Duncan v. City of Sandy Springs et al
OPINION & ORDER granting Defendants City of Sandy Springs and Ryan Gehricke's 23 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting Defendant Jason Dwain Anderson's 24 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. The Court DISMISSES the claims against Defendant John Doe. Signed by Judge Michael L. Brown on 9/14/20. (bjh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
Case No. 1:19-cv-01129
Michael L. Brown
United States District Judge
City of Sandy Springs, et al.,
OPINION & ORDER
Plaintiff claims she was unlawfully arrested and subjected to
excessive force. Defendants City of Sandy Springs and Officer Ryan
Gehricke move to dismiss. (Dkt. 23.) Defendant Jason Dwain Anderson
also moves to dismiss. (Dkt. 24.) The Court grants Defendants’ motions.
In March 2017, Plaintiff went to an LA Fitness gym to workout.
(Dkt. 22 ¶ 13.) She parked her car, went into the gym, and returned to
the parking lot. (Id. ¶ 13–14.) As she walked to her car, a police officer,
Officer Ryan Gehricke, approached her. (Id. ¶ 15.) Defendant Jason
Dwain Anderson had previously asked Officer Gehricke for help finding
someone who had hit his car. (Id. ¶ 16.) Mr. Anderson showed Officer
Gehricke a picture of a black Lexus touching or possibly on top of his car.
(Id.; Dkt. 23-2.)1 Officer Gehricke ran the tag of the Lexus and identified
Yolanda Duncan as its owner. (Dkt. 22 ¶ 17.)
Defendant Gehricke asked Plaintiff if she was Ms. Duncan and she
said yes. (Id. ¶ 18.) She also confirmed that she owned the vehicle in
contact with Mr. Anderson’s vehicle. (Id. ¶ 19.) Defendant Gehricke
asked to see her license, but Plaintiff refused to show it. (Id. ¶ 23.)
Plaintiff tried to explain to Officer Gehricke that she did not hit Mr.
Anderson’s vehicle, but he did not listen. (Id. ¶ 20.) He got angry and
began to scream at her. (Id.) He said, “[p]lease don’t make me make this
criminal! It’s civil right now!” (Id. ¶ 21.) He walked over to this patrol
car and radioed another police officer to ask if he could arrest Plaintiff.
(Id. ¶ 22.) That officer, who Plaintiff sues as Defendant John Doe, told
Officer Gehricke that he could. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 27.) Officer Gehricke then
Plaintiff referred to the photograph in her complaint, and Defendant
Gehricke attached it to his motion to dismiss. The photograph matches
Plaintiff’s description. In other words, the contents of the photograph are
not in dispute. Since the document is also central to the complaint, the
Court may consider it. Harris v. Ivax Corp., 182 F.3d 799, 802 n.2 (11th
arrested Plaintiff for her failing to produce her driver’s license. (Id. ¶ 25.)
A warrant was issued after her arrest charging her with hit and run and
obstruction. (Id.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Gehricke injured her during
her arrest. (Id. ¶ 29.) Fulton County Jail refused to accept her, and the
police transported her to Northside Hospital. (Id.) In the weeks after the
arrest, Travelers Insurance Company investigated the case. (Id. ¶ 32.)
It found the accident was not Plaintiff’s fault. (Id.)
Plaintiff sues in six counts. In Count One, she claims Defendants
Gehricke and John Doe arrested her without probable cause. In Count
Two, Plaintiff brings a federal § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. She
claims Defendants Gehricke and John Doe maliciously caused a criminal
prosecution against her, even though they knew there was no probable
cause to arrest her. In Count Three, Plaintiff claims Defendant City of
Sandy Springs has municipal liability under the theories of respondeat
superior, failure to train, and a decision by a final policy maker. In Count
Four, Plaintiff brings a state law malicious prosecution claim. She claims
Defendants Gehricke and John Doe arrested her when they should have
known probable cause did not exist. She claims Defendant Anderson
caused the arrest by giving the officers false information. In Count Five,
Plaintiff claims Defendant Gehricke used excessive force when arresting
her. In Count Six, Plaintiff brings a First Amendment Retaliation claim
against Defendants Gehricke and John Doe.
