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Jaudon v. Sasser

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

January 16, 2020

SHANESIA S. JAUDON, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT B. SASSER, for the Estate of Robert C. Sasser, MIKE THOMAS, TIMOTHY HOLLINGSWORTH, and MATTHEW J. DOERING, in their individual and official capacities; and GLYNN COUNTY, GEORGIA, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This lawsuit arises out of the search of Plaintiff Shanesia S. Jaudon's residence and her subsequent arrest and prosecution. (Doc. 12.) Plaintiff alleges that Robert C. Sasser, [1] Mike Thomas, and Timothy Hollingsworth, in their official and individual capacities, searched her home without probable cause and later maliciously arrested and prosecuted her in violation of federal and Georgia law. (Doc. 12, pp. 4-37.) Plaintiff also alleges that Matthew J. Doering, [2] in his individual and official capacities, negligently failed to terminate Defendant Sasser's employment despite a pattern of unlawful behavior. (Id. at pp. 31-32.) Finally, Plaintiff contends Defendant Glynn County is liable for Doering's alleged inaction. (Id. at pp. 38-39.)

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, (doc. 62). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to support any of her claims with enough evidence to survive summary judgment. Moreover, even if a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to the merits of Plaintiff's claims, Defendants would nonetheless be shielded by qualified, official, and/or sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, (doc. 62). The Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and to CLOSE this case.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 9, 2017, (doc. 1), and later filed an Amended Complaint, (doc. 12), alleging violations of her Fourth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Georgia law. (Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff contends Defendant Sasser, an officer with the Glynn County Sheriff's Department, and Defendant Thomas, an officer with the Brunswick Police Department, lacked probable cause to search her home for Alton Brown-a non-party who was the subject of an active arrest warrant. (Id. at pp. 4-37.) Plaintiff alleges that, after the search, Sasser, Thomas, and Defendant Hollingsworth, another officer with the Glynn County Sheriff's Department, caused her arrest and prosecution based on feelings of ill-will. (Id.) Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims against Thomas, Sasser, and Hollingsworth for: effecting an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count XII);[3] false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Georgia law (Counts I, II); false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Georgia law (Counts III, IV); malicious arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Georgia law (Counts V, VI); malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Georgia law (Counts VII, VIII); and intentional infliction of emotional distress in violation of Georgia law (Count IX).[4] (Doc. 12, pp. 4-37.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Doering was on notice that Sasser “had no problem violating other persons['] legal and constitutional rights” yet chose not to take remedial action, and that Defendant Glynn County endorsed Doering's decision. (Id. at pp. 31-32, 38-39.) As such, Plaintiff contends that Doering and the County are liable for Sasser's actions (Counts X, XIII).[5] (Id.) Plaintiff also asserts her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Doering (Count IX). (Id. at p. 29.) Finally, Plaintiff seeks attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Count XIV) and requests compensatory damages and punitive damages for each of her claims. (Id. at pp. 39-45.)

         After an extended period of discovery, Defendants filed the at-issue Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 62.) Plaintiff then filed a Response, (doc. 71), and an Amended Response, (doc. 83), and Defendant filed a Reply, (doc. 76).

         II. Factual Background

         The events giving rise to this action took place during an eight-month period. On September 27, 2015, several Glynn County and City of Brunswick police officers conducted a search at Plaintiff's home located 508 Mack Street in Brunswick, Georgia. (Doc. 62-1, p. 5.) Prior to the search, a car belonging to the subject of an arrest warrant, Alton Brown, was located across the street from Plaintiff's residence. (Doc. 62-5, p. 2.) The arrest warrant listed 508 Mack Street as Brown's address. (Id. at p. 8.) Based on this information, officers asked Plaintiff for her permission to conduct a search because they believed that Brown was hiding inside her residence. (Id. at pp. 5-9.) Plaintiff declined to consent to the search, and the officers obtained a search warrant, ultimately locating Brown inside Plaintiff's bedroom. (Id. at pp. 8-9.) Plaintiff was subsequently arrested and indicted on criminal charges in connection with Brown's presence in her home. (Doc. 83, p. 3.) However, the criminal charges against Plaintiff were disposed of via entry of nolle prosequi in May 2016. (Doc. 71-5.) The relevant details from each of these events are described below.

         A. Events Leading to the Search of 508 Mack Street

         Plaintiff met Alton Brown approximately ten years ago. (Doc. 64, p. 26.) According to Plaintiff, she and Brown began to have relationship problems at some point in 2014. (Id. at pp. 74-76.) For example, on May 25, 2015, Plaintiff called the police when Brown tried to break into her residence at 508 Mack Street. (Id. at pp. 74-76.) Plaintiff told the responding officer, Officer Chapman, that she had instructed Brown “to leave several times but he [kept] returning to her residence.” (Id. at p. 76.) According to Chapman's police report, Brown left the property before Chapman arrived but Plaintiff told Chapman that Brown was driving a “silver Nissan Altima with dark tinted windows and a Georgia wild life tag.” (Doc. 62-2, p. 8.) Chapman located a car matching that description but did not find Brown. (Id.)

