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Merricks v. Adkisson

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 15, 2015

SARITA MERRICKS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JEFFERY ADKISSON, individually and in his official capacity as a corporal of the city of Clearwater Police Department, Defendant-Appellant, CITY OF CLEARWATER, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D. C. Docket No. 8:12-cv-01805-EAK-AEP.

For SARITA MERRICKS, Plaintiff - Appellee: Michael Maddux, Jennifer Marie Salter, Michael P. Maddux, PA, TAMPA, FL; Gerasimos Theophilopoulos, Crow & Theophilopoulos, TARPON SPRINGS, FL.

For JEFFERY ADKISSON, individually and in his official capacity as a Corporal of the Clearwater Police Department, Defendant - Appellant: Paul Richard Hull, Office of the City Attorney, CLEARWATER, FL.

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, COX, Circuit Judge, and ROYAL,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

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ROYAL, District Judge:

Defendant Corporal Jeffrey Adkisson appeals the district court's denial of his summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. Plaintiff Sarita Merricks sued Adkisson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries she suffered from his alleged use of excessive force during a traffic stop and search of her car. At all times relevant to this case, Adkisson acted within his discretionary authority. After carefully reviewing the record and hearing arguments of counsel, we conclude that no clearly established law put Adkisson on notice that his conduct in stopping Merricks and searching her car violated her constitutional rights. Therefore, he is entitled to qualified immunity, and we reverse the district court's ruling denying his motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background[1]

On August 11, 2008, Cpl. Jeffrey Adkisson was employed by the City of Clearwater Police Department and was acting within his discretionary authority. While on duty in a marked patrol car, he saw Merricks's black Dodge Avenger and suspected that her window tint violated Florida law.[2] Based on suspicion of a window tint violation, he pursued her, stopped her, and planned to check her window tint. As he approached Merricks's car, however, he smelled the odor of burnt marijuana.

According to Merricks, Adkisson asked to see her license and asked her to " wind" down the other window, so he could see inside her car. While looking for her license, she asked Adkisson why he had stopped her, and he said that her window tint was too dark. She gave him her license and told him that her car was new, that the Dodge dealer had tinted her windows, and that she was sure that the tint was legal.

Because he smelled burnt marijuana, Adkisson asked Merricks if he could search her car, and she said no. After she said no, he asked her if she had been smoking, and she said no. He then asked her if someone else had been in her car who had been smoking. Once again, she said no. She understood that smoking meant smoking marijuana.

Adkisson then stuck his hand through the open window to unlock the car door. He told her that he was going to search her car. The motor was still running, and she did not turn it off, so he reached in to pull the keys out of the ignition. She resisted. She held onto the keys and would not let him take them or turn off the car. Again, she said that he could not search her car. He asked her what she was going to do to stop him. Again, she told him that he could not search her car.

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She told him three times that he could not search her car.

During this scuffle over the keys and Adkisson's efforts to search the car, he tried to get Merricks out of the driver's seat. He could not get the keys to turn off the car because she was holding onto them, so he took her by the arm and jerked her hard to remove her from the seat. However, he could no remove her because she had on her seat belt. Then, while holding her by her wrist with one hand, he unbuckled the seat belt with his other hand and jerked her out of the car. He again told her that he was going to search her car.

After she came out of the car, Merricks asked Adkisson if she could sit on the curb. He said no. Then she asked if she could sit on the hood of her car. Again, he said no and told her that he did not want her to run off. He put her in the back seat of his patrol car while another officer searched her Dodge. He never handcuffed her.

During the search, Adkisson stood in the doorway of the patrol car to keep her from leaving. While standing there, he told her to " give it up." But she said that she did not know what he was talking about. He told her to tell him where the drugs were because they were going to find them anyway. But, again, she said that she did not know what he was talking about and denied having any drugs.

The search did not take long because her car was very clean. After the other officer found nothing in the Dodge Avenger, a female officer came to the scene and searched Merricks's person but also found no drugs. Adkisson then released her, and she drove off. He did not give her a traffic citation.

Finally, and as background information, the stop occurred in a violent, high-crime, and high-drug neighborhood. A crowd gathered during the search. And, as a result of Adkisson's efforts to get Merricks out of the car, she allegedly ...


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