Williams v. Town of Smyrna, Tennessee et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp on 4/14/17. (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(af)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
TOWN OF SMYRNA, TENNESSEE,
and DON GODBY, Officer of Smyrna,
Tennessee Police Department,
Case No. 3:14-cv-1965
Pending before the Court are Defendant Don Godby’s (“Officer Godby”) and Defendant
Town of Smyrna’s (“Smyrna”) Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 33 & 36).
Plaintiff Lashawn Williams (“Williams”) filed a Response to both. (Docket No. 51). Smyrna
and Officer Godby then replied.
(Docket Nos. 58 & 59).
Officer Godby further filed a
Supplemental Reply. (Docket No. 67). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant
Smyrna’s Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Officer Godby’s Motion for Summary
In October 2013, Lashawn Williams was a 28 year old female employed by Calsonic, a
vendor located within the Nissan Plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. Williams was a small woman,
weighing approximately 115-120 pounds. She worked the night shift, and on October 15, 2013,
Williams left work at 8:00 am. Although the exact timeline is disputed, all parties agree that
Unless otherwise noted, all background facts are drawn from the Statements of Material Facts, (Docket
Nos. 54 & 55).
sometime after work, Williams and her friend Kaia Loving ended up at Williams’ apartment and
started drinking. The two women began drinking inside Williams’ apartment but eventually
moved outside to Loving’s car, either because Williams’ mother and child were sleeping inside
her apartment, or because Loving wanted to smoke—the exact reason is disputed. Loving and
Williams were sitting in Loving’s car and drinking for about ten or fifteen minutes before Officer
Godby arrived on scene.
Officer Godby stated that when he arrived on scene, he heard screams coming from the
direction of Loving’s car. (Docket No. 48-5 at 10). Officer Godby approached the car on the
driver’s side where Loving was sitting. He asked them if they had been fighting and the women
replied that they were fine and had just been laughing and being loud. Officer Godby claims he
saw Williams make a sudden hand movement, as if to hide something between the car door and
the passenger’s side seat. (Id. at 27). Officer Godby claims this action made him suspicious, so
he called for backup. (Id. at 28). Williams disputes that she ever made a hand movement.
While waiting for backup, Officer Godby asked the two women for identification.
Loving handed Officer Godby her driver’s license, but Williams had left hers in her apartment.
Officer Godby refused to allow Williams to go inside and retrieve it out of safety concerns.
Officer Godby offered to call the apartment complex office to confirm that Williams lived there,
which Officer Godby claims made Williams “extremely irate.” (Docket No. 54 at 15). Williams
disputes this, saying that she was “insistent and not irate” but simply did not want a police officer
calling her apartment complex as she did not want a mark on her record with the apartment
At this point, Officer Godby walked over to the passenger’s side of the car where
Williams was sitting. Williams admits that when he was speaking to her directly, she raised her
voice. Williams admits that she did use curse words “but they were not directed at Officer
Godby[.]” (Docket No. 54 at 17). She admits that she was upset, acting “wild,” and “getting
loud.” She further admitted that, during the encounter, she stated she “was not going to be
harassed by no fucking police.” (Id. at 18-19).
After Officer Schoon—Officer Godby’s backup—arrived on the scene, Officer Godby
asked Williams to step out of the car. Williams did so voluntarily, and Officer Godby then did a
light pat down of Williams’ person. During the pat down, Officer Godby found an unopened
bottle of “99” brand liquor in Williams’ pocket. Officer Godby then asked Williams to turn
around and place her hands behind her back, which she also did willingly.
