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Black v. Wigington

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 4, 2015

ERNEST EDGAR BLACK and, AMY ELIZABETH BLACK, a/k/a, AMY MERRITT, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHERIFF JEFF WIGINGTON, ROBERT WILSON, DAVID, KAIN, ANDY STAMATELLOS, and TOM EATON, Defendants.

ORDER

RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [43] and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [44]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.

Background

This civil rights action arises out of the arrest and detention of Plaintiffs Ernest Edgar Black and Amy Merritt after Defendants attempted to execute an arrest warrant for a third party, William Lynn Wilson, at Plaintiffs' residence. Plaintiff Black also brings claims for inadequate medical care and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") related to his confinement in the Rockdale County Jail.

Around 4:30 p.m. on August 14, 2010, Deputies David Kain and Andy Stamatellos of the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office attempted to serve an outstanding probation warrant for Wilson at his last known address, 1651 River Circle, Conyers, Georgia. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF"), Dkt. [44-2] ¶¶ 1-2.) When the deputies arrived at the address, they found a dilapidated trailer sitting at the end of a gravel driveway on top of a hill, surrounded by trees and brush. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶¶ 3-4.) Deputies Kain and Stamatellos did not see a vehicle or bicycle in the driveway but knew Wilson did not own a car or ride a bike. (Id. ¶ 5.) The deputies knew Wilson and knew he could not hold down employment because, according to Kain, Wilson was not "a real functioning member of society." (Kain Depo., Dkt. [43-13] at 19:7-11.) The deputies approached the front door of the trailer, knocked, and announced that they were sheriff's deputies, but no one answered. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶ 6; Kain Incident Report, Dkt. [43-8] at 1.) The deputies peered through the screens of the open windows as they walked around to the back of the trailer. (Id.) They saw no movement inside except for two dogs who were barking from their cages. (Kain Incident Report, Dkt. [43-8] at 1.) They also observed a solar shower outside. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶ 9.)

When they got to the back door of the trailer, Kain and Stamatellos saw that the back door's window was open and the screen over the window was torn. (Id. ¶ 10.) The deputies believed the screen was torn in a manner consistent with a burglary and thought it was possible someone had broken in. (Id. ¶¶ 11-13.) The deputies then decided to enter the home, checking for both Wilson and a possible burglary suspect. (Id. ¶ 15.) In conducting a protective sweep, Kain and Stamatellos saw in plain view marijuana, a pill bottle with marijuana seeds and a pill bottle with marijuana roaches, a pile of clothing that appeared to belong to the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, and several bullet-proof vests. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.)

After clearing the trailer and realizing that nobody was inside, Kain and Stamatellos called for a supervisor and went back outside. (Id. ¶ 18.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs Black and Merritt arrived at the trailer and asked why the deputies were there. (Id. ¶ 20.) Black then advised the deputies that he suffered from a seizure disorder, requested an ambulance, and was taken to the Rockdale Medical Center where he was evaluated for an hour and a half before being discharged. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

In the meantime, Investigator Robert Wilson arrived at the trailer, took pictures of it, advised the deputies not to enter the residence, and left to obtain a search warrant. (Id. ¶ 24.) Wilson returned to the trailer with a search warrant around 7:20 p.m. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs insist that Defendants' entry into their trailer was unlawful and, moreover, Wilson failed to tell the magistrate judge when he was applying for the search warrant that Defendants had entered the home without a warrant. (See Pls.' SMF, Dkt. [43-1] ¶ 19.)

Defendants searched the trailer, recovered a substantial amount of marijuana, and arrested Merritt. Black was also arrested when he returned from the hospital. Plaintiffs were taken to the Rockdale County Jail that evening, August 14, 2010. Arrest warrants were issued the next day. (See Warrants, Dkt. [43-5, 43-6].) A few days later, while he was in jail Black fell and injured his hip, leg, left ulna, and back. (Pls.' SMF, Dkt. [43-1] ¶ 1.) A deputy came to Black's attention, and Black complained as he lay on the floor that the back of his head hurt and his foot was tingling. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶ 33.) The deputy told Black to stay still as they waited for help to arrive. (Id.) Black was taken to the Rockdale Medical Center again and was discharged later that evening. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.)