She claims Defendant
Gehricke only arrested her because she claimed she did not hit another
Standard of Review
A court may dismiss a pleading for “failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its face.’ ” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). At the motion to dismiss stage, “all wellpleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences
therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”
Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1274 (11th Cir. 1999).
Claims Against Officer Gehricke
In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 45 (1971), the Supreme Court
held that a federal court should refrain from interfering with a pending
state court criminal proceeding when the plaintiff seeks injunctive or
declaratory relief. A federal court should abstain under Younger when
(1) there is an ongoing state criminal proceeding; (2) the proceeding
implicates an important state interest; and (3) there is an adequate
opportunity to raise a constitutional challenge in the state court
proceeding. See Chen ex rel. V.D. v. Lester, 364 F. App’x 531, 535 (11th
Officer Gehricke claims the Court should abstain under
Younger because the Fulton County Solicitor’s Office is still investigating
the charges against Plaintiff.
Plaintiff, however, filed a notice of
dismissal of state charges against her. (Dkt. 38-1.) There thus appears
to be no ongoing state criminal proceeding, and the Court will not
Federal Claims & Qualified Immunity
“Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government
officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340,
1346 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). So “[q]ualified
immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable
but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd,
563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). Qualified immunity allows officials to “carry
out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or
harassing litigation.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir.
2002). When properly applied, qualified immunity “protects all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” al-Kidd,
563 U.S. at 743 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Qualified immunity may attach only when the officer is “acting
within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly
wrongful acts occurred.” Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1254
n.19 (11th Cir. 2010).
A public official acts within the scope of his
discretionary authority where the acts complained of were “undertaken
pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his
authority.” See Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1564 (11th Cir. 1988).
“Once the defendant establishes that he was acting within his
discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that
qualified immunity is not appropriate.” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194. There
seems to be no question that Defendant Gehricke acted within the scope
of his discretionary authority when arresting Plaintiff. See, e.g., Wate v.
Kubler, 839 F.3d 1012, 1018 (11th Cir. 2016) (holding that officers acted
within discretionary authority when arresting suspect). Plaintiff, thus,
has the burden of showing that qualified immunity is unavailable to her.
The qualified immunity analysis presents two questions: first,
whether the allegations taken as true establish the violation of a
constitutional right; and second, if so, whether the constitutional right
was clearly established when the violation occurred. Hadley v. Gutierrez,
526 F.3d 1324, 1329 (11th Cir. 2008). These distinct questions “do not
have to be analyzed sequentially; if the law was not clearly established,
[the court] need not decide if the [d]efendants actually violated the
[plaintiff’s] rights, although [the court is] permitted to do so.” Fils v. City
of Aventura, 647 F.3d 1272, 1287 (11th Cir. 2011). The burden thus lies
with Plaintiff to show that Defendant Gehricke’s actions violated a
constitutional right and that the right was clearly established at the time
of her arrest. See Hadley, 526 F.3d at 1329.
False Arrest/Unlawful Seizure (Count 1) &
Malicious Prosecution (Count 2)
Violation of a Constitutional Right
Plaintiff claims Defendant Gehricke violated her constitutional
rights by arresting her without probable cause, thus subjecting her to an
unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution. Both Plaintiff’s unlawful
seizure and malicious prosecution claims fail if Defendant Gehricke had
probable cause to arrest her. See Wood v. Kelser, 323 F.3d 872, 878 (11th
Cir. 2003) (“An arrest does not violate the Fourth Amendment if a police
officer has probable cause for the arrest.”); Grider, 618 F.3d at 1256
(“[T]he existence of probable cause defeats a § 1983 malicious prosecution
An officer has probable cause to arrest “if the facts and
circumstances within the officer’s knowledge, of which he 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.” Carter v. Butts Cty., 821 F.3d 1310,
1319 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220,
1226 (11th Cir. 2004)); see also Boyd v. State, 658 S.E.2d 782, 784 (Ga.
