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Gay v. Cobb County

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

October 25, 2019

LaCarsha Gay, Plaintiff,
Cobb County, Georgia, Officers Madden, Moore, and Sergeant Dorsey, in their individual capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff LaCarsha Gay sued Cobb County police officers and Cobb County claiming they violated her constitutional rights while responding to a domestic dispute. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Dkt. 47.) Defendants also moved to file documents under seal. (Dkt. 49.) Plaintiff then moved for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. 50.) The Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment and request to file documents under seal and denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff has been in a relationship with Daniel Garcia for many years. They have one daughter, known in this proceeding as KG. (Dkt. 58-1 ¶¶ 83-84.) At the time of the incident here, Plaintiff, Garcia, and KG lived in the same apartment. (Id. ¶ 95.) KG was eight years old. (Id. ¶ 83.) On the relevant day, Plaintiff and Garcia had a loud argument with each other. (Id. ¶ 107.) Their fight - apparently about who was going to use Plaintiff's car - stretched from their own apartment into the common area. (Id.) The fight became physical with Garcia grabbing Plaintiff by the hair. (Id. ¶¶ 108-10, 114.) At that point, KG tried to intervene to help her mother and was injured.[1] (Id. ¶ 114.)

         The two adults continued yelling and screaming at each other. (Id. ¶ 116.) Plaintiff, afraid for herself and her daughter, called 911. (Id. ¶ 119.) She asked the police to come to her apartment but ended the call abruptly. (Id.) The operator called her back and could hear Plaintiff arguing with another adult (later identified as Garcia). (Id.) The operator specifically heard Plaintiff say “you hit your daughter.” (Id.) That call ended abruptly as well. (Id.) Plaintiff called police again, gave them the name of the apartment complex, and stated “please get here.” (Id. ¶ 120.) She then said “he's here and he won't leave.” (Id. ¶ 120.) The operator could hear Plaintiff continuing to argue with an unknown man (later identified as Garcia) and also heard KG crying in the background. (Id.) She did not tell the operator how the argument started but expressed concern she might get in trouble with police for fighting with her boyfriend. (Id. ¶¶ 121-22.)

         One of Plaintiff's neighbors also called 911 to report the fight. (Id. ¶ 124.) The neighbor said that a man and woman were fighting and that a little girl was screaming and crying. (Id. ¶ 124.) The neighbor said the two adults fought “every day” but this was the worst she had ever heard. (Id. ¶ 124.) She called back a few minutes later and said it sounded like the woman was getting beat up by her boyfriend and the daughter was crying. (Id. ¶ 125.) The neighbor told the police to get there “fast.” (Id.)

         Defendant Officers Madden and Moore got to the apartment quickly. (Id. ¶ 127.) They knew someone in the apartment had called 911 twice, pleaded for urgent help, and said the alleged aggressor “won't leave.” (Id. ¶ 130.) They did not know where the aggressor was or whether he was still threatening the caller. (Id. ¶ 131.) They had received training in responding to domestic disputes. (Id. ¶ 30.) They knew that, when the police are called to investigate domestic disputes, one of the parties to the dispute will sometimes hide in the residence. (Id. ¶ 37.)

         Officers Madden and Moore found KG in the parking lot. (Id. ¶ 132.) She was crying and seemed distraught. (Id.) She told them her parents had been fighting and led them to apartment 30C. (Id. ¶ 133- 34.) Officer Madden could see abrasions and scratches on her face. (Dkt. 52 at 23:7-11.) KG said her daddy had done it. (Id.)

         Plaintiff answered the door and told Officers Moore and Madden that the man she had been fighting with had already left. (Dkt. 58-1 ¶ 134.) The Officers asked to search the house, and Plaintiff told them no. (Id. ¶ 140.) The Officers thought Plaintiff appeared suspicious and Officer Moore stated, “we don't know who is inside.” (Id. ¶ 143.)

         Officer Moore took a few steps up the stairs into the apartment. (Id. ¶ 145.) Plaintiff protested, and Officer Moore went back down the stairs. (Id.) He put his foot in the doorway to keep the door open. (Id.) The Officers asked Plaintiff to come outside so that they could interview her, but she refused, telling them the man had left. (Id. ¶ 147.)