After this injury, the medical staff placed Black in a holding cell in the booking area for most of the time he was in jail rather than with the rest of the jail population in the dorms. (Pls.' SMF, Dkt. [43-1] ¶ 2; Jones Depo., Dkt. [43-11] at 17:9-13.) The medical unit apparently used certain booking cells for inmates who were going to be in the medical unit for "a long period of time." (See Jones Depo., Dkt. [43-11] at 13:15-14:6.) Black's cell lacked a TV, and he slept on either a concrete slab or a hard, plastic "boat" on which inmates could place the standard mattresses they were issued. (Id. at 16:13-15; Pass Depo., Dkt. [43-14] at 34:16-35:1.) According to Black, because he was confined to the holding cell, he was denied privileges that the general population in the dorms were permitted to enjoy, such as television, exercise, and being able to walk around the dorm area. (See Pls.' SMF, Dkt. [43-1] ¶ 7.) Black also had to ask to be let out to shower, whereas inmates in the dorm area could shower without first getting a deputy's permission. (See Pass Depo., Dkt. [43-14] at 59:6-25.) Moreover, the lights in the booking area where Black stayed were on 24 hours per day and were never dimmed. (Id. at 48:23-49:2.) Black's incarceration lasted from August 14, 2010, until September 27, 2010, during which he was seen by a medical provider nearly every day, sometimes two or three times daily. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶ 37.)

Eventually, in December 2011 the Superior Court of Rockdale County suppressed the evidence obtained at the trailer, ruling that the initial entry "was in violation of the Fourth Amendment." (Superior Court Order, Dkt. [43-4] at 2.) The court reasoned that the deputies had no evidence Wilson was in the trailer because they did not see or hear anyone in the residence or see a vehicle parked outside. (Id.) Furthermore, the court found that exigent circumstances were lacking because the officers did not hear or observe any activity leading them to believe someone was committing a burglary, and the torn screen did not indicate as much because the entire trailer was in disrepair. (Id.) The charges against Plaintiffs were subsequently dismissed. (Defs.' SMF, Dkt. [44-2] ¶ 39.)

Plaintiffs filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the ADA based on Defendants' entry of their home, their arrest, and Black's treatment while in custody. Plaintiffs sue Sheriff Jeff Wigington, Investigator Wilson, Deputy Kain, Deputy Stamatellos, and jail officials Tom Eaton, Bernice Louise Jones, and Dennis Pass. Plaintiffs later voluntarily dismissed Defendants Jones and Pass. Plaintiffs allege the following claims: (1) illegal entry of Plaintiffs' home without a warrant or exigent circumstances in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Sheriff Wigington, Deputies Kain and Stamatellos, and Investigator Wilson in their individual capacities (Count One); (2) malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Investigator Wilson and Deputies Kain and Stamatellos in their individual capacities (Count Two); (3) false imprisonment under Georgia law against Deputies Kain and Stamatellos in their individual capacities (Count Three); (4) compensatory and punitive damages for Defendants' intent to do Plaintiffs harm (Count Four); (5) trespass under Georgia law against Deputies Kain and Stamatellos in their individual capacities (Count Five); (6) disability discrimination in violation of the ADA against Sheriff Wigington in his official capacity (Count Six); and (7) denial of adequate medical treatment in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against Sheriff Wigington and Eaton in their individual capacities (Count Seven).[1] The remaining Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims, and Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment on issues of liability but not official immunity and damages.

Discussion

I. Summary Judgment Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires that summary judgment be 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). "The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the... court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'" Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations omitted)). Where the moving party makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-movant, who must go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact does exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986).

The applicable substantive law identifies which facts are material. Id. at 248. A fact is not material if a dispute over that fact will not affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id . An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 249-50.

Finally, in resolving a motion for summary judgment, the court must view all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Patton v. Triad Guar. Ins. Corp., 277 F.3d 1294, 1296 (11th Cir. 2002). But, the court is bound only to draw those inferences which are reasonable. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (once the moving party has met its burden under Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts").

II. Statute of Limitations Issues

Defendants first raise a statute of limitations defense, asserting that claims arising from Plaintiffs' arrests should be dismissed as time-barred. (See Defs.' Br., Dkt. [44-1] at 18-19.) The Georgia two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions applies to actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when the relevant events occurred in Georgia. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33; Williams v. City of Atlanta, 794 F.2d 624, 625-26 (11th Cir. 1986). A limitations period begins to run when a cause of action accrues, and "[f]ederal law determines when a federal civil rights claim accrues." Rozar v. Mullis, 85 F.3d 556, 561 (11th Cir. 1996). The statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts which would support a cause of action are apparent or should be apparent to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his rights. Id. at 561-62. This means a plaintiff must know or have reason to know that he was injured, and must be aware or should be aware of who inflicted the injury. Id.

