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Cole v. City of Memphis

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

June 3, 2015

LAKENDUS COLE and LEON EDMOND, individually and as representatives of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

JON P. McCALLA, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, on behalf of the Class, have requested declaratory and injunctive relief in the instant case. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that declaratory and injunctive relief will clarify and settle important legal relations in the Memphis Beale Street Entertainment District and afford relief from uncertainty and controversy regarding policing policies in connection with Beale Street. Based on the extensive record developed and the evidence submitted in the jury trial in the case, the Court also determines that the City of Memphis' practice of ordering all persons to immediately leave the sidewalks and street on Beale Street without consideration to whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area pose an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety is unconstitutional. While the City of Memphis asserts that it has now abandoned the unconstitutional practice, evidence to the contrary, including the jury's factual findings, has been received by the Court. Accordingly, the Court finds that the weight of the evidence compels issuance of narrowly tailored injunctive and other equitable relief in order to remedy the City's constitutional violations.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Lakendus Cole is a police officer employed with the City of Memphis Police Department Organized Crime Unit, and Plaintiff Leon Edmond is a Special Agent employed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Compl. at 1-2, ECF No. 1.)

Plaintiffs assert a class action claim against Defendant City of Memphis ("the City") for

the policy, procedure, custom, or practice by which police officers of the Memphis Police Department ("MPD") order all persons to immediately leave the sidewalks and street on Beale Street when there are no circumstances present which threaten the safety of the public or MPD police officers ("the Beale Street [] Sweep").

(Id. at 2.) According to Plaintiffs, "[t]he Beale Street [] Sweep routinely occurs in the early morning hours on Saturdays and Sundays and during certain scheduled entertainment events on weekdays." (Id.) Plaintiffs assert that the Beale Street Sweep "incites violence amongst its employee police officers and creates an environment where they become aggressive, agitated, frenetic, and confrontational with persons lawfully standing on a sidewalk or upon Beale Street." (Id.)

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs Cole and Edmond also assert individual claims against the City of Memphis. With regard to Plaintiff Cole, Plaintiffs assert the following: "Plaintiff Cole, while off-duty and dressed in civilian clothing, was outside of Club 152 on Beale Street...." (Id. ¶ 30.) "Plaintiff Cole was not intoxicated and had not consumed an alcoholic beverage." (Id. ¶ 31.) "Pursuant to the Beale Street Sweep, prior to Plaintiff exiting Club 152, MPD police officers including the Individual Defendants ordered all individuals to immediately leave the sidewalks and street in the Beale Street Entertainment District." (Id. ¶ 32.) "The Individual Defendants suddenly grabbed Plaintiff Cole and[, ] without reasonable cause to do so[, ] began to assault and viciously attack him." (Id. ¶ 35.) "The Individual Defendants slammed Plaintiff Cole's body into the police vehicle twice with such force that the impact dented the body of the police vehicle." (Id. ¶ 36.) The Individual Defendants handcuffed Plaintiff Cole, placed him in the back of the police vehicle, and transported Plaintiff Cole to the Shelby County Jail. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) All criminal charges were later dismissed. (Id. ¶ 41.)

With regard to Plaintiff Edmond, Plaintiffs allege: "Plaintiff Edmond, while off-duty and dressed in civilian clothing and visiting Memphis[, ] was walking in the Beale Street Entertainment District enjoying the sights and music." (Id. ¶ 46.) "Plaintiff Edmond was not intoxicated." (Id. ¶ 47.) As Plaintiff Edmond attempted to enter Club 152 on Beale Street, "Plaintiff Edmond and other family members were approached by Defendant Cooper who ordered Plaintiff Edmond and his family member [sic] to stop walking and demanded that they speak to her regarding their attempt to enter Club 152." (Id. ¶ 51.) "Defendant Cooper and Defendant Skelton placed Plaintiff Edmond under arrest for public intoxication." (Id. ¶ 54.) After advising Defendant Cooper and Defendant Skelton that Plaintiff Edmond was a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF"), MPD police officers contacted Plaintiff Edmond's supervisor, who contacted another ATF special agent Marcus Watson in charge of the Memphis Field Office. (Id. ¶¶ 55-57.) After Watson arrived on the scene, Plaintiff Edmond was released from police custody. (Id. ¶ 58.)

Defendant City of Memphis claims that the practice of "advis[ing] patrons standing on Beale Street at 2:30am to make their way into a club or make preparations to leave Beale Street" and, after 3:00 a.m., "uniformly ordering patrons off of Beale Street, with the option of entering a club" has been "abandoned by order of MPD command staff." (Def. City's Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 40.) The City contends that the practice was terminated on June 14, 2012. (ECF No. 40-1 at 2.) The City further asserts that Plaintiffs' interactions with police as described in their Complaint were in response to reports of Plaintiffs' illegal conduct. (ECF No. 40 ¶¶ 3-6.)

