROSENBERG/MAYNARD
JAMES P. CROCKER,
DEPUTY SHERIFF STEVEN
ERIC BEATTY, et al.,
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT BEATTY AND GRANTING MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT SNYDER
Plaintiff James Crocker saw an upside-down car on Interstate 95 and pulled over.
Emergency personnel arrived on scene. At some point, Mr. Crocker began photographing the
scene on his cellular phone. Defendant Steven Beatty, a Deputy Sheriff, seized Crocker’s phone
and also arrested Plaintiff for resisting an officer without violence when Plaintiff refused to leave
the scene without his phone. This case arises out of the seizure of Plaintiff’s person and phone.
The Amended Complaint contains claims against Defendant Beatty in his individual capacity and
against Sheriff William Snyder in his official capacity as Sheriff of Martin County. 1 Both
Defendants moved for summary judgment. The motions are now ripe. The Court has considered
all relevant filings and the argument heard in this matter on June 29, 2017. Defendant Beatty’s
Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART and
Defendant Snyder’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
The Amended Complaint also contains claims against former Martin County Sheriff Robert
Crowder in his individual capacity. Sheriff Crowder moved for summary judgment. DE 145.
However, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the claims against Sheriff Crowder with prejudice
following the hearing on June 29, 2017, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41. See DE
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). The existence of a factual dispute is not by itself sufficient grounds to defeat a motion for
summary judgment; rather, “the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “a
reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of
Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 247-48). A fact is material if “it would affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).
In deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court views the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.
See Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006). The Court does not weigh conflicting
evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007). Thus, upon
discovering a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court must deny summary judgment. See id.
The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of
material fact. See Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008). Once the moving
party satisfies this burden, “the nonmoving party ‘must do more than simply show that there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.’” Ray v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC,
327 F. App’x 819, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)).
Instead, “[t]he non-moving party must make a
sufficient showing on each essential element of the case for which he has the burden of proof.”
Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Accordingly, the non-moving
party must produce evidence, going beyond the pleadings, to show that a reasonable jury could
find in favor of that party. See Shiver, 549 F.3d at 1343.
On May 20, 2012, Plaintiff James Crocker left Palm Beach Gardens traveling northbound
on Interstate 95. DE 151-1 at 51:25; 52:1-3. Plaintiff observed an overturned vehicle in the
median he believed had recently been involved in a car accident. Id. at 52:5-16. The accident
scene was at mile marker 89, DE 151-4 at ¶ 3, where Interstate 95 is three lanes wide in both
directions, DE 151-1 at 53:6-7; DE 151-4 at ¶ 3. The northbound and southbound lanes are
separated by a grass median with no guard rail. DE 151-1 at 52:23-25, 53:1-3; DE 151-4 at ¶ 3.
The overturned vehicle had been traveling northbound when its right rear tire “separated”
and the driver lost control. DE 155-1. The vehicle veered off the road and onto the median,
flipping over. Id. The vehicle came to rest on its roof in the portion of the median nearest to the
southbound lanes, as shown:
The facts are largely undisputed, but where there is a conflict the Court has so noted.
Plaintiff pulled over on the left shoulder of the northbound lanes, out of the lane of travel.
DE 151-1 at 53:3-5; 54:4-6. After stopping his own car, Plaintiff ran to the overturned vehicle on
the median which, as noted above, had come to rest in the portion of the median nearest to the
southbound lanes of Interstate 95. Id. at 54:19-25. He was accompanied by ten or fifteen other
people who also had pulled over to assist. Id. at 55:5-13. A road ranger arrived on scene shortly
thereafter and assured the group that emergency personnel were en route. Id. at 59:24-25; 60:2225. Plaintiff walked back to the other side of the median—the side nearest the northbound lanes
of Interstate 95—to wait. Id. at 62:7-11.
Plaintiff was standing near the western edge of the northbound lanes approximately forty
to fifty feet away from the overturned vehicle, DE 151-1 at 63:8-10, and approximately one
hundred and twenty-five feet north of his own vehicle, id. at 62:19-25. He was in the median
approximately ten feet off of the paved break-down lane. Id. at 63:1-7. Plaintiff remained in this
location until his arrest, id., which also occurred at mile marker 89, DE 151-8. Plaintiff could not
recall whether he was standing north or south of the overturned vehicle. DE 151-1 at 62:19-22.
There is a dispute about where, exactly, Plaintiff pulled over. Defendant Beatty’s
Statement of Material Facts alleges Plaintiff pulled over at mile marker 91. See DE 152. In
support, Defendant Beatty cites a “Release of Responsibility Form” stating Plaintiff’s vehicle
was towed from “I-95 NB @ 91 Mile Marker.” DE 151-9 at 1. However, Defendant does not
dispute that Plaintiff was standing approximately forty to fifty feet from the overturned vehicle at
mile marker 89, DE 151-1 at 63:8-10, and approximately one hundred and twenty-five feet north
of his parked vehicle, id. at 62:23-25. This conflicts with Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiff
pulled over at mile marker 91. Plaintiff could not have been one hundred and twenty-five feet
north of a car parked at mile marker 91 and, simultaneously, within forty to fifty feet of the
overturned vehicle at mile marker 89.
Plaintiff looked to his left and observed other people taking pictures. DE 151-1 at 73:4-7.
Plaintiff began photographing the overall scene, which included empty beer bottles, the
overturned vehicle, and firemen. Id. at 73:16-19; see also id. at 74:25-25; 75:1. He could not see
any of the persons involved in the accident. Id. at 73:13-15. Five to seven other bystanders were
also taking pictures at the time. Id. at 75:24-25. The group on the median was spread out over an
area of forty to fifty feet. Id. at 76:4-9.
The Florida Highway Patrol (“FHP”) arrived on scene at 13:56:47. DE 151-5. Within
minutes, FHP requested assistance from the Martin County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”). Id.
Defendant Beatty arrived on scene at 14:07:47. DE 151-5 at 3. Plaintiff had been taking pictures
for less than thirty seconds when he first encountered Defendant Beatty. DE 151-1 at 75:16-22.
Plaintiff first noticed Defendant Beatty when he was about four or five feet away and in the
process of approaching Plaintiff. Id. at 77:3-7. Defendant Beatty’s uniform immediately alerted
Plaintiff that Defendant Beatty was an MCSO officer. Id. at 77:8-18.
Here, Defendant Beatty’s account and Plaintiff’s diverge. According to Defendant
Beatty, the facts are as follows: Defendant Beatty approached Plaintiff and asked who he was, to
which Plaintiff responded that he had arrived after the crash. DE 151-4 at ¶ 7. Defendant Beatty
then took Plaintiff’s phone. Plaintiff asked Defendant Beatty if photographing the crash scene
was illegal, to which Defendant Beatty responded that the photographs on the phone were
evidence because the crash involved a potential fatality. Id.
