Hoyt v. Cooks, No. 11–10771.

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
Writing for the CourtANDERSON
PartiesMartha HOYT, Individually, and as Administrator of the Estate of James Christopher Allen, James Allen, Plaintiffs–Appellees, v. Bernard COOKS, In his individual capacity, Randy T. Harkleroad, In his individual capacity, Defendants–Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 11–10771.
Decision Date27 February 2012

23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 801
672 F.3d 972

Martha HOYT, Individually, and as Administrator of the Estate of James Christopher Allen, James Allen, Plaintiffs–Appellees,
v.
Bernard COOKS, In his individual capacity, Randy T. Harkleroad, In his individual capacity, Defendants–Appellants.

No. 11–10771.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Feb. 27, 2012.


[672 F.3d 974]

Wilson R. Smith, Smith & Jenkins, PC, Vidalia, GA, Joseph Dennis McGovern, Dubberly & McGovern, Glennville, GA, George Brian Spears, G. Brian Spears, PC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs–Appellees.

Terry L. Readdick, Richard Strickland, Steven G. Blackerby, Brown, Readdick, Bumgartner, Carter, Strickland & Watkins, LLP, Brunswick, GA, for Defendants–Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.Before EDMONDSON and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and EDENFIELD, * District Judge.ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

In May 2007, Bacon County Deputy Bernard Cooks and Alma Police Officer Randy Harkleroad repeatedly used their Tasers in an attempt to subdue and arrest a struggling James Christopher Allen (“Allen”), who died shortly thereafter while being transported to jail. In May 2009, Martha Hoyt and James Allen (“Plaintiffs”) brought suit individually and on behalf of Allen's estate. Plaintiffs sued Bacon County, Georgia; Bacon County Sheriff Richard Foskey; the city of Alma, Georgia; Alma Police Chief Tom Taggart; Cooks; and Harkleroad (collectively, “Defendants”). The claims included excessive force, denial of medical care, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, assault, battery, negligence, and wrongful death.

After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to Defendants on many of the claims. The only claims that survived summary judgment were Plaintiffs' excessive force, assault, and battery claims against Cooks and Harkleroad; and negligence and wrongful death claims against Harkleroad. On the excessive force action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the district court denied qualified immunity to Cooks and Harkleroad. On the state law actions, the district court denied official immunity under Georgia law. Cooks and Harkleroad have filed an interlocutory appeal to this Court.

I. FACTS1

At around 2:02 a.m. on May 9, 2007, Cooks was driving his patrol car in Alma,

[672 F.3d 975]

Georgia, when he received word from dispatch that Allen had called 911 three times from his residence. Allen told the dispatcher that he was being sewn up in a suit and that demons were trying to get him.

At around 2:16 a.m., Cooks arrived at Allen's residence, drove up the driveway, and rolled down his car's front driver-side window. While screaming that demons were trying to get him, Allen ran out of the house towards the patrol car and yelled that Cooks was a demon who needed to be killed. Allen then lunged into Cooks's patrol car through the open window and grabbed at Cooks's shirt. Cooks pushed Allen away and moved the patrol car forward to dislodge him.

Cooks exited his patrol car and asked Allen what he was doing. Allen repeated that demons were trying to get him and that Cooks was a demon. Cooks unholstered his model X26 Taser. Allen began crawling towards Cooks, who retreated to his patrol car and called for assistance at around 2:17 a.m. Allen continued to crawl towards Cooks, who told Allen to lie down and be still. Allen obeyed and lay down.

While waiting for backup to arrive, Cooks had his Taser drawn and made no effort to arrest Allen, who would occasionally try to get up but would lie down again when Cooks ordered him to do so. Harkleroad, who had been deputized to assist Bacon County sheriffs, arrived as back-up at around 2:27 a.m. At that point, Cooks holstered his Taser, which had not yet been activated, and told Harkleroad that Allen needed to be handcuffed and taken to jail.

