Youngblood v. Williams

Filing 30

ORDER granting Defendant Jeff Williams' 21 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Lisa G. Wood on 10/25/2017. (csr)

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in tl^e States! Btsctritt Cotttt for tfie ^ontfieni Btotrtct of 4^eorsta iSntttofotcft Btbtoton ANTONIO RAYSHAWN YOUNGBLOOD, Plaintiff, No: V. 2:16-CV-118 INVESTIGATOR JEFF WILLIAMS, GLYNN COUNTY POLICE OFFICER, Defendant. ORDER Pending before the Court is Defendant (^'Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment Jeff Williams' (Dkt. No. 21) . The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision. For the reasons stated below, 21) the Defendant's Motion (Dkt. No. i s GRANTED. FACTUAL BACKGROUND This action arises from the alleged excessive force used by Defendant in apprehending Plaintiff. theft of a Sony PlayStation 4 (^'PlayStation") the Glynn County Police Department. During their Investigators A0 72A (Rev. 8/82) investigation of identified On January 1, the Plaintiff 2016, the was reported to Dkt. No. 21-4 p. 25:21-24. theft, as Glynn County having put that Police same PlayStation up for sale on Facebook. sent Plaintiff a message to PlayStation 4. Id. to The investigators arrange On January 2, for 2016, purchase of the Plaintiff agreed to meet Defendant and other investigators at a nearby gas station. Dkt. No. 21-5 p. 24:18-20. Defendant and another investigator waited at the gas station for Plaintiff. Plaintiff arrived with the PlayStation. PlayStation was verified as stolen—easily cover. identified by After a few minutes. the 25:2-4. one that the had been reported custom artwork on its outer Dkt. No. 21-4 p. 26:12-22. Defendant officer and receiving identified informed stolen himself Plaintiff property. as that 1^. p. a he Glynn was running. attempt Dkt. No. 21—5 p. to evade enforcement officers. Defendant arrest O.C.G.A. chased after No. 21-4 p. 33:6-12. 25:7—10. under arrest As a for third Plaintiff took off obstruction § 16-10-24; Dkt. No. ordering him to of law 21-2 p. stop. 6. Dkt. Plaintiff did not stop; instead, he raced to a nearby alleyway, with Defendant in pursuit. Defendant Police Defendant shows that the constituted Plaintiff, County 33:6-12. investigator arrived at the parking lot. 15. The yelled ^'taser" and fired a p. 34:10handheld tasing device, striking Plaintiff with two electrified barbs: the first in the back, the other in the head. Id. p. 35:4-15. Plaintiff collapsed to the ground, injuring his face on the pavement. Dkt. No. 21 p. 3. SISI 17-18. Plaintiff was immediately arrested and given medical treatment. Id. p. 3 1 21. Plaintiff brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (^^Section 1983") claim for excessive claims for force against aggravated Defendant, assault and as well as battery. state-law Dkt. No. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims. No. 1. Dkt. 21. LEGAL STANDARD The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers it believes to interrogatories, Taylor v. (citation which absence demonstrate and admissions genuine of Espy, of 816 omitted). any F. If Supp. it issue 1553, shows 1556 that material (N.D. there is fact. Ga. 1993) insufficient evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case, the moving party has satisfied 317, its 325 burden Celotex Corp. v. then shifts to the nonmovant genuine issue of material fact for trial. Lobby, this Inc., burden evidence, which Catrett, 477 U.S. (1986). The burden. was 477 U.S. by 242, showing sufficient to ^overlooked 257 that (1986). the withstand or ignored' demonstrate a Anderson v. Liberty The nonmovant may meet record a to contains directed by the "supporting verdict motion, moving party." Fitzpatrick 1993) v. City (quoting dissenting) ) . with evidence at at to carry F.3d U.S. the this to on But 1116 (11th Cir. (Brennan, 332 nonmovant based 1117. 1112, at sufficient trial deficiency." 2 477 Alternatively, motion attempt Atlanta, Celotex, additional verdict of J., ''may come withstand the forward a alleged directed evidentiary should the nonmovant burden with nothing instead more "than a repetition of his conclusional allegations, summary judgment for the defendants Ross, [is] not only proper but required." 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 At the summary responsibility "not (11th Cir. judgment to weigh 1981). stage, the Morris v. it is evidence the and Court's determine truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a issue for trial." Tolan v. (quoting Anderson v. Cotton, 134 S. Liberty Lobby, Ct. Inc., (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). parties have filed cross-motions for 1861, 477 applicable Rule 56 standard is not affected. Reinsurance (11th Cir. favorable Mercantil 2012). Corp. 2001). to the of Am. v. "[T]he non-moving Commercebank, Gallagher, facts are viewed party on N.A., 701 267 242, 249 the judgment, the See Gerlinq Glob. F.3d in 1228, the each motion." F.3d (2014) as here, When, summary genuine 1866 U.S. the 896, 899 1233-34 light most Chavez (11th v. Cir. DISCUSSION Defendant asserts both that he is entitled to qualified immunity and that the amount of force used to subdue Plaintiff was reasonable given the circumstances. Dkt. No. 21. The Court addresses each assertion in turn. A. