Scott v. Clay County

Decision Date10 August 1999
Citation205 F.3d 867
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Cookeville. No. 95-00095--Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., District Judge. [Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Richard M. Brooks (argued and briefed), Carthage, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Michael E. Evans (argued and briefed), John T. Reese, Evans, Todd & Floyd, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellants.

Before: Krupansky, Boggs, and Clay, Circuit Judges.

KRUPANSKY, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which BOGGS, J., joined. CLAY, J. (pp. 880-81), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.


Krupansky, Circuit Judge

The defendants-appellants Clay County, Tennessee ("the County"), Sheriff Cecil "Chinn" Anderson ("Anderson"), Deputy Billy Pierce ("Pierce"), and Deputy Michael Thompson ("Thompson") have contested the district court's denial of their motion, anchored in qualified immunity, for Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 summary adjudication of the federal civil rights claims of the plaintiff-appellee Patricia Scott ("Patricia" or "the plaintiff"). The plaintiff alleged in her single-count complaint that Clay County Sheriff's Department officers Anderson, Pierce, and Thompson used excessive force to effect her arrest, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988,1 which caused her serious bodily injury. She further contended that the County, and Anderson as County Sheriff, failed to properly train and/or supervise the defendant deputies, and failed to develop and implement appropriate official departmental policy restraints against the unjustifiable exertion of potentially lethal force, thus violating constitutional rights redressible by § 1983. Patricia also asserted pendent state law claims.

Although witness unanimity is absent regarding various factual details, the essential controlling material facts of this case are not in substantial dispute2. During the late evening of April 28 and early morning of April 29, 1995, Patricia Scott had been a willing passenger in her own automobile, a four-door 1978 Chevrolet Caprice, traveling on the dark country roadways of Clay County. She had permitted her ex-husband, Robert Scott ("Robert"), to drive the vehicle. Moments earlier, her former spouse had retrieved her from a nearby narcotics den known locally as "Chet's."3 Patricia knew that her activities at the drug house had infuriated Robert; he testified that he "was probably the maddest I ever was in my life." Moreover, Patricia knew that Robert had proximately ingested a significant volume of alcohol coupled with additional psychoactive substances;4 possessed no valid motor vehicle operator's permit because his license had been judicially revoked pursuant to his conviction for driving while intoxicated; and had, in the past, recklessly fled from law enforcement authorities at high speeds. Forthwith, the emotionally agitated, and chemically impaired, couple engaged in a passionate argument inside the moving vehicle.

Flouting a traffic sign, Robert failed to stop at the intersection of Neely's Creek Road and Highway 53. Sheriff's Deputy Michael Thompson, on routine highway patrol, observed the Scott vehicle race erratically through that intersection with its tires squealing, then momentarily weave off the pavement as it recklessly turned, at a hazardous velocity, onto Walker Ridge Road. Thompson, concerned for public safety, commenced tailing that motorcar.

The speed of the Scott automobile dangerously rose while on Walker Ridge Road, rocketing past, and narrowly missing, Sheriff Chinn Anderson's unmarked service cruiser which he had parked near the roadside, as well as the sheriff himself, who had been sitting nearby. In response, Thompson, with his vehicle's siren sounding and blue lights flashing, pursued the Caprice at high speed5. Because he lacked a valid driver's license, Robert intended to evade apprehension by fleeing to his mother's residence. An experienced "road runner," Robert had successfully eluded the police in past high-speed chases. Robert conceded that, during his ensuing flight, he forced at least one fellow motorist off the roadway, and that he "might have been across the yellow line or could have been sliding across the yellow line," which conduct patently risked the physical safety of civilian motorists and pedestrians, pursuing patrolmen, Robert's passenger, and himself.

Patrol cruisers driven by Anderson and Deputy Sheriff Billy Pierce momentarily joined Deputy Thompson's pursuit of the speeding Chevrolet. After the three sheriff's office units had chased the Scott car for over twenty minutes, at speeds ranging between 85 to 100 miles per hour, Robert lost control of his vehicle while attempting a sharp turn at 75 to 80 miles per hour. The Caprice skidded for several hundred feet, glided off the thoroughfare, and crashed into a roadside guard rail, which brought the fugitive vehicle to an abrupt halt.