According to Plaintiff, events unfolded differently: Defendant Beatty grabbed Plaintiff’s
phone from his hand “without warning or explanation.” DE 157-5 at ¶ 19. Defendant Beatty did
not say anything to Plaintiff before taking his phone. Id. at ¶ 20. Only after taking Plaintiff’s
phone did Defendant Beatty ask what Plaintiff was doing at the scene. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff asked
if it was illegal to photograph the scene, to which Defendant Beatty responded, “[N]o, but now
your phone is evidence of the State.” Id. at ¶ 24.
At this point, the parties’ accounts come back together. Defendant Beatty told Plaintiff to
leave the scene, drive to a northbound weigh station, and wait. DE 151-4 at ¶ 8. The weigh
station was about a mile away on the northbound side of Interstate 95. DE 151-1 at 82:4-8.
Plaintiff offered to delete the pictures in an effort to resolve the situation. Id. at 80:19-23.
Defendant Beatty again told Plaintiff to leave the area, go to the northbound weigh station, and
wait. Id. at 82:19-21. He advised Plaintiff that his phone would be turned over to an FHP
investigator who would contact him concerning its disposition. DE 151-4 at ¶ 10.
Plaintiff asked Defendant Beatty for his name, which Defendant Beatty provided. DE
151-1 at 82:22-23. Plaintiff insisted that he deserved to be treated with dignity and respect,
having been a law abiding citizen for over twenty years. Id. at 82:23-25; 83:1. Defendant Beatty
told Plaintiff to turn around because he was under arrest. Id. at 83:1-2. When Plaintiff asked what
he was being arrested for, Defendant Beatty responded that Plaintiff was being arrested for
resisting an officer. Id. at 83:2-3. Plaintiff then told Defendant Beatty he would be happy to
leave, but not without his phone. Id. at 83:3-4. Defendant Beatty asked Plaintiff to put his hands
behind his back. Id. at 88:20-24. Plaintiff complied and was placed under arrest. Id.
Defendant Beatty testified to calling the arrest in to dispatch when it was made. DE 154-5
at 14-16. Defendant Beatty’s affidavit also reflects that he notified dispatch shortly after Plaintiff
was handcuffed: “I handcuffed the Plaintiff behind his back and notified dispatch that I had
placed him under arrest, which is reflected in the CAD Report under the main call number
12121553 at 14:21:45 at ‘Beatty w/m 10-15.’” DE 151-4 at ¶ 11. The entire interaction—from
the time Plaintiff first saw Defendant Beatty until Plaintiff was in handcuffs—lasted between
sixty and ninety seconds. Id. at 83:7-8.
There is a conflict about when Plaintiff’s phone was taken. Defendant Beatty argues in
his Reply that Plaintiff’s phone was taken at 14:15:00, citing the “Initial Property/Evidence
Receipt.” See DE 151-7. This document was completed after-the-fact while Plaintiff was seated
in Defendant Beatty’s patrol car. DE 151-4 at ¶ 11. Even assuming the interaction between
Plaintiff and Defendant Beatty lasted only sixty seconds, the phone would have been seized by
Defendant Beatty at approximately 14:20:45—one minute before Defendant Beatty notified
dispatch after arresting Plaintiff, not at 14:15:00.
After handcuffing Plaintiff, Defendant Beatty walked Plaintiff to the patrol car, which
was parked on the east shoulder of Interstate 95, facing south. DE 151-1 at 89:5-12. During the
walk, Plaintiff told Defendant Beatty he had taken the pictures to show his daughter. Id. at 84:1216; DE 151-4 at ¶ 12. Plaintiff also told Defendant Beatty that he has been personal friends with
Sheriff Snyder for over twenty years, that he employs over one hundred people in the town, and
that he had never broken the law. DE 151-1 at 83:16-25; 84:1-3. 3 Defendant Beatty told Plaintiff
he did not care who Plaintiff knew or how many people he employed—he was going to jail. Id.
at 84:4-9. Defendant Beatty then used one hand to squeeze Plaintiff’s shoulder area on a pressure
point. Id. at 91:5-25. 4 Simultaneously, Defendant Beatty reached down and tightened Plaintiff’s
handcuffs. Id. at 92:3-11. 5 The walk across the median took approximately thirty seconds. DE
151-4 at ¶ 12.
Defendant Beatty testified that this conversation occurred before Plaintiff was handcuffed.
Defendant Beatty testified this never occurred.
Defendant Beatty testified this never occurred.
Plaintiff testified that when Defendant Beatty applied the pressure point, Plaintiff’s knees
buckled because of the severe pain. DE 151-1 at 92:24-25, 93:1-4; DE 57-5 at ¶ 39. Plaintiff also
testified that the substantial tightening of the handcuffs caused “excruciating pain.” DE 57-5 at ¶
39. However, Plaintiff never mentioned to Defendant Beatty that he was in pain. Id. at 95:6-10.
He also recalled that, following the incident, there were no signs of a physical injury—e.g.
bruises, scrapes, or cuts. Id. at 93:8-12. Plaintiff never discussed the arrest with his doctors. Id. at
Plaintiff was placed in the back of Defendant Beatty’s patrol car. Defendant Beatty
leaned in and turned the air-conditioning down or off. 6 Defendant Beatty then left. When he
returned, Plaintiff begged for air. DE 151-1 at 101:11-19. Plaintiff was hot and uncomfortable;
but he did not lose consciousness and he could breathe. Id. at 101:20-25; 102:1-8. Defendant
Beatty responded that it was not meant to be comfortable and left again. Historical weather data,
of which the Court takes judicial notice, reveals the temperature in the area on the afternoon of
May 20, 2012, was approximately eighty-four degrees. See “Local Climatological Data: Hourly
Observations on May 20, 2012,” U.S. Dep’t of Commerce Nat’l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin.
(accessed July 25, 2017).
Plaintiff testified that he was in the hot patrol car for more than thirty minutes. DE 156-1
at ¶ 41. As noted above, Defendant Beatty arrested Plaintiff at 14:21:45 and then took an
approximately thirty-second walk to the patrol car. Defendant Beatty notified dispatch again
when he left the scene to transport Plaintiff to jail, as shown on CAD report call number
12121591 at 14:43:47 as “Beatty in route to CJ.” But based on the CAD reports, Plaintiff was in
Defendant Beatty denied that he turned the air conditioning down or off.
the hot patrol car for approximately twenty-two minutes. Defendant Beatty turned the air
conditioning on before beginning the drive to the county jail. DE 156-1 at ¶¶ 44-45.
Finally, there is conflicting evidence about when the LifeStar helicopter landed at the
scene of the accident. It is undisputed that the helicopter ultimately landed at mile marker 91.
Defendant Beatty asserts that he asked Plaintiff to leave the area, in part, because he believed the
helicopter needed to land in the area where Plaintiff was standing. DE 151-4 at ¶ 8. In his Reply,
Defendant Beatty argues the helicopter did not land until 14:57:29, citing the following notation
in the CAD report: “671 REQX70 APPROACH AWAY FROM MEDIANREF FUEL LEAK.”