At this point, Officer Godby attempted to handcuff Williams, and the parties disagree
about the exact actions each party took. Officer Godby claims that Williams became belligerent
and started swinging her arms and kicking him, while Williams claims that Officer Godby
“yanked” her arm and that she did not kick him. (Id. at 26). The dash-cam footage does not
definitively help either side. During this situation, Officer Schoon yelled “get on the ground,”
and Williams describes the actions as happening very quickly like “bam.” (Id. at 27). Officer
Schoon and Officer Godby took Williams to the ground, which resulted in Williams breaking her
clavicle. During this encounter, Officer Schoon had been on Williams’ left side and Officer
Godby had been on Williams’ right. Williams’ clavicle was broken on her left side.
While Williams was taken to the back of Officer Schoon’s car, Loving consented to
Officer Godby searching her car. Officer Godby found twelve airplane bottles of liquor, but did
not find other drugs or weapons. (Id. at 31; Docket No. 48-5 at 28).
Williams complained of shoulder pain, and the officers called an ambulance to the scene
to evaluate her. The parties dispute whether Williams was acting too belligerent to be taken to
the hospital by the ambulance; regardless, Williams was transferred to the hospital in the back of
Officer Schoon’s car. At the hospital, Williams was found to have a blood alcohol content of
0.159 and a broken left clavicle.
Williams was charged with public intoxication, assault, and resisting arrest. During the
course of the state law proceedings concerning these charges, Williams filed a Motion to
Supress, which was heard in front of Judge David Bragg in Rutherford County Circuit Court.
Judge Bragg determined that “Officer Godby did not have reasonable suspicion to continue the
encounter with Williams once he ascertained that Williams and Loving were not fighting.”
(Docket No. 54 at 37). He ordered that all the evidence “accumulated following the illegal
seizure” was to be suppressed and the charges dismissed. (Id.).
Williams has subsequently brought the present case against both Officer Godby and the
Town of Smyrna.
She claims that both Officer Godby and Smyrna violated her Fourth
Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. She brings two state law claims
against both Defendants: false imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact [such
that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). But
“summary judgment will not lie if the . . . evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The movant therefore has the burden of establishing that there is no
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986); Barnhart
v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1388–89 (6th Cir.1993). But the non-moving
party “may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(e)(2). See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Searcy v. City of Dayton, 38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir.
1994). The non-moving party must present “significant probative evidence” to show that there is
more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Moore v. Philip Morris Co., 8
F.3d 335, 339–40 (6th Cir. 1993).
Excessive Force Claims
Williams has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Godby in
his individual capacity and the Town of Smyrna.
Section 1983 makes liable only those who, while acting under color of state law,
deprive another of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law. To establish
a claim pursuant to § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate two elements: (1) that she
was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States;
and (2) that she was subjected or caused to be subjected to this deprivation by a
person acting under color of state law. Section 1983 creates no substantive rights;
it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere.
Campbell v. Anderson County, 695 F. Supp. 2d 764, 770 (E.D. Tenn. 2010). In this case,
Williams asserts a deprivation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.
A. Fourth Amendment Claim against Officer Godby
1. Excessive Force Claim against Officer Godby
Officer Godby moves for summary judgment on Williams’ Fourth Amendment search or
seizure claim “if this claim does in fact exist in the Complaint[.]” (Docket No. 34 at 4). The
Court agrees that Williams’ Complaint is unclear as to which claims apply to which Defendants,
and the first three Counts seem to be largely duplicative of each other. (Docket No. 1 at 6-8).
The Court cannot discern a separate Fourth Amendment search or seizure claim from Williams’
Complaint. However, the Court does recognize multiple Fourth Amendment excessive force
claims in the Complaint, which Williams brings by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Docket
No. 1 at 7) (“[T]he use of excessive force by Defendants was in violation of the Plaintiff’s rights
under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments[.]”); Thomas v. Cohen, 304 F.3d 563, 569 (6th
Cir. 2002) (The Fourth Amendment [is] made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth
“[A]ll claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force—deadly or not—in
the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed
under the Fourth Amendment and its ‘reasonableness’ standard, rather than under a ‘substantive
due process’ approach.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) (emphasis in original).
Consequently, the Court will analyze the excessive force claims under the Fourth Amendment.