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Do Not Succeed The qualified immunity defense offers ''complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct 'does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional known.'" 2002) rights Vinyard of which v. Wilson^ (quoting Harlow v. When properly plainly federal law." (11th Cir. lA. reasonable 311 F.3d Fitzgerald, applied, incompetent a doctrine one who is (quoting Lee v. 1340, 457 U.S. the or person would have 1346 800, protects 818 "all Cir. (1982)). but the violating the 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 knowingly Ferraro, (11th 2002)). To qualify for protection via qualified immunity, a public official must prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary occurred. 2012). authority Terrell In arguing "discretionary v. at the Smith, that a authority," time 668 F.3d public that the alleged 1244, official official wrongful 1250 acts must show (11th within acts Cir. his "objective circumstances that would compel the conclusion that his actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority." 1558, 1564 Dollar, 841 F.2d (quoting Barker v. Norman, (11th Cir. 1988) Rich v. 651 F.2d 1107, 1121 (5th Cir. 1981)). Effectuating an arrest is a discretionary act. McClish v. Nugent, 483 F.Sd 1231, 1237 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting that an officer acts within his discretionary authority at the time of an arrest). Therefore, Defendant was acting discretionary authority by effectuating an ambit of his plaintiff Terrell, To to employment. show that The burden qualified within his arrest within the thus shifts immunity does immunity applies, to not the apply. 668 F.3d at 1250. determine whether qualified engages in a two-step inquiry, facts establish right and (2) that the the assessing whether both officers right was Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 violated a court (1) the constitutional clearly established. (2009).^ a Pearson v. A constitutional right is clearly established if ^'a reasonable official would understand that what Creiqhton, Fort law, he is 483 U.S. Lauderdale, in factual doing 7 635, F.3d terms, violates that 640 (1987); 1552, 1557 has not right." see also (11th Cir. staked out Anderson Post v. 1993) a v. City of (^'If bright case line, qualified immunity almost always protects the defendant."). We ^ Federal courts have discretion in deciding which prong to address first. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. therefore begin by analyzing whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. First, the Court notes that Plaintiff appears to make the argument that his arrest was made without probable cause. No. 24-1 p. 3-5. Dkt. Probable cause to arrest exists where the facts and circumstances '^^within the collective knowledge of law enforcement officials, information, are caution to derived sufficient believe that to an from reasonably cause trustworthy person reasonable a offense has of been or is being committed." Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.Sd 724, 734 {11th Cir. 2010). When determining whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, however, the issue is not actual probable cause, but rather arguable probable cause. Montoute v. Carr, 114 F.3d 181, 184 (11th Cir. 1997). Arguable probable cause to arrest exists if objectively reasonable officers in the same circumstances officer and effectuating possessing the probable cause existed. (11th Cir. Here, stolen [a] Case v. same could Eslinqer, knowledge have as believed the that 555 F.3d 1317, 1327 2009). Defendant initially arrested Plaintiff for receipt of property person property arrest the under commits when he O.C.G.A. the § offense receives, of 16-8-7. theft disposes of, Under by or that statute, receiving retains stolen stolen property which O.C.G.A. § he knows or should know was stolen . . ." 16-8-7(a). The undisputed facts set forth in the record indicate that Defendant had arguable probable cause to believe that Plaintiff had committed this offense. First, the PlayStation in Plaintiff's possession was outfitted with the same ^^skin" as the one reported stolen. Dkt. No. 26:16-25. Defendant noted that this particular skin was ^'very identifiable."^ Defendant discovered reported stolen. the PlayStation one day And second. after it was Defendant was faced with a situation where a similar PlayStation was discovered for sale close to the place of the burglary and close to the date of the burglary. with these facts. an arrest. Defendant had arguable probable cause to make Having determined that probable cause to effectuate arrest, Plaintiff did Armed not suffer a Defendant had arguable the Court determines that violation of his constitutional rights in relation to this claim. The Court turns to Plaintiff's second contention: that Defendant used excessive force by employing a taser. Plaintiff next argues, that Defendant in effectuating his arrest by using a p. 4. used excessive taser gun. Dkt. No. force 24-1 The Fourth Amendment's freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures encompasses the right to be free from the use of ^ For reference, a PlayStation "skin" is a type of silicon or plastic covering which comes in a wide range of colors and thousands of unique designs. excessive force in the course of an Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394-95 (1989). that "[d]etermining, whether particular seizure is the arrest. Graham v. The Supreme Court has held force ^reasonable' See used to effect a under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ^the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." 