         At some point, KG walked past the Officers into the apartment with her mother. (Id. ¶ 149.) The Officers state they noticed a fresh scratch and abrasion near KG's right eye. (Id. ¶¶ 149, 164.) Plaintiff does not dispute the fact that the Officers noticed this injury but claims they would have seen KG's injuries when they spoke with her in the parking lot. (Id.) Either way, the Officers knew KG had been injured. Plaintiff refused to let the Officers speak with KG. (Id. ¶ 151.)

         After talking to the Officers for about ten minutes, Plaintiff became frustrated, feeling the Officers “weren't focusing on [the] situation that they were called for.” (Id. ¶ 152.) Plaintiff tried to close the door and Officer Moore kept his foot in it to prevent her from shutting the door. (Id. ¶ 153.) The Officers told her she could not shut the door because she was under investigation. (Id. ¶ 154.) Plaintiff got angry and started yelling and cursing at the Officers, saying she would close her “f@#$ door.” (Id.) Plaintiff believed the police were not there to assist her but rather wanted to search her apartment for drugs or guns. (Id. ¶ 155.) She continued to curse when asked to stop because there were small children around. (Id. ¶ 158.) During the argument, Officer Dorsey arrived at the scene. (Dkt. 54 at 24:3-24.)

         The Officers tried to investigate for ten minutes but Plaintiff refused to provide pertinent information, kept yelling at the Officers, and remained uncooperative. (Id. ¶ 162.) She also refused to allow them to ask KG any questions, telling them to speak only with her. (Id. ¶ 164.) The Officers arrested Plaintiff for obstruction and disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 166; 43-6 ¶ 43.) She refused to comply with the Officers until she was in one of their police cars. (Dkt. 58-1 ¶¶ 168-70.)

         Two other police officers found Garcia a few blocks away. (Id. ¶ 178.) He denied the argument had become physical, but officers saw bloody scratches on his neck. (Id. ¶ 179.) The Officers could not determine who was the primary aggressor and arrested both Plaintiff and Garcia. (Id. ¶ 180.) The Officers charged Plaintiff with obstruction, cruelty to child in the third degree, disorderly conduct, and simple battery. (Id. ¶ 189.) Plaintiff's bond was set at $10, 000, an amount she could not pay. (Dkt. 3 at 8.) Police charged Garcia with simple battery and cruelty to children. (Dkt. 58-1 ¶ 181.) He pleaded guilty and spent twenty-two days in jail. (Id. ¶ 202.) Plaintiff remained in jail for twenty- three days before the prosecutor dropped the charges. (Id. ¶ 209.) The prosecutor believed there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Plaintiff but dismissed because Plaintiff had already served twenty-three days in jail and the prosecutor wanted to cut her a break. (Id. ¶¶ 205-09.)

         Plaintiff sued, alleging the Officers arrested her because she refused to let them come into her house and cursed at them. (Dkt. 3.) She asserted two Fourth Amendment claims (arrest without a warrant and illegal search and seizure) and three state tort law claims (false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution).

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “No genuine issue of material fact exists if a party has failed to ‘make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element . . . on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.' ” AFL-CIO v. City of Miami, 637 F.3d 1178, 1186-87 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catlett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (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 moving party bears the initial responsibility of asserting the basis for its motion. Celotex, 637 F.3d at 323. The movant is not, however, required to negate the nonmovant's claim. Id. at 324. Instead, the moving party may meet her burden by “ ‘showing' - that is, pointing to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Id. After the moving party has carried its burden, the non-moving party must present competent evidence that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         The court must view all evidence and factual inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Samples v. City of Atlanta, 846 F.2d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir. 1988). 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 there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

         III. Discussion

         Defendant Officers moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's federal claims saying they are entitled to qualified immunity. They also moved for summary judgment on the state law claims, saying they are entitled to official immunity. Plaintiff opposed those motions.

         A. Federal Claims & Qualified Immunity

         “Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). So “[q]ualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). Qualified immunity allows officials to “carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002). When properly applied, qualified immunity “protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 743 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Qualified immunity may attach only when the officer is “acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1254 n.19 (11th Cir. 2010). A public official acts within the scope of his discretionary authority where the acts complained of were “undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority.” See Rich v. Dollar,841 F.2d 1558, 1564 (11th Cir. 1988). “Once the defendant establishes that he was acting within his discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate.” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194. There seems to be no question that Defendants acted within the scope of their discretionary authority when arresting Plaintiff. See, e.g., Wate ...

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