Adams v. Lindsey, 86-8352-CIV.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
Writing for the CourtNESBITT
Citation759 F. Supp. 795
PartiesRobert Jeff ADAMS Sr., Personal Representative for the Estate of Donald Demasco Adams, Sr., Plaintiff, v. J.M. LINDSEY and Robert Soesbe, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 86-8352-CIV.,86-8352-CIV.
Decision Date14 February 1991

759 F. Supp. 795

Robert Jeff ADAMS Sr., Personal Representative for the Estate of Donald Demasco Adams, Sr., Plaintiff,
J.M. LINDSEY and Robert Soesbe, Defendants.

No. 86-8352-CIV.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida.

February 14, 1991.

Evan Fetterman, North Palm Beach, Fla., for plaintiff.

Julius F. Parker, Tallahassee, Fla., for defendants.


NESBITT, District Judge.

This cause comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgement on the basis of the qualified immunity defense of good faith, filed March 20,

759 F. Supp. 796
1990.1 After due consideration, it is hereby ORDERED and ADJUDGED that Defendants' motion is DENIED


Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges the following facts:

During the early morning hours of May 8, 1985, Defendant Donnie Ingram, a deputy sheriff of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Department, stopped an automobile being driven by Robert Adams, Jr. ("Robert") to investigate reports of a petty theft. Plaintiff's decedent, Donald Demasco Adams, Sr. ("Donald"), was a passenger in the back seat of the car. After Robert told Ingram that he did not have a valid license, Ingram learned that there was a warrant outstanding for the arrest of Robert for failure to appear in court on the misdemeanor offense of petty theft, but that there were no outstanding warrants for Donald.

Ingram, who on previous occasions had stopped and then released Robert, indicated to Robert that he would have to go to jail. After Robert stated that Ingram knew his identity and address, he returned to his car and drove away, and a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood ensued.

Defendant Deputy Sheriff Robert Soesbe joined in the chase, which covered approximately ten miles. During the chase, Soesbe asked Defendant J.M. Lindsey, a supervisor with the Sheriff's department, whether he should try to "take out" the vehicle. Lindsey told Soesbe that he should attempt to shoot a bullet through the radiator of the vehicle. Instead, Soesbe intentionally rammed the vehicle several times. The last contact caused the driver to lose control and crash. Donald died from injuries sustained in the crash.

Plaintiff, the personal representative for the Estate of Donald, brought this action against five defendants: Ingram, Soesbe, Lindsey, Sheriff Robert Knowles, and St. Lucie County, Florida. The amended complaint alleges that the conduct of the defendant deputies was "intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in reckless disregard of Plaintiff decedent's rights or grossly negligent in that this conduct shocks the conscience and is fundamentally offensive to a civilized society," and it may fairly be construed as asserting a violation of, inter alia, Robert's fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures.

The two remaining defendants, Lindsey and Soesbe,2 deny that any bumping by Soesbe's car caused the accident. They assert that the accident resulted because Robert lost control of his car during the chase, and that the decision to engage in the high-speed chase does not give rise to liability under § 1983.


Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity.3 Specifically, they claim that, even assuming that all of Plaintiff's allegations are true, they cannot be liable for violating Donald's fourth amendment rights because it was not clearly established at the time of the incident that causing a suspect's car to crash by intentionally ramming it during a

759 F. Supp. 797
high-speed chase constituted a "seizure" triggering the protections of the fourth amendment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court rejects the Defendants' argument and finds that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.4

A. Qualified Immunity In Excessive Force Cases:

The defense of qualified immunity, enunciated by the Supreme Court in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), provides that government officials performing discretionary functions (including police officers) are shielded from liability if (1) "the law with respect to their actions was unclear at the time the cause of action arose," McDaniel v. Woodard, 886 F.2d 311, 313 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting Clark v. Evans, 840 F.2d 876, 879 (11th Cir.1988)), or if (2) "a reasonable officer could have believed the officer's actions to be lawful, in light of clearly established law and the information the ... officer possessed." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3040, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987); McDaniel v. Woodard, 886 F.2d at 313; see also Greason v. Kemp, 891 F.2d 829, 834 (11th Cir. 1990) (separate inquiry for two prongs of qualified immunity defense).

