United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division
RICHARD W. STORY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the Court on Defendants' Motions for
Summary Judgment [Doc. Nos. 55, 57, 59, and 60] and
Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No.
a civil action related to the allegedly unlawful arrest of
Plaintiff Anthony Wayne Hardigree on August 4, 2016, at a
mobile home in Statham, Georgia.
Drug Investigation of Anthony Rodgers
Rodgers, known in the Statham community as
“Antman” and/or “Ant, ” was the
subject of a criminal drug investigation [Doc. No. 60-2,
¶ 1, admitted]. Based upon information from a
confidential informant, law enforcement officers were
conducting surveillance of a known drug house on Wall Road in
Statham, Georgia, on August 4, 2016 [Doc. No. 57-2, ¶ 1,
admitted]. Defendant Chad Norris, a Barrow County
Sheriff's Deputy, and Defendant Marc Lofton, a City of
Statham police officer, were involved in the surveillance
operation [Doc. No. 60-2, ¶ 1, admitted]. Law
enforcement observed Antman leaving the Wall Road residence
in a red Ford Explorer [Doc. No. 57-2, ¶ 2, admitted].
After losing Antman, Defendant Norris made a call out on the
radio to stop the Explorer [Id., ¶ 3, admitted;
Doc. No. 60-2, ¶ 2, admitted].
Geiman, another Barrow County Sheriff's Deputy, followed
up on the radio traffic connected to Antman and joined the
search for his Explorer [Doc. No. 60-2, ¶ 3, admitted].
After a few minutes, Deputy Geiman spotted the Explorer near
a mobile home located on McCarty Road in a mobile home park
[Doc. No. 57-2, ¶¶ 5-6, admitted]. This mobile home
was Plaintiff's residence [Id., ¶ 5,
admitted]. As she pulled up, Deputy Geiman observed Antman
leaving Plaintiff's residence carrying a bag or backpack
over his shoulder and getting back into his Explorer [Doc.
No. 60-2, ¶ 5, admitted]. Deputy Geiman approached the
vehicle, and Defendant Lofton arrived shortly thereafter
[Doc. No. 63-2, ¶¶ 13-14, admitted]. Defendant
Smith, a Georgia State Patrol Trooper, was also asked to
assist with the traffic stop [Doc. No. 55-1, ¶ 1,
Smith saw Deputy Geiman speaking with Antman through the
driver's side door of the Ford Explorer [Id.,
¶ 7, admitted]. Trooper Smith asked Antman for his
driver's license and immediately noticed an odor of
marijuana [Id., ¶ 8, admitted]. Deputy Geiman
and Officer Lofton then arrested Antman and a female occupant
of the Explorer [Doc. No. 63-2, ¶ 15, admitted]. Deputy
Geiman, Trooper Smith, and Officer Lofton then searched the
Explorer [Id., ¶ 16, admitted]. Inside the
vehicle, they found approximately 29 grams of
methamphetamine, some marijuana, and other drug paraphernalia
[Doc. No. 55-1, ¶ 13, admitted]; Doc. No. 57-2, ¶
12, admitted]. During the search and while waiting for Deputy
Norris to arrive at the scene, Deputy Geiman informed Officer
Lofton and Trooper Smith that she had seen Antman walking
from Plaintiff's residence [Doc. No. 57-2, ¶ 13,
admitted]. Deputy Norris arrived about twenty-five minutes
after Deputy Geiman initiated the stop of the Explorer
[Id., ¶ 15, admitted].
Interaction with Plaintiff
Smith then approached the mobile home to conduct a
knock-and-talk with the residents [Doc. No. 55-1, ¶ 15,
admitted]. One of the female residents, Torry Craig, answered
the door [Id., ¶ 16, admitted]. Ms. Craig told
Trooper Smith that she did not know Antman but that her
husband, Plaintiff Hardigree, had spoken with him
[Id., ¶ 17, admitted]. Ms. Craig then left the
doorway of the mobile home to get Plaintiff Hardigree
[Id., ¶ 18, admitted]. Officer Lofton also
approached the door to speak with Plaintiff [Doc. No. 57-2,
¶ 21, admitted]. Plaintiff stated that he did not know
Antman well and that he was at the house to ask about a job
at Plaintiff's brother's welding shop [Id.,
¶ 19, admitted; Doc. No. 63-2, ¶ 25, admitted].
