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Alston v. City of Darien

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

November 17, 2017

GEORGE ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF DARIEN, a municipality and county seat of Mcintosh County, Georgia; DONNIE HOWARD, individually and in his capacity as Chief of the Darien Police Department; ANTHONY BROWN, individually and in his capacity as a Police Officer for the Darien Police Department, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's George Alston and Defendants' City of Darien, Donnie Howard, and Anthony Brown ("Defendants") competing motions for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 23) and for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 22), respectively. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' Motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         While stationed on the shoulder of Interstate 95, Darien Police Officer Anthony Brown observed a white Mercedes with dark window tint traveling southbound. Dkt. No. 23-1 p. 2; Dkt. No. 22-5, 6:24-25, 7:1-2. Brown initiated a traffic stop for a suspected violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-8-73, which prohibits . fixing of materials which reduce transmission or increase light reflectance through windows or windshields. Dkt. No. 22-5, 7:9-24. While approaching the car, Brown also noticed that the vehicle's license plate was partially obscured. Dkt. No. 22-6, 6:1-3. Brown asked the driver of the car, George Alston, to roll up his windows; Brown then checked the windows with a tint meter. Dkt. No. 23-1 p. 2. The windows were tinted more darkly than is permitted under Georgia law. Dkt. No. 22-5, 7:15-17.

         Brown asked Alston for his license; Alston did not immediately comply, instead handing him an identification card from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). Dkt. No. 23-1 p. 2. Brown then wrote Alston two citations: the first for an obstructed tag frame in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-2-41, and the second for window tint violation under O.C.G.A. § 40-8-73. Dkt. No. 30. Alston signed only one of the two citations and then-according to Brown-said "[y]ou know, this is the second time you've done this fucking bullshit." Dkt. No. 22-5 66:16-25, 67:1-11.

         Brown commanded Alston to "[e]xit the vehicle" and told Alston he was under arrest. Dkt. No. 22-5, 50:15-19. According to Brown, Alston did not move, glaring at Brown instead. Dkt. No. 22-5, 50:21-23. Brown then drew his taser, pointed it at Alston's chest, and again commanded that Alston exit the vehicle. Dkt. No. 22-5, 11:1-12. Brown testified that the sole purpose of pointing his taser at Alston was because Alston did not immediately exit the vehicle when commanded to do so. Dkt. No. 22-5, 50:6-17.

         Faced with the taser, Alston did exit the vehicle and was placed in handcuffs. Dkt. No. 22-5, 12:14-25. According to Alston, Alston immediately told Brown that the handcuffs were "too tight"-but Brown finished clamping and locking the handcuffs. Dkt. No. 22-4, 27:3-25, 28:1-5.

         Alston was arrested. According to Brown, the sole purpose of Alston's custodial arrest was to take him to be fingerprinted. Dkt. No. 22-5, 21:25, 22:1-2. The Attorney General had previously designated window tint violations as an offense for which violators must be fingerprinted. Dkt. No. 22-1 p. 3. Brown had thereafter been instructed to effectuate this policy by his superior; Brown stated that he had been directed by the Chief of the Darien Police Department to bring in anyone who was cited for window tint violations. Dkt. No. 22-5, 22:5-10. Indeed, in his deposition, Darien Police Department Chief Howard confirmed that he had made that instruction on the basis of a request by the Clerk of the Mcintosh State Court. Dkt. No. 22-7, 32:5-12. The Clerk had been struggling to fill out paperwork as a result of the officers not making arrests for window tint violations, and had therefore requested that Chief Howard instruct his officers to arrest individuals for window tint violations. Dkt. No. 22-7, 32:7-35.

         But Alston says that Brown arrested him for another reason. According to Alston, Brown told Darien Officer Robbie Gault-who arrived at the scene of the arrest shortly after Alston's arrest-that Brown made the arrest because of how Alston "acted in the car with his wife, " and because Alston "was cussing [Brown] so I will call his job and have him fired." Dkt. No. 22-4, 28:11-17.

