343 F.3d 1323 (11th Cir. 2003), 00-14380, Vaughan v. Cox

Docket Nº:00-14380
Citation:343 F.3d 1323
Party Name:Vaughan v. Cox
Case Date:August 29, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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343 F.3d 1323 (11th Cir. 2003)

Jerry Charges VAUGHAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Fred Lawrence COX, Officer, individually and in his official capacity as an officer of the Coweta County Sheriff's Department, Coweta County, Georgia, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 00-14380.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 29, 2003

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jeffrey J. Dean, Waycaster, Morris, Johnson & Dean, Dalton, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Frank M. Lowrey, IV, Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP, Bruce A. Taylor, Jr., Drew, Eckl & Farnham, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

ON REMAND FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Before CARNES, COX and NOONAN[*], Circuit Judges.

COX, Circuit Judge:

We grant rehearing sua sponte. In our original opinion, reported at 264 F.3d 1027 (11th Cir. 2001), we concluded that Deputy Fred Lawrence Cox was entitled to summary judgment as to his qualified immunity defense on Jerry Charges Vaughan's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims arising out of injuries Vaughan suffered during a police chase. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, Vaughan v. Cox, 536 U.S. 953, 122 S.Ct. 2653, 153 L.Ed.2d 830 (2002), vacated our judgment, and remanded this action for reconsideration in light of the Court's intervening decision in Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). Following the filing of supplemental briefs on remand, we reinstated our original decision and provided a supplemental discussion addressing Hope in an opinion reported at 316 F.3d 1210 (11th Cir. 2003). We vacate our prior two opinions in this case in their entirety and substitute the following one, in which we conclude, among other things, that Cox is not due summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

I. BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In the early morning of January 5, 1998, the Sheriff's Department of Coweta County,

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Georgia, received a report that a red pickup truck with a silver tool box in its bed had been stolen from a service station along Interstate 85 south of Atlanta.1 The report included the information that the suspect, a white male wearing a white t-shirt, was believed to be heading north on I-85. In response to the report, Deputy Fred Lawrence Cox and Deputy Jeff Looney headed to the northbound lanes of I-85 in separate vehicles. Deputy Looney pulled onto the grass median to observe passing traffic. Deputy Cox continued farther north and stopped at the site of a recent accident. Deputy Looney soon spotted a truck traveling northward that matched the description of the stolen vehicle but, contrary to the report, it was towing a trailer loaded with two personal watercraft. Looney reported his sighting on his radio and began to follow the truck. After hearing Looney's report, Deputy Cox radioed Looney to inform him that there was an accident scene north of Looney's position and that he should not attempt to stop the vehicle until it had passed by the accident.

As the red pickup and Deputy Looney passed him, Deputy Cox pulled out and joined the pursuit. While tracking the truck, the deputies made efforts to determine whether the vehicle was indeed the stolen truck. To this end, Deputy Cox sped up and passed the truck, which was proceeding at or near the speed limit of seventy miles per hour. He observed two men in the cab. The man in the passenger's seat, Jerry Charges Vaughan, matched the description of the suspect. Cox's suspicions confirmed, he and Deputy Looney decided to use a "rolling roadblock" to stop the vehicle, which involves officers blocking a suspect vehicle with their police cruisers and reducing their speed, in the hope that the suspect car will slow down as well. Deputy Looney positioned his cruiser directly behind the pickup. Deputy Cox moved in front of the truck. By this point, the deputies had made it clear that they desired to stop the pickup. As soon as he had positioned his vehicle in front of the truck, Cox applied his brakes. The truck rammed into the back of Cox's cruiser. Deputy Cox has testified that the impact caused him to momentarily lose control of his vehicle; Vaughan and the pickup's driver, Freddy Rayson, contend that the impact was both accidental and insufficient to cause Cox to lose control, and for the purposes of this appeal, we accept Vaughan's version of the facts.

After the collision, Rayson did not pull over, but instead accelerated while staying in the same lane of traffic.2 Deputy Cox decided to reposition his vehicle behind the truck. He unholstered his sidearm and rolled down the passenger side window. Cox testified that he readied himself in this manner in case Rayson made aggressive moves in his direction. Cox then shifted his cruiser one lane to the left and

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slowed to allow the truck to pass by him. As soon as his cruiser was even with the pickup, Deputy Cox turned on his rooftop lights. Rayson responded by accelerating to eighty to eighty-five miles per hour in a seventy-miles-per-hour zone. Cox then fired three rounds into the truck without warning. Although Cox testified that he fired because the pickup swerved as if to smash into his cruiser, Vaughan maintains that the truck, while increasing its speed, made no motion in the direction of Cox's vehicle; again, we accept Vaughan's version of the events.

Deputy Cox's plan was to disable either the truck or Rayson so that he could force the truck off the road. However, his volley disabled neither the truck nor Rayson. The third bullet fired from Cox's weapon instead punctured Vaughan's spine, instantly paralyzing him below the chest. Rayson's only reaction to the shooting was to drive faster and more recklessly. Rayson began a desperate break for freedom which involved weaving in and out of lanes, driving at high speeds through exit ramps, and dragging at least one of the watercraft, which had fallen off the trailer, along the ground.

As the chase continued into more heavily congested sections of the highway, Cox made several attempts to stop the vehicle, firing his weapon once more, and repositioning his cruiser in front of the truck. The truck struck Cox's cruiser, causing the cruiser to spin out of control and ram into a steel guard rail. Cox was injured and his cruiser was badly damaged, but the truck continued on, dragging the trailer and watercraft behind. Finally, when Rayson tried to force the truck between two vehicles, he lost control of the pickup, the trailer jack-knifed, and the truck hit the cement median. Both Vaughan and Rayson were taken to the hospital.

Vaughan filed suit for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against three named defendants: Deputy Cox, in both his individual capacity and his official capacity; Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager, in his official capacity; and Coweta County, Georgia. In Count I, Vaughan alleges that Deputy Cox used excessive force in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In Count II, Vaughan alleges that Sheriff Yeager and Coweta County promulgated and established policies that caused Deputy Cox to employ excessive force in violation of Vaughan's constitutional rights. And in Count III, Vaughan alleges five state law claims (negligence, assault and battery, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct) against Cox.

Cox, Yeager, and Coweta County (collectively, "the Defendants") moved for summary judgment. In its order regarding the summary judgment motion, the district court initially concluded that Vaughan was not subjected to a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, reasoning that Deputy Cox aimed his shots at the driver of the truck and the truck itself, but not at Vaughan. The court then went on to conclude that even if Vaughan had been seized, Cox's use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. As a consequence, the court concluded that Deputy Cox was entitled to summary judgment on Vaughan's § 1983 claim predicated on the Fourth Amendment. Having concluded that Cox did not violate Vaughan's...

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