Officer Lofton interjected that Plaintiff was “in the
game, too” [Doc. No. 57-2, ¶ 23, admitted]. Deputy
Norris then approached the mobile home [Id., ¶
25, admitted]. Trooper Smith then stepped away, returning to
his patrol car for a short period of time and then standing
near the door of the mobile home [Id.].
Norris asked for permission to come inside the residence to
search it, but Plaintiff refused to give his consent
[Id., ¶ 26, admitted]. He stated that the
residence belonged to his sister [Id., ¶ 27,
admitted]. Plaintiff argued with Officer Lofton and Deputy
Norris about closing his door and terminating the police
encounter; they told Plaintiff that he needed to exit the
residence [Id., ¶ 29, admitted]. Instead,
Plaintiff turned around to go farther inside the residence;
he states that he did so to call his sister [Doc. No. 60-2,
¶¶ 19-20, admitted]. Deputy Norris then shouted
“10-10, ” the code for a fight in progress. [Doc.
No. 55-1, ¶ 26, admitted].
Lofton entered the residence, followed by Deputy Norris, and
tried to stop Plaintiff from continuing farther into the
residence [Doc. No. 57-2, ¶ 38, admitted]. Officer
Lofton then unholstered his taser and deployed it while
Plaintiff was standing up and facing him [Id.,
¶ 40, admitted]. Trooper Smith and Deputy Geiman rushed
into the mobile home to assist [Id., ¶ 42,
admitted]. Plaintiff was on the ground, and Officer Lofton
ordered him to show his hands [Id., ¶ 43,
admitted]. Plaintiff did not do so, and Officer Lofton used
his taser in a “drive stun” [Id., ¶
47, admitted]. Upon entering, Trooper Smith saw Plaintiff
face-down on the ground while Officer Lofton deployed the
taser prongs and Deputy Geiman attempted to place handcuffs
on Plaintiff [Doc. No. 55-1, ¶ 28, admitted]. Plaintiff
was then placed under arrest and charged with simple assault
and battery (under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23), disorderly
conduct (under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-39), and obstructing law
enforcement officers (under O.C.G.A. § 16-10-24) [Doc.
No. 55-1, ¶ 36, admitted].
Smith then conducted a protective sweep of the mobile home
[Doc. No. 55-1, ¶ 32, admitted]. Trooper Smith's
only interaction with Plaintiff during or after the use of
force was after he had been placed under arrest and taken
outside of the mobile home [Id., ¶ 37,
admitted]. Trooper Smith did not use any hands-on force
against Plaintiff [Id., ¶ 39, admitted].
case was filed on November 13, 2017 [Doc. No. 1]. Plaintiff
filed a Second Amended Complaint on March 16, 2018 [Doc. No.
27]. In Counts One, Two, and Four, Plaintiff asserts claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the individual Defendants
for unlawful entry, false arrest, and excessive force
[Id.]. In Count Three, Plaintiff asserts a §
1983 claim against Defendant Lofton for malicious prosecution
[Id.]. In Count Five, Plaintiff asserts state law
claims against Defendants Lofton and City of Statham for
false imprisonment, assault, battery, and malicious
prosecution [Id.]. All parties have now moved for
summary judgment [Doc. Nos. 55, 57, 59, 60 and 63].
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires that summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
“The moving party bears ‘the initial
responsibility of informing the . . . court of the basis for
its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.'” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co.,
1256');">357 F.3d 1256, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 17');">477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal
quotations omitted)). Where the moving party makes such a
showing, 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 does exist.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257
(1986). The applicable substantive law identifies which facts
are material. Id. at 248. A fact is not material if
a dispute over that fact will not affect the outcome of the
suit under the governing law. Id. An issue is
genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id.
resolving a motion for summary judgment, the court must view
all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. Patton v. Triad
Guar. Ins. Corp., 1294');">277 F.3d 1294, 1296 (11th Cir. 2002).
But, the court is bound only to draw those inferences that
are reasonable. “Where the record taken as a whole
could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.”
Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642');">121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th
Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “If the
evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations
omitted); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (once
the moving party has met its burden under Rule 56(a), the
nonmoving party “must do more than simply show there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”).
Court will discuss the qualified immunity doctrine generally
and then address each party's arguments in turn.
