OWENS v. TURNER et al
ORDER granting 22 Motion for Summary Judgment. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE C ASHLEY ROYAL on 9/21/16 (lap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
JOHNNY L. OWENS,
No. 5:15‐CV‐12 (CAR)
ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Johnny L. Owens, proceeding pro se, brings unreasonable search and
seizure, false arrest, and false imprisonment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
Defendant Jack Turner. Plaintiff contends Defendant violated his Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights after Defendant stopped, arrested, and then searched
Plaintiff’s car without probable cause. Currently before the Court is Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 22]. After careful consideration, the Court finds
Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity and Eleventh
Amendment immunity in his official capacity. Thus, Defendant’s Motion [Doc. 22] is
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment must
be granted “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.”1 A genuine issue of material
fact only exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a
jury to return a verdict for that party.”2 Thus, summary judgment must be granted if
there is insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving
party or, in other words, if reasonable minds could not differ as to the verdict.3 When
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light
most favorable to the party opposing the motion.4
The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the
district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact” and that entitle it to a judgment as a matter of law.5 If the moving party
discharges this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the
pleadings and present specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
3 See id. at 249‐52.
4 Welch v. Celotex Corp., 951 F.2d 1235, 1237 (11th Cir. 1992).
5 Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation marks omitted).
material fact.6 This evidence must consist of more than mere conclusory allegations or
As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff is held “to a less stringent standard than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.”8 Nevertheless, Plaintiffʹs pro se status “does not exempt
[him] from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law,”
including those applicable on summary judgment.9
This case arises out of a traffic stop, vehicle search, and subsequent arrest of
Plaintiff. The parties’ versions of events differ and both sides are pertinent to resolving
the instant motion.
On November 20, 2014, at approximately 10:00 am, Defendant Jack Turner, a
patrol deputy, stopped Plaintiff Johnny L. Owens in Butts County, Georgia. Defendant’s
incident report states he observed Plaintiff pass a tractor trailer in a no passing zone on
Highway 16 and then checked the vehicle’s speed with his radar unit. The car was
traveling 80 mph in a 55 mph speed limit zone, so Defendant turned on his emergency
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324‐26.
See Avirgan v. Hull, 932 F.2d 1572, 1577 (11th Cir. 1991).
8 Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
9 Hillemann v. Univ. of Cent. Fla., 411 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1358–59 (M.D. Fla. 2004), affʹd, 167 F. Appʹx 747 (11th
Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).
lights to initiate the traffic stop. However, Defendant was unable to find Plaintiff after
traveling for several miles. Suspecting Plaintiff pulled into a driveway to avoid the stop,
Defendant turned around on Highway 16 and headed east again. Defendant spotted
Plaintiff traveling west on Highway 16 and turning onto Higgins Road upon seeing his
patrol car. Defendant claims he was forced to travel at over 100 mph just to catch up
with Plaintiff. Defendant finally stopped Plaintiff at the intersection of Higgins Road and
Once Defendant initiated the traffic stop, he asked Plaintiff where he was going in
such a hurry. Plaintiff told Defendant he had to go to court that day, and, in the course
of their conversation, Plaintiff admitted to “trying to dodge” Defendant.11 After careful
consideration, Defendant decided to charge Plaintiff with speeding, passing in a no‐
passing zone, and reckless driving, instead of fleeing and attempting to allude.
Defendant then placed Plaintiff under arrest. Sergeant Wallace transported Plaintiff to
the Butts County Jail, while Defendant inventoried and impounded the car.12
However, Plaintiff contends he was not speeding at 80 mph or trying to evade
police. Actually, Plaintiff never saw Defendant on Highway 16 and immediately stopped
Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 1 Incident Report, [Doc. 22‐2] at p. 1.
when he noticed Defendant behind him on Higgins Road. Plaintiff always uses Higgins
Road as a cut through to Pike County and never admitted to Defendant he was
“dodging” him.13 According to Plaintiff, when Defendant approached Plaintiff’s car, his
first words to Plaintiff were “how would you like it if I put you in jail?”14 Defendant
asked Plaintiff how fast he was going to which Plaintiff responded, “about 60 miles per
hour.”15 Defendant told Plaintiff four witnesses called in to report he was driving
recklessly and requested Plaintiff’s license and registration.16
After Plaintiff provided his license and registration, Defendant proceeded to sit in
his patrol vehicle for approximately twenty minutes before returning to Plaintiff’s car.