490 U.S. (1985) at 396 (quoting Tennessee v. (internal quotations Garner, omitted) ) . Graham, 471 U.S. Moreover, 1, 8 ''Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it." U.S. 1, 22-27 The evaluate "including at 396 (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 (1968)). Supreme a Id. Court has of factors number the severity of established the to that determine crime at a court excessive issue, must force, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively attempting to evade arrest by flight." The crimes obstruction misdemeanors. of at law issue are enforcement arrest or Id. selling stolen officers. O.C.G.A § 16-10-24(a). that the force used was a resisting property Here, both and are The record is undisputed two-prong taser fired at Plaintiff's back. It is also undisputed that Plaintiff attempted to evade arrest by running away after Defendant notified him that he was under a r r e s t . The Eleventh appropriate violation. In even Circuit when has the initial Draper v. Reynolds, Draper, the plaintiff violation. The held that stop tasing^ is 369 F.3d 1270 was stopped plaintiff made for a a minor repeated be traffic {11th Cir. for refused to cooperate with the officer. may 2004). traffic outbursts and The defendant officer then used a taser a single time to subdue the plaintiff. Id. The court found that this was a reasonably proportionate amount of force given the circumstances. The facts this case. JA. at 1278. of this case are. similar to those in Draper. Plaintiff offense—though an was also offense violation in Draper. detained more serious with regard than the An identical amount of force In to an traffic was used in both cases—Plaintiff was struck with a taser a single time. And while did the Plaintiff did plaintiff in not repeatedly Draper, he being informed of his arrest. officers to U.S. But an attempt 1. use excessive also clash with took officers action; he as fled after Attempting to flee does not allow force, to flee carte arrest blanche. is Garner, 471 action that enhances ^ The Court notes the difference between a taser and a "stun gun". A taser utilizes more force than a stun gun because it deploys two small prongs which puncture the skin. A stun gun does not deploy such prongs. The defendant in Draper, as is the case here, used a taser. 10 the amount of Graham, force 490 U.S. Defendant an officer may use to subdue a plaintiff. at 396. had few, if any, reasonable alternatives to safely stop Plaintiff—and the situation was escalating quickly. Plaintiff turned to run placed under arrest. years Plaintiff's condition. flee Dkt. next to a as soon senior No. and 21-4 p. is major highway, Dkt. No. 21-2 p. calculus of that judgments—in officers are he was Defendant is 30 exceptional And being physical Plaintiff began to officers and after had had an committing a 6. The situation was tense; the The Court is mindful embody allowance often circumstances in weapons, reasonableness must police learned before the second offense. split-second. not 34:1-8. check him for was he Dkt. No. 21-5 p. 25:7-10. opportunity to decision as forced that are to that for make tense, "[t]he the fact split-second uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation." Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97. Given the undisputed facts of this case, tasing a fleeing suspect a single time under violate the circumstances Plaintiff's excessive of this Fourth Amendment case rights does not against clearly the use of force. Plaintiff relies on two cases to support his arguments that the amount and Powell. and nature Fils v. of force used City of Aventura, 11 was 647 unconstitutional: F.3d 1272, 1289 Fils (11th Cir. 2011); Powell v. Haddock, 2010) . Neither argument, First, Plaintiff 366 however, notes Fed. Appx. 29 (11th Cir. carries the day. that in Fils, the court explained that ^""resisting arrest without force does not connote a level of dangerousness that would justify a greater use of force. 647. F.Sd at 1288. As such. Plaintiff argues, his Fils, misdemeanor obstruction of resisting arrest without the use of force did not justify greater use of force. But Plaintiff here is differently situated from the plaintiff in Fils. There, the Court proceeded to ^'was note that the plaintiff in that case not resisting arrest or attempting to escape," nor did that Plaintiff ^^present a threat" to the safety of the officers or the public around him. Id. at resisted arrest officers' factors. 