Gibbons v. McBride

Decision Date21 August 2015
Docket NumberCV 114–056
Citation124 F.Supp.3d 1342
Parties Frederick Gibbons, Plaintiff, v. William McBride, individually and in his capacity as Director with the GRU Department of Public Safety, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia

John Paul Batson, John P. Batson, Attorney at Law, Victor Hawk, Victor Hawk, PC, Augusta, GA, for Plaintiff.

Susan L. Rutherford, Dept. of Law, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants.

ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

In this action, Plaintiff Frederick Gibbons asserts claims against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and seven named officers of the Georgia Regents University ("GRU") Police Bureau, among others unnamed, for deprivation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as violations of various state laws, when Officer Wesley Martin tased him five times during a traffic stop for an alleged tag violation. In lieu of answering Mr. Gibbons' Amended Complaint (Doc. 40), Defendants move for partial dismissal on multiple grounds, including various immunities, failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"), and failure to state claims upon which the Court can grant relief. For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 42.)

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

Mr. Gibbons, an African–American male, owns and operates two small businesses in Augusta, Georgia—a used car dealership and the café-lounge Soultry Sounds. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 20, 22, 49.) The instant suit arises out of two incidents with the GRU Police Bureau. The Court summarizes each in turn.

1. September 23, 2010 Traffic Stop

In the early hours of September 23, 2010, Mr. Gibbons closed down Soultry Sounds, collected the night's receipts, and left downtown Augusta in a vehicle with a Dollar Down Auto Sales ("Dollar Down") dealer tag to drive to his house in southern Richmond County, Georgia. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21, 23.) While driving on Wrightsboro Road past the Medical College of Georgia,1 Officer Martin stopped Mr. Gibbons because of an alleged problem with his paper dealer tag. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 27, 28.) In response, Mr. Gibbons advised Officer Martin that the tag was valid and showed him the proper insurance verification and identification. (Id. ¶¶ 28–29.) Officer Martin then decided to ticket Mr. Gibbons for driving an unregistered vehicle, but requested that another officer, Jonathan Bennett, sign the citation. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.) Mr. Gibbons objected, requesting that Officer Martin sign the citation because Officer Martin made the stop and he wanted to be able to identify Officer. Martin in the future. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 33.) Officer Martin refused to sign the citation and, in turn, Mr. Gibbons also refused. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34.) Mr. Gibbons then changed his mind, but Officer Martin and another officer, Zachary Skinner, refused to allow him to sign the ticket. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.) After "snatch[ing]" Mr. Gibbons' cell phone, "Defendants" put cuffs on Mr. Gibbons so tightly that his wrists began to bleed. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 36.)

Four days later, on September 27, 2010, Mr. Gibbons filed an internal affairs complaint against Officers Martin, Skinner, and Bennett about being stopped for a valid dealer tag. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 38.) William McBride, Chief of Police for the GRU Police Bureau and Director of Public Safety at GRU, appointed Kymyatta Turner, a Police Operations Specialist ("POS"), to conduct an investigation into the September 23, 2010 incident. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 14, 39.) According to Mr. Gibbons, POS Turner had no prior training or experience in internal affairs investigations. (Id. ¶ 40.) POS Turner's investigation concluded that Officer Martin "did not break the law, violate any policies of correct police conduct, or otherwise breach any duties to Gibbons in his acts, or failures to act, as to Gibbons." (Id. ¶ 43.) POS Turner passed on her findings to Chief McBride, and Chief McBride took no action to sanction or punish Officer Martin for his conduct during the September 2010 stop. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 45.)

On December 1, 2010, the Augusta–Richmond County Solicitor General dismissed the citation issued to Mr. Gibbons as a result of the September 2010 stop. (Id. ¶ 46.)