Once Defendant returned, Plaintiff asked if he was free to leave the scene because he had
to appear in Magistrate Court in Pike County, Georgia at 10:30 am.17 Defendant
responded, “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” and went back to his vehicle for
approximately another twenty‐five minutes.18
Pl.’s Response to Mtn. to Dismiss, [Doc. 18] at p. 1.
Pl.’s Amended Complaint, [Doc. 8] at p. 1.
16 Id. Defendant disputes these allegations, contending he witnessed Plaintiff speeding at 80 miles per
17 Id. at p. 1‐2.
18 Id. at p. 2.
When Defendant returned to Plaintiff’s car the second time, he told Plaintiff to get
out of his vehicle and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. At some point
during this time, another police officer arrived on the scene to assist Defendant. After
Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs, Defendant proceeded to search Plaintiff’s car and
instructed the other police officer to transport Plaintiff to Butts County Jail. Plaintiff
contends the officers never told him what he did wrong or why he was being arrested.19
Plaintiff was taken to Butts County Jail, but he was not provided bond until the
next day, which was set at $3,500.00. It was not until Plaintiff was released and given his
tickets that he claims he learned of the traffic violations.20 Plaintiff received citations for
reckless driving, passing in a no passing zone, and speeding at 80 miles per hour.21 On
January 13, 2015, Plaintiff timely filed this action, claiming his constitutional rights were
Fifteen days later, on January 28, 2015, a Butts County grand jury indicted and
charged Plaintiff with reckless driving, improper passing, speeding, driving too fast for
conditions, and obstruction of an officer. The obstruction of officer charge was
subsequently dropped. Plaintiff pled guilty to driving too fast for conditions and
21 Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 1 Incident Report, [Doc. 22‐2] at p. 1.
improper passing in exchange for a Nolle Prosequi Order on the reckless driving and
speeding charges. 22
Plaintiff filed this action with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. After an initial
review of the complaint, the Court allowed him to file his unreasonable search and
seizure, false arrest, and false imprisonment claims brought pursuant to § 1983.23 Now,
Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims, arguing he is entitled to qualified
immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated his constitutional rights when Defendant
arrested him and searched his car because Defendant lacked probable cause to initiate the
stop. Defendant contends qualified immunity shields him from any § 1983 liability, as he
had probable cause to conduct the traffic stop and arrest Plaintiff after he saw Plaintiff
speeding and attempting to evade police. Additionally, Defendant argues, after arresting
Plaintiff, it was reasonable for him to inventory Plaintiff’s vehicle before impounding it.
See Def.’s Brief in Support of the Mtn. for Summary Judgment, [Doc. 22‐1] at p. 1; Def.’s Mtn. for
Summary Judgment, Ex. 2 Accusation [Doc. 22‐3] at p. 1‐2; Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 3 Nolle
Prosequi Order, [Doc. 22‐4] at p. 1; Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 4 Dec. of James Moss, [Doc. 22‐
5] at para. 4.
23 [Doc. 5].
Defendant also contends Eleventh Amendment immunity shields him from any claim
against him in his official capacity.
I. Qualified Immunity
“[Q]ualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued
in their individual capacities as long as their conduct violates no clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”24
As the Supreme Court recently reiterated, “[w]hen properly applied, [qualified
immunity] protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.”25 “The purpose of this immunity is to allow government officials to carry out their
discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation.”26
Qualified immunity is immunity from suit and should be resolved as early as possible
in the case.27
When an officer invokes qualified immunity, the initial burden is on the officer to
show that “he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the
allegedly wrongful acts occurred.”28 Once the officer satisfies that burden, the burden
Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1193‐94 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S. Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015) (per curiam).
