United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
Randal Hall, Judge
case, Plaintiff alleged constitutional violations for
malicious prosecution and unlawful search under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Defendants Gary Jones and Jones Nalley in
their individual capacities and against Defendant City of
Grovetown. On August 24, 2018, this Court granted in part
Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and
denied in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment
upon the finding and conclusion that no reasonable officer
would have believed that a crime had been committed. Thus,
this Court concluded that the officers did not have even
arguable probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and denied
qualified immunity to the individual officers. The Court
dismissed Plaintiff's state law claim of negligence but
granted summary judgment as to liability on Plaintiff's
state law claim of malicious prosecution against the City of
Grovetown. The Court further directed that the case proceed
to trial against the officers and Defendant City of Grovetown
on the issue of damages.
August 16, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
reversed and remanded this decision. (See Stefani v. City
of Grovetown, Case No. 18-13906 (11th Cir.
Aug. 16, 2019), Doc. 101 ("Appeal Opinion").) The
Court of Appeals determined that the officers had arguable
probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and therefore are entitled
to qualified immunity against Plaintiff s federal claims. The
Court of Appeals therefore directed that this Court vacate
its August 24, 2018 Order to the extent it granted partial
summary judgment to Plaintiff on the individual-capacity
claims and remanded for entry of judgment in the
officers' favor. The Court of Appeals also directed that
this Court vacate its August 24, 2018 Order to the extent
that it granted summary judgment to Plaintiff as against the
City of Grovetown on his § 1983 claims and the state law
claim for malicious prosecution and remanded for further
proceedings consistent with its opinion.
the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the
mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the
Eleventh Circuit is made the judgment of this Court. In
accordance therewith, the Court hereby
VACATES its Order of August 24, 2018 in its
entirety. Further, and as directed by the Court of Appeals,
the Court GRANTS summary judgment for
Defendants Jones and Nalley in their individual capacities.
The Clerk is directed to ENTER JUDGMENT in
light of the Eleventh Circuit's opinion, the Court will
now consider whether the City of Grovetown is entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiff's constitutional claims and
the remaining state law claim. As noted in the Order of August
24, 2018, "[a] municipality may be held liable
for a single act or decision of a municipal official with
final policymaking authority in the area of the act or
decision." (Order of Aug. 24, 2018, Doc. 96, at 21
(quoting McMillan v. Johnson, 88 F.3d 1573, 1577
(11th Cir. 1996)). In this case, Defendants
concede that Defendant Jones, the Chief of Police of the City
of Grovetown's Department of Public Safety, had final
policymaking authority over the arrest, detention and search
of Plaintiff. Thus, the City of Grovetown is only liable to
the extent that Defendant Jones is liable for any
establish a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, a
plaintiff must prove two things: (1) the elements of the
common law tort of malicious prosecution; and (2) a violation
of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable
seizures. (Id. (citing Kingsland v. City of
Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1234 (11th Cir. 2004))). "As
to the first prong, the constituent elements of the common
law tort of malicious prosecution are: Ml) a criminal
prosecution instituted or continued by the present defendant;
(2) with malice and without probable cause; (3) that
terminated in the plaintiff accused's favor; and (4)
caused damage to the plaintiff accused.'"
(Id. (quoting Wood v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872,
881 (11th Cir. 2003))). As to the second prong, it is well
established that an arrest without probable cause is an
unreasonable seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment.
(Id. (citing Brown v. City of Huntsville,
Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 734 (11th Cir. 2010))).
Consequently, the existence of probable cause negates both
prongs and defeats a § 1983 malicious prosecution
probable cause to exist, an arrest must be objectively
reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances.
Wood, 323 F.3d at 882. Probable cause to arrest
exists where the facts and circumstances within the police
officer's knowledge "warrant a reasonable belief
that the suspect had committed or was committing a
crime." Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1327
(11th Cir. 2009) (quoted source omitted).
"Probable cause requires only a probability or
substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual
showing of such activity." Atterbury v. City of
Miami Police Dep't, 322 F. App'x 724, 727
(11th Cir. 2009) (quoted source omitted) .
"Thus, an officer must have something more than mere
suspicion but he may have less than convincing proof."
Id. (cited source omitted).
the Eleventh Circuit couched its opinion in terms of
arguable probable cause, it clearly indicated
without so holding that actual probable cause
existed to obtain the arrest warrant against Plaintiff. The
Court of Appeals first pointed out that a neutral magistrate
issued the arrest warrants. (Appeal Opinion at 13-14.) It
also pointed out that the district attorney's office had
advised pre-arrest that the suspect could be charged with
criminal attempt to commit child molestation. (Id.
at 16.) Finally, when it came to an analysis of whether the
facts and circumstances warranted a reasonable belief that
Plaintiff had committed the charged crime, the Court of
Appeals recognized that the key issue is the suspect's
intent, "that is, in offering Lucas $200 per hour to
spend time alone with her three daughters, did the man have
intentions that were innocuous or lascivious?"
(Id. at 14.) On this point, the Court of Appeals
held that "a reasonable officer could have concluded
that there was probable cause to believe that the suspect
intended to commit an 'immoral or indecent act' to or
in the presence of Lucas's daughters *with the intent to
arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or
the person.'" (Id. at 15 (quoted source
omitted).) Taken these findings as a whole, and in
consideration of the facts and circumstances upon which
Defendant Jones sought the warrant, this Court concludes that
Defendant Jones had probable cause to seek the arrest warrant
for Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot establish a
federal or state claim for malicious prosecution.
Plaintiff has not provided evidence of malice, which is also
an essential element of both his federal and state law claims
of malicious prosecution. Plaintiff has presented no evidence
of personal animus, ill will or spite towards him from
Defendant Jones. In fact, in response to the City of
Grovetown's motion for summary judgment on this point,
Plaintiff only states that malice can be inferred from a lack
of probable cause. Having now determined that probable cause
does exist, Plaintiff loses that one indicia of malice to
which he clung. Accordingly, without evidence of malice, the
City of Grovetown is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims.
the foregoing, the Court determines and concludes that
Defendant City of Grovetown's motion for summary judgment
respecting all of Plaintiff's remaining claims (doc. 58)
is GRANTED. The Clerk is directed to
ENTER JUDGMENT in favor of the City of
Grovetown. The case stands CLOSED.
Defendant City of Grovetown previously
moved for summary judgment on these claims. The Court need
not reopen the case and will rule on ...