Buress v. City of Miami

Docket NumberCivil Action 20-23078-Civ-Scola
Decision Date30 August 2023
PartiesHannibal Buress, Plaintiff, v. City of Miami, and others, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida


Hannibal Buress, Plaintiff,

City of Miami, and others, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 20-23078-Civ-Scola

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 30, 2023



This matter is before the Court on the motions for summary judgment filed by Defendant Officers Luis Verne and Elio Villegas (Def. Officers' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 121) and by the Defendant City of Miami. (Def. City's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 124.) Plaintiff Hannibal Buress has responded in opposition to both motions. (Resp. to Officers' Mot., ECF No. 138; Resp. to City's Mot., ECF No. 141.) All Defendants have replied in support of their motions. (Def. Officers' Reply, ECF No. 147; Def. City's Reply, ECF No. 145.) After careful consideration of the briefing, the record, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court denies the Defendant officers' motion for summary judgment with respect to Officer Verne (Counts 1, 2, 5, 6) and grants the Defendant officers' motion for summary judgment with respect to Officer Villegas (Count 3). The Court denies the Defendant City of Miami's motion for summary judgment (Count 4). (ECF Nos. 121, 124.)

1. Background

Plaintiff Hannibal Buress, well-known stand-up comedian, brings this case against Miami Police Department Officers Luis Verne and Elio Villegas, and against the City of Miami itself, for violations of his civil rights under both federal and Florida law. Based on his arrest on the night of December 9, 2017, in Miami, Buress brings four claims against Officer Verne: two violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for false arrest (Count 1) and retaliatory arrest (Count 2), and two state common-law claims for malicious prosecution (Count 5) and false arrest (Count 6). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 62-73, 88-102, ECF No. 26.) He also brings one claim for violation of Section 1983 for failure to intervene against Officer Villegas (Count 3), and one claim against the City of Miami itself (Count 4) for an unlawful policy or procedure that allowed the violations of his civil rights under Section 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 74-87.)


On December 9, 2017, Officers Verne and Villegas were assigned to patrol the Wynwood area of Miami. (Def. Officers' Statement of Material Facts (“Officers' SOMF”) ¶ 5, ECF No. 120; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 5, ECF No. 137.) Buress was visiting the area for the Art Basel festival, and he spent “substantial time” at Gramps Bar in Wynwood, where he “had drinks.” (Officers' SOMF ¶ 8; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 8.) While the parties disagree about some of the specifics, it is undisputed that Buress arrived at the bar sometime in the afternoon and consumed some amount of alcohol during his “substantial time” there. (Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 8-9; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 8-9.) Buress eventually left the bar after his phone died, seeking a ride back to his hotel. He walked toward Officer Verne's post at the corner of N.W. 2nd Avenue and N.W. 20th Terrace. (Officers' SOMF ¶ 10; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 10.) While the parties again dispute some of the finer details of the initial interaction, both agree that once Buress walked up to Officer Verne, Buress asked Verne to “call me an Uber and I'll give you $20.” (Officers' SOMF ¶ 12; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 12; Def. Officers' Reply SOMF ¶ 12, ECF No. 146.) Officer Verne refused, instead pointing Buress to a location on North Miami Avenue where he could find a taxi. (Officers' SOMF ¶ 14; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 14.)

The parties' accounts now begin to diverge more significantly. The Defendant officers state that Buress became belligerent and began screaming profanities at Officer Verne. (Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 15-17.) Buress states that he “saw Verne kissing a woman who came out of a bar” and began using “joking and lighthearted” profanity with Officer Verne about his kissing the woman while refusing to call Buress an Uber. (Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 15-17.) Regardless, all parties agree that Buress and Officer Verne had a “back-and-forth” before Buress walked away and into a bar. Officer Verne followed Buress into the bar and told him to leave; Buress complied, although the parties dispute how quickly he did so. (Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 18-20; Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 18-20; Def. Officers' Reply SOMF ¶¶ 18-20.) At this point, Officer Verne states that Buress was “belligerent” and “visibly drunk,” and that he “could barely walk.” (Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 17, 19.) Buress, in turn, asserts that he was neither belligerent nor unable to walk. (Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 17, 19.) Buress does not challenge Officer Verne's perception that he was “visibly drunk,” and, in fact, Buress agrees that Officer Verne “thought [the] Plaintiff was drunk.” (Id. ¶ 19.)

At this point, as Buress left the bar with Officer Verne following him, Verne decided to turn on his body-worn camera. (Officers' SOMF ¶ 21; Pl.'s


Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶ 21.)[1] At the point where the body-worn camera picks up, Officer Verne and Buress stand outside while Buress animatedly speaks to Verne from several feet away. Buress looks into the camera and says “Hey, what's up, I'm Hannibal Buress, this cop is stupid as fuck” (Verne BWC at 00:46). Officer Verne then says, “get out of here” and then immediately tells the Plaintiff to put his hands behind his back. (Verne BWC at 00:53-00:58.) The Plaintiff immediately begins asking why he is under arrest and Officer Verne does not provide a justification. (Verne BWC at 00:58-01:15.) Three people walk by, calling the Plaintiff “Hans” and beginning to record the scene on their phones. (Verne BWC at 01:15-01:50.) The Plaintiff continues to ask Officer Verne why he was under arrest, but also allows himself to be handcuffed and stands still without requiring restraint. (Pl.'s Resp. to Officers' SOMF ¶¶ 27, 56, 57.) Officer Villegas arrives about one minute later and assists Officer Verne with moving the Plaintiff to the squad car while the Plaintiff continues to inquire about the reason for his arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 56-59.)

2. Legal Standards

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “summary judgment is appropriate where there ‘is no genuine issue as to any material fact' and the moving party is ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Alabama v. North Carolina, 130 S.Ct. 2295, 2308 (2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “The moving party bears the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial . . . [o]nly when that burden has been met does the burden shift to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Rule 56(c) “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1984) (stating “[w]hen the moving party has carried its


burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”).

The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and summary judgment is inappropriate where a genuine issue material fact remains. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970). “An issue of fact is ‘material' if, under the applicable substantive law, it might affect the outcome of the case.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259-60 (11th Cir.2004). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 1260. A court may not weigh conflicting evidence to resolve disputed factual issues; if a genuine dispute is found, summary judgment must be denied. Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007). Where video evidence is in the record, a court can only use the recording to “disregard the non-moving party's version of events” if it “so utterly discredits” the party's story “that no reasonable jury could have believed” that party. Brooks v. Miller, No. 21-10590, 2023 WL 5355022, *6 (11th Cir. Aug. 22, 2023) (quoting Scott, 550 U.S. at 380).

3. Analysis

The Court addresses each Defendant's arguments in turn. The Defendant Officers Verne and Villegas argue in their motion for summary judgment that Claims 1-3, 5, and 6 should be dismissed for the following reasons: Claims and 2, which allege First and Fourth Amendment violations under Section 1983 against Officer Verne, are barred by qualified immunity (Def. Officers' Mot. Summ. J. at 6-15, 17-20); Claims 5 and 6 which allege state-law malicious prosecution and false arrest claims against Officer Verne, are barred by Florida's sovereign immunity statute (id. at 21); and even if not barred by sovereign immunity, Claim 5's malicious prosecution allegation is not supported by the evidence (id. at 20-21); and Claim 3, which alleges a Fourth Amendment violation under Section 1983 for failure to intervene with a false arrest against Officer Villegas, is barred by qualified immunity. (Id. at 15-17.) The Court agrees regarding Officer Villegas and therefore grants the Officers' motion with respect to Claim 3 but disagrees...

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