26 Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194.
27 Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231‐32 (2009).
28 Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194.
then shifts to the plaintiff to show (1) a violation of a constitutional right occurred, and
(2) that right was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. 29
Here, it is clear Defendant was acting within the scope of his discretionary
authority. Therefore, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to prove the traffic stop, arrest, and
vehicle search violated his clearly established Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
A. False Arrest and False Imprisonment
Plaintiff alleges Defendant falsely arrested and imprisoned him in violation of his
Fourth Amendment rights.30 Plaintiff contends Defendant stopped him for no reason,
required him to wait in his car for forty‐five minutes, and arrested him without
explaining why. However, Defendant contends he had probable cause to initiate the
traffic stop and arrest Plaintiff because he was speeding at 80 mph, and he admitted to
trying to evade Defendant.
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232.
Normally, when a false imprisonment claim arises merely from “[a] detention on the basis of a false
arrest,” the false imprisonment claim is “subsume[d]” into the false arrest claim. Eloy v. Guillot, 289 F.
Appʹx 339, 347 n.3 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1526 (11th Cir. 1996)
(concluding that plaintiffʹs claim for false imprisonment is functionally indistinct from his false arrest
claim)). Here, Plaintiff’s false imprisonment claim will subsume with his false arrest claim, and the Court
will refer only to the latter.
Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, a police officer must have probable cause to
make a warrantless arrest.31 “An arrest without probable cause would violate Plaintiff’s
Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search.”32 For purposes of
qualified immunity, the Defendant need only have arguable probable cause to arrest
Plaintiff.33 Arguable probable cause exists “where reasonable officers in the same
circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the Defendant[ ] could have
believed that probable cause existed to arrest.”34 Furthermore, “[i]f an officer has
probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal
offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the
offender.”35 “Whether an arresting officer possesses probable cause or arguable probable
cause naturally depends on the elements of the alleged crime and the operative fact
Rodriguez v. Farrell, 280 F.3d 1341, 1345 (11th Cir. 2002).
See Ortega, 85 F.3d at 1525.
33 Scarbrough v. Myles, 245 F.3d 1299, 1302 (11th Cir. 2001) (“Significantly, all that is required for qualified
immunity to be applicable to an arresting officer is ‘arguable probable cause to believe that a person is
committing a particular public offense ….’” (quoting Redd v. City of Enterprise, 140 F.3d 1378, 1384 (11th
34 Lee, 284 F.3d at 1195 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
35 Id. at 1194‐95 (quoting Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001)).
36 Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1137‐38 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted).
Here, Defendant contends multiple violations justified the stop, arrest, and ticket,
including Plaintiff’s speeding at 80 miles per hour, passing in a no‐passing zone, and
driving recklessly. Defendant’s incident report also states Plaintiff admitted to fleeing
and attempting to elude a police officer, but Defendant decided not to ticket him for that
offense.37 Ultimately, Plaintiff was charged and indicted for five offenses.38 Plaintiff pled
guilty to improper passing and driving too fast for conditions, in violation of O.C.G.A. §§
40‐6‐46 and 40‐6‐180, in exchange for a Nolle Prosequi Order on the remaining charges.39
By pleading guilty to the alleged traffic violations, Plaintiff confirmed Defendant
had probable cause to conduct the traffic stop for said violations and arrest Plaintiff.40
Because “probable cause constitutes an absolute bar to … § 1983 claims alleging false
arrest,”41 the Court finds Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity on these claims.
Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as to these claims.
B. Unreasonable Search and Seizure
Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 1 Incident Report, [Doc. 22‐2] at p. 1 (according to Defendant,
Plaintiff admitted to trying to “dodge” Defendant).
38 Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 2 Accusation, [Doc. 22‐3] at p. 1‐2.
39 Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 5 Final Disposition, [Doc. 22‐6] at p. 1. Plaintiff pled nolle
prosequi to reckless driving and speeding. Id. The obstruction of an officer charge was dropped.