Cooks repeatedly ordered Allen, who was still lying on the ground, to place his hands behind his back. However, Allen would place just his one hand behind his back while keeping the other hand outstretched. Harkleroad got on his knees and tried to grab Allen's arms, but Allen continued to resist and would not allow both arms to be put behind his back.

Due to the difficulty in trying to handcuff Allen, Cooks unholstered his Taser, shot a set of flying probes into Allen's lower back, and discharged the device.2 The officers again ordered Allen to put both arms behind his back, but he still kept his arms outstretched, refusing to let the officers handcuff him.3 Cooks then used the Taser against Allen's leg in “dry stun mode,”4 where the device was pressed directly against Allen's skin to produce a burning sensation. Both officers were on

[672 F.3d 976]

their knees during their attempts to handcuff Allen, but he continued to roll around on the ground and refused to let the officers grab his arms and handcuff them. After several dry stuns, the officers were able to get handcuffs on one of Allen's hands but were unable to handcuff both hands.

Allen continued to struggle and to ignore the officers' commands. Unable to get Allen to comply, Cooks again used his Taser in dry stun mode on Allen's leg. As Cooks tried to complete the handcuffing, Harkleroad unholstered his model M26 Taser and applied several additional dry stuns to Allen. During the entire sequence, the officers repeatedly ordered Allen to put his arms behind his back and tried to complete the arrest. Cooks and Harkleroad decided that their stuns were not having the desired effect, and the officers ceased using the Tasers. Cooks was then able to get Allen's other hand handcuffed by physical force.

Allen asked why he was handcuffed, to which Cooks responded that Allen was under arrest for felony obstruction. Allen stated that he did not want to go to jail. He refused to walk, so Cooks and Harkleroad carried him to Cooks's car. The officers searched Allen and found no weapons or drugs. Allen was placed in the back seat of Cooks's patrol car, and Cooks secured Allen's residence.

With Harkleroad following in his own patrol car, Cooks and Allen departed the scene en route to the Bacon County Sheriff's Office at around 2:41 a.m. During the trip, Allen asked how much longer until they arrived, to which Cooks replied that it would be a few more minutes. Upon arrival at the Sheriff's Office, Allen did not respond when Cooks tried to rouse him. Harkleroad retrieved ammonia capsules from a nearby EMT, but these also had no effect. Cooks pulled Allen from the car and found no pulse. CPR was performed, and Allen was then placed in an ambulance and taken to Bacon County Hospital, but he was pronounced dead upon arrival. The cause of death was listed as “cocaine-induced excited delirium in a background of coronary atherosclerotic disease.”

Cooks said that he had stunned Allen once with the probes and two times in dry stun mode, although his Taser data download showed that the device had been activated twelve times. Harkleroad said that he had stunned Allen three times in dry stun mode, but his Taser's data download showed that it had been activated six times. The record shows that an “activation” of the Taser does not mean that the Taser actually touched or stunned Allen. In any event, the more significant fact is that Allen was tased only once in the prong mode, and that all subsequent tasings were in the dry stun mode.5

Cooks stated that Allen had drug problems for the last twelve or thirteen years. Cooks had been called to Allen's residence eight or nine times in the past, usually in the early morning hours when Allen would call 911 and say that he was seeing demons or was being assaulted. During past encounters, Allen had been verbally aggressive towards Cooks but had never been physically aggressive.

II. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

Plaintiffs claim that Cooks and Harkleroad violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by using excessive force in their attempt to arrest Allen. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1197 (11th Cir.2002).

[672 F.3d 977]

Cooks and Harkleroad argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

We have jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal because the case “presents the ‘core qualified immunity’ analysis of whether the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, establish that [Cooks and Harkleroad] violated [Allen's] constitutional rights.” Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1253 n. 18 (11th Cir.2010). We review de novo a district court's resolution of qualified immunity on summary judgment, taking all facts in the light most favorable to the non-movants. Lee, 284 F.3d at 1190.

“Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities as long as their conduct violates no clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. at 1193–94 (quotations omitted). Qualified immunity is intended to “allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation, protecting from suit all but the plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law.” Id. at 1194 (quotations and citations omitted).

Cooks and Harkleroad must first establish that they were performing discretionary acts, which is undisputed here. Id. The court must then grant qualified immunity unless the facts taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs show (1) that there was a violation of the Constitution and (2) that the illegality of Cooks's and Harkleroad's actions was clearly established at the time of the incident. Id.

The Supreme Court has stated that we have discretion in deciding which of those two prongs to address first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Because we find that the illegality of Cooks's and Harkleroad's behavior was not clearly established at the time, we need not decide whether there was a constitutional violation. I...

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  • Nelson v. Lott, Civil Action No. 5:18-CV-0059-CLS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • July 24, 2018
    ...clearly established law, because the man had "acted erratically, ignored commands to stop, and tried to enter homes"); Hoyt v. Cooks , 672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir. 2012) ("Because we find that the illegality of Cooks's and Harkleroad's behavior was not clearly established at the time, we ne......
  • Black v. Wigington, No. 15–10848.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
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    ...II and the Equal Protection Clause.II. STANDARD OF REVIEW We review de novo whether the officers are entitled to immunity. Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 981 (11th Cir.2012) (official immunity); Townsend v. Jefferson Cty., 601 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir.2010) (qualified immunity); Nat'l Ass'n ......
  • Abbott v. Sangamon Cnty., No. 12–1121.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 29, 2013
    ...Sheriff's Office, 695 F.3d 505, 509–10 (6th Cir.2012); Marquez v. City of Phoenix, 693 F.3d 1167, 1175 (9th Cir.2012); Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 979–80 (11th Cir.2012); McKenney v. Harrison, 635 F.3d 354, 360 (8th Cir.2011); Zivojinovich v. Barner, 525 F.3d 1059, 1073 (11th Cir.2008); Dr......
  • Moore v. Pederson, No. 14–14201.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • October 15, 2015
    ...in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Shiver v. Chertoff,549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir.2008)(per curiam); Hoyt v. Cooks,672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir.2012).IV.The qualified-immunity defense balances “the need to hold public officials accountable 806 F.3d 1042when they exercise ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
128 cases
  • Nelson v. Lott, Civil Action No. 5:18-CV-0059-CLS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • July 24, 2018
    ...clearly established law, because the man had "acted erratically, ignored commands to stop, and tried to enter homes"); Hoyt v. Cooks , 672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir. 2012) ("Because we find that the illegality of Cooks's and Harkleroad's behavior was not clearly established at the time, we ne......
  • Black v. Wigington, No. 15–10848.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • January 22, 2016
    ...II and the Equal Protection Clause.II. STANDARD OF REVIEW We review de novo whether the officers are entitled to immunity. Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 981 (11th Cir.2012) (official immunity); Townsend v. Jefferson Cty., 601 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir.2010) (qualified immunity); Nat'l Ass'n ......
  • Abbott v. Sangamon Cnty., No. 12–1121.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 29, 2013
    ...Sheriff's Office, 695 F.3d 505, 509–10 (6th Cir.2012); Marquez v. City of Phoenix, 693 F.3d 1167, 1175 (9th Cir.2012); Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 979–80 (11th Cir.2012); McKenney v. Harrison, 635 F.3d 354, 360 (8th Cir.2011); Zivojinovich v. Barner, 525 F.3d 1059, 1073 (11th Cir.2008); Dr......
  • Moore v. Pederson, No. 14–14201.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • October 15, 2015
    ...in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Shiver v. Chertoff,549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir.2008)(per curiam); Hoyt v. Cooks,672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir.2012).IV.The qualified-immunity defense balances “the need to hold public officials accountable 806 F.3d 1042when they exercise ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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