2. March 1, 2012 Traffic Stop

In the early hours of March 1, 2012, Mr. Gibbons closed down Soultry Sounds, collected the night's receipts and cash, and left downtown Augusta to drive home in a vehicle with a dealer tag listing Soultry Sounds. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 50.) While driving on Wrightsboro Road at around 3:00 AM past the Medical College of Georgia, Officer Martin stopped Mr. Gibbons because "[he] saw the paper dealer tag." (Id. ¶¶ 51–53, 64.) Officer Martin directed Mr. Gibbons to turn onto a dark side road. (Id. ¶ 64.) Once Officer Martin stepped out of his patrol car, Mr. Gibbons recognized him. (Id. ¶¶ 65, 66.) As Officer Martin approached his car, Mr. Gibbons rolled down his window "a couple inches," asked if they could proceed to a well-lit convenience store nearby, and upon Officer Martin's refusal, called 911 to request assistance "because he had been pulled over [for] a paper dealer tag" and "had trouble with [Officer Martin] before." (Id. ¶¶ 68–70.) Officer Martin saw Mr. Gibbons through the window, recognized him from the September 2010 stop, and heard him requesting emergency assistance. (Id. ¶¶ 67, 71.) Officer Martin began to yell, repeatedly demanding that Mr. Gibbons get out of the car and open the door. (Id. ¶¶ 72, 73.) Officer Martin then announced Mr. Gibbons was under arrest for obstruction, reached inside the cracked driver's side window, and tased Mr. Gibbons five times in rapid succession, thereby delivering 50,000 volts. (Id. ¶¶ 76, 77, 95, 96, 98.) Officer Martin did not give Mr. Gibbons a warning before deploying the taser as required by policy. (Id. ¶ 106.) Mr. Gibbons remained on the phone with 911 during at least the first trigger pull. (Id. ¶ 79.) Eventually the taser wires disintegrated, stopping transmission of the current. (Id. ¶ 99.) The electrodes burned Mr. Gibbons, which resulted in a trip to the hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 78, 97.) During that trip, Officer Martin "taunted" Mr. Gibbons and "talked about how the officers could keep the cash from his business" that was in his car. (Id. ¶ 78.) Mr. Gibbons later was arrested and jailed. (Id. )

The second internal investigation into Officer Martin's conduct, again carried out by POS Turner, and Mr. Gibbons' subsequent criminal trial on the obstruction charge revealed that Officer Martin lied on an official form about Mr. Gibbons' alleged failure to engage him in dialogue during the March 2012 stop. (Id. ¶ 107.) According to Mr. Gibbons, Officer Martin also "perjured himself while trying to justify his stop by telling the jury Gibbons had no paper tag at all." (Id. ¶ 136.) Officer Martin further explained "that he pulled the trigger of the taser the first time because Mr. Gibbons was non-compliant, and the second time was to frighten Mr. Gibbons into rolling the window down." (Id. ¶ 104.) This explanation is consistent with the fact that Officer Martin did not identify any safety threats or concerns in his police report following the incident. (Id. ¶ 80.) At the same time, GRU Police Bureau policy forbids using a taser to coerce. (Id. ¶ 105.) Officer Martin contended that the final three pulls of the taser trigger "were inadvertent and caused by his hand being stuck in the window." (Id. ¶ 109.) Mr. Gibbons further alleges that another officer, Brian Jackson, likewise perjured himself when he told the jury that Mr. Gibbons "had shot Martin the bird right before the 2012 traffic stop" and had no tag on his car. (Id. ¶¶ 139, 140.)

POS Turner again found nothing wrong with Officer Martin's actions and Chief McBride "ratified Turner's finding about Martin not committing any policy violations and his triple inadvertent trigger pulls." (Id. ¶¶ 108, 118.)

On July 11, 2013, a Richmond County Superior Court jury acquitted Mr. Gibbons of obstruction. (Id. ¶ 135.)

B. Procedural Background

On February 28, 2014—only two days prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations on claims arising out the March 2012 arrest—Mr. Gibbons filed this § 1983 action against Defendants. In lieu of answering Mr. Gibbons' 31–page, 272–paragraph Complaint, Defendants moved on July 3, 2014 for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), or in the alternative for partial dismissal. (Doc. 12.) In that motion, Defendants identified a laundry list of pleading deficiencies, including that each of Mr. Gibbons' thirteen claims fully incorporated every paragraph that preceded it, and some counts in fact double incorporated the preceding facts and other claims; Mr. Gibbons referred to Defendants collectively, and certain individual Defendants were referenced only in the paragraphs purporting to set forth the underlying facts; and Mr. Gibbons did not consistently designate the constitutional or statutory source of his claims, or if designated, he did not clarify which Defendants were named under that claim. (Doc. 38 at 6–7.) Shortly thereafter, Defendants sought, and the United States Magistrate Judge granted, a stay of discovery pending resolution of Defendants' dispositive motion. (Doc. 27.)

Mr. Gibbons and Defendants then agreed to extensions of the briefing schedule for Defendants' Rule 12(e) motion. (Docs. 18, 22.) During the course of briefing, Mr. Gibbons additionally filed a "Motion to Address Conflict of Interests" (Doc. 23), in which he urged that "Defendants should either have different attorneys or should waive their rights to assert their individual and contrary defenses on the record" (Doc. 23–1 at 6). He also filed an objection to the Magistrate Judge's order granting the stay of discovery even though he failed to oppose that motion at the appropriate time. (Doc. 34.) All these motions finally ripened for the Court's...

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