         About three months later, on August 26, 2015, Officers Melendez, Gibson, Browning, and Lowther responded to a domestic dispute at the home of a woman named Jessica Thomas. (Id. at p. 3.) Thomas claimed that Brown threatened to kill her and her family. (Id.) While the officers spoke to Thomas, Brown ran out of the residence, and Browning and Lowther pursued him. (Id.) However, Brown evaded capture. (Id.) Two days later, a Glynn County Magistrate Court Judge signed two arrest warrants for Brown prepared by Officer Williams-one for willful obstruction of law enforcement officers and another for terroristic threats and acts. (Doc. 62-3, pp. 2-3.) The warrants listed Brown's “home address” as “1610 Mlk [sic] Blvd, ” property that Brown owns. (Id.; doc. 71-2, p. 2.) On September 11, Thomas told Officer Kapellers that Brown called her over twenty times despite having been instructed not to contact her, and Officer Haney used this information to obtain a third arrest warrant for Brown on September 14. (Doc. 62-2, pp. 4-5; doc. 62-4, p. 2.) This warrant listed Brown's home address as 508 Mack Street-Plaintiff's residence. (Doc. 62-4, p. 2.)

         At some point before the morning of September 25, 2015, Defendant Sasser received information about Brown that ultimately led him to 508 Mack Street to locate Brown. (Doc. 62-8, pp. 2-3; see doc. 62-2, p. 3.) Sasser testified that he spoke with “a reliable confidential informant who told him that Brown was hiding out” at Plaintiff's house, and that a “concerned citizen” informed another officer that he saw Brown arrive at the residence. (Doc. 62-8, pp. 2-3.) According to Defendant Thomas, Sasser also represented that he was told Brown parked “his silver Nissan Altima at hotels near his ex-girlfriend's residence at 508 Mack Street and walk[ed] to the residence.” (Doc. 65, pp. 20-21.) Sasser surveilled the area based on this information because part of his job “was to actively search for wanted fugitives in Glynn County, ” and Brown was classified as such. (Doc. 62-8, p. 2.) The surveillance revealed that Brown's car was indeed parked at “a hotel within walking distance of [Plaintiff's] residence, ” the Clarion Inn. (Id.; doc. 62-5, p. 2.) Sasser explained that this information led him to believe that Brown was at 508 Mack Street. (Doc. 62-8, p. 2.) Accordingly, he and at least one other officer went to Plaintiff's house around 8:30 a.m. on September 25. (Id.; doc. 62-2, p. 3; doc. 64, pp. 41-42.) After Plaintiff answered the door, the officers told her they were looking for Brown to execute a warrant for his arrest. (Doc. 62-9, pp. 2-3.) Plaintiff does not recall whether the officers explained why they thought Brown was inside her home. (Doc. 64, pp. 42-43.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff told the officers that Brown was not inside her house and that they could not search her home without a warrant. (Id. at p. 42; doc. 62-9, p. 3.)

         The next day, September 26, Sasser contacted Defendant Thomas and his unit at the Brunswick Police Department and requested their assistance in serving an arrest warrant at 508 Mack Street. (Doc. 65, pp. 8-9.) Thomas remembers that “four or five” officers from his “group” responded and that a K9 city officer, Officer Condo, eventually joined them. (Id.) After Sasser apprised the officers of the situation, Thomas saw the “silver car” across the street at the hotel and verified that it belonged to Brown. (Id. at pp. 15-16.) The officers went to Plaintiff's residence later that day and spoke to her about Brown's arrest warrants for the second time.[6] (Id. at pp. 52- 53.) Plaintiff once again told the officers that Brown was not there and said they could only search the residence if they showed her a warrant. (Doc. 64, p. 44.) Thomas testified that as she spoke to the officers, Plaintiff “became very loud” and “boisterous, ” slammed and locked the front door, and walked away while she continued to yell-behavior he considered “evasive.” (Id. at p. 53.)

         At this point, most of the officers stepped back to set up a “perimeter, ” meaning they surrounded the property but did not approach the residence. (Doc. 65, pp. 17-18.) Plaintiff left her house with her children soon thereafter and her sister picked them up “down the road.” (Doc. 64, pp. 49-51.) Meanwhile, Thomas left the area and went to the Glynn County Police Department to prepare a search warrant for 508 Mack Street. (Id. at pp. 11, 17.) To prepare the affidavit, Thomas spoke with Sasser on the phone and typed the information as it was relayed to him. (Id. at p. 11; doc. 62-5.) Thomas indicated that some information in the affidavit was not based on his own personal knowledge. For example, Thomas averred,

Affiant states, Sgt. Sasser states that information given to Sgt. Sasser from a concerned citizen was that Mr. Brown will park his silver Nissan Altima at hotels hear his ex[-]girlfriends' [sic] residence at 508 Mack St. and walk to the residence. Affiant states, information given by the concerned citizen to Sgt. Sasser is that he frequents the residence in the same manner. Affiant states, Sgt. Sasser states, that this concerned citizen has [sic] truthful information in the past that has been corroborated by Law Enforcement and only asks to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

(Doc. 62-5, pp. 2-3.) However, Thomas also included his firsthand knowledge, noting that: he saw Brown's car at the hotel; Plaintiff was “verbally upset;” Officer Palmer told Plaintiff of the active warrant for Brown's arrest with her address; and Plaintiff left her house before an officer could show her the arrest warrant. (Id. at p. 3.) He stated that he believed the circumstances created probable cause to believe that Brown was inside 508 Mack Street. (Id.) Thomas then presented the finished documents to a Glynn County magistrate judge who signed the search warrant and supporting affidavit around 11:30 p.m. (Doc. 65, pp. 13-14; see doc. 62-5.)

