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Dixon v. Donald

May 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Jarvis United States District Judge


This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff David Dixon contends that he was subject to an arrest without probable cause and the use of excessive force in effecting his arrest by Officer Steven Donald of the Blount County Sheriff's Department. Currently pending are motions for summary judgment of defendant Donald [Court File #15] and defendant James L. Berrong, in his official capacity only [Court File #17]. Plaintiff concedes that the motion of defendant Berrong, in his official capacity only, is well taken and that motion will be granted. However, for the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment of defendant Steven Donald [Court File #15] will be denied.

I. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff claims that he is severely disabled. In 1995, he suffered a severe necrotic injury to the right side of his upper torso which resulted in approximately 10 surgeries, skin transplants and severe scarring. Sometime before the day of his arrest in this case, plaintiff had been determined to be totally disabled and was drawing Veterans' Administration disability.

Plaintiff was a resident of 7893 Hickory Nut Lane in Blount County, Tennessee. This road connects with Acorn Drive which connects with Ray Lane, a public road. Both Hickory Nut Lane and Acorn Drive are private, gravel roads owned commonly by the landowners adjacent to them. The deeds of the plaintiff and defendants Edwards in this case appear to give their respective properties easements with respect to those roads.

For many years plaintiff had maintained the roads, but for several years recently had been unable to maintain the roads because of his health. By 2005, the roads had reached a state of disrepair. In early 2005, plaintiff agreed to work on the roads again with the knowledge and consent of a large number of the residents along both roads. Plaintiff rented and borrowed certain equipment and began road maintenance work in April 2005. On April 17, 2005, the work that plaintiff and other property owners were doing on the roads was disrupted by defendant Donna Edwards, who demanded that plaintiff and others cease work, claiming that the road was owned by her and plaintiff was trespassing. Plaintiff explained that the road was not owned by her, but was an easement and right of way jointly owned by all residents.

That day, plaintiff called the Blount County Sheriff's Department, which sent an officer to the scene. The officer told the participants he could not settle the dispute and advised the plaintiff to contact a lawyer before proceeding. Plaintiff contacted a lawyer who advised him that his maintenance of the roads was perfectly legal and it was within his rights to continue the road maintenance.

On April 19, 2005, plaintiff again began working on the roads. At approximately 3:00 p.m., defendants Donna and Helen Edwards came onto the road, screamed and cursed at the plaintiff, and demanded that he cease work, claiming that they owned the road. The plaintiff stopped his tractor and cut it off. Standing in the middle of the road, these defendants continued to curse the plaintiff, accused him of destroying their road, and blocked the road so that plaintiff could not turn the tractor around. They informed plaintiff that they had called the Blount County Sheriff's Department, and when the Edwards continued to yell at and curse the plaintiff, he restarted his tractor and drove around the defendants, who continued to stand in the middle of the road.

Soon after, defendant Officer Donald drove his police car onto the scene and plaintiff pulled his tractor to the side of the road and waited for the officer. Donald talked first to Helen Edwards. Then Donald approached plaintiff, and when plaintiff tried to explain to Donald that he was maintaining a common right-of-way and attempted to show Donald the deed, Donald looked at the deed and asked if it was "signed by a judge." Donald then talked with Donna Edwards, who falsely accused plaintiff of attempting to run over Helen Edwards with the tractor. During this time, defendant Helen Edwards was smiling and waving at Donald from approximately 150 feet away. Donald requested Helen Edwards to come over, then strolled over to her. Defendant Helen Edwards, with coaching from Donald, falsely accused the plaintiff of attempting to run over her with the tractor and being "in fear of her life." Donald then arrested plaintiff for "aggravated assault." Plaintiff stated that he had not assaulted or threatened anyone and that there were several witnesses to what had happened. Donald refused to talk to any of the witnesses or pay any attention to plaintiff's story.

Donald then began to handcuff the plaintiff behind his back. Plaintiff informed Donald that he was disabled and requested to be handcuffed in front. Plaintiff requested that Donald look at the injury and surgery site. Donald took a cursory look at a small portion of it and said plaintiff "looked fine sitting on the farm tractor." Plaintiff requested Donald to handcuff him in front, but Donald refused and cuffed plaintiff behind his back. Plaintiff contends that as a result of this handcuffing he suffered an injury to his rotator cuff and great pain.

Donald then placed plaintiff in the cruiser with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning off, leaving plaintiff in the car for approximately 30 minutes, and the inside temperature became very hot. Donald and the Edwards then began talking outside the cruiser. Donald told them that their story about aggravated assault "would not hold up in court" and told them to get a "restraining order." Helen Edwards then told Donald that the tractor plaintiff was using was "stolen." The man who owned the tractor came by and Donald asked him if he owned the tractor. The man said yes. Donald informed him that the tractor was being impounded as stolen property. The man told Donald that the tractor was not stolen and that the plaintiff had permission to use it anytime he wanted. The man then took the tractor and left.

Donald then asked Helen Edwards, "Now what?" She asked Donald if he "could do anything." Donald said, "I can handle today, but you need to go to the courthouse tomorrow and get a restraining order." The Edwards said they would. Donald and Helen Edwards then spent approximately 20 minutes bantering about how "pretty she was" and how "nice" Donald was. During all this time, plaintiff continued to sit in the sweltering police car in pain with his hands cuffed behind his back.

When Donald finally decided to transport plaintiff to jail, plaintiff told Donald that he would not give him any trouble and again told Donald that being handcuffed from behind was causing him injury and pain and requested that he be handcuffed in front. Donald refused. On the trip to jail, Donald told plaintiff that he was not going to charge him with "aggravated assault." Eventually, when plaintiff arrived in the booking room, he was uncuffed, searched, booked ...

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