Roberts v. Spielman

Filing 26

ORDER denying 7 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; denying 15 Motion for Summary Judgment. Ordered by Judge Hugh Lawson on 7/30/2010. (nbp)

Download PDF
Roberts v. Spielman Doc. 26 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA M AC O N DIVISION S AN D R A ROBERTS, P l a i n ti ff, C A S E NO. 5:09-CV-248 (HL) v. J AS O N SPIELMAN, Defendant. ORDER T hi s matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (D o c . 7) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc 15). For the reasons d i s c us s e d herein, both Motions are denied. I. FACTS P l a i nti ff alleges that Defendant violated her right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. She brought thi s suit against Defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983.1 O n March 19, 2009, Defendant, a deputy with the Peach County Sheriff's D e p a rtm e nt, responded to an emergency call from Tracy Huckabee. Ms. Huckabee, P l a i nti ff's former sister in law, reported Plaintiff's possible suicide. (Doc. 8, Exh. A; In her complaint, Plaintiff also sought to "enforce rights under the Georgia Constitution and state law." Neither Plaintiff nor Defendant moved for summary judgment on the state law claims. As the Court ultimately finds that the case will be tried, Plaintiff's state law claims, to the extent there are any, will be heard at the trial of this case. 1 Dockets.Justia.com Doc. 24-3). Ms. Huckabee advised Defendant that Plaintiff had a history of suicide a tte m p ts and "[was] bipolar and [had been taking] medication."2 (Doc. 8, Exh. A). U p o n arriving at the scene, Defendant unsuccessfully attempted to make c o nta c t with Plaintiff by knocking loudly on the kitchen, front, and back doors of her ho us e . (Doc. 8, Exh. A). Next, Defendant opened the rear double doors enough to l o o k into the house and "yell[ed] inside of the house identifying [himself] as a deputy s he ri ff." Id. Defendant then observed Plaintiff walking towards the opened doors and re p o rte d over his radio that he had contact with Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff reached the d o o rw a y and warned Defendant not to enter her house. Id. Defendant asked Plaintiff to come outside to talk to Ms. Huckabee. Id. The parties dispute what happened next. Plaintiff claims to have said that she d i d not want to talk to Ms. Huckabee. (Doc. 24-3). Defendant claims that Plaintiff y e l l e d "get the fuck out of my house or I will ," and that she "suddenly turned back i nto the residence as if to obtain a weapon." (Doc. 8, Exh. A). Plaintiff contends that s h e made no movement of any sorts with her hands, that they were visible to D e fe nd a nt throughout their encounter, and that she never turned back into the re s i d e nc e . (Doc. 24-3). Defendant grabbed Plaintiff by the arm and led her outside as she resisted a nd "tried to break free of [his] grip." (Doc. 8, Exh. A). Defendant contends that he g ra b b e d Plaintiff out of fear that she was going back into the residence to obtain a Plaintiff denies suffering from bipolar disorder, taking medication for such condition, or having a history of suicide attempts. (Doc. 24-3). She also states that she had not seen or spoken to Ms. Huckabee in months. (Doc. 24-3). 2 2 weapon. Id. Plaintiff contends that Defendant made no effort to search for weapons a n d did not act at any point like he was in fear for his safety. (Doc. 24-3). Plaintiff furthe r contends that Defendant "shoved her on the back steps" and "got in [her] fa c e , screaming that he was in charge and ordering [her] to shut up or be arrested." S h e also states that even after she told Defendant to get out of her home, he re m a i ne d in her home for at least five minutes from the time he saw her and realized t h a t she was not dead until he grabbed her and took her outside. Id. Defendant c l a i m s that Plaintiff approached him outside the house and started to "yell p ro fa ni ti e s " at him, after which he told her "that [was] enough" and to "be quiet." (D o c . 8, Exh. A). II. ANALYSIS A. Summary Judgment Standard S um m a ry judgment must be granted if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue a s to any material facts and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of l a w ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56). A genuine issue of material fact arises only when "the e v i d e n c e is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving p a rty ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). W he n considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must evaluate a l l of the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 254-55. The Court may not, however, make credibility 3 determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson P l um b i ng Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097 (2000). The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the