Ct. App. 2008) (finding probable cause “if, considering the totality of the
circumstances, at the time of arrest he had a reasonable belief that the
defendant had committed a crime in his presence or within his
knowledge” (internal quotation marks omitted) (alterations adopted)).
The test for qualified immunity, however, is not whether the officer
actually had probable cause to support the arrest. The test is whether
arguable probable cause exists. In other words, “[e]ven without actual
probable cause, . . . a police officer is entitled to qualified immunity if he
had only ‘arguable’ probable cause to arrest the plaintiff.”
v. Khokhar, 884 F.3d 1290, 1298 (11th Cir. 2018). 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.” Id. (emphasis added) (citing Redd
v. City of Enterprise, 140 F.3d 1378, 1383–84 (11th Cir. 1998)). Arguable
probable cause provides protection from both Fourth Amendment claims
for false arrest and First Amendment claims stemming from an arrest.
Id. at 1298; see also Wilkerson v. Seymour, 736 F.3d 974, 979 (11th Cir.
2013) (“[A]n arrest may be for a different crime from the one for which
probable cause actually exists, but arguable probable cause to arrest for
some offense must exist in order for officers to assert qualified immunity
from suit.” (citations omitted)).
Defendant Gehricke claims he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff
for her refusal to show her license and her failure to notify Mr. Anderson
about the car crash. The Court agrees. First, Plaintiff did not notify Mr.
Anderson of the collision, thus violating section 40-6-271 of the Georgia
Code. That section requires a driver that collides with an unattended
vehicle to “immediately stop and [ ] then and there” provide the driver’s
name through either locating the driver of the unattended vehicle or
leaving notice in a conspicuous place.2 O.C.G.A. § 40-6-271(a). Failure
to comply is a misdemeanor. § 40-6-271(b).
Defendant Gehricke was investigating a car crash in the LA Fitness
parking lot. He had a picture of a car touching or on top of Mr. Anderson’s
car. He determined Plaintiff was the registered owner and then, when
The statute states, “[t]he driver of any vehicle which collides with any
vehicle which is unattended shall immediately stop and shall then and
there either locate and notify the operator or owner of such vehicle of the
name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle striking the
unattended vehicle or shall leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle
struck a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and the
owner of the vehicle doing the striking.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-271(a).
he spoke with her, Plaintiff confirmed her identity.
He also knew
Plaintiff had not notified Mr. Anderson of the collision or left a note with
her name and address in a conspicuous place. In Souder v. State, 687
S.E.2d 594, 598 (Ga. Ct. App. 2009), the Georgia Court of Appeals
determined similar information established probable cause for an arrest.
In that case, “the evidence established that, prior to arresting [the
suspect], the officer had obtained information from a witness that [the
suspect] had engaged in a ‘hit and run’ incident by striking an
unattended parked vehicle.” Id. “[That] information authorized the
officer to arrest [the suspect] for failing to comply with his duty upon
striking an unattended vehicle.” Id. (citing O.C.G.A. § 40-6-271(a)). The
same is true here. Defendant Gehricke had probable cause to arrest
Plaintiff for violating section 40-6-271(a) of the Georgia Code. In Souder,
the witness actually identified the suspect as the driver of the vehicle
while Mr. Anderson could not put Plaintiff in the car at the time of the
alleged accident. But, Defendant Gehricke had other evidence available
to him, including the fact that Plaintiff came out of the gym alone,
admitted it was her car, and never alleged someone else was driving.
That he did not have an eye witness does not preclude probable cause, let
alone arguable probable cause. Similarly, the fact that Mr. Anderson’s
car suffered only minor damage does not preclude a finding of probable
cause as the statute requires a party to leave a note upon striking a car,
without any requirement of damage.
