713 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. 2013), 11-14802, Myers v. Bowman

Docket Nº:11-14802.
Citation:713 F.3d 1319
Opinion Judge:PRYOR, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Dustin MYERS, Rodney Myers, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Murry BOWMAN, Individually, and as the Chief Magistrate of Jefferson County, Georgia, Wiley Clark Evans, IV, Individually, and as a Deputy Sheriff with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Charles Hutchins, Individually, and as the Sheriff of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Defe
Attorney:John C. Spurlin, Gary C. McCorvey, Spurlin & McCorvey, Tifton, GA, William Dow Bonds, The Bonds Law Firm, Savannah, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. George Marvin Weaver, Hollberg & Weaver, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Andrew H. Marshall, Begnaud & Marshall, LLP, Athens, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before MARCUS and PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and FRIEDMAN,[*] District Judge.
Case Date:April 10, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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713 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. 2013)

Dustin MYERS, Rodney Myers, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Murry BOWMAN, Individually, and as the Chief Magistrate of Jefferson County, Georgia, Wiley Clark Evans, IV, Individually, and as a Deputy Sheriff with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Charles Hutchins, Individually, and as the Sheriff of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Defendants-Appellees,

James W. Miller, Jr., Individually, and as a Chief of Police of the City of Louisville, Georgia, Jefferson County, Georgia, The City of Louisville, Georgia, Defendants.

No. 11-14802.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

April 10, 2013

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John C. Spurlin, Gary C. McCorvey, Spurlin & McCorvey, Tifton, GA, William Dow Bonds, The Bonds Law Firm, Savannah, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

George Marvin Weaver, Hollberg & Weaver, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Andrew H. Marshall, Begnaud & Marshall, LLP, Athens, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

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

Before MARCUS and PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and FRIEDMAN,[*] District Judge.

PRYOR, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents the question whether three officials in a rural county of Georgia are entitled to a summary judgment against a complaint that they violated the civil rights of a father and son who had been involved in an aborted exchange of property between a previously engaged couple. When Dustin Myers and Kelley Bowman ended their engagement to be married, Dustin attempted to retrieve the diamond ring he had given Kelley and other personal property, but that attempt prompted allegations that Dustin had stolen Kelley's dog, followed by a police chase on rural roadways and a brief arrest of Dustin and his father, Rodney Myers. The end of the police chase, which resembles a scene from a rerun of the 1980s television show The Dukes of Hazzard, fittingly was captured on a video camera on the dashboard of a police car. The Myers filed a complaint that Murry Bowman, who is Kelley's father and the magistrate judge of Jefferson County, Georgia; Wiley Clark Evans, a deputy sheriff who arrested the Myers; and Charles Hutchins, who was Evans's supervisor, all conspired to violate and violated the Myers' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After our review of the videotape and other evidence, we agree with the district court that the Myers' effort to make a federal case out of these events fails: Murry and Evans did not subject the Myers to excessive force; Evans had probable cause to arrest the Myers; Murry did not act under color of law; and the Myers failed to present

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any evidence that Murry, Evans, and Hutchins conspired to commit a false arrest. We affirm the summary judgment against the Myers' complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

There would be no wedding bells, no wedding cake, and no tuxedo and white dress for Dustin Myers and Kelley Bowman. The couple was engaged to be married, but before the time came to say " I Do," Kelley found herself a new Romeo. She broke Dustin's heart, and she tried to hurt his finances too by hosting two yard sales at which she sold some of his property. Kelley's mother called Dustin late in the evening of August 12, 2009, to tell him that his fiancé e had been unfaithful and to provide the helpful advice that he should " come get [his] stuff before everything was gone."

Dustin and his father, Rodney Myers, left their home at about 3:00 a.m. the next day to begin a journey from Rodney's home in Lenox, Georgia, to Murry Bowman's home in Louisville, Georgia. The Myers arrived at the Bowman home at about 7:00 a.m. and demanded that Kelley return Dustin's property, including the engagement ring that he had given to his former bride-to-be. Kelley gave Dustin some of his property, including clothing, a television, and a computer, but she alleged that she had lost the engagement ring.

