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King v. City of Waycross

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

March 31, 2015

DARLENE KING, individually and as parent and next friend of A.S.P.; LATRICE CANNADY, individually and as parent and next friend of G.C.B.; ASIA MOODY, as parent and next friend of K.Z.M.; and MERCITEEN SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF WAYCROSS, GEORGIA; TONY TANNER, in his official capacity as the police chief of the City of Waycross; MATTHEW BROOKS, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer of the City of Waycross; and RODNEY DAVIS, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer for the City of Waycross, Defendants.

ORDER

LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought this suit against the City of Waycross, Georgia and three of its police officers: Tony Tanner (the Police Chief), Matthew Brooks, and Rodney Davis. Presently before the Court are Defendant City of Waycross' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (Dkt. No. 9) and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 13). Also before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed by Defendants Tanner, Brooks, and Davis (Dkt. No. 20). Upon due consideration, the Defendant Officers' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. The City of Waycross' first Motion to Dismiss is DENIED as moot, and its second Motion to Dismiss is DENIED as to Plaintiffs' federal claims and STAYED as to Plaintiffs' state law claims.

I. FACTS[1]

On April 12, 2012, Defendants Brooks and Davis went to an apartment complex located at 301 Garlington Avenue, Waycross, Georgia, in search of a man referred to by Defendants as "Fido." Dkt. No. 12, ¶ 13. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants did not have an arrest warrant or probable cause to arrest Fido. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.

Without a search warrant or consent, Defendants Brooks and Davis entered and searched the home of Plaintiff Latrice Cannady, which was Apartment Number 163 ("Apt. 163") at the 301 Garlington Avenue address. Defendants Brooks and Davis did not have a warrant or probable cause to arrest Plaintiff Cannady or any occupant of Apt. 163. Prior to entering Apt. 163, Defendants had no reason to believe that Plaintiff Cannady was wanted for questioning by police for potential involvement in criminal activity or that Plaintiff Cannady was involved in criminal activity. Id. at ¶¶ 16-27.

Still searching for Fido, Defendants Brooks and Davis also entered and searched the home of Plaintiff Darlene King, which was Apartment Number 173 ("Apt. 173") at the 301 Garlington Avenue address, with no search warrant or consent. Defendants did not have a warrant or probable cause to arrest Plaintiff King, and they did not have a warrant to arrest any occupant in Apt. 173. Before entering Apt. 173, Defendants had no reason to believe that any Plaintiff located in that apartment was involved in criminal activity or was wanted for questioning by police for potential involvement in criminal activity. Id. at ¶¶ 28-36, 41-44.

Defendants Brooks and Davis approached Apt. 173 and asked the occupants about Fido's whereabouts. At the time, Plaintiff Merciteen Smith, the aunt of Plaintiff King, was in the living room of Apt. 173 babysitting the minor children of Plaintiffs King, Cannady, and Moody (A.S.P., G.C.B., and K.Z.M, respectively), which she regularly did. Plaintiff Smith told Defendants Brooks and Davis that no one by the name of Fido was there, in Apt. 173. Defendants Brooks and Davis said that they were coming in to search for Fido and pushed Plaintiff Smith aside to enter the home. Id. at ¶¶ 37-40, 45-47.

As Defendants were entering Apt. 173, a man named Andrew Poole, the father of A.S.P. and uncle of the other minor children in the home, was asleep in an upstairs bedroom. Defendants headed upstairs, and Mr. Poole was awakened by the noise downstairs. As Mr. Poole opened the bedroom door to see what was going on, Defendant Brooks discharged his gun at Mr. Poole. The bullet pierced the bedroom door and hit Mr. Poole in the abdomen. Defendants Brooks and Davis called for assistance and an ambulance. Id. at ¶¶ 48-51, 54.

The minor children, described by Plaintiffs as "witnesses" to the shooting, were immediately frightened. Id. at ¶¶ 52-53. They began screaming, crying, and asking what happened to "Daddy" or "Uncle Andrew." Id . Plaintiff Smith and the minor children watched "hysterically" as the paramedics prepared to remove Mr. Poole from Apt. 173 and as he was placed in the ambulance. Id. at ¶ 55. Plaintiff Smith and the minor children were traumatized by the events of April 12, 2012, and they have subsequently sought psychological counseling and treatment for their injuries. Id. at ¶ 58. The police did not locate any guns or weapons on or near Mr. Poole or elsewhere in Apt. 173. Id. at ¶ 57.

Plaintiffs maintain that Defendant City of Waycross ("the City") failed to adequately train Defendants Brooks and Davis on the proper methods of conducting lawful searches and seizures of private residences. Id. at ¶ 186. The City allegedly "ratified or executed a widespread policy, custom, and practice among the officers of its police department to disregard constitutional limitations on searches of private residences." Id. at ¶ 187. Plaintiffs cite the City's failure to properly discipline Defendants Brooks and Davis as evidence of the City's ratification of this policy, custom, or practice. Plaintiffs also point to the existence of "an unwritten, informal, code of officer-to-officer loyalty that required officers to remain silent about the actions undertaken by fellow officers in searching private residences without regard to the legality of those actions." Id.

Plaintiffs assert that, on April 12, 2012, Defendants Brooks and Davis were acting pursuant to a policy, custom, or practice of the City and its Police Department. The City was allegedly deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs, both by failing to properly train Defendants Brooks and Davis on the proper methods of conducting lawful searches and seizures and by failing to maintain policies, customs, and practices that ensured compliance with constitutional requirements for searches. Id. at ¶¶ 188-90.

Plaintiffs maintain that Defendants Brooks and Davis, as inexperienced and improperly trained officers, were not properly supervised by Police Chief Defendant Tanner or more experienced officers. Defendant Tanner was allegedly aware that Defendants Brooks and Davis were improperly trained and inadequately supervised. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Tanner knew or should have known that his failure to adequately train and supervise Defendants Brooks and Davis showed "deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's [sic] constitutional rights and a causal connection to the constitutional infringement by his subordinates." Id. at ¶¶ 242-44.

Plaintiffs filed suit on April 11, 2014. They brought claims against all Defendants for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"), based on the allegedly unconstitutional searches and seizures of Apt. 163 (Plaintiff Cannady only) and Apt. 173 (Plaintiffs King, Smith, and the minor children). Dkt. No. 12, ¶¶ 59-137. Plaintiffs asserted state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. at ¶¶ 245-347. They also seek punitive damages and attorneys' fees. Id. at ¶¶ 348-53.

On June 11, 2014, the City moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. Dkt. No. 9. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on July 3, 2014. Dkt. No. 12. The City moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint on July 21, 2014. Dkt. No. 13. On August 7, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a five-page response to the City's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, addressing only one of the legal issues raised by the City (that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint was a shotgun pleading). Dkt. No. 16. By way of special appearance, Defendants Brooks, Davis, and Tanner filed an Answer to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint on August 5, 2014. Dkt. No. 15. In that Answer, Defendants Brooks, Davis, and Tanner asserted that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them because service of process, as to each them, was insufficient. Id. at p. 101. The Defendant Officers elaborated on this in their Motion to Dismiss, or alternatively for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed October 17, 2014. Dkt. ...


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