Plaintiff argues section 40-6-271 only creates a duty to report and
does not creates a duty to display a driver’s license. She claims she
complied with the statute by confirming her name and ownership of the
car. She also argues that it is incorrect to say that she did not stop
because she saw Mr. Anderson before she left. The Court disagrees. The
statute instructs a driver that strikes an unattended vehicle to
immediately locate the driver of the car or to leave notice in a conspicuous
place. By her own allegations, Plaintiff did not give notice immediately,
as she went inside to workout. She thus did not comply with her duty to
report. Indeed, she never provided notice. Answering to a police officer’s
inquiry is not the same as providing immediate notice.
Plaintiff claims she told Defendant Gehricke that she did not hit
Mr. Anderson’s car. But an officer “is under no obligation to give any
credence to a suspect’s story.” Williams v. City of Homestead, 206 F.
App’x 886, 888–89 (11th Cir. 2006). In fact, it is irrelevant whether
Officer Gehricke believed Plaintiff was innocent because subjective
beliefs “play no role in ordinary, probable-cause Fourth Amendment
analysis.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996); Gill v. Judd,
941 F.3d 504, 517 (11th Cir. 2019) (“Probable cause is an objective
Defendant Gehricke also had probable cause to arrest her for
obstruction. Section 16-10-24 of the Georgia Code states, “a person who
knowingly and willingly obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer
. . . in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties shall be guilty of a
misdemeanor.” Defendant Gehricke was investigating a potential hit
and run. He knew that the car was Plaintiff’s and so, as a part of his
investigation, he asked her to see her identification. Plaintiff’s refusal to
show her license provided probable cause to believe she had obstructed
his investigation. Defendant Gehricke points to case law holding that a
refusal to obey an officer’s instructions to “receive certain relevant
documents” establishes probable cause for obstruction. For instance, in
Draper v. Reynolds, 369 F.3d 1270, 1276 (11th Cir. 2004), a police officer
pulled over a truck. The police officer asked for the truck driver’s log
book and bill of lading, and the truck driver refused to give them. Id. at
1273. The Eleventh Circuit found, “[b]y repeatedly refusing to comply
with [the police officer’s] reasonable instructions, and by acting
belligerently and confrontationally, [the truck driver] hindered [the
police officer] in completing the traffic stop.” Id. at 1277. The court
determined “[the police officer] had ample probable cause to arrest [the
truck driver] for violating Ga. Code Ann. § 16-10-24.” Id.
This Court acknowledges that the obstruction in Draper was
perhaps more severe than here, but the principle remains the same —
refusing to provide an officer with identification when that identification
is required for an investigation is arguably obstruction. Plaintiff says she
had confirmed her name, which was all that Defendant Gehricke needed
for his investigation. But Defendant Gehricke may have wanted to verify
her name or address, which she was required to leave by state law. Put
simply, Plaintiff did not get to define how Defendant Gehricke carried
out his lawful duties. Defendant Gehricke thus had probable cause to
arrest Plaintiff for obstruction. Or, at least, he had arguable probable
cause to arrest Plaintiff for obstruction.3 As a result, both Plaintiff’s
unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution claims fail.4
Because there was no constitutional violation, the Court need not
discuss whether the law was clearly established. See Durruthy v. Pastor,
351 F.3d 1080, 1094–95 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Because we find no
constitutional violation, we need not address whether the constitutional
right at issue was clearly established.”).
Defendant Gehricke also claims Plaintiff’s refusal to show her license
violated section 40-5-29(b) of the Georgia Code, which requires a licensee
to show their license upon a law enforcement officer’s demand: “[e]very
licensee shall display his or her license upon the demand of a law
enforcement officer.” That section, however, appears to apply when an
officer has pulled over a vehicle’s driver. Section 40-5-29(a) states,
“[e]very licensee shall have his or her driver’s license in his or her
immediate possession at all times when operating a motor vehicle.”
