GRAHAM v. SEQUATCHIE County Gov't, Case No. 1:10-cv-20

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Eastern District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtR. ALLAN EDGAR
PartiesSHAWN GRAHAM and MICHELLE GRAHAM Plaintiffs, v. SEQUATCHIE COUNTY GOVERNMENT, ET AL., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 1:10-cv-20
Decision Date04 April 2011

SHAWN GRAHAM and MICHELLE GRAHAM Plaintiffs,
v.
SEQUATCHIE COUNTY GOVERNMENT, ET AL., Defendants.

Case No. 1:10-cv-20

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
at CHATTANOOGA

Dated: April 4, 2011


Judge Edgar

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Shawn and Michelle Graham were stopped in their automobile on a public highway in Sequatchie County, Tennessee, by federal marshals and officers from the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department and the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department. The officers were searching for fugitive Alvin Johnson ("Johnson") who only a very short time before had eluded arrest and escaped from the officers. The initial stop of the plaintiffs was a valid Terry investigative stop. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 (1968). Plaintiffs were removed from their automobile, handcuffed, frisked for weapons, and questioned by officers. To make certain that fugitive Johnson was not hiding inside the plaintiffs' automobile, the officers conducted a quick search of the passenger compartment and trunk. The officers did not find any weapons or other evidence of criminal activity. Shawn and Michelle Graham were not formally arrested and charged with committing any criminal offenses. There was no probable cause to arrest them.

At the conclusion of the Terry investigative stop, federal marshals requested or directed

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Sequatchie County Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock to detain Shawn and Michelle Graham for further questioning. The investigative stop ripened into a de facto arrest under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Shawn and Michelle Graham were transported in handcuffs to the Sequatchie County jail where they were detained for approximately four hours. During the process of being admitted into the jail, Shawn and Michelle Graham were required to submit to visual strip searches for weapons, drugs, and other contraband. After the strip searches they were placed in separate prisoner holding cells. Shawn and Michelle Graham were not questioned at the jail, and they were released after fugitive Johnson was captured.

Plaintiffs bring this federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U. S. C. § 1983 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U. S. 388 (1971). They invoke the Court's subject matterjurisdiction over their federal claims pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 1367 the plaintiffs invoke this Court's supplemental jurisdiction over related Tennessee state law claims.

The following defendants are named in the complaint: Sequatchie County; Ronnie Hitchcock in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Sheriff of Sequatchie County; Brandon Austin, Stacy White, and Willie Brewer in their individual capacities and official capacities as deputy sheriffs employed by the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department; Van Buren County; Mark Evans, Donnie Evans, and Chad Martin in their individual capacities and official capacities as deputy sheriffs employed by the Van Buren County Sheriffs Department; and United States Deputy Marshals Jason Ladd and Jim Roberson solely in their individual capacities. The Court previously dismissed all of the plaintiffs' claims against defendants Ladd and Roberson without prejudice pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). [Court Doc. No. 44]. The only remaining defendants are

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Sequatchie County, Ronnie Hitchcock, Brandon Austin, Stacy White, Willie Brewer, Van Buren County, Mark Evans, Donnie Evans, and Chad Martin.

Official capacity-suits are merely another way of pleading an action against the governmental entity of which the defendant is an official or employee. By bringing suit against Ronnie Hitchcock, Brandon Austin, Stacy White, and Willie Brewer in their official capacities, the plaintiffs are suing Sequatchie County. By bringing suit against Mark Evans, Donnie Evans, and Chad Martin in their official capacities, the plaintiffs are suing Van Buren County. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U. S. 21, 23-25 (1991); Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U. S. 58, 68 (1989); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U. S. 159, 165 (1985); Gean v. Hattaway, 330 F. 3d 758, 765-66 (6th Cir. 2003).

Defendants Sequatchie County, Ronnie Hitchcock, Brandon Austin, Stacy White, and Willie Brewer move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. [Court Doc. No. 33]. Defendants Van Buren County, Mark Evans, Donnie Evans, and Chad Martin have made a similar motion for summary judgment. [Court Doc. No. 31].