Qualified Immunity Doctrine
doctrine of qualified immunity protects governmental
officials who are sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money
damages in their personal, or individual capacities, but only
so long as “their conduct violates no clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The doctrine
requires that a defendant claiming immunity must initially
“prove that ‘he was acting within the scope of
his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred.'” Lee v. Ferraro, 1188');">284 F.3d 1188,
1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Courson v. McMillian,
1479');">939 F.2d 1479, 1487 (11th Cir. 1991)). If that threshold
prerequisite is satisfied, courts generally apply a two-part
test. The initial inquiry requires the court to determine
whether the facts, viewed “in the light most favorable
to the party asserting the injury, ” show that
“the officer's conduct violated a constitutional
right.” Saucier v. Katz, 194');">533 U.S. 194, 201
(2001). If that initial inquiry is answered affirmatively,
then the court will proceed to analyze the second aspect of
the two-part test: i.e., “whether the right
was clearly established.” Id. Strict adherence
to the order of those two inquiries is not required, however.
See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)
(“On reconsidering the procedure required in
Saucier, we conclude that, while the sequence set
forth there is often appropriate, it should not longer be
regarded as mandatory.”) Instead, in appropriate cases,
it is within a district court's discretion to assume that
a constitutional violation occurred in order to address, in
the first instance, the question of whether such a presumed
violation was “clearly established” on the date
of the incident leading to suit. Id.
determining whether the unlawfulness of an official's
actions was “clearly established, ” the pertinent
question is whether the state of the law on the date of the
defendant's alleged misconduct placed defendants on
“fair warning that their alleged treatment of [the
plaintiff] was unconstitutional.” Hope v.
Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002); Williams v.
Consolidated City of Jacksonville, 1 F.3d 1261');">341 F.3d 1261, 1270
(11th Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court has rejected the
requirement that the facts of previous cases must always be
“materially similar” to those facing the
plaintiff. Hope, 536 U.S. at 739. Instead, for a
constitutional right to be deemed “clearly established,
its contours “must be sufficiently clear that a
reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right. This is not to say that an official
action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very
action in question has previously been held unlawful; but it
is to say that in the light of pre-existing law the
unlawfulness must be apparent.
Hope, 536 U.S. at 741 (citations omitted). An
officer can receive “fair notice” of his or her
unlawful conduct in various ways.
First, the words of the pertinent federal statute or federal
constitutional provision in some cases will be specific
enough to establish clearly the law applicable to particular
conduct and circumstances and to overcome qualified immunity,
even in the total absence of case law. This kind of
case is one kind of “obvious clarity” case. For
example, the words of a federal statute or federal
constitutional provision may be so clear and the conduct so
bad that case law is not needed to establish that the conduct
cannot be lawful.
Second, if the conduct is not so egregious as to violate, for
example, the Fourth Amendment on its face, we then turn
to case law. When looking at case law, some broad
statements of principle in case law are not tied to
particularized facts and can clearly establish law applicable
in the future to different sets of detailed facts. For
example, if some authoritative judicial decision decides a
case by determining that “X Conduct” is
unconstitutional without tying that determination to
a particularized set of facts, the decision on “X
Conduct” can be read as having clearly established a
constitutional principle: put differently, the precise facts
surrounding “X Conduct” are immaterial to the
violation. These judicial decisions can control “with
obvious clarity” a wide variety of later factual
circumstances. These precedents are hard to distinguish from
later cases because so few facts are material to the broad
legal principle established in these precedents; thus, this
is why factual differences are often immaterial to the later
decisions. But for judge-made law, there is a presumption
against wide principles of law. And if a broad principle in
case law is to establish clearly the law applicable to a
specific set of facts facing a governmental official, it must
do so “with obvious clarity” to the point that
every objectively reasonable government official facing the
circumstances would know that the official's conduct did
violate federal law when the official acted.
Third, if we have no case law with a broad holding of
“X” that is not tied to particularized facts, we
then look at precedent that is tied to the facts.
That is, we look for cases in which the Supreme Court or we,
or the pertinent state supreme court has said that “Y
Conduct” is unconstitutional in “Z
Circumstances.” We believe that most judicial
precedents are tied to particularized facts and fall in this
category. . . . When fact-specific precedents are said to
have established the law, a case that is fairly
distinguishable from the circumstances facing a government
official cannot clearly establish the law for the
circumstances facing that government official; so, qualified
immunity applies. On the other hand, if the circumstances
facing a government official are not fairly distinguishable,
that is, are materially similar, the precedent can clearly
establish the applicable law.