(emphasis added). That statute may address this situation, in which a
driver potentially hit an unattended vehicle and left the scene. The
statute may, however, be intended for a situation in which the officer
pulled over a driver. The parties did not point the Court to any case law
showing that statute’s breadth. And either way, Plaintiff’s refusal to
show her license was obstruction. Since the Court need not make a
finding, the Court does not decide that issue either way.
4 Plaintiff also sues Defendant John Doe for unlawful seizure and
malicious prosecution, Counts I and II. Her claims against John Doe rest
on the same basis as her claims against Defendant Gehricke. Because
the claims against Defendant Gehricke fail, the claims against Defendant
John Doe fail.
Excessive Force (Count 5)
The Fourth Amendment’s “reasonableness” standard governs
excessive force claims. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989).
That standard turns on “whether the officer’s actions are ‘objectively
reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them,
without regard to their underlying intention or motivation.” Id. To
determine reasonableness, courts examine several factors, “including the
severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate
threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively
resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Lee, 284 F.3d at
1198 (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). “[S]ome use of force by a police
officer when making a custodial arrest is necessary and altogether
lawful, regardless of the severity of the alleged offense.” See Durruthy,
351 F.3d at 1094. “[T]he application of de minimis force, without more,
will not support a claim for excessive force in violation of the Fourth
Amendment.” Id. (quoting Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1257 (11th Cir.
2000)). “An officer is entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive
force claim unless application of the excessive force standard would
inevitably lead every reasonable [official] in [the officer’s] position to
conclude the force was unlawful.” Jones v. City of Dothan, 121 F.3d 1456,
1458 (11th Cir. 1997) (alterations in original) (quoting Post v. City of Fort
Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1559 (11th Cir. 1993)).
In large part, Plaintiff’s excessive force claim fails because her
allegations are conclusory.
She alleges that “[d]uring the process of
effectuating the arrest Officer Gehricke injured Ms. Duncan” and that
she suffered injuries as a result of his “application of excessive force.”
(Dkt. 22 ¶ 29.)
She further alleges that, even if some force was
appropriate, the force he used was “grossly disproportionate to that
necessary to effect the arrest.” (Id. ¶ 68.) She also claims her injuries
were severe enough that Alpharetta-Fulton County Jail refused to accept
her, and the police had to bring her to the hospital. But, she includes no
allegations about how she was injured, what Defendant Gehricke
allegedly did to hurt her, or what she was doing at the time. The Court
thus does not have enough detail to evaluate her claim that Defendant
Gehricke used excessive force. See Carter v. DeKalb Cty., 521 F. App’x
725, 728 (11th Cir. 2013) (“[D]iscovery follows the filing of a well-pleaded
complaint. It is not a device to enable the plaintiff to make a case when
his complaint fails to state a claim.” (citation and quotation marks
Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to show that Defendant
Gehricke used excessive force, let alone to satisfy her burden of showing
he is not entitled to qualified immunity. Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit
has found more force than what Plaintiff appears to allege here not to be
excessive. For instance, in Nolin, a seventeen-year-old was in a play fight
with a friend. 207 F.3d at 1255. A police officer, thinking it was a real
fight, “grabbed him from behind by the shoulder and wrist, threw him
against a van three or four feet away, kneed him in the back and pushed
his head into the side of the van, searched his groin area in an
uncomfortable manner, and handcuffed him.” Id. In Durruthy, as a
reporter followed the command to walk from the street to the sidewalk, a
police officer “grabbed him from behind” and “pulled [him] onto the
ground, while struggling to pin his arms behind him and handcuff him.”
351 F.3d at 1085. The Eleventh Circuit found neither of those uses of
And in Jones v. City of Dothan, two police officers
arrested a non-resisting suspect who told them he had recently
experienced a stroke. 121 F.3d at 1458. The officers “slammed [him]
against a wall, kicked his legs apart, required him to put his arms above
his head,” and tore his pants. Id. The Eleventh Circuit found that force
“may have been unnecessary, [but] the actual force used and the injury
inflicted were both minor in nature.” Id. at 1460. “Given such variables,
the application of the excessive force standard would not inevitably lead
an official in [the police officer’s] position to concluded that the force was
unlawful.” Id. at 1460–61. The uses of force in those cases were more
severe than what Plaintiff has alleged here.
