483 F.3d 404 (5th Cir. 2007), 05-41684, Freeman v. Gore

Docket Nº:05-41684.
Citation:483 F.3d 404
Party Name:Linda FREEMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jason GORE, Smith County Deputy Sheriff; Jeff Bragg, Smith County Deputy Sheriff; Brian Allison, Smith County Deputy Sheriff, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:April 02, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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483 F.3d 404 (5th Cir. 2007)

Linda FREEMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Jason GORE, Smith County Deputy Sheriff; Jeff Bragg, Smith County Deputy Sheriff; Brian Allison, Smith County Deputy Sheriff, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 05-41684.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

April 2, 2007

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Curtis B. Stuckey (argued), Stuckey, Garrigan & Castetter, Nacogdoches, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Christi Johnson Kennedy, Robert Scott Davis (argued), Flowers Davis, Tyler, TX, for Defendants-Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before HIGGINBOTHAM, DENNIS and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.

DENNIS, Circuit Judge:

Defendants Jason Gore, Jeff Bragg, and Brian Allison appeal the district court's denial of their motions for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of summary judgment on plaintiff's unlawful arrest claim and REVERSE the district court's denial of summary judgment on plaintiff's excessive force claim.

I. Background and Proceedings Below

On October 4, 2004, Deputies Jason Gore, Jeff Bragg and Brian Allison (collectively, the "deputies") of the Smith County, Texas Sheriff's Department attempted to serve a felony arrest warrant on Kevin Freeman ("Kevin") at his mobile home, located at 16449 County Road 15. When the deputies received no response to their knocks at the door of the mobile home, they called a telephone number that they had on file for Kevin. The deputies heard the phone ring inside the mobile home. Eventually, a woman, later identified as Kevin's sister, Sheila Freeman ("Sheila"), answered the phone. Sheila told the deputies that she was not inside Kevin's mobile home, but rather was at the house next door, which belonged to Kevin and Sheila's mother, plaintiff Linda Freeman ("Freeman"). Kevin's mobile home, 16449 County Road 15, sat very near Freeman's house, 16447 County Road 15, and the deputies noticed that wires and cables ran between the two residences. When asked why she had answered Kevin's phone, Sheila responded that it was a cordless phone that could pick up calls next door. At some point during this conversation, Sheila stepped out of the house next door. Sheila also informed the deputies that Kevin was not at his home.

While Deputy Gore was speaking with Sheila, Freeman emerged from her house and began yelling at the deputies. When the deputies asked Freeman whether they could enter her home to search for her son, Freeman responded that the last time deputies searched her house, they had trashed it, and that she would not permit the deputies to enter her home unless they had a search warrant for her address. Deputy Gore then told Freeman that he could arrest her if she did not permit the deputies to search her home. Freeman responded by saying that the deputies would just have to arrest her. At that point, Deputy Gore instructed Freeman to place her hands behind her back, and Deputy Allison handcuffed her and placed her

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in the back of his patrol car. 1

The district court noted that it was undisputed that Freeman spent at least some time in the patrol car without air conditioning or ventilation. The parties differ as to the amount of time that Freeman spent in the car, however. Freeman asserts that she was in the car without air conditioning for between 30 and 45 minutes. Freeman also claims that, despite knowing that she had a heart condition, the deputies did not allow her daughter to retrieve her nitroglycerin. The deputies offer contradictory accounts of how long Freeman was in the patrol car, ranging from 5 to 10 minutes, to 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, Deputy Bragg stated that he turned on the air conditioning after approximately 30 seconds or one minute.

Deputy Gore contacted one of his superiors, Lieutenant Shelton, from the scene and informed him that he had arrested Freeman for the offense of Hindering Apprehension. During that conversation, Shelton instructed Gore that he could not search Freeman's house without a warrant. Gore disagreed, at which point another of his superiors, Sergeant North, also informed him that he could neither search Freeman's house nor arrest her. After that conversation, Gore released Freeman from the patrol car and removed the handcuffs. 2

In December 2004, Freeman filed this action against the deputies, alleging that they unlawfully arrested her and that they used excessive force in effectuating the arrest. The deputies moved for summary judgment, claiming that the facts that Freeman alleged did not establish a violation of Freeman's constitutional rights and that, even if they did, the deputies were entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court denied the deputies' motions in their entirety. With respect to Freeman's unlawful arrest claim, the court held that, for purposes of summary judgment, Freeman had shown that the deputies' actions violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Specifically, the court held that because the deputies had no right to search Freeman's house, they likewise could not arrest or threaten to arrest Freeman for refusing to permit them to search the house without a warrant. The district court also found that the deputies' conduct in arresting Freeman was objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law. The district court expressly rejected the deputies' arguments that (i) they simply detained, rather than arrested, Freeman, and that they had the requisite reasonable suspicion to do so; and (ii) they had probable cause to arrest Freeman for Interference with Public Duties, in violation of Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.15, and Hindering Apprehension, in violation of Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.05.

With respect to Freeman's excessive force claim, the district court held that Freeman's allegations were sufficient to create a triable issue of fact. The court noted that Freeman claimed that the deputies twisted her arms behind her back and "jerked her all over the carport" when they handcuffed her and took her to the patrol car. The court also noted that Freeman alleged that the handcuffs left

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bruises on her hands and arms, for which she had to seek medical treatment. Viewing these facts in the light most favorable to Freeman, the district court concluded that the deputies were not entitled to summary judgment on her excessive force claim.

II. Jurisdiction

A defendant in a section 1983 action can immediately appeal a district court's denial of a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity under the collateral order doctrine to the extent that the appeal turns on a question of law. Flores v. City of Palacios, 381 F.3d 391, 393 (5th Cir.2004) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985)). Where the district court has denied summary judgment on the ground that material issues of fact exist as to the plaintiff's claims, this court lacks jurisdiction to review the court's determination that a genuine fact issue exists. See Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 348 (5th Cir.2004) (en banc); Martinez-Aguero v. Gonzalez, 459 F.3d 618, 621 (5th Cir.2006). This court can, however, review whether any factual dispute found by the district court is material for summary judgment purposes; that is, the court can consider the legal sufficiency of the facts that the district court found to be supported by the summary judgment record. Kinney, 367 F.3d at 348; Aucoin v. Haney, 306 F.3d 268, 272 (5th Cir.2002); Wagner v. Bay City, 227 F.3d 316, 320 (5th Cir.2000). In so doing, the court assumes that the plaintiff's factual assertions are true and determines whether those facts are sufficient to defeat the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Kinney, 367 F.3d at 348; Martinez-Aguero, 459 F.3d at 621; Wagner, 227 F.3d at 320. Thus, a defendant challenging the denial of a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity "must be prepared to concede the best view of the facts to the plaintiff and discuss only the legal issues raised by the appeal." Gonzales v. Dallas County, 249 F.3d 406, 411 (5th Cir.2001); see Kinney, 367 F.3d at 348 & n. 11.

In this case, the deputies recognize the limited nature of the court's jurisdiction on this interlocutory appeal, and they therefore concede that, for purposes of this appeal, they must accept Freeman's version of any factual dispute between the parties. Accordingly, we find that we have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the deputies' appeal.

III. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

This court reviews de novo the district court's resolution of legal issues on a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. See Martinez-Aguero, 459 F.3d at 621 ("Our review of the legal significance of the facts is de novo."); Flores, 381 F.3d at 394 ("We review de novo the scope of clearly established law and the objective...

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