DE 151-3 at 7. However, that is inconsistent with Defendant Beatty’s Affidavit, which states: “I
placed Plaintiff in the rear of my patrol vehicle where he waited for a few minutes while the
helicopter landed.” DE 151-4 at ¶ 11. Defendant Beatty testified to leaving the scene at
14:43:47—approximately fifteen minutes before 14:57:29.
Plaintiff points to evidence that the helicopter landed before his arrest. Plaintiff testified
that although he thought the helicopter was on the ground before his arrest, he was not certain.
However, the argument finds support in notations in the CAD report, including: 4:19:37
“CHOPPER LANDING PER 1439.” DE 151-3 at 7. This is consistent with the Incident Report
completed by Martin County Fire Rescue, which states that the helicopter arrived at 14:21:00
and departed at 14:29:00. DE 157-3 at 16. Indeed the Incident Report reflects that the helicopter
had arrived at the chosen destination—St. Mary’s Hospital—by 14:40:00. Id.
A. Motion for Summary Judgment by Deputy Sheriff Beatty.
i. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Against Deputy Sheriff Beatty.
The § 1983 claims against Defendant Beatty are grounded in a plethora of constitutional
provisions including the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The seizure of
Plaintiff’s phone allegedly violated his First Amendment right to record police activity and his
Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiff alleges
the seizure of his person—his arrest—also violated his Fourth Amendment right to freedom from
unreasonable searches and seizures.
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that two acts amounted to
excessive force: (i) Defendant Beatty’s use of a pressure point and tightening of Plaintiff’s
handcuffs and (ii) the time spent in Defendant Beatty’s hot patrol car. The Amended Complaint
mentioned the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments in connection with Plaintiff’s
excessive force claims. But, during the hearing, Plaintiff’s counsel clarified that he is traveling
under only the Fourteenth Amendment. 7 Defendant Beatty—who is being sued solely in his
individual capacity—argues he is entitled to qualified immunity on each of Plaintiff’s
“In order to receive qualified immunity, the public official must first 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) (internal quotation marks
omitted). “[A] government official proves that he acted within his discretionary authority by
“The Court: ‘The excessive force claim of detention in a hot patrol car is being brought under
the Fourteenth Amendment?’ Mr. Rubin: ‘Yes’ . . . . The Court: ‘And with respect to—under
which constitutional amendment are you bringing the excessive force claim of the squeezing of
the Plaintiff’s shoulder and the tightening of his handcuffs?’ Mr. Rubin: ‘Same answer, Your
Honor.’” Hrng. Trans. 29-30.
showing objective circumstances which would compel the conclusion that his actions were
undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority.”
Courson v. McMillian, 939 F.2d 1479, 1487 (11th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted).
It is undisputed that Defendant Beatty was acting within his discretionary authority. See DE 156
at 4 (“With no dispute as to Beatty’s discretionary authority . . . .”).
Once the defendant has established that he was acting in his discretionary authority, the
burden shifts to plaintiff. See Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1166 (11th Cir. 2009) (per
curiam). “One inquiry in a qualified immunity analysis is whether the plaintiff’s allegations, if
true, establish a constitutional violation. If the facts, construed . . . in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff, show that a constitutional right has been violated, another inquiry is whether the
right violated was ‘clearly established.’” Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 734
(11th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted). For an official to lose qualified immunity, the
plaintiff must show both that a constitutional violation occurred, and that the violation was of a
clearly established right. See id. “[T]his two-pronged analysis may be done in whatever order is
deemed most appropriate for the case.” Id. (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009)).
1. First Amendment Claim.
The Eleventh Circuit recognizes a First Amendment right to record police activity,
subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. Smith v. Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332
(11th Cir. 2000). Defendant Beatty allegedly violated this right by seizing Plaintiff’s phone while
Plaintiff was photographing the accident scene. Defendant Beatty asserts qualified immunity. To
overcome qualified immunity, Plaintiff must show Defendant Beatty violated a constitutional
right that was clearly established when the alleged violation occurred. The Court can address the
two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis in any order.
The Court exercises its discretion to address, first, whether the right at issue was clearly
established when the alleged violation occurred. Qualified immunity protects government
officials performing discretionary functions from civil liability if 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). No case law specifically articulates a
right to record police activity at the evolving scene of a crash from the median of a major
highway. But Plaintiff can show the law was clearly established in three ways: “(1) case law with
indistinguishable facts clearly establishing the constitutional right; (2) a broad statement of
principle within the Constitution, statute, or case law that clearly establishes a constitutional
right; or (3) conduct so egregious that a constitutional right was clearly violated, even in the total
absence of case law.” Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, 561 F.3d 1288, 1291-92 (11th Cir.
2009) (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Smith contains a broad statement of principle clearly
establishing a constitutional right applicable to the novel facts of this case—namely, the First
Amendment right to photograph police activity. See Bacon v. McKeithen, No. 14-cv-37, 2014
WL 12479640 at *4 (N.D. Fla. Apr. 28, 2014) (finding, in the context of an officer being
recorded without his consent at a traffic stop, that “the holding in Smith dictates that its broad,
clearly established principle should control the novel facts in this situation.”) (internal quotation,
However, the First Amendment right to record police activity is subject to reasonable
time, place, and manner restrictions. The Court must, therefore, determine whether it was clearly
established when the alleged violation occurred that Plaintiff was photographing police activity
in a reasonable time, place, and manner. There is no case law fleshing out what does (or does
not) constitute a reasonable time, place, and manner in the context of photographing police
activity. The broad statement of principle that only reasonable restrictions are acceptable is little
help. Reasonableness is, the Supreme Court has recognized, “a factbound morass.” Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007). Notice that the right to photograph police officers is subject to
“reasonable” restrictions tells officers nothing about whether restricting recording in this
particular context would (or would not) be reasonable. As the Eleventh Circuit has
acknowledged, the “‘clearly established’ standard demands that a bright line be crossed. The line
is not found in abstractions—to act reasonably, to act with probable cause, and so on—but in
studying how these abstractions have been applied in concrete circumstances.” Post v. City of Ft.
Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1993). And the Court does not find, on these facts, that
Defendant Beatty’s conduct was “so egregious” that a constitutional right was clearly violated
even in the total absence of case law. Having found qualified immunity applies, the Court need
not address whether Plaintiff’s First Amendment right was violated in this case.
2. Fourth Amendment Claims.
The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” As noted above,
Plaintiff has alleged two discrete violations of this constitutional right: the seizure of his phone
and the seizure of his person. The Court turns, first, to the seizure of Plaintiff’s phone.
a. Seizure of Plaintiff’s Phone.