To the extent that Williams is alleging any separate violations of her Fourteenth Amendment
rights, the Complaint does not clearly allege these, and the Court will therefore dismiss any
separate Fourteenth Amendment claims.
“The Fourth Amendment inquiry is one of ‘objective reasonableness’ under the
circumstances, and subjective concepts like ‘malice’ and ‘sadism’ have no proper place in that
inquiry.” Id. at 399. The reasonableness of a particular use of force “must be judged from the
perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight[.]”
Id. at 396. The Sixth Circuit has further noted that Graham’s admonition against using such
hindsight bias “carries great weight” if “the events in question happened very quickly.” Untalan
v. City of Lorain, 430 F.3d 312, 315 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Smith v. Freland, 954 F.2d 343,
347 (6th Cir. 1992)). “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that
police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments . . . about the amount of force
that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 397.
In making the reasonableness calculation, Graham instructs courts to look at (1) the
severity of the crime, (2) whether the subject posed an immediate threat to the safety of the
officers or others, and (3) whether the subject was resisting arrest. Id. at 396. “In determining
whether there has been a violation of the Fourth Amendment, [a court] considers not the ‘extent
of the injury inflicted,’ but whether an officer subjects a detainee to ‘gratuitous violence.’”
Miller v. Sanilac Cty., 606 F.3d 230, 252 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Morrison v. Bd. of Tr. of
Green Twp., 583 F.3d 394, 400 (6th Cir. 2009)).
In excessive and deadly force cases, the Sixth Circuit generally applies a “temporally
segmented analysis to the possible erroneous actions taken by police officers.” See Chappell v.
City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901, 914 (6th Cir. 2009). Commonly referred to as the “segmenting
rule” or “segmenting approach,” and first adopted in Dickerson v. McClellan, 101 F.3d 1151 (6th
Cir. 1996), the Sixth Circuit “embrace[s] a somewhat narrow interpretation of the Supreme
Court’s mandate that courts look to the totality of the circumstances in determining if excessive
force is used.” Claybrook v. Birchwell, 274 F.3d 1098, 1103 (6th Cir. 2001).
segmenting rule, a court is to “‘carve up’ the events surrounding the challenged police action and
evaluate the reasonableness of the force by looking only at the moments immediately preceding
the officer’s use of force,” an approach that “applies even to encounters lasting very short
periods of time.” Greathouse v. Couch, 433 Fed.Appx. 370, 372 (6th Cir. 2011). The rationale
behind the rule has been explained as follows:
The time-frame is a crucial aspect of excessive force cases. Other than random
attacks, all such cases begin with the decision of a police officer to do something,
to help, to arrest, to inquire. If the officer had decided to do nothing, then no
force would have been used. In this sense, the police officer always causes the
trouble. But it is trouble which the police officer is sworn to cause, which society
pays him to cause and which, if kept within constitutional limits, society praises
the officer for causing.
Dickerson, 101 F.3d at 1161 (quoting Plakas v. Drinski, 19 F.3d 1143, 1150 (7th Cir. 1994)).
In the present situation, a genuine issue of material fact exists concerning the
reasonableness of Officer Godby’s actions against Williams for a number of reasons. First,
Officer Godby argues in his Motion for Summary Judgment that Judge David Bragg’s earlier
decision that Officer Godby’s seizure was improper and illegal should not be considered because
Tennessee and the federal government apply different definitions of “seizure”; Officer Godby
argues that the Tennessee definition is broader than the federal definition. (Docket No. 34 at 4).
While this may be true, Judge Bragg’s finding that Officer Godby had no probable cause or
reasonable suspicion suggests that a genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to the
reasonableness of Officer Godby’s actions in placing Williams under arrest after continuing the
illegal seizure and the force with which he did so.
