Scott v. Roundtree

Decision Date20 December 2021
Docket NumberCV 120-159
PartiesLARRY SCOTT, Plaintiff, v. SHERIFF RICHARD ROUNDTREE and RICHARD RUSSELL, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
ORDER

J RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE.

Before the Court is Defendants Sheriff Richard Roundtree ("Sheriff Roundtree") and Deputy Richard Russell's ("Deputy Russell") (collectively, the "Sheriff Defendants") motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 19.) For the following reasons, the summary judgment motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed the underlying suit against the above-named Defendants and others on November 12, 2020. (Compl., Doc. 1.) The Complaint alleges: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Deputy Russell, claiming excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) assault and battery claims against Deputy Russell under Georgia state law; (3) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 supervisory liability claim against Sheriff Roundtree and John Does 1-5; and (4) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 municipal liability claim against Sheriff Roundtree and Richmond County.[1] (Id. at 10-16.) Plaintiff seeks all damages allowed by the law, punitive damages to punish and deter the Defendants, interest at the maximum legal rate, costs and attorneys' fees, and any other relief the Court deems just and proper. (Id. at 19.)

An overview of the underlying facts is as follows. On December 23, 2020, Plaintiff and his wife, Katherine Taylor, were delivering food for Postmates. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUMF"), Doc. 19-1, ¶ 1; Pl.'s SUMF, Doc. 25-1, ¶ 1.) Deputy Russell, a Richmond County Sheriff's Deputy, pulled Plaintiff over for having an expired vehicle registration, and because the vehicle's window tint was too dark. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 2; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 2.) Plaintiff told Deputy Russell he left his wallet, cash, and card at home and Deputy Russell asked him to step out of his vehicle and frisked him for weapons. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶¶ 3-4; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 3.) Deputy Russell then asked Plaintiff to confirm his date of birth three times, tried to run his information through the computer system in his patrol vehicle, and was unable to retrieve any matching information. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 5-6.)

Being unable to confirm his identity, Deputy Russell decided to detain Plaintiff. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 6; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 8.) Deputy Russell told Plaintiff to put his hands behind his back, and Plaintiff started walking towards his car stating he wanted to give his wife his money. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶¶ 7-8; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 8-10; Body Camera Video ("Body Cam"), Doc. 18, at 4:52-4:54.) Deputy Russell again told Plaintiff to put his hands behind his back, and when he did not comply, Deputy Russell grabbed him and put him against the hood of his patrol vehicle. (Body Cam, at 4:54-4:56.) Deputy Russell told Plaintiff two more times to put his hands behind his back, and when he still refused, used a balance displacement technique to put Plaintiff onto the ground. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 14; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 17; Body Cam, at 5:11-5:20.) Once Plaintiff was on the ground, Deputy Russell instructed him at least four more times to put his hands behind his back to no avail. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 17; Body Cam, at 5:24-5:34.) Deputy Russell proceeded to put his knee on Plaintiff's back and used an arm bar maneuver to handcuff him. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 15; Body Cam, at 5:20- 5:38.)

Plaintiff asserts Deputy Russell repeatedly slammed Plaintiff's head onto the hood of the patrol vehicle, wrapped his arm around his neck and choked him, and twisted his arm into an unnatural position in a deliberate effort to inflict pain.[2] (Pl.'s SUMF, ¶¶ 15-18.) Ms. Taylor asserts that Plaintiff did not make verbal or physical threats of any kind before Deputy Russell attacked him and that Plaintiff did not offer any resistance to Deputy Russell's verbal commands or physical attack. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) However, the Sheriff Defendants claim Plaintiff refused to comply with Deputy Russell's instructions, used various expletives repeatedly towards him, tried to pull away from him, and was not compliant with the officer. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶¶ 10-13.) After Deputy Russell had Plaintiff handcuffed and under control, he kneeled beside him and held his arm until backup officers arrived to assist in moving Plaintiff into the patrol vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 22; Body Cam, at 5:36-7:20.)

It was later discovered that Plaintiff provided Deputy Russell with an incorrect birthdate. (Defs.' SUMF, ¶ 23.) Plaintiff was charged with obstruction and driving with a suspended or revoked license, and those charges are still pending. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff presented to University Hospital three days after this incident and was diagnosed with thigh and elbow contusions. (Id. ¶ 26; Pl.'s SUMF, ¶ 38.) Plaintiff asserts these injuries prevent him from engaging in activities he used to enjoy, and that he continues to suffer psychologically from the incident through depression and constant nightmares. (Pl.'s SUMF, ¶¶ 36-37.)

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, motions for summary judgment are granted "if the movant shows that 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). "An issue of fact is 'material' if ... it might affect the outcome of the case . . . [and it] is 'genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259-60 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 1992)). The Court must view factual disputes in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted). The Court should not weigh the evidence or determine credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

The Defendants here do not bear the burden of proof at trial, and therefore may "satisfy [their] initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways." McQueen v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., 955 F.Supp.2d 1256, 1262 (N.D. Ala. 2013) (citing Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115-16 (11th Cir. 1993)). First, the Defendants "may simply show that there is an absence of evidence to support the [Plaintiff's] case on the particular issue at hand." Id. (citation omitted). If this occurs, Plaintiff "must rebut by either (1) showing that the record in fact contains supporting evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2) proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. (citation omitted). Or second, Defendants may "provide affirmative evidence demonstrating that the [Plaintiff] will be unable to prove its case at trial." Id. (citation omitted and alterations in original).

Additionally, the Southern District of Georgia's Local Rules require:

[I]n addition to the brief, there shall be annexed to the motion a separate, short, and concise statement of the material facts as to which it is contended there exists no genuine dispute to be tried as well as any conclusions of law thereof. Each statement of material fact shall be supported by a citation to the record. All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by a statement served by the opposing party.

L.R. 56.1, SDGa. "Parties may not, by the simple expedient of dumping a mass of evidentiary material into the record, shift to the Court the burden of identifying evidence supporting their respective positions." Preis v. Lexington Ins. Co., 508 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1068 (S.D. Ala. 2007). Essentially, the Court has no duty "to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment." Id. (citing Resol. Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995)). Accordingly, the Court will only review materials the Parties specifically cited and legal arguments they expressly advanced. See id.

In this action, the Clerk of Court provided Plaintiff notice of the summary judgment motion, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 20.) For that reason, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. Plaintiff responded to the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 25) and the Sheriff Defendants replied (Doc. 27). The time for filing materials has expired, the issues have been thoroughly briefed, and the motion is now ripe for consideration. In reaching its conclusions herein, the Court has evaluated the Parties' briefs, other submissions, and the evidentiary record in the case.

III. DISCUSSION

The Sheriff Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts asserting various arguments: (1) to the extent Plaintiff brings federal claims against the Sheriff Defendants in their official capacities, those are not cognizable under § 1983; (2) Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie claim of excessive force under § 1983; (3) Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie claim against Sheriff Roundtree under § 1983; (4) the Sheriff Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity for Plaintiff's federal claims; (5) any state law claims against Deputy Russell in his official capacity are subject to sovereign immunity; (6) Plaintiff fails to state claims of assault and battery; and (7) any state...

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