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Chase v. White

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

December 13, 2016

DAVID CHASE, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW K. WHITE, SCOTT F. HULL, JEFFREY S. BROWN, JAREN C. BREECE, ALAN T. DIGRUTTOLO, JONATHAN SCHMIDT, JOHN B. HATCHER, JR., GREGORY LINDSTROM, PEDRO RIVERA CHAPPARO, JAMES JORDAN, LARRY CAHILL, JR., AND OFFICER JOE DOE, personally and in their individual capacity as officers of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, and THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          AETA A. TRAUGER United States District Judge.

         Before the court are (1) the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendant the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”) (Doc. No. 9); (2) the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendants Scott Hull, Jaren Breece, Alan Digruttolo, Jeffrey Brown, Larry Cahill, Matthew White, and James Jordan (Doc. No. 12); and (3) the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendants John B. Hatcher, Jr., Gregory Lindstrom, and Pedro Rivera-Chapparo (Doc. No. 22). The motions have been fully briefed by all parties and are ripe for consideration. For the reasons set forth herein, the motions will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         For purposes of reviewing the defendants' motions, the court must accept as true the factual allegations in plaintiff David Chase's Complaint, which states in relevant part as follows.

         On Sunday, June 8, 2014, at approximately 4:00 a.m., Lauren Bull entered Chase's home without his permission. After repeated demands, Bull finally left Chase's home. She then called 911 and falsely reported that Chase had assaulted her.

         Metro police officers, including the individuals named as defendants in this action (collectively, the “police officer defendants”), arrived at Chase's doorstep shortly thereafter. At least one officer “violently banged” on Chase's door, awakening him. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Because the officer refused to identify himself or present his credentials, Chase declined to open the door.

         The police officer defendants thereafter “improperly and unlawfully” obtained an arrest warrant for Chase for misdemeanor domestic assault. (Compl. ¶ 24.) Chase alleges that the police officer defendants knew, or recklessly and maliciously failed to discover, that Bull's charges were false, failed to perform any investigation to corroborate Bull's allegations or exonerate Chase, and lacked probable cause to obtain the arrest warrant. Chase alleges “upon information and belief” that the police officer defendants obtained the arrest warrant, rather than simply a criminal summons, in retaliation for his refusal to open the door the first time they pounded on it. (Compl. ¶ 25.)

         After obtaining the arrest warrant, “certain of the officers” returned to Chase's home around 6:00 a.m. the same morning to execute it, bringing Bull with them. (Compl. ¶ 26.) Without knocking and requesting entry, the police officer defendants maliciously kicked in the door and, guns drawn, “forcibly and violently rousted [Chase] from sleep in his bed and handcuffed him on the floor.” (Compl. ¶ 27.) The officers then “forcibly, willfully maliciously, and criminally removed Chase from his home, ” refusing his requests to gather any personal effects. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Instead of securing the premises, they unlawfully gave Chase's house key to Bull and left her alone in Chase's home. Bull left shortly thereafter.

         Chase was released later that morning and returned to his home. He did not know at that time that Bull had obtained a key to his home from the officers and that she had been notified of his release by Metro. As a result of receiving such notice, Bull returned to Chase's home, entered illegally, and waited for his return. When Chase entered, he demanded that Bull leave. Bull refused and instead physically assaulted Chase and intentionally damaged his property.

         Bull again called 911 and again falsely reported that Chase had assaulted her. She again swore out a warrant for Chase's arrest for charges related to felony domestic assault, falsely reporting that Chase had choked her until she lost consciousness and had destroyed her cell phone. Chase alleges, “upon information and belief, ” that the police officer defendants knew or recklessly failed to discover that Bull's charges were false and inaccurate. (Compl. ¶ 45.) Lacking probable cause, the police officer defendants nonetheless obtained one or more arrest warrants for Chase for felony domestic assault and other serious charges, based only on Bull's sworn testimony. As a result, Chase was arrested a second time, on June 9, 2014, [1] after peaceably surrendering.

         Chase alleges that, on June 16, 2014, [2] “based upon the false charges asserted by Bull and the false and incorrect statements or reports of the Officers, ” the Metro Police Department's Chief of Police, who is not a defendant in this action, “penned a seven page open letter to Judge Higgins.[3] That letter recklessly published false and defamatory statements concerning Mr. Chase, his actions, and the events surrounding his arrest.” (Compl. ¶ 51.) Metro published the false and defamatory statements to third parties, including the press, and the letter was ultimately published in the Tennessean newspaper and other local, national, and international news outlets, due to Chase's prominence as a real estate developer.

         Chase also alleges, “upon information and belief, ” that “Defendants published further defamatory and false statements” about Chase for the purpose of “clothing the Officers' unlawful and reckless actions with credibility” and “to negatively influence public opinion against . . . Mr. Chase while bolstering Metro [Police Department's] reputation for being tough on domestic violence, ” even while knowing that the statements were false. (Compl. ¶¶ 52-54.) As a result of the publication of false and defaming statements, Chase's reputation and his business and personal relationships were ruined or significantly harmed, and he was deprived of the right to a fair and impartial jury in Davidson County.

         After Chase's arrest in June 2014, defendant Cahill took primary responsibility for investigating the charges against him. Chase alleges that Cahill's investigation was slow and sloppy and resulted in the loss of evidence that would have quickly exonerated Chase. Chase alleges that Cahill's reckless and malicious conduct directly resulted in Chase's being falsely and maliciously prosecuted.

         Chase alleges that Metro was aware of the falsity of Bull's allegations; it approved or acquiesced in the police officer defendants' unlawful actions; it failed to adequately train the police officer defendants; it maintained policies and customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens; and its actions led to Chase's damages.

         Although the Complaint does not allege as much, the court takes judicial notice that the criminal charges against Chase were dismissed on July 1, 2015. (See Chase v. Funk, No. 3:16-cv-1579 (M.D. Tenn. June 30, 2016) (the “Companion Case”), Compl. Ex. 2, Doc. No. 1-2.)

         Chase asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law as follows:

(1) The police officer defendants' actions violated rights protected by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, specifically Chase's rights (1) to be secure in his home and free from unreasonable entry, search, and seizure; (2) to be free from the use of excessive force; (3) not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law; (4) to free speech; (5) to be free from malicious prosecution; and (6) to a fair and impartial jury. (Compl. Count I.)
(2) Metro acted with deliberate indifference to Chase's constitutional rights when it failed to adequately train its police officers and adopted “reckless policies, customs, or practices.” (Compl. Count II.)
(3) Metro adopted policies or procedures that improperly allow the use of excessive force when other less drastic methods are available, in deliberate indifference to Chase's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Compl. Count III.)
(4) The police officer defendants, acting under color of state law, falsely arrested Chase without probable cause and falsely imprisoned him without due process, in violation of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and in violation of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“TGTLA”) and Tennessee common law. (Compl. Counts IV & V.)
(5) The police officer defendants committed assault and battery and criminal trespass, in violation of state law, when they knowingly and intentionally trespassed upon Chase's property and assaulted him in his own home. (Compl. Counts VI & VII.)
(6) The defendants willfully and maliciously published false and defamatory statements about him. (Compl. Count VIII.)
(7) The police officer defendants negligently breached their duty of care to Chase, and Metro negligently supervised the police officer defendants in the conduct of their duties. (Compl. Counts IX & X.)
(8) The defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy to carry out the “aforesaid willful, malicious, criminal, and tortious acts and violations of Mr. Chase's rights.” (Compl. ¶ 116, Count XI.)

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 5, 2015, plaintiff David Chase instituted a federal lawsuit (the “2015 Lawsuit”) by filing a civil rights Complaint (“2015 Complaint”) in this court. See Chase v. White et al., No. 3:15-cv-00631 (M.D. Tenn. June 5, 2015, Doc. No. 1). Less than a month later, Chase filed a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal without prejudice. Id. (M.D. Tenn. July 1, 2005) (Doc. No. 5). The court (Haynes, S.J.) granted the motion by Order entered July 2, 2015. Id. (Doc. No. 6).

         Prior to dismissal, the plaintiff served, or attempted to serve, the 2015 Complaint upon each of the defendants. The returned summonses reflect that “Jason Bo Bo / Legal Dept.” or “Jason / Legal Dept.” accepted service of process on behalf of Metro (Doc. No. 8), Matthew White (Doc. No. 9), Larry Cahill, Jr. (Doc. No. 10), John B. Hatcher, Jr. (Doc. No. 12), Jaren Breece (Doc. No. 14), Jason Jordan (Doc. No. 15), Gregory Lindstrom (Doc. No. 17), Scott Hull (Doc. No. 18), and Pedro Rivera Chapparo (Doc. No. 19). Mark Longmire executed the summons served on Jeffrey S. Brown. (Doc. No. 13.) The summons served on Alan Digruttolo was signed by a Deputy United States Marshal, who checked the box certifying that he had personally served the defendant on June 30, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. (Doc. No. 16.)

         The summons served on Jonathan Schmidt reflects that the server was unable to locate the defendant, as he was no longer employed by Metro. (Doc. No. 11.) The summons served on John Doe was returned unexecuted. (Doc. No. 4.)[4]

         On June 30, 2016, the plaintiff initiated the present action by filing a new Complaint in this court. The 2016 Complaint names the same defendants and is identical in all relevant respects to the 2015 Complaint. The defendants thereafter filed their Motions to Dismiss under Rules 12(b)(5) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. Nos. 9, 12, 22), for insufficient service of process and for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. The plaintiff responded to each motion individually and with a consolidated memorandum (Doc. Nos. 31, 34-37); the defendants filed reply briefs (Doc. Nos. 57-59), and the plaintiff filed surreplies (Doc. Nos. 66-68).

         In conjunction with their motions, the police officer defendants submitted Declarations attesting that they were never personally served with the 2015 Complaint and Summons, the Motion for Voluntary ...


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