“Ordinarily, the seizure of personal property is per se unreasonable unless the seizure is
pursuant to a warrant issued upon probable cause.” United States v. Virden, 488 F.3d 1317, 1321
(11th Cir. 2007). But there are several exceptions, including the existence of exigent
circumstances. Exigent circumstances may arise from a variety of situations: “[H]ot pursuit of a
fleeing felon, or imminent destruction of evidence, or the need to prevent a suspect’s escape, or
the risk of danger to the police or to other persons inside or outside the dwelling.” Minnesota v.
Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 100 (1990) (quotation and citation omitted). However, “[p]olice officers
relying on this exception must demonstrate an objectively reasonable basis for deciding that
immediate action is required.” United States v. Young, 909 F.2d 442, 446 (11th Cir. 1990).
Defendant argues there is no constitutional violation, citing his “belief that the
photographs [on Plaintiff’s phone] were evidence and would possibly be destroyed.” DE 151 at
5. As an objective basis for his belief, Defendant notes Plaintiff’s offer to delete the photographs.
But that offer was made only after Plaintiff’s phone had been seized. It could not, therefore, have
served as the basis for an objectively reasonable belief that Defendant was justified in seizing
Plaintiff’s phone in the first place. Counsel also cites, as an alternative objective basis, general
knowledge “that things can disappear, especially on a phone, once they are away from the scene,
once they are no longer available.” Hrng. Trans. 16:13-15. Taken to its logical conclusion, this
argument would justify the seizure of any phone containing photographs or recordings of a
potential crime scene— such a finding sweeps too broadly. Based on the record evidence and the
required inferences at this stage of the matter, the Court finds Defendant’s summary seizure of
Plaintiff’s phone violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Court must next analyze whether the relevant law was clearly established at the time
of the seizure. It has been the law of this Circuit for over a decade that officers relying on the
exigent circumstances exception must show that the facts would have lead a reasonable,
experienced officer to believe the evidence might be destroyed before a warrant could be
secured. See Young, 909 F.2d at 446. There is no evidence in the record to support an objectively
reasonable belief that the destruction of the photographs was imminent. Plaintiff was
photographing the accident scene when Defendant Beatty approached him and took his phone.
Nothing said or done by Plaintiff before the seizure provided any indication he intended to delete
the photographs. Nor did Defendant Beatty make any inquiry about the photographs in an effort
to determine whether they actually constituted evidence potentially relevant to the Florida
Highway Patrol’s investigation before seizing the phone. Taking the facts in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, nothing was said before the seizure. Therefore, Defendant Beatty is not
entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s claim that the summary seizure of his phone violated
the Fourth Amendment.
b. Seizure of Plaintiff’s Person.
Plaintiff also alleges his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. An individual has a right
under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. An arrest is a
seizure of the person. California v. Hodari D., 449 U.S. 621, 624 (1991). The reasonableness of
a warrantless arrest turns on whether the officer had probable cause. “A warrantless arrest
without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and forms the basis for a section 1983
claim.” Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1996). For probable cause to exist,
an arrest must be objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Bailey v. Bd. of
Cty. Comm’rs of Alachua Cty., 956 F.2d 1112, 1119 (11th Cir. 1992). This standard is met when
“the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge, and of which he or she has
reasonably trustworthy information, would cause a prudent person to believe, under the
circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an
offense.” Williamson v. Mills, 65 F.3d 155, 158 (11th Cir. 1995).
Although an officer who arrests an individual without probable cause violates the Fourth
Amendment, his error “does not inevitably remove the shield of qualified immunity.” Skop v.
City of Atlanta, GA, 485 F.3d 1130, 1137 (11th Cir. 2007). Even if the officer did not have actual
probable cause, the Court must apply the standard of “arguable probable cause,” asking whether
“reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the
Defendant could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d
1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002) (emphasis added, quotation marks omitted). This standard
recognizes officers may make reasonable but mistaken judgments regarding probable cause.
Skop, 485 F.3d at 1137. But it does not shield officers who unreasonably conclude that probable
cause exists from liability. Id.
Whether Defendant Beatty had probable cause or arguable probable cause to arrest
Plaintiff depends on the elements of the alleged crime, Crosby v. Monroe Cty., 394 F.3d 1328,
1333 (11th Cir. 2004), and on the operative facts, Skop, 485 F.3d at 1137-38. Defendant Beatty
argues there are four crimes for which he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff: resisting an
officer without violence in violation of Florida Statute § 843.02; stopping, standing, or parking in
a prohibited place in violation of Florida Statute § 316.1945; walking on a limited access facility
in violation of Florida Statute § 316.130(18); and hindering or attempting to hinder a firefighter
in performance of his duty in violation of Florida Statute § 806.10. Although Plaintiff was only
charged with resisting an officer without violence, Defendant Beatty is shielded by qualified
immunity if he had probable cause or arguable probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for any offense.
Bailey, 956 F.2d at 1119 n.4.
Defendant Beatty had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for a violation of Florida Statute §
316.1945(11), entitled “Stopping, standing, or parking prohibited in specific places.” It prohibits
stopping, standing, or parking:
On the roadway or shoulder of a limited access facility, except as provided by
regulation of the Department of Transportation, or on the paved portion of a
connecting ramp; except that a vehicle which is disabled or in a condition
improper to be driven as a result of mechanical failure or crash may be parked on
such shoulder for a period not to exceed 6 hours. This provision is not applicable
to a person stopping a vehicle to render aid to an injured person or assistance to a
disabled vehicle in obedience to the directions of a law enforcement officer or to a
person stopping a vehicle in compliance with applicable traffic laws. 8
Under Florida law, a law enforcement officer may arrest a person without a warrant if
“[a] violation of chapter 316 has been committed in the presence of the officer.” Fla. Stat. §
901.15(5). It is undisputed that Plaintiff pulled over on the shoulder of the northbound lanes of
Interstate 95, out of the lane of travel. He stopped his car and then went to the overturned car,
which was on the median. There is no evidence that Plaintiff’s car was located anywhere but the
northbound shoulder of Interstate 95. Interstate 95 is a limited access facility. 9 Therefore,
stopping and parking on the northbound shoulder is prohibited unless one of the exceptions
provided in the statute applies. When Plaintiff first pulled over in an attempt to aid the occupants
of the overturned vehicle, he would arguably have been covered by the exception for “a person
stopping a vehicle to render aid to an injured person . . .” Fla. Stat. § 316.1945(11).
But none of the exceptions outlined above would have permitted Plaintiff to be parked on
the shoulder of Interstate 95 at the time he encountered Defendant Beatty. When Defendant
The citation to this specific statutory provision is provided for the first time in Defendant
Beatty’s Reply. However, the argument was not raised for the first time in Defendant’s Reply.
See Local Rule 7.1 (“[R]eply memorand[a] shall be strictly limited to rebuttal of matters raised in
the memorandum in opposition[.]”). Rather, Defendant Beatty’s Motion for Summary Judgment
states, in the context of his argument from Florida Statute § 316.130(18) that “Plaintiff could
have been cited and taken into custody for parking on the side of the road and remaining in the
median after first responders arrived. Although his initial presence may have been permitted for
purposes of rendering aid, once the first responders arrived Plaintiff could no longer legally
remain.” DE 151 at 6. Accordingly, this argument is properly before the Court.
