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Parker v. Mayor and Aldermen of City of Savannah

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

July 13, 2017

DEON MAURICE PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE MAYOR AND ALDERMEN OF THE CITY OF SAVANNAH; THE CHATHAM COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS; CITY OF POOLER, GA; AGENT K. WRIGHT, individually and in her official capacity; CORPORAL MICHAEL SWORDS, individually and in his official capacity; and JOHN DOES 1-5, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Presently before the Court is: (a) Defendants The Chatham County Board of Commissioner ("Chatham County") and Agent K. Wright's motion for summary judgment (doc. 29); (b) Defendant The Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah's ("City of Savannah") motion for summary judgment (doc. 32); and (c) Defendants City of Pooler, GA ("City of Pooler") and Corporal Michael Swords' motion for summary judgment (doc. 34) . The Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff timely notice of these summary judgment motions and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Docs. 30, 33, 35.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwriqht, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), have been satisfied. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to each summary judgment motion and Defendants City of Savannah, City of Pooler, and Swords filed replies in support of their respective motions. (Docs. 36, 37, 38, 41, 43.) The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motions are ripe for consideration. Upon consideration of the record evidence, relevant law, and the parties' respective briefs, Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 2, 2014, Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department's ("SCMPD") Officer Keri McNaughton responded to a possible robbery at a bank in Savannah, Georgia. (Aff. of Keri McNaughton, Doc. 32-3, at 36-42, ¶ 10 & Ex. A.) Upon arriving at the bank, Officer McNaughton was advised by SCMPD Officer Matthew Nelson that he had detained an individual identifying himself as "Deon Parker" (the "Suspect") in the rear seat of his patrol car.[1] (Id.) After obtaining the Suspect's consent, Officer McNaughton searched his vehicle and discovered three bags containing a substance believed - and later tested and confirmed - to be cocaine. (Id.) Accordingly, Officer McNaughton detained the Suspect for suspicion of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and transported him to a nearby SCMPD precinct. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11 & Ex. A.)

         Upon arriving at the nearby SCMPD precinct, Officer McNaughton was met by two agents from the Savannah-Chatham Counter Narcotics Team ("SCCNT") and advised that they would be adopting the Suspect's case, at which point Officer McNaughton released the Suspect into their custody. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15 & Ex. A.) After the Suspect was transferred to SCCNT's custody, he was interviewed by SCCNT agent Defendant Kristen Wright. (Aff. of Kristen Wright, Doc. 29-1, ¶ 7.) According to Defendant Wright, she was assigned to interview the Suspect because he "wished to become a confidential informant'' in the hopes that the charges to be brought against him would be dropped. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) The Suspect "was not booked, arrested, photographed or fingerprinted, as the policies and procedures of drug investigations dictate."[2] (Id. ¶ 10.) Rather, he was released with instructions "to appear at [SCCNT] headquarters to begin the confidential informant process." (Id. ¶ 13.) When the Suspect subsequently failed to appear at SCCNT headquarters, Defendant Wright swore out a warrant on or about August 11, 2014, based upon the information obtained at the time of the Suspect's detainment on July 2, 2014 - i.e., a warrant for the arrest of "Deon Parker" for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute (the "Warrant"). (Id. ¶¶ 14-16.)

         On June 14, 2015, Defendant Michael Swords of the City of Pooler Police Department was traveling behind a black Pontiac Grand Am while on routine patrol. (Dep. of Deon Parker, Doc. 22-1, at 33, 101, 131-32.) A tag search of the Grand Am's license plate showed that the registered owner (i.e., Plaintiff) had an active outstanding warrant for his arrest (i.e., the Warrant). (Id. at 100-01, 132.) Defendant Swords continued to follow Plaintiff until he turned into a convenience store's parking lot and parked his vehicle. (Id. at 33, 132.) When Plaintiff exited his car, Defendant Swords detained Plaintiff and advised him that there was an active warrant for his arrest.[3] (Id. at 33-36, 132.) Defendant Swords then confirmed the Warrant's validity via SCMPD's records department. (Id. at 132.) Despite the protests of Plaintiff and the passenger in the Grand Am, Arnette Singleton, that Defendant Swords was arresting the wrong person and should instead be arresting Plaintiff's brother, Jamie Parker, Defendant Swords placed, Plaintiff under arrest for the crime set forth in the Warrant and transported him to the Chatham County Detention Center ("CCDC"). (Id. at 32-38, 132.)

         Upon arriving at the CCDC, Plaintiff was processed by jail officials and placed in a holding cell with approximately nine other individuals. (Id. at 38-51.) While being processed, Plaintiff continued to profess his innocence. (Id. at 40-41.) When jail officials fingerprinted Plaintiff, they discovered that Plaintiff's fingerprints were not in the system. (Id. at 45.) According to Plaintiff, upon making this discovery, jail officials stated to Plaintiff that someone had "made a mistake" in arresting him but that there was nothing they could do until Plaintiff went before the judge the following morning.[4] (Id. at 45-48.)

         On the afternoon of June 15, 2015, Plaintiff made his first appearance before the Recorder's Court of Chatham County via video feed from the CCDC. (Id. at 51-52.) After the charges against Plaintiff were read, Defendant Wright informed the court that a mistake had been made and that Plaintiff was not the individual she had sought under the Warrant. (Id. at 52-54; Wright Aff. ¶¶ 17-18.) Accordingly, the presiding judge dismissed the charges against Plaintiff and ordered his release; Plaintiff was discharged from the CCDC at approximately 11 p.m. that same evening. (Parker Dep. at 54, 58, 103-04, 130; Wright Aff. ¶ 19.)

         On or about May 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the State Court of Chatham County, Georgia, alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state-law claims.[5]Defendants Wright and Chatham County removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367, and 1441. Defendants now move for summary judgment.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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 Court shall grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). 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) (internal citation omitted).

         "[The] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record before the court] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment by demonstrating that there is indeed a genuine issue as to the material facts of its case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of those material facts "is 'genuine' . . . [only] if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id.

         When ruling on the motion, the Court must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving party's favor. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The Court must also avoid weighing conflicting evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; McKenzie v. Davenport-Harris Funeral Home, 834 F.2d 930, 934 (11th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the non-moving party's response to the motion for summary judgment must consist of more than conclusory allegations, and a mere "scintilla" of evidence will not suffice. Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990); Pepper v. Coates, 887 F.2d 1493, 1498 (11th Cir. 198 9). "The non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through speculation, conjecture, or evidence that is 'merely colorable' or 'not significantly probative.'" Bryant v. Dougherty Cty. Sch. Sys., 382 F.App'x 914, 917 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986))).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his complaint, Plaintiff raises four primary claims: (1) a constitutional violation under § 1983; (2) a state-law negligence claim; (3) a state-law wrongful arrest claim; and (4) a state-law false imprisonment claim.[6] The Court addresses each in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. ...


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