The City alleges that on August 26, 2012, MPD officers responded to a disorderly conduct call near 152 Beale Street, where "Officers instructed Plaintiff Cole to go inside the club [Club 152] or leave the street. Plaintiff Cole refused to comply and acted disrespectfully towards the officers." (Id. ¶¶ 3-4 (alteration in original).)

The City asserts that on May 5, 2012, "MPD officers responded to a disturbance call at the entrance to 152 Beale." (Id. ¶ 5.) "At that time officers came upon a visibly intoxicated Plaintiff Edmonds in an altercation with the doorman and bouncers at 152 Beale. MPD officers removed Plaintiff from the area and discovered that he was presently armed with a GLOCK Model 27.40 caliber pistol." (Id. ¶ 6.)

B. The Trial

This case was tried by a jury beginning on January 20, 2015. (ECF No. 125.) The jury returned their verdict on January 27, 2015. (ECF No. 138.) In the verdict, the jury made four findings relevant to class relief: (1) that the City of Memphis had "through its police officers, carried out a custom and/or well-established practice mainly on weekends at or about 3:00 a.m. of preventing persons from standing and/or walking on the sidewalk or street of Beale Street prior to [and on or after] June 14, 2012" (Verdict ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 141); (2) that this well-established practice "occurs without consideration to whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area pose an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety" (id. ¶ 4); (3) that the well-established practice was "the cause of persons being prevented from standing and/or walking on the sidewalk or street of Beale Street" (id. ¶ 3); and (4) that "since at least 2007, thousands of persons were cleared off of Beale Street pursuant to" that practice. (Id. ¶ 5.)

With regard to Plaintiff Cole's individual claim for damages, the jury made five findings: (1) that Cole had been removed from Beale Street in the manner described above; (2) that "conditions throughout the Beale Street area did NOT pose an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety at the time the police officers initiated" the sweep on the night Cole was removed and arrested; (3) that Cole was arrested without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (4) that the Memphis Police Department used excessive force during Cole's arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (5) that the well-established practice caused the violations of Cole's Fourth Amendment rights and damages to Cole. (Id. ¶¶ 7-16.) The jury awarded Cole $35, 000 in damages. (Id. ¶ 17.)

With regard to Plaintiff Edmond's individual claim for damages, the jury found that Edmond had not been removed from Beale Street pursuant to the well-established practice described above and Edmond's arrest was not unlawful.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Accordingly, the jury did not award any damages to Edmond. (Id. ¶ 30.)

C. Procedural History

On February 25, 2013, Lakendus Cole and Leon Edmond (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a Class Action Complaint asserting deprivation of constitutional rights and seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages. (Compl. ECF No. 1.) On April 4, 2013, Defendant Cari Cooper filed an Answer. (ECF No. 6.) On April 11, 2013, Defendant City of Memphis filed an Answer. (ECF No. 8.) On June 14, 2013, Defendant Robert Skelton filed an Answer. (ECF No. 25.) On June 18, 2013, Defendants Christopher Bing, John Faircloth, Robert Forbert, and Samuel Hearn filed an Answer. (ECF No. 27.)

On April 2, 2013, Defendants Robert Forbert and John Faircloth filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (ECF No. 5.) On April 10, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Response in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 7.) On June 4, 2013, the Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 22.) The Court found that Plaintiffs have stated a claim pursuant to Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure but dismissed Plaintiffs' substantive due-process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment as to Defendants Robert Forbert and John Faircloth. (ECF No. 22.)

On May 16, 2013, Defendant Christopher Bing filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (ECF No. 12.) On May 28, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Response in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 13.) On June 6, 2013, the Court entered an Order granting in part the Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiffs' substantive due-process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment but denying in part the Motion as to all other claims against Bing. (ECF No. 23.)

On May 31, 2013, Defendant Samuel Hearn filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (ECF No. 21.) No Response was filed within the required time. On July 10, 2013, the Court entered an Order granting in part the Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiffs' substantive due-process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment but denying in part the Motion as to all other claims against Hearn. (ECF No. 29.)

On November 27, 2013, Plaintiffs filed the Motion to Certify Class. (ECF No. 36.) Defendant City of Memphis filed a Response on December 18, 2013. (ECF No. 40.) On January 9, 2014, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. (ECF No. 42.) Plaintiffs filed a Supplemental Memorandum of Law in support of its Motion for Class Certification on June 30, 2014. (ECF No. 85.) Defendant filed its Response to the Supplemental Memorandum on July 7, 2014 (ECF No. 86), and Plaintiffs filed their Reply on July 14, 2014 (ECF No. 87). On September 29, 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class ("Order Certifying Class"). (ECF No. 88.) In the Court's Order, the Court certified Plaintiffs' proposed class under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the purposes of injunctive and declaratory relief, and denied certification under Rule 23(b)(3). (ECF No. 88 at 41.)