A limited access facility is defined as: “A street or highway especially designed for through
traffic and over, from, or to which owners or occupants of abutting land or other persons have no
right or easement, or only a limited right or easement, of access, light, air, or view by reason of
the fact that their property abuts upon such limited access facility or for any other reason. Such
highways or streets may be parkways from which trucks, buses, and other commercial vehicles
are excluded or may be freeways open to use by all customary forms of street and highway
traffic.” Fla. Stat. § 316.003(33).
Beatty approached Plaintiff, Plaintiff was not “render[ing] aid to an injured person or assistance
to a disabled vehicle in obedience with the directions of a law enforcement officer or to a person
stopping a vehicle in compliance with applicable traffic laws.” Id. Instead, Plaintiff was standing
forty to fifty feet away from the accident scene (and one hundred and twenty-five feet north of
his own vehicle) taking photographs. As noted above, the only evidence in the record indicates
Plaintiff’s vehicle was on the northbound shoulder. Therefore, Defendant Beatty had probable
cause to arrest Plaintiff for violating Florida Statute § 316.1945(11). The existence of probable
cause is a complete bar to Plaintiff’s claim that his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. See
Rankin v. Evans, 133 F.3d 1425, 1435 (11th Cir. 1998). Having concluded Defendant Beatty had
probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for violating Florida Statute § 316.1945(11), the Court need not
address whether there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff violating the other statutes cited by
3. Fourteenth Amendment Claims.
The standard for showing excessive force under the Fourteenth Amendment is more
difficult to meet than the standard for showing excessive force under the Fourth Amendment.
Plaintiff argues that two happenings amount to the application of excessive force in violation of
the Fourteenth Amendment: (i) the tightening of his handcuffs and Defendant Beatty’s use of a
pressure point as well as (ii) Plaintiff’s detention in a hot patrol car.
To establish a claim for excessive force, the plaintiff must show both that defendant acted
with a malicious and sadistic purpose to inflict harm and that more than a de minimis injury
resulted. See Johnson v. Breeden, 280 F.3d 1308, 1321 (11th Cir. 2002). To determine whether
force was applied maliciously and sadistically, federal courts look to: (1) the extent of the injury;
(2) the need for application of force; (3) the relationship between the need and the amount of
force used; (4) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response; and (5) the extent
of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by responsible individuals
on the basis of the facts known to him. Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1374 (11th Cir. 1999)
(quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21).
The qualified immunity inquiry usually involves two prongs. For claims of excessive
force in violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments, however, a plaintiff can overcome a
defense of qualified immunity by showing only the first prong, that his Eighth or Fourteenth
Amendment rights have been violated. Johnson v. Breeden, 280 F.3d 1308, 1321–22 (11th Cir.
2002). The Eleventh Circuit created this rule because, for an excessive-force violation of the
Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments, “the subjective element required to establish it is so extreme
that every conceivable set of circumstances in which this constitutional violation occurs is
clearly established to be a violation of the Constitution . . . .” Id.
a. Tightening of Handcuffs and use of Pressure Point.
The Court begins with the threshold inquiry: Whether the force used was more than de
minimis. Plaintiff testified that when Defendant Beatty applied the pressure point, Plaintiff’s
knees buckled because of the severe pain. DE 151-1 at 92:24-25, 93:1-4; DE 57-5 at ¶ 39.
Plaintiff also testified that the substantial tightening of the handcuffs caused “excruciating pain.”
DE 57-5 at ¶ 39. However, Plaintiff never mentioned to Defendant Beatty that he was in pain. Id.
at 95:6-10. He also recalled that, following the incident, there were no signs of a physical
injury—e.g. bruises, scrapes, or cuts. Id. at 93:8-12. Plaintiff did not ever discuss the arrest with
his doctors. Id. at 3-13.
According to Plaintiff’s expert Dr. Hussamy—who reviewed Plaintiff’s medical records
approximately four and a half years after the incident—Defendant Beatty’s actions caused a
severe contusion to both of Plaintiff’s wrists and the exacerbation of Plaintiff’s carpal tunnel
syndrome, which was pre-existing. DE 87-1. Dr. Hussamy opined that in the years following the
arrest, the pain, numbness, and tingling in Plaintiff’s hands has worsened; that Plaintiff’s injury
is permanent; and that Plaintiff may, eventually, need a second carpal tunnel release procedure.
While claims involving mistreatment of arrestees or pretrial detainees in custody are
governed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause instead of the Eighth
Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the applicable standard is the same.
Accordingly, decisional law involving prison inmates applies equally to cases involving arrestees
or pretrial detainees. See Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1490 (11th Cir. 1996). In the Eighth
Amendment context, the Eleventh Circuit found the force used in Harris was more than de
minimis. 97 F.3d at 505-06 (11th Cir. 1996). There, a group of officers beat plaintiff. Id. During
the beating, one individual defendant snapped plaintiff’s head back with a towel, “mugged” or
slapped him twice in the face, and harassed him with several racial epithets and other taunts. Id.
Plaintiff claimed that some of these actions, particularly the kicking and use of the towel, caused
or exacerbated the injuries to his back. Id. The Eleventh Circuit characterized its decision as a
“close call.” The facts here involve the use of less force than Harris. Ultimately, the Court
cannot conclude that more than de minimis force was used. 11
Plaintiff had a carpal tunnel release procedure months before the incident at issue in this case.
It did not provide him any relief. DE 87-1 at 4.
Defendant urges the Court to credit analogies to cases like Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1258
(11th Cir. 2000); Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080 (11th Cir. 2003); and Rodriguez v. Farrell,
280 F.3d 1341 (11th Cir. 2001) for the proposition that painful handcuffing is de minimis force.
However, in all three of those cases, the force was used during an arrest. Here, Plaintiff had
already been handcuffed.
It is true that, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, he had already been
handcuffed and was compliant and walking across the median to the patrol car. There is a “basic
legal principle  that once the necessity for the application of force ceases, any continued use of
harmful force can be a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments . . .” Williams v.
Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1576 (11th Cir. 1991) (emphasis added). However, the Court finds that,
as matter of law, the injuries Plaintiff sustained and the force used in this case do not rise to the
constitutionally cognizable level illustrated by cases like Harris. See also Cotney v. Bowers, No.
03-cv-1181, 2006 WL 2772775 at * 7 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2006) (declining to grant summary
judgment on Fourteenth Amendment claim where Plaintiff shackled to the floor of his cell was
kicked by officers). In the absence of a constitutionally cognizable injury, there is no Fourteenth
Amendment violation. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Fourteenth
b. Detention in Hot Patrol Car.