Plaintiffs concede that all claims against Willie Brewer, Mark Evans, and Donnie Evans in their individual and official capacities should be dismissed. [Court Doc. No. 40]. The Court will grant the motions for summary judgment by Willie Brewer, Mark Evans, and Donnie Evans. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 all of the plaintiffs' claims against Willie Brewer, Mark Evans, and Donnie Evans in their individual and official capacities shall be dismissed with prejudice. As a result, the plaintiffs' claims against Sequatchie County are predicated on the actions of Ronnie Hitchcock, Brandon Austin, and Stacy White. The plaintiffs' claims against Van Buren County are predicated on the actions of Chad Martin.

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I. Standard of Review: Fed. R. Civ. P. 56

Summary judgment is proper if there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a mater of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk Western Railroad, Inc., 509 F. 3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007); Talley v. Bravo Pitino Restaurant, Ltd., 61 F. 3d 1241, 1245 (6th Cir. 1995). The "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U. S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original); accord Lovelace v. BP Products North America, Inc., 252 Fed. Appx. 33, 39 (6th Cir. 2007); Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245. Material facts are only those facts that might affect the outcome of the action under the governing substantive law. The applicable substantive law will identify and determine which facts are material. Anderson, 477 at 248; Lovelace, 252 Fed. Appx. at 39; Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245.

Defendants bear the initial burden of demonstrating there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. Defendants may satisfy this initial burden either by presenting affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of a plaintiff's claim, or by demonstrating the absence of evidence to support a claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U. S. 317, 323, 325 (1986); Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F. 3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003); Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245.

Once the defendants meet this initial burden, the plaintiffs are not entitled to a trial on the basis of mere allegations. To defeat a summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs are required to come forward with probative proof to support their claims and show that a trial is necessary to resolve a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. Celotex Corp., 477 U. S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U. S. at 249;

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Van Gorder, 509 F. 3d at 268; Rodgers, 344 F. 3d at 595. A scintilla of evidence is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. There must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find in the plaintiffs' favor. Anderson, 477 U. S. at 252; Van Gorder, 509 F. 3d at 268; McLean v. Ontario, Ltd., 224 F. 3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000); Hartsell v. Keys, 87 F. 3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996); Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245; Mitchell v. Toledo Hospital, 964 F. 2d 577, 581-82 (6th Cir. 1992).

Summary judgment is appropriate "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. " Celotex Corp., 477 U. S. at 322-23. Because the plaintiffs bear the burden of proving their claims at trial, the plaintiffs must present probative facts and admissible evidence showing there is a genuine issue of fact for a jury to decide at trial as to each element of their claims. Id.; Van Gorder, 509 F. 3d at 268; Collyer v. Darling, 98 F. 3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996); Hartsell, 87 F. 3d at 799.

The Court's role at the summary judgment stage is to determine whether the record contains sufficient facts and admissible evidence from which a jury could reasonably find in favor of the plaintiffs. Anderson, 477 U. S. at 248; Rodgers, 344 F. 3d at 595; National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F. 3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001); Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245. The Court views the facts in the record and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U. S. 574, 587 (1986); Van Gorder, 509 F. 3d at 268; National Satellite Sports, 253 F. 3d at 907. The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of matters reasonably in dispute. Anderson, 477 U. S. at 249; Talley, 61 F. 3d at 1245.

II. Facts

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A. Stakeout at Savage Gulf Market and Escape of Fugitive Alvin Johnson

On the night of January 28 and the early morning hours of January 29, 2009, federal marshals Ladd and Roberson, and officers from Sequatchie County and Van Buren County, gathered for a stakeout at the Savage Gulf Market on Highway 111 in Sequatchie County to apprehend fugitive Alvin Johnson who had outstanding warrants for his arrest in Alabama. The stakeout was part of an investigation into a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The federal marshals were in charge of the stakeout. The cooperating officers from Sequatchie County and Van Buren County Sheriff's Department worked under the direction or supervision of the federal marshals.

Prior to commencing the stakeout, the officers met at the Sequatchie County Justice Center for a briefing led by the federal marshals who...

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