On October 23, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Dismissal with Prejudice of Plaintiffs' Claims Against the Individual Officers upon Stipulation of the Parties. (ECF No. 91.) The Court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims against all individual officers with prejudice in an order entered October 27, 2014. (ECF No. 93.)

On October 27, 2014, the Defendant City of Memphis filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 92.) Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition on November 24, 2014. (ECF No. 97.) Defendant filed a Reply on December 8, 2014. (ECF No. 101.) The Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part the Motion for Summary Judgment ("Summary Judgment Order") on January 18, 2015. (ECF No. 121.)

On October 27, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 94.) Defendant filed a Response in Opposition on November 24, 2014. (ECF No. 95.) The Court denied Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on May 28, 2015. (ECF No. 159.)

A jury trial was held from January 20, 2015 to January 27, 2015. (ECF Nos. 125-28, 138.) The jury reached a verdict on January 27, 2015. (ECF Nos. 138, 141.) The jury found in favor of Plaintiff Cole and against Plaintiff Edmond. (ECF No. 141.)

On February 13, 2015, Defendant filed a Motion to Decertify or Modify Class. (ECF No. 148.) Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion on February 20, 2015. (ECF No. 154.)

The Court issued a Scheduling Order setting a deadline of February 17, 2015 for additional briefing on remedies. (ECF No. 147.) On February 17, 2015, the parties submitted briefs regarding declaratory, injunctive and other equitable relief. (ECF Nos. 150-51.) The parties filed response briefs on February 20, 2015. (ECF Nos. 152-53.) The Court held a post-verdict hearing on injunctive relief on February 24, 2015. (ECF No. 157.) The Court entered an Order denying in part and granting in part the Motion to Decertify or Modify Class on May 28, 2015. (ECF No. 160.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Municipal Liability

Unlike state government entities, "[l]ocal governing bodies... can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief" for conduct that infringes the constitutional rights of individuals. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Municipalities are not subject to respondeat superior liability in cases where liability "does not arise out of the municipality's own wrongful conduct." Los Angeles Cnty., Cal. v. Humphries, 131 S.Ct. 447, 453 (2010); Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 ("In particular, we conclude that a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor - or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory."). Consequently, to succeed on a claim against the City of Memphis, Plaintiffs "must prove two basic elements: (1) that a constitutional violation occurred; and (2) that the [City] is responsible for that violation." See Graham ex rel. Estate of Graham v. Cnty. of Washtenaw, 358 F.3d 377, 382 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Declaratory Judgment

Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, "[i]n a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, ... any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration...." The statute has repeatedly "been understood to confer on federal courts unique and substantial discretion in deciding whether to declare the rights of litigants." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 286 (1995).

The Supreme Court, however, has cautioned that "the federal courts... do not render advisory opinions. For adjudication of constitutional issues[, ] concrete legal issues, presented in actual cases, not abstractions' are requisite." United Pub. Workers of Am. (C.I.O.) v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 89 (1947) (quoting United States v. Appalachian Elec. Power Co., 311 U.S. 377, 423 (1940)). To that end, the Supreme Court has directed that federal courts

must be alert to avoid imposition upon their jurisdiction through obtaining futile or premature interventions, especially in the field of public law. A maximum of caution is necessary in the type of litigation that we have here, where a ruling is sought that would reach far beyond the particular case. Such differences of opinion or conflicts of interest must be ripe for determination' as controversies over legal rights. The disagreement must not be nebulous or contingent but must have taken on fixed and final shape so that a court can see what legal issues it is deciding, what effect its decision will have on the adversaries, and some useful purpose to be achieved in deciding them.

Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff Co., Inc., 344 U.S. 237, 243-44 (1952). "[T]he question in each case is whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment." Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 402 (1975) (internal emphasis and quotation marks omitted).

The two principal criteria guiding the policy in favor of rendering declaratory judgments are (1) when the judgment will serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling the legal relations in issue, and (2) when it will terminate and afford relief from the uncertainty, insecurity, and controversy giving rise to the proceeding. It follows that when neither of these results can be accomplished, the court should decline to render the declaration prayed.

Grand Trunk W.R. Co. v. Consol. Rail Corp., 746 F.2d 323, 326 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal quotation marks omitted). Consequently, the Court considers the following factors in determining whether to issue declaratory judgment in a case:

(1) whether the declaratory action would settle the controversy; (2) whether the declaratory action would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the legal relations in issue; (3) whether the declaratory remedy is being used merely for the purpose of "procedural fencing" or "to provide an arena for a race for res judicata;" (4) whether the use of a declaratory action would increase friction between our federal and state courts and improperly encroach upon state jurisdiction; and (5) whether there is an alternative remedy which is better or more effective.

Id. at 326. "[T]he Grand Trunk factors and their cousins in other circuits direct the district court to consider three things: efficiency, fairness, and federalism." W. World Ins. Co. v. Hoey, 773 F.3d 755, 759 (6th Cir. 2014). The Grand Trunk factors have not been given a set weight and the ...


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