While the Myers packed their truck, the couple's pet dog, a Maltese named Lexi, jumped into the truck. Dustin and Rodney had purchased the dog, but both Dustin and Kelley had cared for the dog, and the dog had been living with the Bowmans. The Myers departed the Bowman home with Lexi, but without the engagement ring.

Although Kelley could no longer bear Dustin, she wanted Lexi to remain in her life. Murry, who was the magistrate judge of Jefferson County, called Dustin and requested that he return Lexi to his daughter. Dustin agreed to return the dog in exchange for the engagement ring and some money that he said Kelley owed him.

Later that morning, Murry and Kelley found the Myers at a local bank, where Dustin had closed the joint checking account that he and Kelley had shared. Murry pulled his truck alongside the Myers' truck, exited his vehicle, approached the Myers' truck wearing the engagement ring on his pinkie finger, tossed the ring through the window of the truck and into Dustin's lap, and said, " Here, I've got your goddamn ring." But Murry did not give the money to Dustin because, he explained, " I don't have that kind of money just to give to you right now." After the Bowmans failed to uphold their end of the bargain, the Myers drove away with both the diamond ring and the dog. As Dustin drove away, Murry shouted into the distance, " I'll have your goddamn ass locked up." Murry returned to his truck and began to follow the Myers.

What began as a catty dispute escalated into a tempest after Murry reported to the police that someone had stolen his dog. Jefferson County had provided Murry with a SouthernLINC communications device to use for his official duties, and Murry used that device to contact Anita Thompson, who was a deputy clerk in his office, and to instruct her to report to the police that someone had stolen his dog, which he said was worth $700. Georgia then classified as a felony a theft of property worth more than $500. See Ga.Code Ann. § 16-8-12(a)(1) (repealed 2012). Murry testified that he does not recall whether he told Thompson that the Myers were the alleged thieves. Although the Myers allege that Murry did not attempt to contact the police before he contacted Thompson, Murry testified that he did not recall whether he attempted to contact the police first.

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Thompson relayed Murry's complaint to two on-duty law enforcement officers: Wiley Clark Evans, who was a deputy sheriff for Jefferson County, and James W. Miller Jr., who was the chief of police for the City of Louisville. Thompson contacted them on their SouthernLINC devices, and she told them that two men had stolen Murry's dog, which she said was worth $700; that the men had fled the scene in a truck; and that Murry was following them in his own vehicle. Thompson also gave the officers a description of the Myers' truck and the direction in which it was travelling. But Thompson did not tell the officers that the alleged thieves were Dustin and Rodney or that the alleged theft occurred in connection with a dispute between the Bowmans and the Myers about a failed engagement. Thompson then remained in regular contact with Evans and Miller, and she directed their pursuit of the Myers based on information that she received from Murry. During the pursuit of the Myers, Murry did not communicate directly with either Evans or Miller.

Jefferson County requires its law enforcement personnel to report incidents to a 9-1-1 dispatcher and to communicate with other officers through recorded police radio, but Murry, Thompson, Evans, and Miller communicated with each other using the unrecorded SouthernLINC communications system. The SouthernLINC system serves as a backup communications system when the radio communications system malfunctions. Jefferson County provided Murry and Thompson with their SouthernLINC devices, but both Evans and Miller purchased their devices. Evans testified that crime victims sometimes reported crimes directly to him on his SouthernLINC device or cellular phone in lieu of contacting 9-1-1.

Miller pursued the Myers beyond the city limits of Louisville. Miller testified that he sometimes pursues criminals outside of his jurisdiction and that his decision whether to do so depends upon several circumstances, including the severity of the crime and whether it was committed within the city limits of Louisville. Miller testified that he pursued the Myers outside of his jurisdiction because he received a report that a felony theft might have occurred within his jurisdiction and the report came from the office of a magistrate.

The Myers drove toward Rodney's home, and both Murry and Miller followed the Myers for several miles. Dustin testified that he knew that Murry was following him and that he received a phone call from a friend who told him that the police were searching for him. Shortly after the caravan rounded " dead man's curve," Evans approached the vehicles from the opposite direction and used his patrol vehicle to block the road, and the Myers brought their truck to a stop.

Evans and Miller arrested the Myers. The arrest was recorded by a video camera in Evans's vehicle, and the recording establishes that the detention lasted...

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