Williams v. Sirmons, 011309 FED11, 08-13218

Docket Nº:08-13218
Party Name:MELANIE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee. v. MATTHEW SIRMONS, JAMES MILLS, Defendants-Appellants, SHERIFF JOHN RUTHERFORD of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Defendant.
Case Date:January 13, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

MELANIE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee.


MATTHEW SIRMONS, JAMES MILLS, Defendants-Appellants,

SHERIFF JOHN RUTHERFORD of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Defendant.

No. 08-13218

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 13, 2009


         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D. C. Docket No. 06-00686-CV-J-33-MCR

         Before BIRCH, HULL and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.

         PER CURIAM

         Melanie Williams brought suit against Deputy Matthew Sirmons, Deputy James Mills, and Sheriff John Rutherford of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, alleging, inter alia, that Mills and Sirmons used excessive force against her in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Deputies Mills and Sirmons moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to the defense of qualified immunity. The district court denied the deputies' motion. Sirmons and Mills appeal.

         As an initial matter, we note that a district court's order denying a defendant's motion for summary judgment grounded on a claim of qualified immunity is immediately appealable despite there being disputed issues of fact, unless the only disputed issue is whether the evidence could support a finding that particular conduct occurred. Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 312 (1996). Accordingly, we have jurisdiction to review the district court's legal analysis in denying qualified immunity, even though the district court noted that material issues of fact remain. Cottrell v. Coldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1485 (11th Cir. 1996).


         The parties dispute several key facts in this case; however, in determining the facts for summary judgment purposes, we, like the district court, are required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Under this standard, the evidence supports the following facts:

         In the early hours of May 8, 2005, Melanie Williams, then seven and a half months pregnant with her first child, noticed that she had begun to bleed vaginally. Concerned, she began to drive herself to St. Vincent's Medical Center. En route, Williams ran a red light. Less than one mile from the hospital, Williams pulled over when signaled to stop by Deputies Sirmons and Mills. After Sirmons approached her car, Williams explained to him that she was pregnant, bleeding, and on her way to the hospital. Sirmons appeared unconcerned and requested Williams' drivers' license and proof of insurance and inquired whether she owned the car she was driving. After receiving the requested documents, Sirmons returned to his patrol car to verify her identity and issue a traffic citation. Williams then fled from the stop in her vehicle. Mills and Sirmons pursued Williams with their lights and sirens on.

         Williams drove directly to the hospital's emergency vehicle bay with Sirmons and Mills close behind. As Williams exited her car, Sirmons grabbed her arm and told her that she was going to jail. Williams pulled free and ran towards the emergency room yelling, "Help! I'm pregnant and bleeding." Williams stopped at two locked doors in the emergency room, still calling out for help. Sirmons caught up to Williams and wrapped his arms around her, causing them both to fall to the floor. Sirmons dislocated his shoulder in the fall. Sirmons got up, and Mills took Sirmons' place, kneeling atop the prone Williams while he unhurriedly handcuffed her. All the while, Williams was struggling to stand up and pleading with the deputy to get off her stomach because she was pregnant. The deputies then arrested Williams.

         Mills took Williams to the patrol car where he allowed her to be examined by a nurse from the hospital. Thereafter, Williams was admitted to the hospital and found to be bleeding vaginally and in premature labor. Her physicians successfully staved off the premature labor and Williams was released from the hospital ten days later.

         Williams sued Sirmons and Mills under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her Fourth Amendment rights during her arrest.1 At the conclusion of discovery, Sirmons and Mills moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer could have believed that there was probable cause for the arrest and that their use of de minimis force in arresting Williams was lawful and necessary under the circumstances. The district court denied the deputies' motion, finding that there was sufficient record evidence to justify the conclusion (1) that Williams' arrest was not founded upon probable cause and therefore any use of force was unauthorized and (2) that the force used was excessive under these circumstances. Accordingly, the district court found that the deputies were not entitled to the defense of qualified immunity as a matter of law.


         We review a denial of a motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds de novo, applying the same standard as required in the district court.2 Cottrell, 85 F.3d at 1485. Summary judgment may be granted only where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.


         In a civil rights action under § 1983, the doctrine of qualified immunity might shield law enforcement officers from liability. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Pursuant to this doctrine, law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity so long as the alleged civil damages arose from the officers' discharge of their discretionary functions and their conduct "could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987). Qualified immunity does not provide a mere defense to liability, but rather a complete immunity from suit....

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