Plaintiff also claims the force was excessive because she was
arrested for a minor charge. The Court agrees that the circumstances
around her arrest were not urgent. But Officer Gehricke could use some
force in making an arrest and she has not alleged facts showing the force
he allegedly used exceeded constitutional limits. Plaintiff’s excessive
force claim thus fails.
And even if the force were excessive, Defendant Gehricke would be
entitled to qualified immunity. As explained above, police officers are
entitled to qualified immunity unless application of the standard would
inevitably lead every reasonable official in the officer’s position to
conclude the force was unlawful. Id. at 1458. Plaintiff’s allegations do
not meet this standard. Plaintiff has not pointed to any case law that
would have put Defendant Gehricke on notice of a constitutional
violation. To overcome qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden
of showing that a defendant violated clearly established law.
Johnson v. Conway, 688 F. App’x 700, 706 (11th Cir. 2017). A plaintiff
typically does this by pointing to “materially similar precedent from the
Supreme Court, [the Eleventh Circuit], or the highest state court in
which the case arose.” Gates, 884 F.3d at 1296. While the facts of the
case need not be identical, “the unlawfulness of the conduct must be
apparent from pre-existing law.” Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013
(11th Cir. 2011). In the Amended Complaint and Response to the Motion
to Dismiss, Plaintiff points the Court to no caselaw showing Defendant
Gehricke used excessive force. Plaintiff cites only two cases, Durruthy v.
Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, and Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188. Lee involved a
police officer ripping a driver out of a car without warning and then
slamming the driver’s head on the car’s trunk. 284 F.3d at 1190–91. It
is not factually similar to this case and thus would not have put
Defendant Gehricke on notice that his conduct violated clearly
established law. And as explained above, Durruthy actually supports
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. It certainly does not clearly establish
that Defendant Gehricke’s alleged conduct was unconstitutional.
Plaintiff has thus failed to show that Defendant Gehricke’s conduct
violated clearly established law.5
First Amendment Retaliation
Plaintiff claims that, fundamentally, Defendant Gehricke only
arrested her because she claimed she did not hit the other car. As a
result, he arrested her in retaliation for speaking in violation of her First
Amendment Rights. In Nieves v. Bartlett, 139 S. Ct. 1715, 1727 (2019),
the Supreme Court recognized that probable cause generally bars a false
arrest claim but there is “a narrow qualification . . . for circumstances
where officers have probable cause to make arrests, but typically exercise
that discretion not to do so.” “In such cases, an unyielding requirement
to show the absence of probable cause could pose a risk that some police
officers may exploit the arrest power as a means of suppressing speech.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
A plaintiff can also show the law is clearly established by pointing to
broad principles of law or explicit statutory or constitutional statements.
See Griffin Indus., Inc. v. Irvin, 496 F.3d 1189, 1209 (11th Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff has not attempted to do either.
For example, at many intersections, jaywalking is endemic
but rarely results in arrest. If an individual who has been
vocally complaining about police conduct is arrested for
jaywalking at such an intersection, it would seem
insufficiently protective of First Amendment rights to dismiss
the individual’s retaliatory arrest claim on the ground that
there was undoubted probable cause for the arrest.
Id. So, to bring a retaliatory arrest claim when probable cause exists, a
plaintiff must present “objective evidence that [she] was arrested when
otherwise similarly situated individuals not engaged in the same sort of
protected speech had not been.” Id. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff
claims “that no person has been arrested in a situation where they were
suspected of unknowingly causing four scratches to a parked vehicle and
they were not engaged in the type of protected speech [Plaintiff] was
engaged in.” (Dkt. 22 ¶ 76.) That may be true, but it misses the thrust
of why Defendant Gehricke arrested her. Officer Gehricke had probable
cause to arrest Plaintiff, not only for hit and run, but also obstruction.