Moreover, application of the Graham factors suggests that Officer Godby’s Motion for
Summary Judgment should not be granted. Williams was arrested for public intoxication,
resisting arrest, and assault in regards to resisting arrest, but a dispute exists as to whether
Williams actually kicked Officer Godby, whether Officer Godby ever informed Williams why
she was asked to step out of the car, and whether Officer Godby ever initially informed Williams
that she was under arrest. (Docket No. 55 at 29-31). Furthermore, as stated above, the dash-cam
footage does not conclusively show that either side is correct in the dispute about who conducted
which act of violence. Consequently, the Court cannot say that Williams’ crime was especially
violent, or that this was the type of crime for which the force used was necessary. In regards to
the second Graham factor, although Williams admits she was acting “wild” and “getting loud,”
the facts are that she was laughing with her friend and sitting in her car when Officer Goby
Considering no weapon was ever found in the car and the previously
determined lack of suspicion for continuing the conversation, a reasonable jury could find that
Williams did not pose an immediate threat to Officer Godby. For the third factor, Officer Godby
argues that officers can use force on suspects who resist arrest. Although they may, the first case
that Officer Godby analogizes the present situation to, Burchett v. Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937 (6th Cir.
2002), did not involve broken bones. Officer Godby also cites Goodrich v. Everett, 193 Fed.
Appx. 551 (6th Cir. 2006), for the proposition that “kneeing and kicking” are acceptable if the
plaintiff “was capable of violence and intended to flee.” Goodrich, 193 Fed. Appx. at 557;
(Docket No. 34 at 14). Although this also may be true, Officer Godby has admitted he had
already patted Williams down, did not find any weapons on her, and was on notice that they
were in the parking lot of her own apartment complex.
Consequently, this case is also
Application of the segmenting approach does not help Officer Godby either. Before the
arrest, Williams willingly stepped out of the car; she willingly turned around when Officer
Godby requested; and she willingly put her hands behind her back. (Docket No. 55 at 28-30).
Officer Godby argues that he instinctively tried to take Williams to the ground because she
swung at him. (Docket No. 34 at 15). This is further testified to by Officer Schoon. (Id. at 11).
This may very well be the case, and the Court is not labeling Officer Godby as Mr. Bad
Example, nor saying that Williams did not channel Boom Boom Mancini; however, in light of
Williams’ previously voluntary actions, her statement that Officer Godby “yanked” her arm back
behind her, Officer Godby’s previously conducted pat down that turned up only alcohol and no
weapon, and Williams’ consequently broken clavicle, Officer Godby has not shown that his
actions were objectively reasonable and that no genuine issue of material fact exists.
Officer Godby further argues that Williams’ broken clavicle occurred on the left side of
her body, where Officer Schoon, not Officer Godby, was standing. Officer Godby therefore
argues that he cannot be held liable for Officer Schoon’s use of force. However, this line of
argument is a theory, not evidence—let alone significant, probative evidence—that completely
excuses him from liability. Officer Godby is free to present evidence later on in this case
showing that harm on the left side of Williams’ body was caused by the person on her left side,
but Officer Godby has not done that at this stage. Officer Godby admits that Williams’ expert
“believed that Officer Schoon was partially responsible for any force used against” Williams.
(Docket No. 34 at 16) (emphasis added). This does not remove all questions of material fact.
2. Officer Godby’s Qualified Immunity
“[A] defendant in a § 1983 action may raise the affirmative defense of qualified
immunity, which shields government officials performing discretionary functions . . . from
liability . . . insofar as their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established’ statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” St. John v. Hickey, 411
F.3d 762, 768 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). “Qualified immunity balances two
important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power
irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when
they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Lower
courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of
the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first.” Id. at 236.