Deputy Pierce, whose patrol vehicle had led the erstwhile chase, initially reached the immobilized motorcar. At some point, a collision transpired between the Scott automobile and Pierce's departmental vehicle; Robert asserted that Pierce's car struck the stationary Caprice from the rear, whereas Pierce posited that Robert backed the Caprice into his squad cruiser after he (Pierce) had exited it. In any event, no dispute exists that Deputy Pierce parked and exited his patrol car, produced his sixteen-round, nine-millimeter Ruger service arm, and cautiously moved toward the now-stationary Chevrolet. Suddenly, the Chevrolet rapidly accelerated forward, compelling Pierce to leap out of its path in self-defense. Then, in an apparent bid by its driver to return to the highway, the Caprice proceeded directly towards Deputy Thompson's approaching vehicle. Robert recalled that, although he had observed at least one firearm-toting deputy approaching the Caprice, and knew that additional armed law enforcement officers were approaching, he nevertheless intended to escape by driving in the direction from which the supporting units would be arriving.

At the moment that the Chevrolet was racing once again onto the public motorway, Deputy Pierce believed that its operator had earlier tried to run down Sheriff Anderson,6 had attempted to drive over him (Pierce) only moments previously, and posed a grave immediate menace to the lives and limbs of his approaching colleagues as well as innocent highway travelers. The plaintiff has not contested Pierce's avowal that he did not know that a passenger was also inside the vehicle. Confronted with a momentous, split-second, life-or-death decision, defendant Pierce initially reacted by firing five bullets towards the Chevrolet's driver;7 he then discharged an additional four rounds at that vehicle's tires, causing it to skid to a stop for the second, and final, time. Pierce's hail of bullets had failed to injure the driver, Robert Scott. Unfortunately, however, two of his shots had inadvertently struck plaintiff Patricia Scott, whose presence as a passenger was unknown to Pierce.

Immediately following the Chevrolet's incapacitation, additional officers, including Anderson and Thompson, arrived at the scene. Robert and Patricia were then removed from the vehicle and manacled. However, instantly upon perceiving that Patricia had been wounded, they radioed for a medical evacuation helicopter. The rescue aircraft rushed Patricia to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where doctors discovered one bullet lodged inside her skull and a second gunshot imbedded within her right shoulder. Patricia has alleged that she has suffered significant physical damage, including lifelong adverse health consequences, caused by her injuries and by the permanent presence of the bullet in her skull. Patricia Scott states that the bullet cannot be surgically removed.

On November 29, 1995, Patricia instigated her instant complaint, in which she advanced claims under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,8 as enforced by 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 (see note 1 above), alleging that Pierce, Thompson, and Anderson, in their personal as well as official capacities, had committed, participated in, and/or failed to prevent, the unconstitutional use of excessive force to seize her; and that Sheriff Anderson and the County had failed to properly train and/or supervise the defendant deputies in, and/or devise and implement appropriate policies defining, the lawful application of force to effect an arrest. Additionally, the plaintiff joined pendent Tennessee constitutional and tort law claims. Patricia has sought $10 million in compensatory damages, an additional $5 million in punitive damages, attorney fees and other litigation expenses, an injunction restricting the defendants' forcible arrest practices, and other appropriate relief.

Following discovery, on June 1, 1998, the four defendants jointly petitioned the district court for a summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 dismissing the plaintiff's federal civil rights claims, as well as the dismissal, for want of federal subject matter jurisdiction, of her pendent Tennessee law claims. Basing their motion on the doctrine of qualified immunity,9 the defendants argued that the evinced facts, even when construed most favorably for the claimant, could not, as a matter of law, support the conclusion that any defendant had violated any federal constitutionally-protected right; or, alternatively, assuming arguendo that the evidence adverse to the movants was legally sufficient to sustain a hypothetical rational jury's finding of a constitutional infraction, the defendant law enforcers should nevertheless be shielded from personal...

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