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Hagans v. Kennedy

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

March 21, 2019

RICKY HAGANS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN B. KENNEDY, MEGAN WRIGHT, and KAREN WRIGHT, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants John B. Kennedy, Megan Wright, and Karen Wright conspired to falsely arrest and maliciously prosecute him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and that they maliciously arrested and prosecuted him in violation of Georgia law. Defendants move for summary judgment on the claims against them, and for the following reasons, Defendants Megan Wright and Karen Wright's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 24] and Defendant Kennedy's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 27] are GRANTED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This action arises from Plaintiff's arrest for stalking and the subsequent nolle prosequi of the charges against him. At the time of the relevant events, Plaintiff, then 47 years old, worked with Defendant Megan Wright (“Megan”), then 17 years old, at Howard Sheppard, Inc., a trucking company in Sandersville, Georgia. [Doc. 24-1, ¶¶ 1- 3; Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 1, 4]. On February 24, 2014, Megan and her mother, Defendant Karen Wright (“Karen”), sat down with Defendant John B. Kennedy (“Officer Kennedy”), who was a police officer with the City of Sandersville Police Department at the time, to discuss two encounters Megan claims she had with Plaintiff on February 18 and 21. [Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 9, 39]. Megan gave Officer Kennedy a statement, in which she wrote:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 about 5:45pm I was walking into Walmart while talking on the phone with my mom . . . . Walking to the cards I passed [Plaintiff] Ricky Hagans, I recognized him from work (Howard Sheppard). He smiled and said hey so I said hey, like any time at work. Then I saw a friend of my parents, Voyen Souter. I stopped to speak to him at the corner of the cards aisle beside the womens clothing[, ] still on the phone with my mom. Mr. Voyen and I talked for a few minutes. During this time, [Plaintiff] comes up behind Mr. Voyen and mouthed to me to call him. I looked back at Mr. Voyen and ignored [Plaintiff]. Then he moved even closer[, ] looked me up and down and mouthed[, ] “You really need to call me.” That time I just looked at him like he was stupid. Mr. Voyen walked away and I went to the card aisle to find a card (still on the phone with mama). [Plaintiff] walks with his buggy behind the aisle I was on, across the outside aisle and backed [himself] and buggy into the aisle across from me and just watched me. At this point I had enough so I left.
Friday, February 21, 2014 about 5:20 or 5:30 pm I went to Walmart to get pants. Again I walked in the pharmacy side and as soon as I went to turn by the cash registers I saw [Plaintiff]. Immediately I put my head down and quickly turned and kept walking. Then I heard “Hey Megan!” I looked back and there was [Plaintiff] saying hey. I replied hey and kept walking. I replied hey hoping that he would leave me alone.

[Doc. 1-1]. Megan testified that the first encounter made her “very uncomfortable.” [Doc. 42, pp. 18:21-19:1].

         Plaintiff, on the other hand, testified that he saw Megan in Walmart on February 11-not February 18-but did not know who she was. [Doc. 25, pp. 70:1-72:1]. According to Plaintiff, Megan waved at him, but because he did not recognize her, he “went about [his] business” and entered the checkout line. [Id.]. While he was in line, his wife called and asked him to look at the prices for microwaves because theirs had stopped working. [Id.]. Plaintiff exited the checkout line, started walking toward the microwaves, and saw Megan again. [Id.]. She was “constantly waving” at him but stopped to speak with a man before she could reach Plaintiff. [Id.]. Rather than stopping to mouth words to Megan as she claims, Plaintiff testified that he kept walking past her and the man to whom she was speaking. [Id.]. When he got to the microwave aisle, he saw Megan across from him in the card aisle and called his wife to tell her that Megan was looking at him like she wanted to say something. [Id.]. His wife told him to leave, so he re-entered the checkout line and saw Megan leave the store. [Id.]. He testified that after February 11, he never saw Megan again, even though he admits that he may have been in the same Walmart on February 21 when Megan claims he spoke to her. [Id. at pp. 71:25-72:1, 76:25-77:1, 78:5-13].

         Prior to meeting with Megan and Karen on February 24, Officer Kennedy went to the Walmart to review surveillance footage based on limited information he had received from Megan and Karen before the meeting. [Doc. 40, pp. 21:21-22:8].[1] In three black-and-white still photos from the February 18 surveillance footage, a person-whose features are unascertainable-is circled with black marker. [Doc. 40, pp. 91-93]. In one of these photos, the circled person has a shopping cart and is labeled “backing buggy into aisle.” [Id. at p. 93].[2" name="FN2" id="FN2">2] None of the still photos in the record are date-stamped February 21. [Id. at pp. 91-95]. Because the surveillance video contained no audio, Officer Kennedy could not tell whether the person in the video spoke to Megan. [Doc. 40, p. 34:3-6]. Karen testified that after Officer Kennedy viewed the surveillance footage, he contacted her and told her that the video clearly depicted the events that Megan claimed had occurred. [Doc. 43, pp. 16:23-17:4].