The Court has already determined that a reasonable jury could find a constitutional
violation of Williams’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. The
Court “must next consider whether the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged
violation. A right is clearly established if [t]he contours of that right [are] sufficiently clear that a
reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Morphis v. City
of Dickson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53073, *13 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 20, 2015) (internal quotations
and citations omitted). Here, Officer Godby should have known that unnecessarily using force to
pull Williams to the ground, resulting in a broken bone, violated her right to be free from
excessive force in light of the previously discussed factors surrounding the situation. Because
genuine issues of material fact still exist concerning the force with which Officer Godby placed
Williams under arrest, and because Officer Godby is not entitled to qualified immunity, Officer
Godby’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Williams’ Fourth Amendment excessive force claim
will be denied.
B. Fourth Amendment Claim Against Smyrna
1. Smyrna’s Failure to Train
It is well settled that a Section 1983 claim against a municipality cannot be based on a
respondeat superior theory of liability. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91
(1978). However, if it is shown that a municipality’s failure to train its employees appropriately
has created a “policy or custom” that violates federally protected rights, then the municipality
can be held liable for Section 1983 violations. Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342, 1345 (6th
Cir. 1994). Articulating this basis of liability in the oft-cited City of Canton decision, the
Supreme Court stated:
the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for Section 1983 liability
only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of
persons with whom the police come into contact. This rule is most consistent
with our admonition … that a municipality can be liable under Section 1983 only
where its policies are the “moving force [behind] the constitutional violation.”
Only where a municipality’s failure to train its employees in a relevant respect
evidences a ‘deliberate indifference’ to the rights of its inhabitants can such a
shortcoming be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom’ that is actionable
under Section 1983.
City of Canton v Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 (1989) (internal citations omitted).
In Ellis v. Cleveland Municipal School District, 455 F.3d 690, 700 (6th Cir. 2006), the
Sixth Circuit articulated a three-part test, which states that, in order for a plaintiff to succeed on a
Section 1983 claim based on a failure-to-train theory, the plaintiff must show that (1) the training
was inadequate for the tasks performed; (2) the inadequacy was the result of the municipality’s
deliberate indifference; and (3) the inadequacy was closely related to or actually caused the
injury at issue. Ellis, 455 F.3d at 700.
Plainly, many cases will be vigorously contested under factor two, that is, whether the
municipality showed “deliberate indifference” or sufficient carelessness as to training
inadequacies that arguably led to injuries. Id. In Ellis, the Sixth Circuit identified two instances
in which a finding of deliberate indifference would be appropriate: (1) where the training lapse
occurs despite “foreseeable consequences” that will flow from the lapse; and (2) where the
training lapse occurs despite “repeated complaints” to the municipality about the issues that
should have been dealt with in training. Ellis, 455 F.3d at 700-01.
In a failure to train claim, the focus of the court’s inquiry is on the training program.
Here, Williams responds to Smyrna’s Motion for Summary Judgment by focusing on four
sections of Smyrna Police Department’s handbook: Use of Force, 2-1; Motor Vehicle Searches,
2-9; Field Interviews and Pat-Down Searches, 2-12; and Arrests and Prisoner Custody, 2-15.
(Docket No. 52 at 18). Williams alleges the following inadequacies in this training: (1) Officer
Godby failed to follow the training procedures that train officers to communicate with the
suspect concerning the actions the officer is taking during the encounter, and this violated the
Use of Force Policy; (2) “[t]he Motor Vehicle Searches Policy does not provide proper training
or guidelines for the search of a vehicle while occupants are still inside the vehicle”; (3) “Officer
Godby’s failure to comply with the [Field Interviews and Pat-Down Searches Policy] . . . created
a deliberate indifference towards the Plaintiff in that Officer Godby has not been adequately
trained in this area”; and (4) “Officer Godby did not give the Plaintiff an explanation for him
having Ms. Williams step out of the vehicle” in violation of the Arrests and Prisoner Custody
Policy. (Docket No. 52 at 18-19). She states that because genuine issues relate to these alleged
inadequacies, summary judgment is improper.
