Russell v. Hendrix

Decision Date06 October 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION 16-0174-WS-N
PartiesTERESA RUSSELL, Plaintiff, v. JUSTIN HENDRIX, etc., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama

This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 46). The parties have filed briefs and evidentiary materials in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 46, 53, 56),1 and the motion is ripe for resolution. After careful consideration, the Court concludes the motion is due to be granted.


According to the amended complaint, (Doc. 20), in April 2014 the plaintiff was at the Escambia County probation office with her daughter. As she was leaving, the two defendants arrested her. The defendants, Justin Hetrick2 and Preston Hill, are sheriff's deputies. The sole remaining count of the complaint alleges that the arrest was unsupported by probable cause and that the defendants used excessive force in executing the arrest, in violation of the plaintiff's Fourthand Fourteenth Amendment rights.3 The defendants are sued exclusively in their individual capacities. (Doc. 20 at 1).


Summary judgment should be granted only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears "the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The moving party may meet its burden in either of two ways: (1) by "negating an element of the non-moving party's claim"; or (2) by "point[ing] to materials on file that demonstrate that the party bearing the burden of proof at trial will not be able to meet that burden." Id. "Even after Celotex it is never enough simply to state that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial." Id.; accord Mullins v. Crowell, 228 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000); Sammons v. Taylor, 967 F.2d 1533, 1538 (11th Cir. 1992).

"When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must support its motion with credible evidence ... that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. [citation omitted] In other words, the moving party must show that, on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof, no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (emphasis in original); accord Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993).

"If the party moving for summary judgment fails to discharge the initial burden, then the motion must be denied and the court need not consider what, ifany, showing the non-movant has made." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116; accord Mullins, 228 F.3d at 1313; Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

"If, however, the movant carries the initial summary judgment burden ..., the responsibility then devolves upon the non-movant to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. "If the nonmoving party fails to make 'a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof,' the moving party is entitled to summary judgment." Clark, 929 F.2d at 608 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)) (footnote omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) ("If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may ... consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion ....").

I. Evidence.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence, and all reasonable inferences, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant ...." McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). "Therefore, the plaintiff's version of the facts (to the extent supported by the record) controls, though that version can be supplemented by additional material cited by the defendants and not in tension with the plaintiff's version." Rachel v. City of Mobile, 112 F. Supp. 3d 1263, 1274 (S.D. Ala. 2015), aff'd, 633 Fed. Appx. 784 (11th Cir. 2016).

The plaintiff has presented evidence from herself, from her daughter Angelica Dawson, and from Officer Martesha Lee, a juvenile probation officer. Dawson was transported to the sheriff's office from her school to meet with Lee regarding issues at school. They and the plaintiff met in Lee's office. The plaintiff became upset (mostly at her daughter) and began to talk loudly. Due to the plaintiff's loudness, several deputies arrived at Lee's office, per protocol, to ensure everything was alright. The plaintiff and Dawson left Lee's office tocontinue their discussion outside. As they were headed to the side exit, Hetrick ran up to the plaintiff and told her to get the f--- out of here, that this was a public place and that she was making a scene. Dawson went out the side door but, as the plaintiff was doing so, Hetrick attempted to trip her. She told Hetrick that, if he was going to trip her, she would go out the main exit. Hetrick followed the plaintiff inside, grabbed her by the neck and put her up against a wall, choking her. The plaintiff turned and asked Hetrick why he was choking her, and he told her she should have gotten the hell out of here while she had the chance. The plaintiff remembered she had a knife on her person, and she was going to retrieve it but the Lord told her not to do so. Hetrick kicked the plaintiff in the back of her legs, and she went to her knees. He then kicked her in the back, and she went prone on the floor. Hetrick then kneed the plaintiff in the back, and Hill placed his knee on the side of her face. (Doc. 53 at 1-3; Docs. 53-1, -2, -3).

That is the plaintiff's evidence and, as noted, on motion for summary judgment it is controlling as far as it goes. The defendants, however, can supplement her evidence with their own, so long as that evidence is consistent with the plaintiff's evidence and the reasonable inferences therefrom.

The plaintiff was so angry that Lee was concerned she would begin fighting her daughter in the office. (Doc. 46-2 at 59). She was so loud and angry that multiple officers came to the office door to make sure everyone was alright. (Id. at 31, 66, 72). The secretary at the front desk heard the plaintiff holler and went to Hetrick's office to inform him of the situation. (Id. at 28-31, 64). Outside Lee's office, the plaintiff was screaming and hollering and announcing that she had a knife. (Id. at 32, 72). Hetrick, unsure whether the plaintiff had a knife, pinned the plaintiff's arms against the wall, she facing him. (Id. at 30, 32, 67). Hetrick told the plaintiff she was under arrest and instructed her to put her hands behind her back. He tried to turn the plaintiff around to apply handcuffs, but she began to pull or push away from him. Hetrick at that point put the plaintiff on the ground and handcuffed her. (Id. at 24, 30, 32, 37).

The plaintiff does not address or deny any of this evidence, which is consistent with, but expands upon, her version of events.4 The defendant's evidence therefore must be taken as uncontroverted and considered along with the plaintiff's evidence in evaluating her claims.

Synthesized, the evidence most favorable to the plaintiff is that she was shouting angrily, to the point Lee feared a physical fight. Hetrick crudely ordered the plaintiff out of the building but she refused to comply, instead turning around and returning to the building's interior. Hetrick followed the plaintiff, grabbed her around the neck, put her against a wall and began choking her. (This was not a literal "choke," in the sense of cutting off air supply, because the plaintiff turned and spoke to Hetrick.) Either at this point or previously, the plaintiff began yelling about having a knife. Hetrick then pinned the plaintiff's arms to the wall, placed her under arrest, and ordered her to turn around. The plaintiff instead pushed or pulled away. Hetrick then kicked the plaintiff in the legs, causing her to go to her knees, and then kicked her in the back, causing her to go to the floor, where Hetrick kneed her in the back and handcuffed her while Hill kneed her in the side of her face.

II. False Arrest.

"A warrantless arrest without probable cause violates the Constitution and provides a basis for a section 1983 claim." Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1326 (11th Cir. 2009) (internal quotes omitted). However, "[t]he existence of probable cause at the time of arrest ... constitutes an absolute bar to a section 1983 action for false arrest." Id. at 1326-27 (internal quotes omitted). "Probable cause to arrest exists when law enforcement officials have facts and circumstances withintheir knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed or was committing a crime." Id. at 1327 (internal quotes omitted).

The plaintiff was charged with disorderly conduct, pleaded guilty to that offense, and was placed on probation. (Doc. 46-2 at 49-50). Such a plea may establish probable cause as a matter of law for purposes of a constitutional false arrest claim. See Stephens v. DeGiovanni, 852 F.3d 1298, 1320 n.20 (11th Cir. 2017) ("Stephens provided probable cause for his arrest by his nolo contendere plea, which defeated the false-arrest cause of action in his § 1983 case."). To the extent the preclusive effect of a conviction based on a guilty plea depends on whether the state of conviction would recognize it as legally establishing probable cause, id. at 1319-20, it seems clear that Alabama would do so. See Gaddis v. Ledbetter, 2017 WL 3841935 at *2 (N.D. Ala. 2017) (describing Alabama...

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