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Hobbs v. Lee

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

September 22, 2017

CORTNEY HOBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE LEE II; TIFFANY SMITHWICK; and BRANDON THACKER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the remaining defendants George Lee II, Tiffany Smithwick, and Brandon Thacker's ("Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 42.) The Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff timely notice of Defendants' summary judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 47.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), have been satisfied. Plaintiff filed a response and a sur-reply in opposition to the summary judgment motion and Defendants filed a reply in support. (Doc. 64, 70, 72.) The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is ripe for consideration. Upon consideration of the record evidence, relevant law, and the parties' respective briefs, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Between midnight and 12:30 a.m. on January 19, 2013, Plaintiff left his apartment in his 1979 Chevrolet El Camino with the intent to visit a friend. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("PSMF"), Doc. 65, ¶¶ 4-5; see also Hobbs Dep., Doc. 50, at 43-46.) Plaintiff was subsequently stopped by a Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy, Defendant Lee, [1]for having allegedly failed to maintain his lane.[2] (Lee Dep., Doc. 51, at 20-21.) Plaintiff denies that he failed to maintain his lane or otherwise did anything justifying the traffic stop. (Hobbs Dep. at 114.)

         After Plaintiff stopped, [3] Defendant Lee exited his patrol car and approached Plaintiff's vehicle. (PSMF ¶ 16; Lee Dep. at 26-27.) Plaintiff identified himself and informed Defendant Lee that he was having difficulty locating his driver's license. (Hobbs Dep. at 69-70; Lee Dep. at 28.) According to Defendant Lee, Plaintiff "was acting very nervous, " "was moving around constantly, " "kept touching the lower left side of his jacket, " and his "speech was labored" and "eyes were bloodshot."[4] (Lee Decl., Doc. 42-10, ¶ 7; see also Lee Dep. at 31.) Defendant Lee returned to his patrol vehicle to verify Plaintiff's identity and the vehicle's status, as well as any warrants against Plaintiff that were outstanding, and "[e]verything came back valid." (Lee Dep. at 28-30; PSMF ¶ 22.)

         Defendant Lee then returned to Plaintiff's vehicle and requested Plaintiff's permission to search his vehicle.[5] (Hobbs Dep. at 74; Lee Dep. at 30.) Plaintiff initially refused Defendant Lee's request, who then told Plaintiff to "wait a minute or hold on" without further explanation.[6] (Lee Dep. at 30, 49-50; see also Hobbs Dep. at 74.) After "waiting for a while, " Plaintiff became restless and consented to the search of his vehicle.[7] (Hobbs Dep. at 74; see also Lee Dep. at 30, 49-50; PSMF ¶ 24.) At this time two additional officers with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Defendants Thacker and Smithwick, arrived on the scene.[8] (Lee Dep. at 32; Smithwick Dep., Doc. 57, at 7-9, 15; Thacker Dep., Doc. 52, at 20-23; PSMF ¶ 25.) Defendant Lee then asked Plaintiff to exit and step to the rear of Plaintiff's vehicle, where Defendants Thacker and Smithwick were standing. (Hobbs Dep. at 75; Lee Dep. at 39; PSMF ¶ 26.)

         As requested, Plaintiff exited his vehicle and walked towards Defendants Thacker and Smithwick. (Hobbs Dep. at 74-79; Lee Dep. at 39; Smithwick Dep. at 9; Thacker Dep. at 23-24.) When he reached Defendants Thacker and Smithwick, Plaintiff turned around; without warning, Defendant Smithwick began frisking Plaintiff from behind.[9] (Hobbs Dep. at 76, 80; but see Smithwick Dep. at 9; Thacker Dep. at 24-25.) Caught off guard by Defendant Smithwick's frisking, [10] Plaintiff put his hands in the air, began backing up, and stated that he did not consent to any search of his person. (Hobbs Dep. at 80-82; but see Smithwick Dep. at 9; Thacker Dep. at 24-28.) Defendant Smithwick continued the frisk undeterred. (Hobbs Dep. at 81-82; Smithwick Dep. at 14-16; Thacker Dep. at 24-29.)

         During her frisk of Plaintiff, Defendant Smithwick felt an item in Plaintiff's bottom-left jacket pocket and asked Plaintiff to identify it. (Hobbs Dep. at 82; but see Lee Dep. at 54; Lee Decl. ¶ 16; Smithwick Dep. at 15-16; Thacker Dep. at 24-25.) Plaintiff informed her that it was a glass mason jar containing marijuana. (Hobbs Dep. at 82; Thacker Dep. at 25, 29.) Without further instruction, Defendants Thacker and Strickland immediately grabbed Plaintiff's arms and attempted to force him to the ground. (Hobbs Dep. at 82; but see Lee Dep. at 39-42; Smithwick Dep. at 16-17; Thacker Dep. At 25-26.) Plaintiff was forced to his knees and - to avoid having his face hit the ground - used his left hand to prop himself up. (Hobbs Dep. at 82-89; Lee Dep. at 41-42.) At this point, Defendant Smithwick had Plaintiff in a headlock, Defendant Thacker was holding Plaintiff's right arm behind his back, and Defendant Lee was on Plaintiff's left side.[11] (Hobbs Dep. at 86-87; but see Lee Dep. at 41-42, 47, 53; Smithwick Dep. at 17-19; Thacker Dep. at 25-27.) Defendant Lee then struck Plaintiff in the face on or near his left eye.[12] (Hobbs Dep. at 90-92; Lee Dep. at 42.) After Defendant Lee struck Plaintiff in the face, Defendants placed Plaintiff in handcuffs.[13] (Hobbs Dep. at 93-95; Lee Decl. ¶ 14; Smithwick Dep. at 20-21; Thacker Dep. at 27-28.)

         After the incident, a narcotics investigator with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, John Seebode, arrived on the scene. (Hobbs Dep. at 97-98; Seebode Decl., Doc. 42-9, ¶ 4.) Mr. Seebode read Plaintiff his Miranda rights and obtained a Miranda waiver from Plaintiff before interviewing him. (Hobbs Dep. at 97-100, 115-23; Seebode Decl. ¶ 9.) An EMT eventually arrived on the scene and asked Plaintiff if he wanted to go to the hospital for treatment of his injuries. (Hobbs Dep. at 95-96.) While Plaintiff initially stated that he wished to go to the hospital, he declined EMT's offer after one of the Defendants dissuaded him from seeking medical treatment.[14] (Hobbs Dep. at 96-97.) Plaintiff was subsequently taken to the Columbia County Detention Center ("CCDC") for booking. (Hobbs Dep. at 103-04; see also Doc. 64-1 (Plaintiff's booking photo).) At approximately 8:17 a.m. on January 19, 2013, Plaintiff was "bonded out and released from [the CCDC]." (Hobbs Dep. at 105.) Immediately after his release from the CCDC, Plaintiff went to the emergency room for his injuries.[15] (Id. at 107-09.)

         Plaintiff was subsequently charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer and possession of marijuana, and was issued a "courtesy warning" for failure to maintain lane. (Hobbs Dep. at 110-12 & Exs. 6, 7, 8.) On or about June 24, 2013, the aforementioned criminal charges brought against Plaintiff were dismissed nolle prosequi.

         On January 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed his present complaint alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On November 15, 2016, Plaintiff and all of the defendants filed a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice as to defendants Clay Whittle, John Whittle, Lou Ciamillo, John Seebode, and Columbia County, which the Court granted on November 30, 2016. (Docs. 63, 69.) The remaining 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.[16] 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 Fed.Appx. 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. ...


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