None of these alleged inadequacies, however, suggest that Smyrna ignored repeated
complaints or that the training lapsed in spite of foreseeable consequences. On the contrary, the
first, third, and fourth of the “inadequacies” that Williams alleges in training are situations where
Williams admits Officer Godby was trained; Officer Godby just may not have followed the
training. Furthermore, the second “inadequacy”—Smyrna’s failure to train officers on how to
conduct searches with occupants still in the car—not only fails to amount to deliberate
indifference, but also was not the cause of Williams’ injury. Williams’ injury was caused when
she “was taken down by Officer Godby[.]” (Docket No. 52 at 6). This occurred after Officer
Godby approached the car, Williams exited the car, and she had placed both hands behind her
back. (Id.). Consequently, these alleged inadequacies on the part of Smyrna do not meet the
three part test established in Ellis. Williams’ claims against Smyrna for excessive force in
violation of the Fourth Amendment will be dismissed and Smyrna’s Motion for Summary
Judgment on this claim will be granted.
Furthermore, because showing “a municipality’s failure to train its employees in a
relevant respect [that] evidences a ‘deliberate indifference’ to the rights of its inhabitants”
requires a showing that “a shortcoming [may] be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom’
. . . actionable under § 1983[,]” any of Williams’ claims against Smyrna for Fourth Amendment
violations based on an unconstitutional policy or custom will also be dismissed.
2. Smyrna’s Failure to Supervise
“Similar to the failure-to-train inquiry outlined above, to sustain a failure-to-supervise
claim, the plaintiff must show that the city acted with deliberate indifference to the risk of the
constitutional violation and that its deliberate indifference was the moving force behind the
assault.” Amerson v. Waterford Twp., 562 Fed. Appx. 484, 492 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal
quotations and brackets omitted). For the same reasons cited above, Williams has not shown that
a genuine issue of material fact exists concerning Smyrna’s failure to supervise Officer Godby,
which allegedly resulted in excessive force being used.
Consequently, Williams’ Fourth
Amendment claims premised on Smyrna’s failure to supervise will be dismissed. See Marcilis v.
Twp. of Redford, 693 F.3d 589, 605 (6th Cir. 2012) (analyzing the failure to train and supervise
State Law Claims
In addition to Fourth Amendment claims, Williams brings state law claims of false
imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress against both Smyrna and Officer
Godby. These state law claims require analysis of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability
Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-201, et seq. (“TGTLA”). “The TGTLA removes immunity for
‘injury proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of any employee within the scope of
his employment,’ but provides a list of exceptions to this removal of immunity.” Johnson v. City
of Memphis, 617 F.3d 864, 872 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205).
“Injuries that arise out of . . . civil rights claims are one such exception, that is, sovereign
immunity continues to apply in those circumstances.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Tennessee courts construe the phrase “civil rights” to include claims arising under
Section 1983 and the United States Constitution. Id. A “negligence claim falls within this
exception where ‘the same circumstances giv[e] rise to both the negligence and civil rights
claims.’” Partee v. City of Memphis, 449 F. App’x 444, 448 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Johnson, 617
F.3d at 872).
A. State Law Claims Against Officer Godby
Officer Godby moves for summary judgment on Williams’ state law claims of false
imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Docket 34 at 17). Officer Godby
argues that “[i]n cases involving TGTLA claims, courts in this district have often declined to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction, citing the Tennessee legislature’s preference that such claims
be tried exclusively in Davidson County Circuit Court.” (Docket No. 34 at 17). Williams’
Response in Opposition does not respond to this argument directly, but instead argues that
Officer Godby’s actions meet the elements of false imprisonment and negligent infliction of
emotional distress. (Docket No. 52 at 11-15).
