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Hendricks v. Governor's Taskforce for Marijuana Eradication

March 7, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge



Plaintiff William Hendricks Jr. alleges that defendants, individuals and agencies involved in law enforcement activities, violated his civil rights during an incident on August 3, 2004. On that date, plaintiff alleges certain defendants trespassed onto his property in Roane County, Tennessee, and when he confronted them and ordered them to leave, they shot, battered and falsely arrested him. Plaintiff alleges defendants are liable for false arrest, use of excessive force, false imprisonment, conspiracy, illegal search and seizure, criminal trespass, and harassment.

This civil action is before the Court on two motions: (1) the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Roane County, Tennessee, the Roane County Sheriff's Department, Jon French in his official and individual capacities, and Michael Capps in his official and individual capacities (the "Roane County defendants") [Doc. 34]; and (2) the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Jason Poore, Alexander Rodriguez, and Fred Sullivan in their individual capacities (the "Governor's Task Force defendants") [Doc. 41].*fn1 Plaintiff has responded to each motion [Docs. 45, 46, 47, 50]. The Court has carefully considered the pending motions for summary judgment in light of the record as a whole and the applicable law. The Court will address each of the arguments made by the various defendants as to why plaintiff's claim against them should be dismissed. For the reasons set forth herein, the Roane County defendants' motion for summary judgment and the Governor's Task Force defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Relevant Facts

As the Court is required to do in reviewing a motion for summary judgment, all facts will be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

On August 3, 2004, plaintiff let his dog out of his home, at which point the dog began barking. Believing that the dog was barking at a pack of wild dogs with which plaintiff had been having "problems," [Doc. 1 at 4], plaintiff went back inside his home and retrieved a .22-caliber rifle with a scope in order to scare the trespassing dogs. When plaintiff returned outside, he noticed vehicles moving down his driveway, appearing to be leaving his property. Plaintiff took his dog inside, then proceeded to go behind his house toward his tractor shed, where he saw the vehicles stopped. [Id.]

At this point, plaintiff observed three trucks, one of which was partially obscured by his tractor shed. Two of the trucks were unmarked and the partially obscured truck and one of the other trucks were hauling trailers with all-terrain vehicles. [Id.] Plaintiff then approached the area where the trucks were parked and claims to have heard voices talking and seen that "people were in my tractor shed." [Id. at 5.] After watching these individuals for approximately ten minutes, plaintiff fired four shots into the air. According to plaintiff, he did this so that these individuals would know he "was also armed and was aware of their presence." [Id.] Plaintiff then proceeded to walk toward the men with his rifle across his arms. [Id.] As he got closer to the tractor shed, plaintiff saw four men in camouflage with pistols. Plaintiff claims that these men did not have law enforcement insignias on their clothes. As plaintiff approached, one of the men stated that they were with law enforcement, but plaintiff did not believe him. [Id.]

Plaintiff states that he informed the men they were trespassing and asked them to leave his property. Plaintiff then walked over to porch of his son's mobile home in order to watch the men leave. As this point, plaintiff noticed that the truck which had been previously obscured had Tennessee Valley Authority markings on it, which prompted him to put down his rifle. [Id.] Plaintiff then walked toward the edge of the mobile home's porch and down the steps, at which point plaintiff states he was fired upon by defendant Rodriguez, a member of the Governor's Task Force on Marijuana Eradication. Plaintiff also claims that defendant Poore, also a member of the Governor's Task Force on Marijuana Eradication, then yelled to the other men to get plaintiff. [Id.] As plaintiff moved closer to the men, he claims that he was tackled by defendant Capps.*fn2 While on the ground, defendant Rodriguez allegedly kicked plaintiff in the head. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff was taken to jail by defendant French, a chief deputy with the Roane County Sheriff's Department. [Id.]

On August 18, 2004, plaintiff was charged in a two-count indictment for the conduct arising out of the above-described August 3, 2004 incident that is the basis of this lawsuit. [United States of America v. William T. Hendricks, Jr., Case. No. 3:04-CR-119, Doc. 1.] Specifically, plaintiff was charged with using a firearm to "forcibly assault, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere with an officer and employee of the United States" and using a firearm "during and in relation to a crime of violence." [Id.] Plaintiff was found guilty on both counts by a jury verdict on May 31, 2006, [Id. at Doc. 52] and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 122 months. [Id. at Doc. 64.]

II. Standard of Review

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The burden of establishing there is no genuine issue of material fact lies upon the moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n.2 (1986). The court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v. Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence of a particular element, the non-moving party must point to evidence in the record upon which a reasonable jury could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.

The judge's function at the point of summary judgment is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question, and not to weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, and determine the truth of the matter. Id. at 249. Thus, "[t]he inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

III. Analysis

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a civil cause of action when a citizen is subjected "to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" by a person acting under color of law. It is well settled that § 1983 by its terms does not create any substantive rights but rather "merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere." Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls, 395 F.3d 291, 302 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gardenhire v. Schubert, 205 F.3d 303, 310 (6th Cir. 2000)). To prevail on his § 1983 claims, plaintiff "must establish that a person acting under color of state law deprived [him] of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Radvansky, 395 F.3d at 302 (quoting Waters v. City of Morristown, 242 F.3d 353, 358-59 (6th Cir. 2001)). In other words, plaintiff must first show that he has suffered a violation of a constitutional right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001); McKinley v. City of Mansfield, 404 F.3d 418, 429 (6th Cir. 2005).

In his complaint, plaintiff asserts the following seven claims against the defendants in this case: (1) false arrest; (2) use of excessive force; (3) false imprisonment; (4) conspiracy; (5) illegal search and seizure; (6) criminal trespass; and (7) harassment. [Doc. 1 at 3-4.] Plaintiff purports to raise all of these claims under § 1983, [Id. at 2], but has failed to specify, as he is required to do state a valid § 1983 complaint, which substantive constitutional rights defendants violated in committing those alleged acts. Barrett v. Steubenville City Schools, 388 F.3d 967, 971 (6th Cir. 2004). His complaint also fails to specify which of the thirteen defendants sued committed which of the claims he alleges, thereby making it unclear which defendants are accused of which violations. In this way, plaintiff's complaint appears to fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mountain View Pharmacy v. Abbot Labs., 630 F.2d 1381, 1386-87 (10th Cir. 1980). However, out of an abundance of caution and given the significant leeway afforded to pro se plaintiffs, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the Court will assume that plaintiff intends to bring his claims of false arrest, excessive force, and illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff's remaining claims of false imprisonment, criminal trespass, and harassment will be treated as state law claims brought before the Court pursuant to supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. The Court will discuss the treatment of plaintiff's claim for conspiracy more fully below.

In their respective motions for summary judgment, defendants have presented several arguments as to why they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's various claims. The Court will address the two motions for ...

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