40 See, e.g., Hall v. Smith, 170 F. App’x 105, 107 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (“Moreover, the judicially‐
recognized fact that [the plaintiff] subsequently pled no contest and was adjudged guilty demonstrates
his detention was not unreasonable or unlawful.”); Moody v. City of Albany, No. 1:03‐CV‐75, 2006 WL
2263977, at *9‐10 (M.D. Ga. Aug. 8, 2006).
41 Hall, 170 F. App’x at 106 (quoting Rankin v. Evans, 133 F.3d 1425, 1435 (11th Cir. 1998)) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff also alleges Defendant violated his constitutional rights by searching his
vehicle after arresting him without probable cause. According to Plaintiff, Defendant
placed handcuffs on him and then immediately began searching his car, while the other
officer placed him in the vehicle and transported him to jail. Defendant was still
searching his vehicle as he left the scene. Defendant counters he was simply doing an
inventory of the vehicle prior to impoundment.
The Fourth Amendment assures “the right of persons to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures.”42 Generally, the
Fourth Amendment requires officers to secure a warrant before conducting a search.43
However, one exception to this rule is inventory searches of impounded vehicles.44 In
evaluating inventory searches, “[e]ven if an arresteeʹs vehicle is not impeding traffic or
otherwise presenting a hazard, a law enforcement officer may impound the vehicle, so
long as the decision to impound is made on the basis of standard criteria and on the basis
of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity.”45 Once the vehicle is
U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465, 466‐67 (1999).
44 South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 369‐76 (1976).
45 Sammons v. Taylor, 967 F.2d 1533, 1542 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation omitted).
lawfully impounded, the officer may conduct an inventory search of the vehicle.46 Such
an inventory search does not offend Fourth Amendment principles so long as it is
performed pursuant to standard police procedure.47
Here, Defendant states he placed Plaintiff under arrest, and then did an inventory
of Plaintiff’s car before having it impounded.48 Defendant argues the inventory did not
violate Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights because it was a routine search prior to
impoundment and was clearly reasonable. As stated above, Defendant had probable
cause to arrest Plaintiff, and therefore could impound Plaintiff’s car pursuant to police
procedure. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence that the impoundment and
inventory search were not performed according to standard procedure in these
circumstances, nor does Plaintiff argue the search was conducted for illegal investigatory
purposes or suspicion of evidence of criminal activity.49 Additionally, the Court has not
found any authority stating an inventory prior to impoundment is per se a constitutional
48 See Def.’s Mtn. for Summary Judgment, Ex. 1 Incident Report, [Doc. 22‐2] at p. 1.
49 See United States v. Skinner, 857 F. Supp. 228, 232 (11th Cir. 1997) (“The inventory search in this case is
invalid because the car was not impounded according to standardized criteria and the facts of this case
suggest an investigatory motive.”); Brandon v. Moore, No. 11‐CV‐0178‐CVE‐TLW, 2012 WL 569163, at *8 n.
7 (N.D. Okl. Feb. 21, 2012) (finding the inventory prior to impoundment did not violate the Fourth
Amendment as Defendant stated he did the search to get a list of valuable things in the car, and Plaintiff
did not present evidence the search was not done according to standard procedure or conducted for any
other purpose (citing Opperman, 428 U.S. at 369)).
violation. Instead, many courts have found inventories prior to impoundment are
common practice and do not violate the Fourth Amendment.50 Based on the foregoing,
Plaintiff has failed to show the inventory search prior violated his constitutional rights.
Therefore, the Court finds Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity regarding
Plaintiff’s unreasonable search and seizure claim. Defendant is entitled to summary
judgment as to this claim.
II. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
To the extent Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant in his official capacity as a
patrol deputy for the Butts County Sheriff’s Department, Defendant is entitled to
Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Eleventh Amendment “bars suits brought in
federal court when the State itself is sued and when an ‘arm of the State’ is sued.”51 “To
See, e.g., Kilgore v. City of Stroud, 158 F. App’x 944, 950 (10th Cir. 2005) (concluding it was common police
practice to do an inventory search prior to impounding the car, and such practice does not violate the
Fourth Amendment); Palmer v. Allen, No. 14‐cv‐12247, 2016 WL 3405782, at *5 (E.D. Mich. June 21, 2016)
(“Since [the driver] had already been arrested for driving on a suspended license and having multiple
outstanding warrants, it was lawful for [Defendant] to order [Plaintiff] out of the vehicle to conduct an
inventory search of [the driver’s] vehicle prior to impoundment.” (citing United States v. Bah, 794 F.3d 617,
627 (6th Cir. 2015), cert. denied sub nom., Harvey v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 561 (2015))); Kirk v. Muskingum
Cnty. Ohio, No. 2:09‐cv‐00583, 2011 WL 1480136, at *7 (S.D. Ohio, Eastern Div. April 19, 2011) (“The Court
therefore permits a search of a vehicle for inventory ‘prior to impoundment, even if the police have no
probable cause to otherwise search the vehicle.’” (quoting United States v. Campbell, 486 F.3d 949, 958 (6th
Cir. 2007) (citing Opperman, 428 U.S. at 375))); Golden v. Austin Cnty. Sheriffs Dep’t, No. H‐09‐817, 2010 WL
3909476, at *9 (S.D. Texas Sept .30, 2012) (“After a lawful arrest, law enforcement may perform an
inventory search before impounding a vehicle.” (citing United States v. Foots, 340 F. Appʹx 969, 971 (5th
51 Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir.2003) (en banc), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1107 (2004).
receive Eleventh Amendment immunity, a defendant need not be labeled a ‘state officer’
or ‘state official,’ but instead need only be acting as an ‘arm of the State,’ which includes
agents and instrumentalities of the State.”52 “Whether a defendant is an ‘arm of the State’
must be assessed in light of the particular function in which the defendant was engaged
when taking the actions out of which liability is asserted to arise.”53
“A Georgia sheriff is considered an ‘arm of the State’ when performing law
enforcement functions, such as detaining and arresting suspects.”54 Additionally,
sheriff’s deputies are entitled to the same Eleventh Amendment immunity against official
capacity claims as a sheriff.55 Here, Defendant was performing his law enforcement
duties as the Sheriff’s deputy when he arrested Plaintiff after a traffic stop and performed
54 Richardson v. Quitman Cnty., Ga, 912 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1366 (M.D. Ga. 2012) (citing Burgest v. Colquitt
Cnty., 177 F. App’x 852, 855 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (affirming summary judgment in favor of the
sheriff and his employees sued in their official capacities on claims related to the plaintiffsʹ detention and
arrest based on Eleventh Amendment immunity)); see also Manders, 338 F.3d at 1312‐13, 1328‐29 (noting
the sheriff’s function is not limited to creating jail policies, but also includes law enforcement, state courts,
55 See Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1527 (11th Cir. 1990) (‘[W]e hold that the sheriffʹs
[E]leventh [A]mendment immunity also extends to deputy sheriffs because of their traditional function
under Alabama law as the sheriffʹs alter ego.”); Howell v. Houston Cnty., Ga., No. 5:09‐CV‐402(CAR), 2011
WL 3813291, at *28 (M.D. Ga. Aug. 26, 2011) (concluding deputies are entitled to the same Eleventh
Amendment immunity as sheriffs because, under Georgia law, sheriff’s deputies are employees of the
sheriff (citing Grech v. Clayton Cnty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1342 n. 32 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc))); Morgan v.
Fulton Cnty. Sheriffʹs Depʹt, No. 1:05–CV–1576, 2007 WL 1810217, at *5 (N.D. Ga. June 21, 2007) (“[W]hen a
sheriff is acting as an arm of the state, his deputies are also entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity
from suits for money damages in their official capacities.”).
a routine inventory of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Thus, Defendant was acting as an “arm of the
State” and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for all claims against him in his
Based on the foregoing, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 22] is
SO ORDERED, this 21st day of September, 2016.
S/ C. Ashley Royal
C. ASHLEY ROYAL, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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