The Supreme Court has held that qualified immunity is available as a defense to claims that police officers have conducted an unreasonable search in violation of the fourth amendment. See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). The Court has, however, expressly declined to address whether qualified immunity is available as a defense to claims that an officer has used excessive force in violation of the fourth amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures, see Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1873 n. 12, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) and neither party has raised this issue.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had held, prior to the decision in Graham, that qualified immunity is available in excessive force situations. See Hamm v. Powell, 874 F.2d 766, 771 (11th Cir.1989), modified on rehearing, 893 F.2d 293 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, Hamm v. Norred, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 3218, 110 L.Ed.2d 665 (1990). On rehearing subsequent to Graham, the Court in Hamm reaffirmed the availability of qualified immunity in excessive force cases. See Hamm v. Powell, 893 F.2d 293 (11th Cir.1990); see also Brown v. Glossip, 878 F.2d 871, 873-74 (5th Cir.1989) ("we ... hold that qualified immunity is available as

759 F. Supp. 798
a defense to monetary liability for an objectively unreasonable use of force under the Fourth Amendment"); Brisk v. City of Miami Beach, 726 F.Supp. 1305, 1314 n. 26 (S.D.Fla.1989)

A recent Eleventh Circuit case casts doubt on this view. In Ortega v. Schramm, 922 F.2d 684 (11th Cir.1991), a plaintiff brought, inter alia, a § 1983 excessive force claim against a deputy sheriff of Glades County, Florida. The district court granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the basis of qualified immunity. "In support of its decision, the district court concluded that there had been no showing of excessive force when analyzed under the fourth amendment `reasonableness' standard." Id.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that "a reasonable jury could have found that the deputy's conduct constituted excessive force in violation of plaintiffs' fourth amendment rights," and it remanded the case for trial on damages only. Id. The Court of Appeals therefore apparently decided that the deputy was liable merely because the jury could have concluded that he used excessive force. It did not engage in a separate analysis of whether the deputy was entitled to qualified immunity notwithstanding his use of undue force. By implication, then, the Court held that qualified immunity is unavailable in excessive force situations.

The Court need not decide whether Ortega implicitly contradicts Hamm v. Powell because, even assuming arguendo that qualified immunity is available in excessive force situations, the Court concludes that, assuming as true all facts alleged by Plaintiff, it was clearly established in May, 1985 that terminating the freedom of movement of a passenger in a car driven by a non-dangerous misdemeanant, by intentionally ramming into the car at high speed and causing it to crash, constituted an unreasonable seizure, and, in light of this clearly established fourth amendment right, it would have been apparent to a reasonable officer in Defendants' position that Defendants' conduct was unlawful.

B. A Clearly Established Seizure:

In Anderson, supra, the Court explained that the relevant legal rule under which the qualified immunity issue is judged must be fact specific. See id. 107 S.Ct. at 3039 ("the right the official is alleged to have violated must have been `clearly established' in a ... particularized, and hence more relevant, sense: The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right."); Howell v. Evans, 922 F.2d 712 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Anderson). Though a district court should be fact specific when formulating the issue of law and deciding the question of whether a given legal proposition was "clearly established," see McDaniel v. Woodard, 886 F.2d 311, 314 (11th Cir.1989), the exact fact pattern need not have been declared illegal by a federal court. See Anderson, 107 S.Ct. at 3039 ("This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful"); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2820 n. 12, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); Nicholson v. Ga. Dept. of Human Resources, 918 F.2d 145, 147 (11th Cir.1990); Powell v. Lennon, 914 F.2d 1459, 1463 (11th Cir.1990). Although the standard is fact-specific, "it is not one of factual rigidity." Stewart v. Baldwin County Bd. of Ed., 908 F.2d 1499, 1504 (11th Cir.1990); see also Good v. Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth, 891 F.2d 1087, 1092 (3rd Cir.1989) ("Some but not precise factual correspondence to precedent is necessary in order for defendant to be charged with knowledge with regard to the lawfulness of his actions") (quoting People of Three Mile Island v. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners, 747 F.2d 139, 144 (3rd Cir.1984)). Stated another way, though officials need not predict the future course of...

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2 cases
  • Adams v. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Dept., 91-5137
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 15, 1992
    ...The result should be no different simply because defendant Soesbe allegedly used a patrol car as his deadly weapon. Adams v. Lindsey, 759 F.Supp. 795, 799 (S.D.Fla.1991). The deputies were required to relate the established law of Garner to the analogous factual setting in this case. See Pe......
  • Adams v. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Dept., 91-5137
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • August 25, 1993
    ...set out in the dissenting opinion of Judge Edmondson, 962 F.2d at 1573-1579, the district court's order denying summary judgment, 759 F.Supp. 795 (S.D.Fla.1991), is HATCHETT, Circuit Judge, dissenting, in which KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge, joins: In Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11, 105 S.Ct......

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