In support of their argument, Defendants point out that they entered Plaintiffs' trailer and arrested them on August 14, 2010, but Plaintiffs filed this suit on September 26, 2012 - over two years after their arrests. Therefore, Defendants assert that any causes of action that accrued on August 14, 2010, are time-barred. The relevant claims arising from the arrests are: illegal entry of Plaintiffs' home in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count One), malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count Two), and false imprisonment under Georgia law (Count Three).

Count One is based on the initial entry into Plaintiffs' home and the seizure of Plaintiffs before obtaining an arrest warrant on allegedly false information. Plaintiffs concede "that the initial warrantless arrest of both plaintiffs is barred by the statute of limitations under federal law." (Pls.' Resp., Dkt. [49] at 9.) Indeed, because the cause of action for both the search and seizure accrued on August 14, Count One is barred by the two-year statute of limitations.

Besides the initial warrantless arrest, Plaintiffs bring a malicious prosecution claim under Count Two based on the alleged unlawful arrests pursuant to a warrant. Plaintiffs also argue that the malicious prosecution claim did not accrue - and thus the statute of limitations did not begin to run - until the criminal prosecution ended. (Id.; Pls.' Br., Dkt. [43-2] at 21-22.) Plaintiffs are correct that

where a section 1983 plaintiff is seized following the institution of a prosecution (for example, after a warrant has been issued for arrest or after an information has been filed) and he seeks to recover damages for all the elements of the prosecution, he can properly wait until the prosecution terminates in his favor to bring his section 1983 claim which alleges that the seizure was unreasonable.

Whiting v. Traylor, 85 F.3d 581, 585 (11th Cir. 1996). Because the charges against Plaintiffs were dropped in December 2011, their malicious prosecution claim accrued less than two years before they filed suit in September 2012. Therefore, that claim is timely.

In Count Three, Plaintiffs allege, "When these defendants detained plaintiffs while defendant Wilson went to get a search warrant and then took the plaintiffs to jail, they accomplished the tort of false imprisonment." (Pls.' Br., Dkt. [43-2] at 22.) Under Georgia law, "[f]alse imprisonment is the unlawful detention of the person of another, for any length of time, whereby such person is deprived of his personal liberty." O.C.G.A. § 51-7-20. Plaintiffs contend that the statute of limitations on their false imprisonment claim was tolled until they were released from custody on September 27, 2010. (Id. at 23.)

The Court must first clarify Georgia law's distinction between false imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. The essential element of a claim for false imprisonment under Georgia law is a detention without legal process. Ferrell v. Mikula, 672 S.E.2d 7, 10 (Ga.Ct.App. 2008). Thus, Georgia law treats false arrest and false imprisonment as separate and distinct torts. Id . "An arrest under process of law' is an arrest made pursuant to a warrant[, ] and the key distinction between [false] arrest and false imprisonment under [Georgia law] is whether the person was detained using a warrant or not." Id . Plaintiffs argue that they were falsely imprisoned while Wilson obtained a search warrant and then took Plaintiffs to jail. Even so, Defendants obtained an arrest warrant for Plaintiffs the following day, on August 15, 2010. (See Warrants, Dkt. [43-5, 43-6].) That being the case, the tort of false imprisonment without legal process lasted until Defendants obtained arrest warrants on August 15, not until September 27 when they were released. By August 15, Plaintiffs were held pursuant to legal process, and thus the relevant torts were false arrest or malicious prosecution. See Ferrell, 672 S.E.2d at 10 (distinguishing between false imprisonment, which is "unlawful detention without judicial process, or without the involvement of a judge at any point"; false or malicious arrest, which is "detention under process of law"; and malicious prosecution, "which is detention with judicial process followed by prosecution").

Even though Plaintiffs were no longer falsely imprisoned after August 15, 2010, they attempt to save their claim by arguing that they suffered a continuous tort until their release on September 27. Plaintiffs cite Hicks v. McGee, 642 S.E.2d 379 (Ga.Ct.App. 2007), in which the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the continuing tort doctrine applied to the plaintiff's negligence claim against the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk. In Hicks, the defendants neglected to notify the Department of Corrections of the plaintiff's sentence, which resulted in the plaintiff serving an additional 22 months in prison after his sentence had expired. Id. at 381. The defendants raised a statute of limitations defense, arguing that the statute of limitations began to run on the first day the plaintiff was held in confinement beyond his sentence, May 27, 2001. Id . Because the plaintiff did not file suit until October 1, 2003, the defendants argued that the claim was time-barred. Id . The court of appeals ...


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