Under the TGTLA, Williams’ claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against
Officer Godby will be dismissed. Officer Godby was acting within the scope of his employment
and is immune, because the negligence claim concerns the same circumstances as Williams’ civil
rights claim. However, the false imprisonment claim is an intentional tort, and therefore Officer
Godby is not immune in regards to this claim. The Court must next consider whether the false
imprisonment claim should be dismissed, so that Williams may refile the claim in Tennessee
Judge Aleta Trauger noted in Warren v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville, 2015 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 68301, *33-35 (M.D. Tenn. May 27, 2015) that there exists “a split of decision in this
circuit” concerning supplemental claims that may be dismissed due to the Tennessee legislature’s
exclusivity provision in the TGTLA. 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68301, *33. Judge Trauger went
on to note that
[m]ost of these cases rely upon Gregory v. Shelby Cty., Tenn., 220 F.3d 433, 446
(6th Cir. 2000) . . . which concluded that the exclusive jurisdiction provision of
the TGTLA demonstrates the legislature’s “unequivocal preference” for TGTLA
claims to be handled by state courts and is an exceptional circumstance that may
be used to decline supplemental jurisdiction.
However, neither Gregory nor the Tennessee legislature’s preference that TGTLA
claims be handled in state courts requires dismissal of supplemental TGTLA
claims. Id. at 446. To the contrary, the grant of original jurisdiction over TGTLA
claims to state circuit courts does not defeat federal jurisdiction. Dillingham v.
Millsaps, 809 F.Supp.2d 820, 850-51 (E.D. Tenn. 2011). Indeed:
State legislatures are powerless to impose jurisdictional constraints upon the
federal judiciary. Whatever the intent of the Tennessee legislature may have been
in enacting the Governmental Tort Liability Act, the authority of the federal
courts to appropriately exercise jurisdiction over supplemental state law matters
remains undiminished. To rule otherwise would be to imply that a state could
nullify two centuries of case law and an entire federal statute on the subject of
supplemental jurisdiction by merely expressing a preference that all state law
controversies be kept “in-house.”
Brown v. City of Memphis, 440 F. Supp. 2d 868, 878 (W.D. Tenn. 2006). Sister
courts choosing to retain jurisdiction have also noted the Brown court's additional
rationale that dismissal of TGTLA claims can "necessitate duplicative litigation
which would be wasteful of judicial and litigant resources.” Dillingham, 809
F.Supp.2d at 851 (quoting Brown, 440 F.Supp.2d at 878); see also Birgs v. City of
Memphis, 686 F.Supp.2d 776, 778-79 (W.D. Tenn. 2010) (finding that separate
state and federal proceedings would “waste the resources of the state and federal
courts”); Harris v. McCormack, No. 3:08-cv-00699, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7735,
2011 WL 253163, at *4 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 26, 2011) (concluding that judicial
economy, convenience, and fairness counseled against declining jurisdiction over
Warren, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68301, *33-35. Similar to Judge Trauger’s ultimate conclusion
in Warren, the facts underlying Williams’ constitutional claim against Officer Godby in this
situation are the same facts underlying her false imprisonment claim against Officer Godby. The
Court finds that it is most efficient for Williams’ false imprisonment claim against Officer
Godby to remain in federal court; it would make little sense for the parties to litigate the same
facts, with the same witnesses, and overlapping discovery in two separate courts.
B. State Law Claims Against Smyrna
Smyrna also seeks summary judgment on Williams’ claims for false imprisonment and
negligent infliction of emotional distress. Smyrna argues that it is immune from these tort claims
pursuant to the TGTLA. In response, Williams agrees that “Smyrna is entitled to immunity
under the [T]GTLA.” (Docket No. 52 at 20). Without taking a position as to whether Smyrna is
immune from both the negligence claim and the intentional tort, the Court will grant Smyrna
summary judgment on Williams’ claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress and false
imprisonment, seeing as Williams agrees to the dismissal of these claims.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant Defendant Smyrna’s Motion for Summary
Judgment. The Court will deny in part and grant in part Defendant Officer Godby’s Motion for
Summary Judgment. A separate order shall be entered.
KEVIN H. SHARP
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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