The obstruction charge implicates not just her speech, but her
cooperation with a police investigation. That cooperation differs from the
jaywalking example. Obstruction creates not “a risk that some police
officers may exploit the arrest power as a means of suppressing speech,”
but a risk that police cannot perform their duties. Nieves, 139 S. Ct. at
1727. Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim thus fails.6
Even if it did not, the Supreme Court had not yet issued Nieves
when Defendant Gehricke arrested Plaintiff. As a result, “[s]ince there
was no consensus view at the time of the actions in this case, even if there
was a First Amendment violation for retaliatory arrest notwithstanding
the fact [Defendant Gehricke] had probable cause to arrest [Plaintiff],
[Defendant Gehricke] is entitled to qualified immunity.” Whittaker v.
Munoz, No. 1:17-cv-01983, 2019 WL 4194499, at *5 (D.D.C. Sept. 4,
State Law Malicious Prosecution
Under Georgia law, “[a] criminal prosecution which is carried on
maliciously and without any probable cause and which causes damage to
the person prosecuted shall give him a cause of action.” O.C.G.A. § 51-740. “A person seeking to recover for malicious prosecution must show,
among other things, that the prosecution was instigated without
probable cause and with malice.” Carly Ray Indus., Inc. v. Mays, 841
S.E.2d 100, 102 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020).
“The elements of malicious
This claim fails against Defendant John Doe for the same reasons.
prosecution are: (1) prosecution of a criminal offense; (2) the prosecution
(3) termination of the prosecution in the favor of the plaintiff; (4) malice;
(5) want of probable cause; and (6) damage to the plaintiff.” Jackson v.
Kmart Corp., 851 F. Supp. 469, 472 (M.D. Ga. 1994). Plaintiff’s claim for
malicious prosecution fails because Officer Gehricke had probable cause
to arrest her.7
Claims Against Defendant City of Sandy Springs
Plaintiff claims Defendant City of Sandy Springs has municipal
liability for her injuries. To establish municipal liability under § 1983, a
plaintiff must show “a direct causal link between a municipal policy or
custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” City of Canton v.
Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). Her federal claims against Defendant
City of Sandy Springs fail because she has not alleged a constitutional
violation. See Willis v. Mock, 600 F. App’x 679, 685 (11th Cir. 2015) (“[A]n
inquiry into a governmental entity’s custom or policy is relevant only
Plaintiff’s state law malicious prosecution claim also fails against
Defendant Anderson for the same reason — Defendant Gehricke had
probable cause to arrest her. Because that was the only claim she made
against Defendant Anderson, the Court grants his Motion to Dismiss
(Dkt. 24). The claim also fails against Defendant John Doe.
when a constitutional deprivation has occurred.” (quotation marks and
Her state law claim (malicious prosecution) against Defendant City
of Sandy Springs also fails because she has not shown an underlying tort.
See Cotton States Mut. Ins. Co. v. Kinzalow, 634 S.E.2d 172, 174 n.3 (Ga.
Ct. App. 2006) (“In order to succeed in a claim of respondeat superior
against an employer, one must first prove the existence of an underlying
tort, and then establish that the employee was acting in furtherance of
the employer’s business and that he was acting within the scope of the
employer’s business when the tort was committed.”). Defendant City of
Sandy Springs also has sovereign immunity. See O.C.G.A. § 36-33-3 (“A
municipal corporation shall not be liable for the torts of policemen or
other officers engaged in the discharge of the duties imposed on them by
The Court GRANTS Defendants City of Sandy Springs and Ryan
Gehricke’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 23). The Court GRANTS Defendant
Jason Dwain Anderson’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 24).
DISMISSES the claims against Defendant John Doe.
SO ORDERED this 14th day of September, 2020.
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?