Courson v. McMillian

Decision Date30 August 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-3400,90-3400
Citation939 F.2d 1479
PartiesSharon COURSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Quinn A. McMILLIAN, individually and as Sheriff of Walton County, a political subdivision of the State of Florida, Defendant, Jim Roy, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Keith C. Tischler, Powers, Quaschnick & Tischler, Tallahassee, Fla., for defendant-appellant.

Woodburn S. Wesley, Jr., E. Hoyt Walston, Shalimar, Fla., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before COX and BIRCH, Circuit Judges, and GIBSON *, Senior Circuit Judge.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

This interlocutory appeal addresses the qualified immunity status of a deputy sheriff relative to a passenger in a vehicle, which was stopped, and the other occupants were arrested. The passenger contends that her constitutional rights were violated during her detention by the officer pursuant to the stop of the vehicle, and as a result of her roadside abandonment. The district court denied the officer's summary judgment motion regarding his claim of qualified immunity, but granted him summary judgment on the state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Although we affirm summary judgment granted to the officer on the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, we reverse and remand the denial of summary judgment on the officer's claim of qualified immunity for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


On the night of May 12, 1985, plaintiff-appellee Sharon Courson and two male companions were "four wheeling" in an all-terrain vehicle on a Walton County, Florida beach. 1 When they were ready to leave the beach, Courson, who did not drink any alcoholic beverage, was concerned that her two male companions had consumed a sufficient amount of beer to inhibit their driving ability. Nevertheless, one of the males drove west from the beach on U.S. Highway 98 at approximately 10:00 P.M.; Courson rode as a passenger.

Their vehicle passed defendant-appellant Lieutenant Jim Roy, a deputy sheriff for Walton County, in a no passing area at a speed between 60 and 80 miles per hour in a 45 or 55 miles per hour zone. Roy, who had been conducting surveillance of marijuana fields, had noticed that evening a dark, four-wheel drive vehicle, similar to the one that passed him and contained Courson and her companions, in the vicinity of the cultivated marijuana fields. He activated his siren and flashing blue light, and pursued the vehicle. Courson, seated in the front seat between the two males, became aware of Roy's presence as soon as he activated his flashing blue light.

Subsequently, the vehicle stopped on the side of the paved surface of the highway at a condominium construction site, located between two developments. One of the developments was townhouse rental property. The other, which had a guard house at the entrance to the property, was a resort with units available for rent and sale.

Roy stopped his patrol car behind the vehicle and, in a loud voice, requested the occupants to exit. When none of the occupants exited the vehicle, Roy reiterated his instruction. Thereafter, the male driver only left the vehicle. After Roy again repeated his order that all occupants exit, Courson and the other male exited. 2

Roy observed that each of the three individuals had difficulty getting out of the vehicle. As Courson and her male companions approached, Roy, who was alone, withdrew a shotgun from his patrol car. One of the males became and continued to be verbally abusive and belligerent; 3 he also challenged Roy's authority to conduct the stop and investigation. Roy immediately requested the assistance of backup units. Because he was outnumbered and uncertain whether the three apprehended individuals were involved in criminal activity, Roy instructed them to lie face down on the ground. 4 He continued to hold his shotgun toward the three detainees while he awaited backup assistance. 5

Subsequently, a Florida highway patrolman arrived. Roy gave his shotgun to the patrolman to guard Courson and her male companions while he searched their vehicle by shining a flashlight into the interior. Thereafter, four Walton County deputy sheriffs arrived at the scene. In addition to Roy's patrol car, Courson's best recollection was that there were two or three patrol cars transporting the backup officers.

Both of the males were arrested, hand-cuffed, and taken to the Walton County sheriff's department for booking in separate patrol cars. The male driver was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and with fleeing and attempting to elude a law enforcement officer. The other male, who physically resisted arrest and injured one of the officers, was charged with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly intoxication, obstruction of justice, assault on law enforcement officers, and battery on a police officer. The lawfulness of these arrests has not been challenged by Courson or her arrested companions.

During the investigation and arrest of male companions, Courson was kept on the ground until both males were taken into custody. Including the wait for backup assistance with her companions, the total time that Courson remained on the ground was approximately thirty minutes; little traffic passed on the highway during that period. She was not directly interrogated, searched, touched, harmed in any way, or charged with any crime. 6

After Courson's male companions had been taken to the station for booking, Courson was told that she was free to go. Roy put his shotgun away. The officers assisted Courson in searching for her car keys, which she said were left in the vehicle in which the three individuals had been riding. The keys were not found, and the vehicle was towed away. Courson did not ask Roy or another officer to take her anywhere. 7 She walked a short distance to the guard house at the adjacent resort and called a friend, who came to take her home, at which she arrived at approximately midnight. 8

Courson lost no time from work as a result of this incident. 9 She testified that she was not physically injured during her detention by Roy, that she suffered no physical consequences, and that she had no medical treatment and received no medication for any condition resulting from this incident. 10 Courson's only residual effect from the experience is her claimed mistrust of police officers. 11

Courson initiated this action in the Walton County, Florida circuit court. Her four-count complaint alleged violation of her Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights resulting from her detention, including excessive force, and abandonment as well as related state tort claims. Quinn A. McMillian, Sheriff of Walton County, originally was a defendant for allegedly allowing a policy of conduct by his officers permitting Roy's actions, and the sheriff's failure to supervise his deputies. Defendants McMillian and Roy removed the case to federal district court for the Northern District of Florida. Pursuant to defendants' motion to dismiss, the district court dismissed the complaint as to Sheriff McMillian in his individual and official capacities.

The remaining claims against Roy in his individual capacity were: a 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 claim for unlawful arrest and detention and for the use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; a Fourteenth Amendment claim for recklessly placing Courson in danger when Roy abandoned her at the scene; and Florida claims for false arrest and imprisonment, 12 assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Roy moved for summary judgment on the merits and on the basis of his entitlement to qualified immunity. Concluding that Roy's conduct was not outrageous as defined by the Florida Supreme Court, the district court granted Roy summary judgment on Courson's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. 13 Without analyzing the governing law specifically regarding seizure, unreasonable force and abandonment in May, 1985, the district court denied Roy summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and on all other claims. Roy appeals the district court's denying him qualified immunity.

A. Jurisdiction

"[A] district court's denial of qualified immunity is immediately appealable." Hudgins v. City of Ashburn, 890 F.2d 396, 402 (11th Cir.1989). The purpose for this exception to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291, whereby we review final decisions of district courts, is to protect public officials entitled to qualified immunity from suit. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2815, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); Hutton v. Strickland, 919 F.2d 1531, 1536 (11th Cir.1990). This entitlement to qualified immunity obviously would be lost if the case proceeded to trial erroneously. Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 526, 105 S.Ct. at 2815; Hutton, 919 F.2d at 1536.

Qualified immunity shields government officials executing discretionary responsibilities from civil damages "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982) (emphasis added). Therefore, qualified immunity "turns on an issue of law," and our review is de novo. Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 530, 105 S.Ct. at 2817; Hutton, 919 F.2d at 1536; Hudgins, 890 F.2d at 403. Procedurally, qualified immunity must be pled by the defendant official as an affirmative defense. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815, 102 S.Ct. at 2736; Hutton, 919 F.2d at 1536.

In this case, Roy pled qualified immunity as an affirmative defense. The legal issue for our determination is whether in May, 1985, it was unconstitutional for a law enforcement officer to detain a passenger of a vehicle, stopped for exceeding the lawful speed...

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