Vinyard v. Wilson, 11 F.3d 1340');">311 F.3d 1340, 1350-52 (11th Cir.
2002) (citations omitted, emphasis in original). See also
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 1');">563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011) (“We
do not require a case directly on point, but existing
precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional
question beyond debate.”).
Defendant Statham Police Officer Marc Lofton
asserts federal claims against Defendant Statham Police
Officer Marc Lofton for illegal entry (Count One), false
arrest (Count Two), malicious prosecution (Count Three), and
excessive force (Count Four), and state law claims for false
imprisonment, assault and battery, and malicious prosecution
(Count Five). Officer Lofton asserts that he is entitled to
summary judgment for four reasons: (1) Plaintiff cannot
establish a malicious prosecution claim; (2) he did not
violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights; (3) assuming
he violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights, he is
entitled to qualified immunity; (4) Plaintiff's state law
claims fail because there was probable cause; and (5) he is
entitled to official immunity for claims based on state law.
Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on
Count One because Officer Lofton violated his clearly
established Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering his
home. The Court will address the series of events that took
place during the encounter between Plaintiff and law
enforcement and address qualified immunity in turn.
Knock and Talk to Terry Stop
encounter with law enforcement began with what appears to be
a run-of-the-mill “knock and talk” when Trooper
Smith knocked on Plaintiff's door. Law enforcement
“[o]fficers are allowed to knock on a residence's
door or otherwise approach the residence seeking to speak to
the inhabitants just as any private citizen may.”
United States v. Taylor, 1201');">458 F.3d 1201, 1204 (11th
[W]hen a citizen is not detained by a Terry stop or
otherwise lawfully detained and chooses to speak with an
officer, that citizen has the right to cease answering
questions and walk away from the officer; this encounter is
entirely voluntary. When this type of interaction occurs as
the result of a citizen's decision to speak with officers
after they knock on the door of his home, provided that no
warrant or probable cause and exigent circumstances exist,
the citizen has the right to terminate his voluntary
participation in the conversation by retiring into his home
and closing the door.
Moore, 806 F.3d at 1044, n.11.
point in time, Officer Lofton and Deputy Norris approached
the porch, and Trooper Smith moved away towards his patrol
car. The audio recording of the encounter[1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1] from Officer
Lofton's dash camera captured the following dialogue:
LOFTON: How do you know this guy [Antman]?
PLAINTIFF: I don't really know him.
LOFTON: He didn't bring you anything?
PLAINTIFF: Just now?
LOFTON: Yes, just now.
PLAINTIFF: No, sir.
LOFTON: He came inside?
PLAINTIFF: Yes, I gave him a water and sent him on his way.
LOFTON: So, he didn't bring you anything?
PLAINTIFF: No, sir.
LOFTON: What'd he do? What do you think he did?
PLAINTIFF: I don't know.
LOFTON: So you don't know what he was doing?
PLAINTIFF: No, I don't know what he was doing.
LOFTON: You do, too. You're in the game, too, man.
I've arrested you. I've locked you up before.
[referencing Plaintiff's previous DUI (less safe) arrest]
PLAINTIFF: I was taking medication because I was sick.
LOFTON: You were not sick.
PLAINTIFF: I was too sick. I got the paperwork that shows I
I nearly died. I would've died if I would've stayed
at that jail over there. You can believe that or not . . .
[unintelligible]. Y'all do what y'all gotta do.
NORRIS: Hey, buddy. What's your name?
NORRIS: Anthony who?
NORRIS: Can we come inside?
PLAINTIFF: No, sir.
PLAINTIFF: It's not my house.
NORRIS: It's not your house?
NORRIS: Okay. Where do you live?
PLAINTIFF: I live here. I stay here. But it's not my
NORRIS: Whose house is it then?
PLAINTIFF: My sister's.
NORRIS: Can you call her then?
PLAINTIFF: Uh, yeah, I'll call her.
NORRIS: Whoa, stay right there.
PLAINTIFF: It's my door. I can't close my door? You
can't keep me from shutting my door.
NORRIS: Whoa, stay right there.
PLAINTIFF: It's my door. I can't close my door? You
can't keep me from shutting my door.
OFFICER: Uh, yeah, we can.
PLAINTIFF: What have I done?
NORRIS: Let me explain it to you. . . . Calm down. The thing
is, we've got a known drug dealer coming to your house,
coming in with a backpack. Coming out with a backpack. He got
drugs all ...