493 F.3d 720 (6th Cir. 2007), 05-5953, Meals v. City of Memphis, Tennessee

Docket Nº:CITY OF MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE (05-5974) and Bridgette King (05-5953), Defendants-Appellants.
Citation:493 F.3d 720
Party Name:Aundrey MEALS, Individually and as wife and next friend of James Harvey Meals, deceased, and as natural parent, guardian and next friend of William Meals, a minor child, Plaintiff-Appellee, v.
Case Date:July 11, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 720

493 F.3d 720 (6th Cir. 2007)

Aundrey MEALS, Individually and as wife and next friend of James Harvey Meals, deceased, and as natural parent, guardian and next friend of William Meals, a minor child, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

CITY OF MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE (05-5974) and Bridgette King (05-5953), Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 05-5953, 05-5974.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

July 11, 2007

Argued: July 21, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 03-02077-Jon Phipps McCalla, District Judge.

Page 721

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 722

ARGUED :

Jean E. Markowitz, Law Offices of Thomas E. Hansom, Memphis, Tennessee, Robert D. Meyers, Kiesewetter, Wise, Kaplan, Prather PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellants.

Jason G. Whitworth, Law Office of J. Houston Gordon, Covington, Tennessee, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF :

Jean E. Markowitz, Thomas Edward Hansom, Law Offices of Thomas E. Hansom, Memphis, Tennessee, Robert D. Meyers, Amber Isom-Thompson, Kiesewetter, Wise, Kaplan, Prather PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellants.

Page 723

Jason G. Whitworth , Law Office of J. Houston Gordon, Covington, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: KENNEDY and DAUGHTREY, Circuit Judges; ADAMS, District Judge[*]

OPINION

JOHN R. ADAMS, District Judge.

This high-speed police pursuit case deals with the "shocks the conscience" standard set forth in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 140 L.Ed.2d 1043 (1998), and its application to the police pursuit in this case.

Appellant Bridgette King ("Officer King") is employed as a police officer by appellant City of Memphis, Tennessee ("the City"). Appellee Aundrey Meals, individually and as wife and next friend of James Harvey Meals, deceased, and as natural parent, guardian and next friend of William Meals, a minor child, filed a complaint against Officer King and the City under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, inter alia, deprivation of the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights of her family in causing their death or personal injuries as the result of a police pursuit for a traffic violation. The district court denied the City's motion for summary judgment as to appellee's § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and her state law claim for negligence. The district court subsequently denied Officer King's motion for summary judgment both as to appellee's § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and also her claim of qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the district court's denial of qualified immunity to Officer King and denial of summary judgment to the City on the § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 18, 2002, James Albert Meals1 was driving his 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis southbound on Covington Pike in the City of Memphis with James Harvey Meals and eight-year-old William Meals riding as passengers.

At approximately 6:3 0 in the evening, Officer King was running radar on Raleigh-LaGrange Road in Memphis when she saw a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, driven by John M. Harris, pass her going in the opposite direction at a high rate of speed. Officer King turned her blue lights on and turned her police vehicle around by executing a U-turn, then turned the blue lights off and began following Mr. Harris's vehicle--without audible (siren) or visual (blue lights) signals--with the intent of stopping him for speeding.2 Mr. Harris did not stop and increased his speed. Officer King pursued him.3

Witnesses Charlie McWharter and Tammy Rarer were stopped at a gas station on the corner of Raleigh-LaGrange and Covington Pike when they witnessed an older model Oldsmobile Cutlass traveling at high speed down Raleigh-LaGrange. Both witnesses

Page 724

saw a marked City of Memphis police vehicle, driven by Officer King, chasing the Oldsmobile just prior to the cars reaching the intersection.

Mr. Harris then turned from Raleigh-LaGrange Road north onto Covington Pike, a busy commercial street. Neither Officer King nor Mr. Harris stopped at the intersection. Instead, they both traveled through it at high speed. Mr. Harris was traveling east in the westbound lanes of Raleigh-LaGrange when he initially entered the opposing southbound lanes of traffic on Covington Pike before crossing the grass median into the correct lanes for northbound traffic. Mr. Harris continued at high speed up Covington Pike.

James E. Bradley II was at the intersection of Stage Road and Covington Pike. He saw the police vehicle, driven by Officer King, pass through the same green light cycle as the Oldsmobile Cutlass, driven by Mr. Harris, and within seconds behind it. Mr. Harris left the northbound lane, grazing another vehicle, and crossed into the southbound lanes striking nearly head-on the vehicle in which James Harvey Meals and William Meals were passengers. James Harvey Meals, James Albert Meals, and Mr. Harris were killed in the collision. William Meals suffered a fractured spine resulting in permanent paraplegia as a result of the incident.

The City had a restrictive written policy that specifically addressed police vehicle operation and pursuit policy. (JA 653) That policy prohibited vehicle pursuits when: (1) the officer knows that the suspect is wanted only for a traffic violation, a misdemeanor, or a non-violent felony; (2) the officer has failed to obtain supervisory approval within one minute of pursuit origination; (3) the pursuit has reached an unacceptable level, as defined in the policy; and (4) the officer fails to activate audible (siren) and visual (blue lights) signals upon initiation of a pursuit. (JA 658-59)

Regarding discontinuing the pursuit, the policy provided that officers involved in a pursuit must continually question whether the seriousness of the violation reasonably warrants continuation of the pursuit, and that a pursuit must be discontinued when there is a clear danger to the pursuing officers or the public. (JA 661) As an example, the policy called for discontinuance "[w]hen the speeds dangerously exceed normal traffic flow or when pedestrians or vehicular traffic necessitates unsafe maneuvering of the vehicle." Id.

Appellee filed a complaint against the City, Officer King, Walter Crews (Director of the City of Memphis Police Department), and Ford Motor Company in the Circuit Court of Tennessee for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis, and the defendants then removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis based on federal question jurisdiction.

The district court dismissed all of the claims against Officer King (JA 247) and subsequently held a Dauberr4 hearing that included testimony by Dennis Waller--the appellee's expert on police policy, practice, and procedure. (JA 787) The district court later granted in part the City's motion to exclude Mr. Waller's testimony, finding:

that [the] expert may [not] testify as to the perceptions of Mr. Harris himself or the effect of the alleged pursuit on Mr. Harris' state of mind. In particular, the Court finds that the following opinion from Mr. Waller must be excluded from testimony at trial:

Page 725

The Pursuit was conducted in a reckless manner that exacerbated the reckless behavior of Mr. Harris. The continued pursuit of the Harris vehicle by Officer King was a significant causal factor in the increasingly reckless driving behavior of Mr. Harris.

(JA 341-42) The order granting Officer King's motion to dismiss was subsequently withdrawn by the district court, the appellee's claims against Officer King were reinstated in light of new evidence proffered by appellee, and the case was reset for jury trial.

Appellee filed an amended complaint, alleging that the high-speed police pursuit of Mr. Harris and the subsequent motor vehicle collision violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of James Harvey Meals and William Meals. She alleged that Officer King violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of substantive due process by causing death or injury through deliberate or reckless indifference to life in a high-speed automobile chase. Appellee also contended that the City is liable under Tennessee law because Officer King's implementation or failure to adhere to the City's police pursuit policy was negligent. According to the appellee, the City's failure to properly train...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP