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Farley v. Stephens

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

October 23, 2019

James D. Farley, Jr., by and through his next friend and guardian, Linda Cherry, and Linda Cherry, individually, Plaintiffs,
J.L. Stephens, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Michael L. Brown United States District Judge.

         Defendant DeKalb County Police Officers arrested Plaintiff James D. Farley, Jr. late one night in August 2014 while he was riding his bike in and around a Kroger parking lot. Mr. Farley claims the officers hit him with a patrol car, beat him, tased him, and denied him medical assistance. Defendants tell a different story, claiming Plaintiff Farley rode his bicycle into a police vehicle while evading arrest and then attacked one of them.

         Plaintiff, along with his mother and guardian, Plaintiff Linda Cherry, sued Defendants for violating Mr. Farley's constitutional rights and Georgia law. The Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss several claims but allowed others to continue. (Dkt. 28 at 43.) At the close of discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. (Dkt. 60.) The Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

         I. Factual Background

         On the afternoon of August 3, 2014, Mr. Farley was riding his bike around his neighborhood. (Dkt. 60-3 ¶ 4.) By about 8:00 p.m., he found himself at a Kroger where he stayed for several hours, riding around the parking lot and watching people. (Id. ¶¶ 5-7.) At about 1:30 a.m., someone called the DeKalb County Police Department and reported a male subject riding in the lot and looking into vehicles. (Id. ¶ 8.) Defendant Officer Stephens responded to the scene first. (Id. ¶ 9.) He then called for backup, and Defendant Officers Benjamin and Reynolds arrived. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Officer Stephens found Mr. Farley riding his bike in Covington Highway and asked him what he was doing. (Id. ¶ 18.) The parties dispute what happened next. The officers say they tried to stop Mr. Farley from riding his bike in the middle of the street by blocking his bike with their patrol cars. (Dkts. 60-2 at 47, ¶ 5; 60-4 at 40.) They say he ignored their commands to stop and tried maneuvering around their cars. (Dkt. 60-2 at 48, ¶¶ 5, 7-8.) They claim he rode “straight at” Officer Benjamin, causing her to extend her arm in an attempt to push him away. (Id. at 41, ¶ 7; 48, ¶ 9.) The officers say that Mr. Farley lost control of his bike, rode into Officer Benjamin's car, flipped over the hood, and fell to the ground. (Id. at 40, ¶¶ 5-6; 48, ¶ 10.) According to Defendants, Mr. Farley stood up and “charged” at Officer Benjamin, striking her in the face and knocking off her glasses. (Id. at 41, ¶ 7; 48, ¶ 11.) The two other officers moved to protect Officer Benjamin and subdue Mr. Farley. (Id. at 48, ¶ 12.) They claim Officer Reynolds tried to tase him twice, but the weapon malfunctioned, causing Farley to charge him. (Id. at 41, ¶¶ 11-17; 48, ¶ 13.) Officer Reynolds eventually tased Mr. Farley, causing him to fall to the ground. (Dkt. 60-3 ¶ 25.) He continued to struggle, but Officers Reynolds and Stephens subdued him and placed him under arrest. (Dkt. 60-2 at 41, ¶ 17.)

         Mr. Farley describes the ordeal differently. He says Defendant Officer Stephens ordered him to ride his bike across Covington Highway so they could speak. (Dkt. 67-7 ¶ 12.) He claims that while complying, a second officer drove up, ran into him with his police car, and knocked him to the ground. (Id. ¶ 8.) Mr. Farley testified that the “officers beat, hit, knocked and tasered him while on the ground after being hit with a police car.” (Dkt. 66 ¶ 9.) He also testified that he never tried to run or flee the scene but the officers punched and beat him in the face. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 14.) He claims that he never resisted them in any way but they began hitting him while he was still on the ground. (Dkts. 62-1 at 57:9-16; 67-4 at 17.) He insists that the officers beat, tased, and punched him in the stomach after he was already on the ground and not fighting against them. (Dkt. 68-1 ¶ 17.) He claims that he suffered serious injuries, including broken teeth, lacerations, and bruises. (Dkts. 62 at 58:7-22; 67 at 15.)

         Mr. Farley also testified that he was already on the ground when Officer Benjamin arrived on the scene. (Dkts. 62-1 at 45:17-22; 67-4 at 14.) He testified that she “came last after everything, after everything happened.” (Dkt. 62-1 at 45:17-22.) He testified that he believed the “lady” arrived “after they beat me up.” (Dkts. 67-4 at 14; 62-1 at 43:15- 17.) According to Mr. Farley, Officer Benjamin neither hit him with her car nor beat him in any way. (Dkt. 62-1 at 43:15-17.)

         The parties agree that one of the officers called an ambulance to the scene, but emergency personnel cleared Mr. Farley without taking him to a hospital or even treating his injuries. (Dkt. 60-4 at 42.) Mr. Farley testified that he saw an ambulance, the medics saw him, but they did not pick him up or render any care. (Dkts. 66 ¶ 15; 67-4 at 15.) The parties agree he saw a saw a doctor once booked into the jail. (Dkt. 60-4 at 42.)[1]

         Plaintiff Linda Cherry, Mr. Farley's mother, admits that she did not see Plaintiff Farley until two weeks after the encounter with Defendants and does not have personal knowledge about what caused his injuries, nor personal knowledge of the encounter between Mr. Farley and Defendants. (Dkt. 60-3 ¶¶ 29-30.)

         Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint, which the Court granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. 28.) Plaintiffs then improperly filed an amended complaint adding claims. (Dkt. 37.) Because Plaintiffs filed the second amended complaint in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 without leave of the Court or the consent of the opposing party, the Court takes no action on Plaintiffs' later complaint and instead considers only the operative complaint, the amended complaint filed on September 27, 2016. See Hoover v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ala., 855 F.2d 1538, 1544 (11th Cir. 1988) (holding that district court properly treated second amended complaint as a nullity where it was filed without leave of court or consent of opposing party).

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment 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).

         A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if it is “a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing a court, by reference to materials in the record, that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact that a jury should decide at trial. Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). A moving party meets this burden merely by “ ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The movant, however, need not negate the other party's claim. Id. at 323. In determining whether the moving party has met this burden, a court must view the evidence and all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Johnson v. Clifton, 74 F.3d 1087, 1090 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Once the movant has adequately supported its motion, the nonmoving party then has the burden of showing that summary judgment is improper by coming forward with specific facts showing a genuine dispute. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Ultimately, there is no “genuine [dispute] for trial” when the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Id. But “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court, however, resolves all reasonable doubts in the favor of the non-movant. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). Additionally, “[i]t is not the court's role to weigh conflicting evidence or to make credibility determinations; the non-movant's evidence is to be accepted for purposes of summary judgment.” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996).

         III. Discussion

         Remaining here are these five claims against Officers Stephens, Reynolds, and Benjamin in their individual capacities: (1) Count Two - Eighth Amendment claim of failure to render aid under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Count Three - Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) Count Five - claim for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988; (4) Count Six - state-law claim for assault ...

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