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Williams v. Waiters

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

March 28, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 13.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As the Court has disposed of all claims over which it had original jurisdiction, the Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Accordingly, Plaintiff's state law claims are REMANDED to the State Court of Chatham County. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.


         In the early morning hours of April 10, 2013, Plaintiff and three companions left the Island Breeze restaurant and club after one of them had a verbal altercation. (Doc. 16, Attach. 16 at 15; id., Attach. 17 at 1.) While walking in the area, they heard a series of gunshots and decided to run away to seek shelter. (Id., Attach. 17 at 2.) They jumped over a wooden privacy fence into the yard of an individual living nearby. (Id.) At the time they entered the yard, at least one member of the group was armed with a handgun. (Id., Attach. 16 at 16.) The resident of that home-Ms. Dennison-saw at least one person in her backyard and outside her window. (Id., Attach. 17 at 2.)

         After seeing these unfamiliar individuals in her back yard, Ms. Dennison called 911[1] and flagged down Defendant-a police officer with the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department ("SCMPD") . (Id. at 7.) Defendant was in the area responding to reports of shots fired. (Id. at 6.) Ms. Dennison told Defendant that "there's two people that broke into my backyard." (Id. at 9.) Although Ms. Dennison did not indicate that there had been a home invasion, Defendant radioed in Ms. Dennison's statements as a possible ongoing burglary and requested additional units. (Id.) Defendant exited his police car and approached the fence enclosing Ms. Dennison's backyard where he saw two individuals climb over the fence and run away. (Id. at 3.)

         Shortly after Plaintiff left Ms. Dennison's backyard, he decided to come back over the fence on the west side of the property for his own safety. (Id.) Defendant heard a noise and moved towards that area. (Id., Attach. 16 at 8.) Although it was dark, Defendant did not use his flashlight and admitted it was difficult to see. (Id., Attach. 17 at 7.) Ms. Seydler-Ms. Dennison's mother-was standing outside of the front door near Defendant when Plaintiff came over the fence moving towards them. (Id. at 4.) Although Plaintiff denies hearing any commands to stop, several witnesses stated that Defendant yelled at Plaintiff to stop and identified himself as a police officer. (Doc. 13, Attach. 7 at 13; id., Attach. 8 at 5; id., Attach. 10 at 6; id., Attach. 11 at 4; id., Attach. 14 at 1; id., Attach. 15 at l.)[2] When Plaintiff failed to comply with Defendant's requests, Defendant fired three shots in Plaintiff's direction wounding him in his abdomen. (Doc. 16, Attach. 17 at 8.) Plaintiff believes he was shot either as he hit the ground after scaling the fence or on his way down from the fence. (Id. at 4.)

         After Plaintiff was shot, Defendant took him into custody. (Id., Attach. 16 at 12.) Plaintiff was not carrying a weapon, although a handgun was found nearby. (Id. at 13.) Shortly thereafter, Defendant left the scene because he had discharged his service weapon and was subject to an investigation. (Id. at 14.) As a result, Defendant was not Plaintiff's arresting officer. (Id.) When asked why he was shot, Plaintiff stated that "I guess I was shot to put me down. I guess [Defendant] was scared for his own life." (Id. at 17.) Plaintiff was not charged with burglary. (Doc. 13, Attach. 19.) He was charged with one count of criminal trespass and one count of loitering and prowling. (Id.)

         The SCMPD investigated the incident and determined that Defendant violated several SCMPD policies. (Doc. 16, Attach. 17 at 12.) SCMPD policy prohibits an officer from using a firearm to subdue a misdemeanor or felony suspect attempting to escape and who does not present an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others. (Id. at 13.) SCMPD also prohibits an officer from using a firearm to stop a fleeing person who is guilty only of suspicious conduct. (Id.) Finally, SCMPD policy sets requirements for officers using their weapons in reduced lighting including that officers learn how to produce their flashlights. (Id. at 12.) Defendant was found to have violated the policy regarding the use of deadly force and the prohibited use of firearms. (Doc. 16, Attach. 15 at 3.) Defendant was also investigated for failing to truthfully report a shooting incident, but was not found to have violated that policy. (Id.) Defendant was ultimately terminated from employment with the SCMPD as a result of this investigation. (Id., Attach. 17 at 13.)

         On March 31, 2015, Plaintiff filed suit in the State Court of Chatham County. (Doc. 1, Attach. 1 at 1.) He brought state charges for assault, battery, negligent breach of ministerial duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress, attorney's fees, and punitive damages; as well as a federal charge pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (IdJ On May 6, 2015, the case was removed to federal court because of the presence of a federal question. (Doc. 1.) On March 30, 2016, Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss. (Doc. 13.) Defendant argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity as to the § 1983 claim because a reasonable officer would have determined that the force used was necessary under the circumstances. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff was not hiding from Defendant, had no weapon, and did not disobey any commands that he heard. (Doc. 16, Attach. 1 at 15-16.)



         According to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim of defense-on which summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must 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." Id. The "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.' " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee notes).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmovant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The substantive law governing the action determines whether an element is ...

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