1289. But because and had not greater use of Graham, Second, 490 U.S. Plaintiff the Plaintiff been force is checked in this for case both weapons, the justified under the Graham at 396. notes that in Powell, the Court noted that a taser could not ''constitutionally be used against a nonthreatening suspect when the alleged crime is a minor offense." Powell, 366 Fed. Appx. immediately thereafter, 311 F.3d 1340, violates individual the 1347 at 29. But that citation is incomplete; the Court cited to Vineyard v. (11th Cir. Fourth suspected 2002), Amendment of to resisting 12 Wilson, for its holding "that it use an pepper officer spray when on an that individual 31 was not posing a {emphasis added). threat,) Here, Powell, Plaintiff 366 from fled Fed. Appx. the at officers before he had been checked for weapons, next to a major highway, and after committing a was reasonable believe under Plaintiff community. second offense. the posed Moreover, Dkt. circumstances a threat to No. for 21-2 p. It officers the 6. to "themselves or to the Plaintiff in Powell was not the Plaintiff here was. Powell, 366 Fed. Appx. the fleeing; at 31. As such. qualified immunity Plaintiff's arguments are unpersuasive. In sum. because force Defendant neither he the used to does arrest stop not he require effectuated Plaintiff nor from the amount fleeing of violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. In any event, force used was even if the Court found that the amount of unreasonable, qualified immunity would shield Defendant from liability. A government employee is entitled to a judgment of qualified immunity '^unless the employee's conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a Frederick, 551 Defendant's 1270 on putting person would have U.S. use (2004). immunity than reasonable 393, 429 (2007). But of force was wholly lawful. known." Draper Morse confirms Draper, 369 v. that F.3d Defendant would therefore be entitled to qualified Plaintiff's Defendant claims on under notice 13 42 that U.S.C. his § 1983. actions Rather would be unconstitutional, caselaw tends to confirm the reasonableness of the actions. The Court now turns to P l a i n t i f f ' s state law claims. B. Defendant Plaintiff s The claims Court is Entitled to Official Immunity on State Law Claims. now against addresses Plaintiff s Defendant. The assault undisputed and facts battery show that Defendant is entitled to official immunity and therefore summary judgment will Constitution, be granted. "state According officers and to Georgia and employees the those of its departments and agencies are subject to suit only when they . act with actual malice performance of their Richardson, 452 S.E.2d art. I § 2 SI IX(d)). Merrow v. Hawkins, or intent ^official 476, 483 to cause injury 1994) in the Gilbert functions.'" (Ga. . v. (citing Ga. Const, Actual malice requires intent to do harm. 467 S.E.2d 336, 337 (Ga. 1996). The intent necessary for a showing of actual malice "must be the intent to cause the harm suffered by the plaintiffs." 647 S.E.2d 54, 60 Plaintiff (Ga. Murphy v. Bajjani, 2007). alleges that Defendant acted outside of his authority because Defendant attempted to make an arrest without probable cause. Accordingly, Plaintiff The the also Court argues undisputed must that reject Defendant 14 facts show Plaintiff's otherwise otherwise. argument. acted with malice. The record contains no indicia of malice. record reflects that Defendant tased Plaintiff a stop him from evading arrest. Moreover, once Plaintiff stopped fleeing, Plaintiff appears to it Rather, the single time to is undisputed that no further force was used. argue that any time an officer uses force to ^^apprehend," rather than uses force in "self-defense," an officer acts with malice. not so. "poor Dkt. No. No. 24-1 p. 11. This is Georgia courts recognize that malice is more than mere judgment, rude behavior, and reckless disregard for rights and safety of others on the part of the officers." V. Morrison, 665 S.E.2d 401, Plaintiff must present 405 evidence record reflects Ct. of "ill injure" on the part of Defendant. The (Ga. App. 2008). will" the Selvy Rather, and "intent to He has failed to do so. that Defendant took action that respected Plaintiff s constitutional rights in making his arrest and preventing his escape, and that Defendant took no gratuitous actions indicating malice. The Court therefore grants Defendant summary judgment on all state-law and federal claims. Plaintiff U.S.C. § punitive 1983. brought a However, damages could claim for because all be punitive causes sought have of damages under action on which been dismissed. Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages must also be dismissed. 15 42 CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth Motion for Summary Judgment above. Defendant (Dkt. No. 21) Jeff is hereby GRANTED. SO ORDERED, this 25*^" day of October, 2017. HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, UNITED STATES SOUTHERN A0 72A (Rev. 8/82) 16 Williams' DISTRICT JUDGE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA

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