Defendant Beatty handcuffed Plaintiff and notified dispatch Plaintiff had been placed
under arrest, reflected in the CAD report at 14:21:45 as “Beatty w/m 10-15.” Plaintiff and
Defendant Beatty walked to the patrol car, which took between thirty seconds and one minute.
Defendant Beatty notified dispatch again when he left the scene to transport Plaintiff to jail,
shown on CAD report call number 12121591 at 14:43:47 as “Beatty in route to CJ.” Plaintiff
testified that he was in the hot patrol car for more than thirty minutes. But based on the CAD
reports, Plaintiff was in the hot patrol car for a half an hour at most. Historical weather data, of
which the Court takes judicial notice, reveals the temperature during the afternoon on May 20,
2012, was approximately eighty-four degrees.
In Anderson v. Naples, 501 F. App’x 910, 918 n.8 (11th Cir. 2012) the Court noted in
dicta that plaintiff had not shown “the kind of extreme conduct that amounts to a Fourteenth
Amendment violation.” There, plaintiff—who was wearing a gorilla suit—was left in a patrol car
with the windows up and the air conditioning off for thirty-two minutes (at most) on an afternoon
when the high temperature was eighty-one degrees. Id. The officer had leaned in the car and
turned the air conditioning off.
One arguable difference between these two cases is that the plaintiff in Anderson did not
produce any evidence showing he was injured by his time in the hot patrol car. Id. Here,
Plaintiff’s counsel asserted during the hearing that Dr. Omar Hussamy—Plaintiff’s expert—
concluded that “Mr. Crocker’s position in the car and that because he was struggling for air and
understandably thrashing around” contributed to the exacerbation of Plaintiff’s carpal tunnel
syndrome. Hrng. Trans. 38:23-25; 39:1-2. But Dr. Hussamy did not so testify. On crossexamination he merely replied “Yes” when asked the hypothetical question: “[I]f a person was
struggling to breathe and their hands are behind their back in a closed compartment in a squad
car, could the struggle in trying to breathe and get air cause additional wrenching of the wrists?”
DE 87-3 at 58:21-25; 59:1-2. This is not the equivalent of testimony that Plaintiff’s struggle in
the patrol car did, in fact, contribute to his injuries. The Court finds that, as in Anderson,
Plaintiff’s time in the hot patrol car does not rise to the level of a Fourteenth Amendment
violation. Therefore, Defendant Beatty is entitled to summary judgment on this portion of
Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim.
ii. State Law False Arrest Claim Against Deputy Sheriff Beatty.
As under federal law, the existence of probable cause bars a claim under Florida law for
false arrest. See Whittington v. Town of Surfside, 490 F. Supp. 2d 1239, 1256 (S.D. Fla. June 6,
2007) (citing Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 584 n.19 (11th Cir. 1990)). As noted above,
Defendant Beatty had both probable cause and arguable probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for
violating Florida Statute § 316.1945(11). Defendant Beatty is, therefore, entitled to summary
judgment on Plaintiff’s state law false arrest claim.
B. Motion for Summary Judgment by Sheriff William Snyder.
42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Against Sheriff Snyder.
Defendant Sheriff Snyder is being sued solely in his official capacity. Suing a municipal
official is the functional equivalent of suing the municipality. Owens v. Fulton Cty., 877 F.2d
947, 951 n.5 (11th Cir. 1989) (“For liability purposes, a suit against a public official in his
official capacity is a suit against the local government entity he represents.”). In a suit filed
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a municipality cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat
superior. See Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Instead, “a municipality can be
found liable under § 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at
issue.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 386).
Plaintiff seeks to hold the municipality liable for each of the constitutional violations
allegedly committed by Defendant Beatty: A violation of the First Amendment right to record
police activity grounded in the seizure of Plaintiff’s phone; violations of the Fourth Amendment
right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures grounded in the seizures of Plaintiff’s
phone and person, respectively; and use of excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth
Amendment. Plaintiff’s claims against the municipality are each being brought under three
theories of municipal liability: the custom or policy theory, the failure to train theory, and the
ratification theory. 12 However, Defendant Snyder is entitled to summary judgment because
Plaintiff has not satisfied his burden with regard to any of the alleged violations.
1. First Amendment Claim.
Plaintiff seeks to hold the municipality liable for Defendant Beatty’s alleged violation of
Plaintiff’s right to record police activity subject to reasonable time, place, and manner
restrictions. First, Plaintiff advances the “custom or policy” theory of municipal liability, which
has three elements: “(i) that [plaintiff’s] constitutional rights were violated; (ii) that the
municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional
right; and (iii) that the policy or custom caused the violation.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d
1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 388). The Court assumes
arguendo a violation of Plaintiff’s First Amendment right to record police activity and turns to
the second element—the existence of a policy or custom that constituted deliberate indifference
to that right.
“A policy is a decision that is officially adopted by the municipality, or created by an
official of such rank that he or she could be said to be acting on behalf of the municipality . . . A
custom is a practice that is so settled and permanent that it takes on the force of law.” Sewell v.
Town of Lake Hamilton, 117 F.3d 488, 489 (11th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1075 (1998).
These requirements ensure a municipality will not be held liable “solely because it employs a
tortfeasor.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 691.
The Amended Complaint is unclear about which of these three theories of municipal liability
Plaintiff is asserting with regard to each alleged constitutional violation. And not all of these
theories are colorably asserted with regard to each alleged constitutional violation in Plaintiff’s
Response in Opposition to Defendant Snyder’s Motion for Summary Judgment. See DE 157.
However, the Court will err on the side of caution and analyze each claim under each of the three
theories of municipal liability in light of Plaintiff’s counsel’s comments at the hearing. See Hrng.
“A municipality’s failure to correct the constitutionally offensive actions of its police
department may rise to the level of a ‘custom or policy’ if the municipality tacitly authorizes
these actions or displays deliberate indifference towards the police misconduct.” Brooks v.
Scheib, 813 F.3d 1191, 1193 (11th Cir. 1987). But there must be some evidence that the
municipality was aware of past misconduct. See id. (reversing the district court’s judgment for
plaintiff, holding that “[q]uite simply, there [was] no evidence that city officials were aware of
past police misconduct.”). Plaintiff’s claim that the municipality’s failure to enact a policy
regarding the First Amendment right to record police officers amounts to deliberate indifference
rests solely on his personal experience. Indeed, Plaintiff’s counsel recognized as much during the
hearing. 13 The record contains testimony that citizens frequently videotape police encounters.
See, e.g., DE 150-6 at 1. But that is a far cry from evidence that the officers being videotaped had
previously interfered with recording in violation of the bystanders’ Fourth Amendment rights.
And Captain Robert Seaman, a 30(b)(6) representative for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office
testified: “It is not an ongoing and regular occurrence where the phones, that I’m aware of, are
taken.” DE 150-4 at 12-15. Plaintiff has not provided evidence of a “policy or custom.”