         Megan and Karen testified that Officer Kennedy made reference to other incidents involving Plaintiff that he knew of, and they believed they were a small part of a bigger criminal investigation of Plaintiff. [Doc. 42, pp. 40:11-41:3, 57:18-25, 59:9-15; Doc. 43, pp. 21:5-22:4]. Kennedy disputes telling Megan and Karen that he had evidence of other incidents involving Plaintiff, [Doc. 40, p. 30:15-19], and he testified that he gave them two options: he could personally ask Plaintiff to leave Megan alone or they could proceed with criminal action. [Id. at pp. 29:18-30:2]. He further testified that they chose the second option. [Id. at p. 30:3-5]. However, Megan testified that they never told Officer Kennedy that they wanted to press charges against Plaintiff; they simply wanted law enforcement to be aware of these events in case they developed further. [Doc. 42, pp. 47:16-48:4, 54:2-5]. Karen, on the other hand, testified that it was her decision to press charges against Plaintiff and supported Officer Kennedy's decision to arrest Plaintiff as long as he had enough evidence to do so. [Doc. 43, pp. 23:18-24:2, 24:1-23].

         Armed with Megan's statement, a copy of the surveillance video, copies of the still photos from the video, and his belief that he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff, Officer Kennedy applied for an arrest warrant from the Washington County Magistrate Judge. [Doc. 40, pp. 38:15-39:4, 67:19-25]. Officer Kennedy's affidavit in support of his warrant application merely states, “Subject is following and harassing [Megan] to go out with him.” [Id. at p. 87]. When asked what evidence he based this statement on, Officer Kennedy testified that he made the assumption that Plaintiff was attempting to get Megan to date him based on Megan's statement that Plaintiff told her to call him. [Id. at pp. 35:25-36:15].[3" name="FN3" id="FN3">3] Officer Kennedy also testified that the Walmart surveillance video showed Plaintiff following Megan through the store. [Id. at p. 35:4-7].

         On February 26, 2014, after reviewing Officer Kennedy's affidavit and Megan's statement-but not the surveillance footage or still photos-the Washington County Magistrate Judge issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. [Id. at p. 39:1-10, p. 87]. Plaintiff was arrested at work the next day and subsequently charged via accusation with stalking Megan in violation of Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-90. [Id. at p. 97; Doc. 25, p. 26:6-9]. In Georgia, stalking is defined as following, placing under surveillance, or contacting another person at a certain place without that person's consent for the purpose of harassing and intimidating him or her. Ga Code Ann. § 16-5-90(a)(1).

[T]he term ‘harassing and intimidating' means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person's safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose.

Id. A person who commits this offense and has no previous conviction for this offense is guilty of a misdemeanor. Id. at (b).

         Several months after Plaintiff was charged, Kerri Sheram, a woman who worked at Howard Sheppard with Megan and who was, coincidentally, Officer Kennedy's former stepdaughter, gave Officer Kennedy a written statement in which she claimed that Plaintiff followed her around town, loitered around her workplace, and sent her letters in 1992 when she was 16 years old. [Doc. 25-1; Doc. 39, pp. 7:17-19, 10:2-5]. Tamiko Watts also wrote a statement regarding Plaintiff after seeing an article in the Sandersville newspaper about his arrest. [Doc. 41, pp. 5:18-6:25]. In her statement, Ms. Watts wrote that she “experienced harassing phone calls, being followed, and inappropriate comments” from Plaintiff at an unspecified time, which made her “feel like [she] was being stalked.” [Doc. 25-2]. She gave her statement to Karen, who she worked with, and Karen forwarded it to Officer Kennedy. [Doc. 41, p. 6:21-25; Doc. 43, p. 31:12-19]. Officer Kennedy put the statements in his investigative file and informed the solicitor that he had them in case they were needed during Plaintiff's prosecution. [Doc. 40, pp. 75:22-76:4]. On January 11, 2016, after repeated continuances, a Washington County State Court judge dismissed Plaintiff's criminal action via nolle prosequi. [Doc. 1-3, p. 1].

         Plaintiff filed this action on October 6, 2017, alleging that Defendants falsely claimed that Plaintiff followed Megan and asked her to go out with him. See generally [Doc. 1]. He further alleges that Defendants conspired to secure his arrest and prosecution despite knowing that Megan's statement and Officer Kennedy's affidavit were false. According to Plaintiff, Officer Kennedy also knew that he did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff but sought and obtained a warrant anyway. Based on these contentions, Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for civil conspiracy to falsely arrest and maliciously prosecute him; under Ga. Code Ann. § 51-7-1 for maliciously arresting him; and under Ga. Code Ann. § 51-7-40 for maliciously prosecuting him. Defendants now move for summary judgment on the claims against them, and the Court finds as follows.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to 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 a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As to issues for which the movant would bear the burden of proof at trial, the “movant must affirmatively show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and support its motion with credible evidence demonstrating that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party on all of the essential elements of its case.” Landolfi v. City of Melbourne, 32');">515 Fed.Appx. 832, 834 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112');">2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993)). As to issues for which the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial, the movant may (1) simply point out an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case or (2) provide “affirmative evidence demonstrating that the [non-movant] will be unable to prove its case at trial.” United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop. in Greene & Tuscaloosa Ctys., 2d 1428');">941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 317');">477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)).

         Once the movant satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant, who must “go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists.” Porter v. Ray, 3d 1315');">461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115-17) (emphasis added). “A factual dispute is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving ...


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