         Thomas and the other officers executed the search warrant shortly after midnight on September 27; upon entering Plaintiff's residence, they located Brown in a bedroom. (Doc. 65, p. 5; doc. 62-9, p. 5.) Because Plaintiff left prior to the search, an officer left a copy of the warrant on her coffee table. (Doc. 64, p. 55.)

         B. Plaintiff's Arrests and Prosecution

         On September 28, 2015, the day after the search, Sasser obtained four arrest warrants for Plaintiff-two warrants for hindering the apprehension of a criminal and two warrants for obstruction of an officer.[7] (Doc. 62-6, pp. 2-5.) Approximately one week later, Plaintiff received a phone call from “Sheriff Jump” asking her to go to the sheriff's department to discuss Brown's arrest. (Doc. 64, pp. 61-62.) When she arrived, another officer confronted Plaintiff and told her that there were warrants for her arrest. (Id. at pp. 63-64.) Plaintiff was arrested shortly thereafter and remained in custody until she posted bond “[a] few days” later. (Id. at p. 66; doc. 62-6, pp. 2- 5.) In November 2015, a grand jury indicted Plaintiff on two counts of hindering apprehension of a criminal; two counts of obstruction; and two counts of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer.[8] (Doc. 71-4.) On November 23, a Glynn County Superior Court judge issued two bench warrants for Plaintiff's arrest based on the false statement indictments. (Doc. 62-7.)

         The bench warrants were executed on January 26, 2016. (Id.) That day, Sasser called for the police officers in the “zone unit” near Plaintiff's house “to meet him at the back of the church over by Mack Street.” (Doc. 63, pp. 26-30.) Officer Hollingsworth was in that zone at the time and responded to Sasser's call. (Id. at p. 28.) Hollingsworth joined Thomas and Sasser at the meeting point. (Id. at pp. 28-29.) Sasser explained that he was going to execute warrants for Plaintiff's arrest and wanted a marked patrol unit-like Hollingsworth's vehicle-to be there. (Id.) After Sasser showed Hollingsworth the signed warrants, the three officers drove to 508 Mack Street where Hollingsworth knocked on the front door. (Id. at pp. 29-30.) When Plaintiff answered, Hollingsworth placed her under arrest and booked her at the Detention Center. (Id.; doc. 62-9, p. 6.) Plaintiff was later released on bond. (Doc. 62-9, p. 6.)

         In connection with her criminal case, Plaintiff filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the September 27, 2015 search of her residence. (Doc. 62-8.) The Superior Court of Glynn County granted that motion, finding the affidavit prepared in support of the search warrant to be “legally insufficient.” (Id. at p. 4.) Thus, the evidence from the search-the officers' discovery of Brown in Plaintiff's house-was not admissible in her criminal case. The criminal charges against Plaintiff were later disposed of via entry of nolle prosequi in May 2016. (Doc. 71-5.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment “shall” be granted if “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). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v. FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is “genuine” if the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The moving party bears the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Williamson Oil Co. v. Philip Morris USA, 346 F.3d 1287, 1298 (11th Cir. 2003). Specifically, the moving party must identify the portions of the record which establish that there are no “genuine dispute[s] as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011). When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may discharge his burden by showing that the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or that the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial. See id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). If the moving party discharges this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of fact does exist. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257.

         In determining whether a summary judgment motion should be granted, a court must view the record and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Peek-A-Boo Lounge of Bradenton, Inc. v. Manatee County, 630 F.3d 1346, 1353 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 616 (11th Cir. 2007)). However, “facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). “[T]he 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.” Id. (emphasis and citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Federal Claims

         Defendants move for summary judgment on all Plaintiff's federal claims, arguing they are entitled to judgment on the merits or, in the alternative, entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 62.) For the reasons explained below, the Court agree. In short, qualified immunity shields Defendants from Plaintiff's Section 1983 unreasonable search and malicious prosecution claims while the remainder of her claims fail as a matter of law.

         A. Qualified Immunity Standard and Application

         “Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions from suits in their individual capacities unless their conduct violates ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Dalrymple v. Reno, 334 F.3d 991, 994 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)). The doctrine “is intended to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation, protecting from suit all but the plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law.” Hoyt v. Cooks, 672 F.3d 972, 977 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotations and citations omitted). As a result, qualified immunity “liberates government agents from the need to constantly err on the side of caution by protecting them both from liability and the other burdens of litigation, including discovery.” Holmes v. Kucynda, 321 F.3d 1069, 1077 (11th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). But qualified immunity does not protect an official who ...


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