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint asserts a second theory of municipal liability: the failure
to train theory. A municipality may be held liable for failure to train or supervise its employees,
but only where “the municipality inadequately trains or supervises its employees, this failure to
train or supervise is a city policy, and that city policy causes the employees to violate a citizen’s
constitutional rights.” Gold v. City of Miami, 151 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing City of
“The Court: ‘Apart from Defendant Beatty’s behavior in this case, is there any evidence that
Sheriff Snyder was on actual or constructive notice that omissions in training or a lack of policies
regarding citizens’ rights to photograph first responders was causing constitutional violations
like the one alleged in this case?’ Mr. Rubin: ‘No specific instances in the record, Your Honor.’”
Hrng. Trans. 48:21-25; 49:1-3.
Canton, 489 U.S. at 389-91). Because a municipality will rarely have a written or oral policy of
inadequately training or supervising employees, liability attaches “where a municipality’s failure
to train its employees in a relevant respect evidences a deliberate indifference to the rights of its
inhabitants such that the failure to train can properly be thought of as a city policy or custom . . .”
Sewell v. Town of Lake Hamilton, 117 F.3d 488, 489-90 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting City of
Canton, 489 U.S. at 389) (internal quotation omitted). To show deliberate indifference, “a
plaintiff must present some evidence that the municipality knew of a need to train and/or
supervise in a particular area and the municipality made a deliberate choice not to take any
action.” Gold, 151 F.3d at 1351. The Eleventh Circuit has “repeatedly [ ] held that without notice
of a need to train or supervise in a particular area, a municipality is not liable as a matter of law
for any failure to train or supervise.” Id.
“A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily
necessary’” to provide such notice; however, the Supreme Court has “hypothesized” that a
municipality may also be held liable when a single incident is the “obvious” consequence of a
failure to train or supervise. Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61-63 (2011) (quoting Bd. of
Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997)). In City of Canton, the Supreme Court
presented, as a hypothetical example, the obvious need to train police officers on the
constitutional limitations regarding deadly force when the city provides the officers with firearms
and knows the officers will be required to arrest fleeing felons. 489 U.S. 378, 390 n.10 (1989).
As discussed above, Plaintiff has not provided evidence of a pattern of constitutional
violations similar to that alleged here—i.e. the seizure of a device being used by a bystander to
record police activity. 14 However, Plaintiff argues Defendant Snyder may nonetheless be held
See fn. 12, supra.
liable because this incident was an obvious consequence of a failure to train Defendant Beatty on
citizens’ right to record police activity. Where a constitutional violation is a “plainly obvious
consequence” of a failure to train and the situation in which the violation occurs is likely to
recur, a municipality may be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. See City of
Canton, 489 U.S. at 390 n.10.
The Supreme Court clarified in Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S.
397, 409 (1997): “In leaving open in Canton the possibility that a plaintiff might succeed in
carrying a failure-to-train claim without showing a pattern of constitutional violations, we simply
hypothesized that, in a narrow range of circumstances, a violation of federal rights may be a
highly predictable consequence of a failure to equip law enforcement officers with specific tools
to handle recurring situations.” Available guidance on the application of the single-incident
variation of the failure-to-train theory is limited. It has never been applied by the Supreme Court
or by the Eleventh Circuit. There is little doubt, particularly in modern times, that citizens
recording police officers is a “recurring situation”—and there is ample support in the record for
that conclusion. But the record does not support the conclusion that a violation of citizens’ First
Amendment rights is a “highly predictable” consequence of failing to equip officers with specific
tools for handling that situation. See, e.g., Gold 151 F.3d at 1352 (finding contentions that the
municipality had failed to train officers regarding the disorderly conduct statute and responding
to handcuff complaints fell “‘far short of the kind of obvious need for training that would support
a finding of deliberate indifference to constitutional rights on the part of the city.’”) (citing City
of Canton, 489 U.S. at 396-97).
Third, and finally, Plaintiff asserts a ratification theory. The sole argument colorably
advanced in Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to Defendant Snyder’s Motion for Summary
Judgment is that the ratification theory applies because a custom not approved through official
decision-making channels led to the alleged First Amendment violation and Defendant Snyder
must have known about that custom. But, as the Court has explained, Plaintiff has failed to
produce evidence of such a custom. During the hearing, Plaintiff’s counsel also argued the
municipality should be held liable on a ratification theory because the Sheriff knew about this
particular incident and nonetheless “failed to implement any review of the incident.” Hrng.
Trans. 43:14-20. “[W]hen plaintiffs are relying not on a pattern of unconstitutional conduct, but
on a single incident, they must demonstrate that local government policymakers had an
opportunity to review the subordinate’s decision and agreed with both the decision and the
decision's basis before a court can hold the government liable on a ratification theory.” Thomas
ex rel. Thomas v. Roberts, 261 F.3d 1160, 1174 n.12 (11th Cir. 2001), cert. granted, judgment
vacated sub nom. Thomas v. Roberts, 536 U.S. 953 (2002), opinion reinstated, 323 F.3d 950
(11th Cir. 2003). Only when “the authorized policymakers approve a subordinate’s decision and
the basis for it” have they “ratifi[ed]” that “decision.” City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S.
112, 127 (1988). The Eleventh Circuit rejected the same argument being advanced by Plaintiff in
Salvato v. Miley, 790 F.3d 1286, 1296 (11th Cir. 2015) because “[t]he sheriff did not review any
part of Miley's actions before they became final, much less approve the decision and the basis for
it.” (internal citations, quotations, and alterations omitted). Just so here. Defendant Snyder is
entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim.
Fourth Amendment Claims.
a. Seizure of Plaintiff’s Phone.
Next, Plaintiff seeks to hold the municipality liable for the seizure of his phone. The
Court, begins, again, with the “custom or policy” theory of municipal liability. Defendant Beatty
did violate Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights by seizing his phone. However, Plaintiff has not
provided record support for the existence of a custom or policy that constituted deliberate
indifference to that constitutional right. See McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir.
2004) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)).
Again, Plaintiff argues that “[a] municipality’s failure to correct the constitutionally
offensive actions of its police department may rise to the level of a ‘custom or policy’ if the
municipality tacitly authorizes these actions or displays deliberate indifference towards the
police misconduct.” Brooks v. Scheib, 813 F.3d 1191, 1193 (11th Cir. 1987). But, as emphasized
above, there must be some evidence that the municipality was aware of past misconduct. See id.
(reversing the district court’s judgment for plaintiff, holding that “[q]uite simply, there [was] no
evidence that city officials were aware of past police misconduct.”). Here, again, there is no
record evidence that the municipality was aware of past instances of misconduct.
However, proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is sufficient to impose
liability on the municipality if there is proof the incident was caused by an existing,
unconstitutional municipal policy, which can be attributed to a municipal policymaker. As
evidence of such a policy, Plaintiff presents the testimony of Captain Seaman and characterizes
Captain Seaman as having testified: “[T]hat in Martin County deputies do not need to obtain
warrants or consent before seizing personal property, even in the absence of exigent
circumstances!” DE 148 at 12. However, much of Captain Seaman’s testimony was more
nuanced. For example: “We are trained to look at the circumstances . . . If at the moment
[Defendant Beatty] believed that was directly related to the investigation and may be of benefit
and need for the  investigation . . . him taking possession of that at that moment I think could
certainly be justified.” DE 150-4:9-16. And it could be—provided that, on the facts, there was
some applicable exception to the general requirement of a warrant and probable cause (e.g.
Moreover, to the extent that Captain Seaman did testify to such an unwritten practice, his
testimony nonetheless falls short of establishing the municipality’s liability. Plaintiff can
establish the municipality’s liability by identifying either: (i) an officially promulgated policy or
(ii) an unofficial custom or practice of the municipality shown through the repeated acts of a
final policymaker. Grech v. Clayton Cty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003). There was
no official policy of allowing officers to seize evidence he or she believed had evidentiary value.
And even assuming Captain Seaman did testify that “unofficial custom or practice” of the Martin
County Sheriff’s Office allowed officers to seize any evidence he or she believed had evidentiary
value that had been operating since 2008, his testimony does not link that “unofficial custom or
practice” to the repeated acts of a final policymaker.
Plaintiff also argues the municipality should be held liable for failure to train Defendant
Beatty. However, there is no record evidence of a pattern of constitutional violations similar to
the seizure of Plaintiff’s phone. When asked about the existence of such evidence, Plaintiff’s
counsel emphasized that Sheriff Crowder reviewed all Internal Affairs inquiries for irregularities,
reasoning: “If the institution as a whole has this tacit policy to ignore the Constitution as it relates
to exigent circumstances . . . and the Sheriff is reviewing all of these . . . it would be patently
obvious to any law enforcement reviewer that this is taking place.” Hrng. Trans. 49:10-23. That
response begs the question. At the hearing, Plaintiff’s counsel also contended that the singleincident variation of the failure to train theory is applicable. The record does not support the
conclusion that a violation of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights is a “highly predictable”
consequence of failing to enact a policy specifically addressing securing a citizens’ property
without a warrant or consent.
b. Seizure of Plaintiff’s Person.
Even when individual officers are entitled to qualified immunity, a municipality might
still be liable if a plaintiff can demonstrate that the municipality had a policy or custom that led
to a constitutional deprivation. See Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs. of City of New York, 436
U.S. 658 (1978) (“[I]t is when execution of a government’s policy or custom . . . inflicts the
injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.”). However, the Court need
make this inquiry only when a plaintiff has suffered a constitutional deprivation. See City of Los
Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986) (determining that the extent to which departmental
regulations infringe on constitutional rights is irrelevant when no constitutional injury, in fact,
occurred). As noted above, Defendant Beatty had not only arguable probable cause, but actual
probable cause. Accordingly, there was no constitutional violation.
Even assuming the Court had found a Fourth Amendment violation, Plaintiff has not
made a showing sufficient to establish municipal liability. The Court begins with the custom or
policy theory of liability. There is no official policy approving the practice of making arrests
without probable cause or a warrant. And, as Plaintiff’s counsel acknowledged during the
hearing, the record contains no evidence of a custom or tacit policy. See Hrng. Trans. 45:16-21.
Plaintiff has not established a failure to train. Defendant Sheriff Snyder has produced policies on
arrest procedure. See DE 144-1. Additionally, Captain Seaman’s affidavit states that as a sworn
certified law officer Defendant Beatty received instruction and completed situational training on
arresting persons. DE 144-2 at ¶¶ 1-5. Plaintiff has cited no record evidence to the contrary.
Finally, there is no record evidence supporting the ratification theory.
3. Fourteenth Amendment Claims.
Defendant Snyder argues he is also entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s
Fourteenth Amendment claims. Notably, Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to Defendant
Snyder’s Motion for Summary Judgment contains no argument whatsoever on this point. But a
party’s failure to oppose a summary judgment motion does not generally absolve the district
court of its responsibility to consider the merits of the motion. See United States v. One Piece of
Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004).
Therefore, the Court will address the merits of Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment Claims against
As discussed in the portion of this Order addressed to Plaintiff’s claims against
Defendant Beatty, Plaintiff has not shown a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore,
the Court need not address Plaintiff’s municipal liability argument. See City of Los Angeles v.
Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986) (determining that the extent to which departmental regulations
infringe on constitutional rights is irrelevant when no constitutional injury, in fact, occurred).
Even assuming the Court had found a Fourteenth Amendment violation, Plaintiff has not
made a showing sufficient to establish municipal liability. The Court begins, once again, with the
custom or policy theory of liability. There is no official policy approving the use of excessive
force on arrestees in custody. And, as Plaintiff’s counsel acknowledged during the hearing, the
record contains no evidence of a custom or tacit policy. See Hrng. Trans. 45:16-21. Plaintiff has
not established a failure to train. Defendant Sheriff Snyder has produced policies prohibiting the
use of excessive force. See DE 144-1. Additionally, Captain Seaman’s affidavit states that as a
sworn certified law officer Defendant Beatty received instruction and completed situational
training regarding the use of force. DE 144-2 at ¶1-5. Plaintiff has cited no record evidence to the
contrary. Finally, there is no record evidence supporting the ratification theory. Defendant
Snyder is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claims.
4. Claims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.
Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the MSCO has failed to consider and safeguard
bystanders’ First Amendment rights to record police and an injunction compelling the MCSO to
enact constitutionally adequate policies aimed at protecting that right. The requirement that a
civil rights plaintiff suing a municipality show that his or her injury was caused by a municipal
“policy or custom” is equally applicable were prospective relief is sought. See Los Angeles Cty.
v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 31 (11th Cir. 2010). A municipality may be sued directly for
declaratory or injunctive relief when “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements
or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and
promulgated by that body’s officers” and when constitutional deprivations result from
“governmental ‘custom’ even though such a custom has not received formal approval through
the body’s official decision making channels.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 690–91. Here, as detailed
above, Plaintiff has not established municipal liability under either of these theories with regard
to any of his First Amendment claims. And, even if he had, the Court is skeptical that Plaintiff
would have standing to pursue injunctive relief in light of the standard set forth in City of Los
Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983), which requires a plaintiff seeking injunctive relief to show
“a sufficient likelihood he will again be wronged in a similar way,” absent which he “is no more
entitled to an injunction than any other citizen.” Therefore, Plaintiff is not entitled to the
prospective relief he seeks.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant Sheriff Snyder’s Motion for Summary Judgment
is GRANTED. Defendant Beatty’s Motion for Summary Judgment, on the other hand, is
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Defendant Beatty is entitled to summary
judgment on all of Plaintiff’s claims except for Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim arising out
of the seizure of his phone, which is being brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, Fort Pierce, Florida, this 28th day of July 2017.
ROBIN L. ROSENBERG
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Copies furnished to:
Counsel of Record
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