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Neeley v. Grainger County Government

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

February 28, 2017

JANE NEELEY and RAY NEELEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
GRAINGER COUNTY GOVERNMENT, BEAN STATION MUNICIPALITY, and NATHAN COOK, individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil action is before the Court on the following motions: (1) defendant Bean Station Municipality's (“Bean Station”) Motion to Dismiss Claims Brought by Jane Neeley [Doc. 16]; (2) plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 20]; (3) defendant Bean Station's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 22]; (4) defendants Grainger County Government (“Grainger County”) and Nathan Cook's Motion to Dismiss the Claims of Jane Neeley [Doc. 24]; (5) plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion for Extension of Time Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 6(b) [Doc. 27]; (6) defendant Nathan Cook's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 35]; (7) defendant Grainger County's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 38]; (8) plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion to Amend Pleading [Doc. 43]; (9) defendant Bean Station's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 44]; and (10) plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion for Extension of Time Within Which to File a Certificate of Good Faith or Excuse Compliance for Extraordinary Cause [Doc. 56]. The parties filed responses and replies to the pending motions [Docs. 18, 21, 23, 26, 28-32, 50- 51, 55, 57-59, 61-62].

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) grant defendant Bean Station's Motion to Dismiss Claims Brought by Jane Neeley [Doc. 16]; (2) deny plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 20]; (3) deny as moot defendant Bean Station's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 22]; (4) grant defendants Grainger County and Nathan Cook's Motion to Dismiss the Claims of Jane Neeley [Doc. 24]; (5) deny plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion for Extension of Time Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 6(b) [Doc. 27]; (6) grant in part and deny in part as moot defendant Nathan Cook's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 35]; (7) grant in part and deny in part as moot defendant Grainger County's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 38]; (8) deny plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion to Amend Pleading [Doc. 43]; (9) deny as moot defendant Bean Station's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 44]; and (10) deny as moot plaintiff Ray Neeley's Motion for Extension of Time Within Which to File a Certificate of Good Faith or Excuse Compliance for Extraordinary Cause [Doc. 56].

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff Jane Neeley and her husband, plaintiff Ray Neeley, lived at 2624 Meadowbranch Road [Doc. 35-2 p. 3]. On October 18, 2014, at 9:22 a.m., Mr. Neeley called 911 and told the dispatcher: “My wife has fallen on the floor. She is mentally confused” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 37].[2] He provided that Mrs. Neeley is seventy-one years old [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 38]. He further stated: “She's got a problem. She's been in a hospital for nine days in Knoxville. With a colon blockage. They unblocked the wrong end of her, see. They should have unblocked her mind instead of her butt” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 38]. Mr. Neeley also told the dispatcher: “What it is, we've gotten into it, and I'm tired of it” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 38].

         The 911 dispatcher sent Grainger County Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) and defendant Deputy Nathan Cook to 2624 Meadowbranch Road [Doc. 35-3 p. 2; Doc. 35-4 p. 2; see also Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording]. The dispatcher advised Cook that there had been a domestic incident [Doc. 35-3 p. 2; see also Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording].

         The 911 dispatcher asked Mr. Neeley how long Mrs. Neeley had been on the floor, and he responded: “Damn near an hour. She's asked me to come in there and pick her up, but after what she's done, I ain't picking her up” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 39]. Mr. Neeley then told the dispatcher how Mrs. Neeley had fallen and that he grabbed her in an “excited” fashion [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 pp. 39-41]. He further stated: “And she swore up and down that I had got out of bed mad and pissed off and that's why I grabbed her what I did” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 40]. Mr. Neeley then told the dispatcher: “I can't deal with her no more. I just can't deal with her no more. I'm going to get her some help or I'm going to get her out of this house” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 p. 41]. Mr. Neeley reiterated that Mrs. Neeley had been on the floor for an “[h]our and ten minutes, ” and he further told the dispatcher that Mrs. Neeley cannot walk and that he “refus[es] to pick her up now because [he's] not arguing with her no more” [Doc. 35-1, 911 Recording; Doc. 35-2 pp. 41-42].

         Because Officer Cook was far away from the Neeley residence, and it involved a possible domestic situation, he requested that Bean Station Officer Matthew Corey Stapleton respond to 2624 Meadowbranch Road [Doc. 35-5 p. 2]. Stapleton was the first officer to arrive on scene, and his initial interactions with Mr. and Mrs. Neeley were captured on video through Stapleton's body camera [Doc. 35-6, Stapleton Video].[3]

         Upon Stapleton's arrival, Mr. Neeley tells Stapleton: “My wife, she's been in the hospital for nine days in Knoxville. And she had a colon block” [Id.]. He further states: “For seven years, I've been fighting with this crazy ass woman in here” [Id.]. Mr. Neeley also told Stapleton: “She's fell in the kitchen. She, well, she started to fall this morning, but I grabbed hold of her and jerked her up and because I got all excited, I had water and crackers in my hand, she said that I was mean and I got pissed off at her and I tried to hurt her. I've, I've had enough and I can't deal with it no more” [Id.].

         As Mr. Neeley and Stapleton were entering the house, Mr. Neeley told Mrs. Neeley: “Tell him the lie Jane. Tell him your lie now that you want to tell him” [Id.]. Mrs. Neeley then began to speak when Mr. Neeley interrupted her and said: “Tell him whatever the hell you want to tell him” [Id.]. Mrs. Neeley tells Stapleton that she needs some help up to a chair “cause he left me like this” [Id.]. Mr. Neeley then stated: “You're out of here” [Id.]. