United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
H. SHARP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Casey Lawson brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against all Defendants for violations of his Fourth Amendment
right to be free from unreasonable seizure of his personal
property (Count I). The defendants are the Fifteenth Judicial
District Drug Task Force (“15thJDDTF”
or “Drug Task Force”); Smith County;
Trousdale/Hartsville County (“Trousdale County”);
Michael Thompson, director of the 15th JDDTF, and
sued in his official and individual capacities; Charles
Hopper, sheriff of the Smith County Sheriff's Department
(“SCSD”), and sued in his official and individual
capacities; Christopher Jenkins, an SCSD detective, and sued
in his official and individual capacity; Brandon Gooch, a
detective for the Hartsville/Trousdale County Sheriff's
Department (“TCSD”) assigned to the
15th JDDTF, and sued in his official capacities as
a TCSD detective and 15th JDDTF agent and in his
individual capacity; and Steve Babcock, an SCSD detective
assigned to the 15th JDDTF, and sued in his
official capacities as an SCSD detective and 15th
JDDTF agent and in his individual capacity. Plaintiff Lawson
also brings various state law claims against Defendants
before the Court are Defendants' Motions for Summary
Judgment, (Docket Nos. 57, 63, 66), to which Plaintiff Lawson
has filed Responses in Opposition, (Docket Nos. 71, 76, 80),
and Defendants have replied, (Docket Nos. 90, 93). For the
reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants'
Motions for Summary Judgment. However, the Court's ruling
is limited to Plaintiff's federal claims only, and all
state claims will be dismissed without
2011, Plaintiff Lawson became a confidential informant
(“C.I.”) for the 15thJDDTF. (Docket
No. 78 at 3, ¶¶ 8-9). As a C.I., Plaintiff Lawson
assisted in several controlled buys and sales of drugs.
(Id. at 4, ¶ 11).
April 2, 2012, the Smith County Grand Jury returned sealed
indictments against nineteen individuals. (Id. at 6,
¶ 20). The majority of the indictments were for
drug-related offenses. (Docket No. 82 at 9, ¶ 29). On
that same day, Plaintiff Lawson approached Defendant Hopper
and Defendant Thompson and told them the current address of
the Frenches, who had been indicted under seal. (Docket No.
78 at 7, ¶ 22; id. at 8, ¶ 25). That
action indicated to Defendant Thompson that Plaintiff Lawson
knew about indictments he should not have known about.
(Docket No. 78 at 7, ¶ 22). Only one of the nineteen
people indicted - Nancy Berry, a person with whom Plaintiff
Lawson had engaged in a controlled buy of cocaine - was
located in the round-up, which was an unusually low number.
(Id. at 7, ¶¶ 21, 23, 24).
Berry was arrested on April 10, 2012, a search of her phone
revealed that she had received a text message from Plaintiff
Lawson's cell phone number stating, “You got 3
indictments today.” (Docket No. 78 at 7, ¶ 23;
Docket No. 82 at 9, ¶ 30). Defendant Thompson and
Defendant Hopper interviewed Berry after the arrest, and
Berry told them that Plaintiff Lawson had tipped off both her
and Andrew Gibbs about their sealed indictments, leading
Gibbs to go on the run, and that Plaintiff Lawson was still a
“heavy” user of crack cocaine. (Docket No. 78 at
8, ¶ 25). Berry also said that Plaintiff Lawson's
wife, Capri Lawson, knew about or was also involved with
tipping off drug offenders about sealed indictments against
them. (Id.). Berry agreed to have a wire concealed
in her purse to investigate the Lawsons' involvement in
tipping off drug offenders about their sealed indictments.
(Id. at 8, ¶ 27).
the Smith County Jail, Berry called Buddy's Bonding
Company, where Capri Lawson wrote bonds, asking to be bailed
out. (Id. at 9, ¶ 28; Docket No. 73 at 4,
¶ 18). Both Plaintiff Lawson and Capri Lawson went to
the jail. (Docket No. 78 at 9, ¶ 28). Defendant Gooch,
who was informed by Defendant Thompson that Berry had agreed
to wear a wire, monitored Berry's conversations. (Docket
No. 73 at 4, ¶¶ 16-17). Berry spoke briefly with
Plaintiff Lawson and told him, “[Law enforcement] took
my phone, ” and Plaintiff Lawson asked her if anything
was on it. (Docket No. 78 at 9, ¶ 30).
Lawson bailed out Berry and agreed to drive Berry to a motel
in Carthage, TN. (Docket No. 73 at 5, ¶ 22; Docket No.
78 at 9, ¶ 31). While Capri Lawson and Berry were
sitting in Lawsons' Cadillac CTS-V in the jail parking
lot, Defendant Gooch, who was monitoring the conversation,
overheard Berry say to Capri Lawson that the Drug Task Force
was “on to them.” (Docket No. 73 at 6, ¶
24). Defendant Gooch also heard Capri Lawson call Andrew
Gibbs, one of the drug offenders indicted under seal, to warn
him that the Drug Task Force had discovered the plot to leak
sealed indictments. (Id. at 6, ¶¶ 25-26).
Berry, over Capri Lawson's phone, told Gibbs that,
“They're looking for you, ” referring to the
Drug Task Force or law enforcement in general. (Id.
at 6, ¶ 27).
on the information gathered, Defendant Thompson requested
that Defendant Jenkins apply for a search warrant for the
Lawsons' cell phone records. (Docket No. 78 at 10, ¶
36). Defendant Thompson provided the information for the
search warrant application, and the District Attorney's
Office approved the application before Defendant Jenkins
submitted it to a judge. (Id. at 10, ¶ 37;
Docket No. 82 at 11, ¶¶ 41-43). On April 12, 2012,
Smith County Criminal Court Judge David Durham issued the
search warrant for the cell phones. (Docket No. 78 at 11,
execution of the search warrant, an analysis of the cell
phones revealed text messages suggesting Plaintiff
Lawson's direct involvement in alerting indicted drug
offenders of their sealed indictments, and Capri Lawson's
likely direct involvement, or knowledge of, Plaintiff
Lawson's tipping off indicted offenders. (Id. at
11, ¶ 40). For example, one text message from Plaintiff
Lawson's phone said, “HIDE HIDE OLD BUDDY YOU GOT 3
INDICTMENTS TODAY BUT THEY AINT SERVING THEM TILL
FRIDAY.” (Id. at 11, ¶ 41). There were
also text messages that stated that Plaintiff Lawson was
blackmailing, or attempting to blackmail, someone; messages
discussing firearms Plaintiff Lawson was attempting to trade
or sell; and messages suggesting possible illegal
surveillance activities. (Id. at 12, ¶ 47;
Docket No. 82 at 12, ¶ 46).
April 13, 2012, Plaintiff got a text message from Jermaine
Phillips' cell phone number that said, “HEY YOU
THINK YOU CAN GET THE SMOKE BY THE TIME WE GET READY TO LEAVE
AROUND 5:00 PM [?]” (Docket No. 78 at 11, ¶ 42).
On that same afternoon, Defendant Thompson saw Plaintiff
Lawson driving a Ford F250 pickup truck. (Id. at 12,
on the information in the text messages, Defendant Thompson
advised law enforcement to apply for a search warrant for the
Lawsons' residence at 405 Third Avenue East in Carthage,
TN. (Id. at 13, ¶ 49). Defendant Thompson
supplied the information that went into Defendant
Jenkins' search warrant application for the Lawsons'
residence, and the District Attorney's Office reviewed
the application. (Id. at 13, ¶ 50; Docket No.
82 at 16, ¶ 59). On May 2, 2012 at 8:18 a.m., Judge John
Wootten issued a search warrant. (Docket No. 73 at 9, ¶
40). It authorized the search of the house, outbuildings, and
vehicles at the Lawsons' residence and contained a
specific property list to be searched for, including
firearms, narcotics and drug paraphernalia, surveillance
equipment, recording devices, video storage devices, cellular
devices, and paper records. (Docket No. 78 at 14, ¶ 53;
Docket No. 63-1 at 33).
morning of May 2, 2012, Defendants Thompson and Jenkins held
a meeting to brief Defendant Gooch, Defendant Babcock,
Defendant Hopper, and others about the search warrant to be
executed. (Docket No. 78 at 14, ¶ 54). After the
meeting, Defendant Babcock, Defendant Gooch, and one other
drove to the Lawsons' residence, entered with Capri
Lawson's permission, secured the residence, and waited
for Defendant Jenkins to arrive with the search warrant
before commencing the search. (Docket No. 73 at 9,
¶¶ 37-38; Docket No. 78 at 15, ¶¶ 56-58).
same morning, the Smith County chief deputy called Plaintiff
Lawson to come to the Smith County Sheriff's Department,
and Plaintiff Lawson arrived in the Cadillac CTS-V after the
officers' search warrant briefing meeting had concluded.
(Id. at 15, ¶ 59). When Plaintiff Lawson
arrived, Defendant Thompson asked Plaintiff Lawson to empty
his pockets, and Plaintiff Lawson willingly submitted to a
pat-down for weapons. (Id. at 15, ¶ 60).
Plaintiff Lawson was then given his Miranda warning and
interviewed by Defendant Jenkins and Defendant Thompson.
(Id. at 16, ¶¶ 61-62). During the
interview recorded audio-visually, Plaintiff Lawson told
Defendant Thompson that he had told Jermaine Phillips that
people were known to buy and sell marijuana at a certain
trailer park in Carthage, TN. (Docket No. 78 at 16,
¶¶ 62, 65; Docket No. 79-1 at 2, ¶ 13).
between 10:00 to 10:30 a.m. on May 2, 2012, Defendant
Thompson, Defendant Jenkins, and Carthage Police Department
officers arrived at the Lawsons' residence with the
search warrant and executed the search. (Docket No. 78 at 21,
¶ 88-89). Defendant Hopper also arrived at the
Lawsons' residence and participated in the search
pursuant to the warrant. (Docket No. 82 at 18, ¶ 63).
the execution of the search, items of personal property
inside the Lawsons' residence were seized and logged,
mostly by Defendant Babcock with a few entries made by
Defendant Gooch, on a search warrant return that was then
signed by Defendant Jenkins. (Docket No. 78 at 23, ¶ 95;
Docket No. 63-1 at 35-36). Defendant Gooch did not carry any
of the items out of the house. (Docket No. 73 at 11, ¶
46). The search warrant return was submitted to Judge
Wootten. (Docket No. 78 at 23, ¶ 96). Items taken as
evidence by the Smith County Sheriff's Department
included equipment for surveillance activities, paper
records, phones, recording devices, several guns, and
computers. (Id. at 23, ¶ 97; Docket No. 82 at
18, ¶ 64). Defendant Gooch searched the Ford F250 pickup
truck that was parked in the driveway of the Lawsons'
residence. (Docket No. 73 at 11, ¶ 47). No narcotics or
drug paraphernalia were found inside the residence during the
search or inside the Ford F250. (Docket No. 78 at 23, ¶
98; Docket No. 73 at 11, ¶ 49). Defendant Jenkins
completed an incident report, detailing the investigation and
search, pursuant to Smith County Sheriff Department policy.
(Docket No. 82 at 19, ¶ 69).
search concluded on May 2, 2012, Defendant Gooch gave a
Notice of Seizure form to Capri Lawson listing the Ford F250
truck, $255 in U.S. currency, and a Wells Fargo Safe. (Docket
No. 73 at 11, ¶ 50). Defendant Gooch also filled out a
Notice of Seizure form for the Cadillac CTS-V that Plaintiff
Lawson had driven to the Smith County Sheriff's
Department on May 2, 2012. (Docket No. 78 at 25, ¶ 106).
Thompson asked Defendant Gooch to appear before Trousdale
County General Sessions Judge Kenny Linville to pursue
forfeiture of the two vehicles and the $255 U.S. currency.
(Id. at 26, ¶ 111). Defendant Thompson provided
Defendant Gooch a written document explaining the reason for
the seizure/forfeiture of those items, and he fully briefed
Defendant Gooch on the rationale. (Id. at 26, ¶
Gooch testified before Judge Linville, who found probable
cause for forfeiture of the two vehicles and the U.S.
currency, and he issued forfeiture warrants for them.
(Id. at 27-28, ¶¶ 117-118). The Drug Task
Force Office then sent notice of the forfeiture warrants to
the Tennessee Department of Safety, which decided to proceed
with the forfeitures and sent notices to the Lawsons.
(Id. at 28, ¶ 120; Docket No. 73 at 15, ¶
68). Capri Lawson filed to challenge the forfeiture of the
vehicles and the U.S. currency in a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) in Cookeville,
TN on April 3, 2013. (Docket No. 78 at 28, ¶ 121). The
ALJ ruled that the vehicles and cash be returned to Capri
Lawson. (Id. at 29, ¶ 123).
judgment “is appropriate only where ‘the
pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file,
and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.'” Whitfield v.
Tennessee, 639 F.3d 253, 258 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Where a moving party without the burden
of proof at trial seeks summary judgment, the movant
“bears the initial burden of showing that there is no
material issue in dispute.” Lindsay v. Yates,
578 F.3d 407, 414 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). “Once a
moving party has met its burden of production, ‘its
opponent must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'”
Blizzard v. Marion Tech. Coll., 698 F.3d 275, 282
(6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). The Court
“must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150
(2000) (citation omitted). “Reviewing the facts in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court must
ultimately determine whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Blizzard, 698 F.3d at 282
(internal quotations and citations omitted).