         Gault was responsible for transporting Alston to the jail. It took three to four minutes to travel to the Mcintosh County Jail, and then another two to three minutes before Gault could remove Alston's handcuffs. Dkt. No. 22-4, 30:17-19; 31:6-8. As Gault drove Alston to the jail, Alston told Gault that his handcuffs were too tight and asked him to loosen them. Dkt. No. 22-6, 5:6-21. Alston says that Gault told him, "You're a big guy; he should have used two pair of cuffs; he shouldn't have done that." Dkt. No. 22-4, 31:16-17. When Gault took the cuffs off his hands, Alston noticed that his left hand was swollen and his right hand was bleeding from a half-inch long gash. Dkt. No. 22-4, 33:14-22. Alston showed his injuries to jailor Tammy Skipper, who encouraged Alston to show his injuries to Brown's superior officer. Dkt. No. 22-4, 35:3-14. Gault's testimony, however, contradicted Defendant's assessment; he testified that Alston was not bleeding and only had "indentation of the skin" consistent with "normal use of a handcuff." Dkt. No. 22-6, 7:22-8:8. The booking sheet from the Mcintosh County Jail, signed by Alston, indicated that Alston had no visible signs of "trauma or illness" or "pain [or] injury." Dkt. No. 22-1, Ex. B. And the records from Southeast Georgia Health Systems indicate that providers who examined Alston hours after his meeting with Brown noted neither bleeding nor contusions. Dkt. No. 22-1, Ex. C.

         After his arrest and release from jail, Alston went to the Brunswick hospital, where X-rays were taken of his left hand. Dkt. No. 22-4, 45:15-20. At a May 15, 2014 follow-up appointment with Dr. Dunn, Alston's X-ray revealed a positive Tinel's sign in his left wrist, which Dr. Dunn diagnosed as indicative of an irritated radial sensory nerve. Dkt. No. 32-2, 11:1-8. Alston returned on June 5, 2014 reporting the same symptoms. Dkt. No. 32-2, 11:13-19. Alston again reported to the hospital on April 10, 2015, where Dunn performed an MRI, revealing arthritis and a full thickness tear of a connective ligament in Alston's wrist. Dkt. No. 32-2, 12:12-22. Now three years after the incident, Alston continues to struggle with pressing the clutch of his motorcycle, performing yard work, and body building. Dkt. No. 22-4, 47:15-23, 48:8-12.

         Plaintiff brings several claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Officer Anthony Brown, Chief Donnie Howard, and against the City of Darien alleging: (1) false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, (2) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and (3) liability of the City of Darien (Dkt. No. 1). He also alleges violations by Officer Brown and Chief Howard of Alston's First Amendment Rights and denial of a petition for redress. (Dkt. No. 1). Defendants moved for summary judgments on all claims. Dkt. No. 22. Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment only on the claims of false arrest and excessive force. Dkt. No. 23.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions which it believes demonstrate absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Taylor v. Espy, 816 F.Supp. 1553, 1556 (N.D.Ga. 1993) (citation omitted). If it shows that there is insufficient evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case, the moving party has satisfied its burden. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

         The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986). The nonmovant may meet this burden by showing that the record contains "supporting evidence, sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, which was 'overlooked or ignored' by the moving party." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 332 (Brennan, J., dissenting)). Alternatively, the nonmovant "may come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1117. But should the nonmovant instead attempt to carry this burden with nothing more "than a repetition of his conclusional allegations, summary judgment for the defendants [is] not only proper but required." Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981).

         At the summary judgment stage, it is the Court's responsibility "not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). When, as here, the parties have filed cross- motions for summary judgment, the applicable Rule 56 standard is not affected. See Gerling Glob. Reinsurance Corp. of Am. v. Gallagher, 267 F.3d 1228, 1233-34 (11th Cir. 2001). "[T]he facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party on each motion." Chavez v. Mercantil Commercebank, N.A., 701 F.3d 896, 899 (11th Cir. 2012).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants committed numerous violations of Section 1983. Plaintiff specifically makes a number of federal law claims against Brown and Howard in their official and individual capacities, in addition to seeking to hold the City of Darien liable for their actions. See generally Dkt. No. 1. In response, Defendants assert that qualified ...


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