d i s tri c t court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the p l e a d i ng s , depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together w i th the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine i s s ue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1 9 8 6 ) (internal quotation marks omitted). If the moving party meets this burden, the b urd e n then shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and present s p e c i fi c evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact, or that the no nm o v i ng party is not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 324-26. This e v i d e nc e must consist of more than mere conclusory allegations. See Avrigan v. H ul l , 932 F.2d 1572, 1577 (11th Cir. 1991). Under this scheme summary judgment m us t be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party w i l l bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. B. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment P l a i nti ff moves for summary judgment in her favor on liability. She contends tha t Defendant violated her constitutional rights when he remained in her home after d e te rm i ni ng she was alive. Defendant argues in response that he was entitled to re m a i n in Plaintiff's home either as part of a Terry stop or under exigent c i rc um s ta nc e s . The Court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to 4 whether Defendant properly remained in Plaintiff's home under exigent c i rc um s ta nc e s . Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is d e ni e d . 1. Exigent circumstances E xi g e nt circumstances exist when "the exigencies of the situation make the ne e d s of law enforcement" sufficiently compelling to justify a warrantless search. B ri g ha m City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 1947 (2006). E xi g e nc i e s justifying warrantless home entry exist when "the circumstances, viewed o b je c tiv e ly , justify the action." Id. at 404 (emphasis in original). For instance, law e nfo rc e m e nt officers may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency aid to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury. Id. The e xi g e nt circumstances exception also applies when there is a "danger to arresting o ffi c e rs or the public." United States v. Satterfield, 743 F.2d 827, 843-44 (11th Cir. 1 9 8 4 ). W a r r a n t l e s s searches made under exigent circumstances must be "strictly c i rc um s c ri b e d by the exigencies which justify [their] initiation." Mincey v. Arizona, 4 3 7 U.S. 385, 393, 93 S.Ct. 2408, 2414 (1978). Plaintiff does not dispute that Defendant initially entered her home under e xi g e nt circumstances, performing an emergency-aid welfare check on a person D e fe nd a nt believed to be suicidal and bipolar. Plaintiff argues, however, that any e xi g e nc y expired once Defendant established contact with her. Defendant claims that the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant re q ui re m e nt applies to all of his interactions with Plaintiff, even those after the initial 5 entry into her home and discovery that she was alive. He argues that exigent c i rc um s ta nc e s existed to as to allow him to remain in Plaintiff's home, as he had a d uty to protect the welfare of Plaintiff and Ms. Huckabee and to investigate whether s o m e thi ng was wrong with Plaintiff. Defendant argues that based on the emergency c a l l , he already thought Plaintiff was mentally unstable, and Plaintiff's behavior after he arrived on the scene did not dispel the notion that she was mentally imbalanced a nd a possible danger to herself or others. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court heard a case with facts similar to those b e fo re the Court. Seibert v. State, 923 So.2d 460, 470 (Fla. 2006). In Seibert, the F l o ri d a court held that an emergency call stating that the defendant was suicidal, c o m b i ne d with his "strange behavior in not answering the door for four or five m i nute s after the officers first knocked, after which he immediately slammed the d o o r," justified the officers' entry under exigent circumstances. Id. at 470. The court re a c he d this conclusion by reasoning that, after observing the defendant's behavior, "the officers had no reason to doubt [the caller's] statement that the defendant was s ui c i d a l " and "could have reasonably thought that they would not get another o p p o rtuni ty to assist [the defendant] if they allowed him to [remain in his home]." Id. T he Court finds Seibert persuasive and its reasoning applicable to the facts before i t viewed in the light most favorable to Defendant. 6 The Court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether D e fe nd a nt was justified in remaining in Plaintiff's home after determining she was a l i v e .3 C. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment A s the Court has found that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether or not D e fe nd a nt properly remained in Plaintiff's home, a jury could find Defendant liable to Plaintiff for violating her constitutional rights. Therefore, it is necessary for the C o urt to address the immunity arguments contained in Defendant's Motion for S um m a ry Judgment. 1. E l e v e nth Amendment immunity D e fe nd a nt first argues that he is immune from suit pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. In Georgia, a sheriff and his deputies are considered constitutional o ffi c e rs . Because Defendant's alleged actions occurred as a constitutional officer in the course of his official duty, he claims immunity from liability for his alleged actions. S uc h immunity, however, only extends to Defendant in his official capacity; the E l e v e nth Amendment does not immunize constitutional officers in their individual c a p a c i ti e s . Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff seeks to ho l d Defendant liable in his individual capacity only. Accordingly, Defendant's i m m uni ty claim under the Eleventh Amendment is moot. Since there is an issue of fact for the jury as to whether Defendant properly remained in Plaintiff's home under the exigent circumstances exception, the Court will not address Defendant's Terry argument. 7 3 2. Q ua l i fi e d immunity D e fe nd a nt next claims qualified immunity from any individual liability. Qualified immunity shields government actors from liability for actions within the scope of their d i s c re ti o na ry authority. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 2515 (2 0 0 2 ). If Defendant shows that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary a utho ri ty he enjoys qualified immunity unless Plaintiff satisfies two conditions. First, P l a i nti ff must show that a constitutional violation actually occurred. Second, Plaintiff m us t establish that the official had "fair notice that [his] conduct [was] unlawful." To e s ta b l i s h "fair notice," Plaintiff must show that the law prohibiting the relevant v i o l a ti o n was clearly established. Id. a. S c o p e of discretionary authority D e fe nd a nt contends that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary a utho ri ty during his interactions with Plaintiff. She, however, disputes that Defendant w a s so acting. A government official's discretionary authority extends to actions undertaken p urs ua nt to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority. J o rd a n v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559, 1566 (11th Cir. 1994). Under Plaintiff's version of the fa c ts , Defendant's actions up to and including establishing initial contact with her w e re within the scope of his discretionary authority, but his subsequent actions were no t. Plaintiff claims that she asked Defendant to leave and neither turned her back to him nor threatened anyone. W hi l e Defendant states he believed Plaintiff was re a c hi ng for a weapon, Plaintiff's version of the facts does not support a reasonable 8 belief that Plaintiff was armed, reaching for a weapon or posing a threat to the safety o f anyone at the scene. The Court finds Defendant was not acting within his d i s c re ti o na ry authority when he remained in Plaintiff's house after determining she w a s alive. The Eleventh Circuit in Thornton vs. City of Macon, 132 F.3d 1395, 1399-1400 (1 1th Cir. 1998), concluded that police officers acted outside the scope of their a utho ri ty and exceeded the scope of their official duties by remaining on the p l a i nti ff's property after he had asked them to leave. In reaching this conclusion, the c o urt reasoned that "[the plaintiff] had committed no crime and had not threatened a ny o ne ; once he had asked the officers to leave, their continued presence [ . . . ] w a s not pursuant to their official duties and was outside of their authority. After that p o i nt, they were no longer maintaining the peace; they were instead merely a tte m p ti ng forcibly to resolve a civil dispute." Viewing the facts in the light most fa v o r a b l e to Plaintiff, and based on Thornton, the Court finds that Defendant has fa i l e d to establish that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority. T hi s means Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. It is not necessary for the C o urt to address the remaining prongs of the qualified immunity test. III. CONCLUSION C o ns i s te nt with the foregoing, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 7) is denied. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15) is also d e ni e d . This case will be placed on the calendar for the September trial term. 9 SO ORDERED, this the 30 th day of July, 2010. s / Hugh Lawson HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE m b h/w e f 10

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.


Why Is My Information Online?