M.D. ex rel. Daniels v. Smith, Civil Action No. 3:04cv877-MHT.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
Citation504 F.Supp.2d 1238
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:04cv877-MHT.
PartiesM.D., a minor, by and through his next friends and parents, Carlton and Patricia DANIELS, Plaintiff, v. Lloyd SMITH, Lee County Sheriff Deputy, in his individual capacity, Defendant.
Decision Date27 August 2007
504 F.Supp.2d 1238
M.D., a minor, by and through his next friends and parents, Carlton and Patricia DANIELS, Plaintiff,
Lloyd SMITH, Lee County Sheriff Deputy, in his individual capacity, Defendant.
Civil Action No. 3:04cv877-MHT.
United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division.
August 27, 2007.

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Dwayne L. Brown, Dwayne L. Brown PC, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiff.

Bart Gregory Harmon, Webb & Eley, P.C., Montgomery, AL, for Defendant.


MYRON H. THOMPSON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff M.D., a minor, brings this lawsuit against defendant Lloyd Smith, in his individual capacity, under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as enforced through 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, and under Alabama state law.1 According to M.D., Deputy Sheriff Smith forcefully removed M.D. from his car, slammed his head against the trunk of the car, and frisked him. M.D. asserts that the search and seizure of his person was unreasonable and the amount of force used was excessive, all in violation of federal law; he also asserts that Smith's conduct constituted an assault under state law. Jurisdiction over M.D.'s federal claims is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (civil rights); jurisdiction over his statelaw claim is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction).

This case is currently before the court on Deputy Sheriff Smith's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, that motion will be denied on M.D.'s Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim and granted in all other respects. The excessive-force claim will go to trial.


Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Under Rule 56, the party seeking summary judgment must first inform the court of the basis for the motion, and the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate why summary judgment would not be proper. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see also Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115-17 (11th Cir.1993) (discussing burden-shifting under Rule 56). The court's role at the summary-judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine only whether a genuine issue exists for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.; 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106

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S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In doing so, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).


The following facts are construed in M.D.'s favor as the non-moving party: On January 16, 2004, School Resource Officer Dawn Majors requested backup based on an anonymous tip that someone would bring a gun to Beauregard High School after school had been dismissed for the day. Deputy Sheriff Smith was dispatched to the school, along with three other officers. When school was dismissed, Majors became concerned that a fight had broken out. She requested that the other officers order students in the school parking lot to leave campus2

A few minutes later, Deputy Sheriff Smith encountered M.D., who was sitting in his vehicle preparing to leave campus; M.D. could not leave the school grounds at that time, however, because another car was blocking him from safely backing out of his parking space. At this point, numerous students, including M.D., still remained in the parking lot.3 Smith approached the passenger window of M.D.'s car and ordered him to vacate the premises.4 M.D. did not hear Smith and replied, "Excuse me?"5 Smith then moved to the driver side of the vehicle and ordered M.D. out of the vehicle. When M.D. asked, "What was happening?," Smith again ordered M.D. out of his vehicle. As M.D. attempted to exit his vehicle, Smith pulled him from the car and slammed him against it. As a result, M.D.'s head hit the car, causing a dent on the trunk and a red mark on M.D.'s forehead.6 Smith then frisked M.D.7

At some point after being frisked, M.D. reached into his pocket for his cell phone to call his parents. Smith again restrained M.D. and frisked him.8 As the encounter unfolded, M.D. began to yell for someone to help him, and at least two other officers came to assist Smith.9 M.D. was eventually released and left the school premises. The entire incident lasted approximately 25 minutes.10

Smith did not formally arrest M.D. during the incident, but ultimately filed a petition against M.D. in juvenile court.11 Smith admits that he possessed no evidence suggesting that M.D. was the armed suspect or otherwise posed a danger to officer safety, and he admits that M.D. never refused to comply with his order.12

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As a result of M.D.'s behavior during these events, M.D. was adjudged delinquent in the family division of an Alabama state court.13


M.D. claims that Deputy Sheriff Smith unreasonably searched and seized him and used "excessive, unreasonable and unjustifiable force" against him, in particular by removing M.D. from his car and shoving his head on the trunk of his vehicle. Complaint (Doc. No. 1), ¶¶ 14, 21. "Where a particular Amendment `provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection' against a particular sort of government behavior, `that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of "substantive due process," must be the guide for analyzing' such a claim." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). The Fourth Amendment provides exactly the constitutional protections that M.D. seeks. See Albright, 510 U.S. at 274, 114 S.Ct. 807 ("The Framers considered the matter of pretrial deprivations of liberty and drafted the Fourth Amendment to address it."); Graham, 490 U.S. at 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865 ("[T]he Fourth Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against [excessive force]"). Accordingly, M.D.'s § 1983 substantive-dueprocess claim under the Fourteenth Amendment fails as a matter of law.


The only § 1983 claims that remain against Deputy Sheriff Smith are for violating M.D.'s Fourth Amendment right. M.D. asserts two claims: first, Smith unreasonably searched and seized him and, second, Smith used excessive force to effectuate the frisk. Smith responds with two defenses on each claim: first, each claim is barred by qualified immunity and, second, each claim is precluded because an Alabama juvenile court adjudicated M.D. delinquent for his conduct during the incident.

A. Qualified Immunity

The qualified-immunity doctrine insulates government employees from civil trials and other litigation burdens against them, in their individual capacities, stemming from actions taken pursuant to their discretionary authority. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). In determining whether a public employee is entitled to qualified immunity, a two-step analysis is undertaken. Sims v. Metropolitan Dade County, 972 F.2d 1230, 1236 (11th Cir. 1992). First, the defendant must establish "that he or she acted within the scope of discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred." Id. Once this is proven, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove that the defendant's actions violated clearly established statutory or constitutional law. Sims, 972 F.2d at 1236. "The threshold inquiry [at the second stage of the qualified-immunity analysis] is whether

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plaintiffs assertions, if true, establish a constitutional violation." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). If a constitutional violation occurred, public employees are shielded from liability "if their actions did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Id. at 739, 122 S.Ct. 2508.

Surprisingly, M.D. disputes whether Deputy Sheriff Smith was acting within his discretionary capacity, despite the fact that the complaint describes Smith as "at all times relevant to this complaint, [acting as] a duly appointed ... officer [] of the Sheriffs Department of Lee County." Complaint (Doc. No. 1), ¶ 7. As a deputy sheriff in uniform, on duty, and acting pursuant to requests from a fellow officer, Smith was clearly acting within his discretionary capacity.

1. Unreasonable search-and-seizure claim
i. Constitutional violation

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const., Amend. IV. The appropriate inquiry under the Fourth Amendment is an objective one: "[W]ould the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate?" Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) (quotation marks omitted). The general rule is that "searches and seizures conducted outside the judicial process, without [a warrant], are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment — subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions." Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 373, 113 S.Ct. 2130, 124 L.Ed.2d 334 (1993).

A so-called 'Terry stop' is one such exception. "[A]n officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable,...

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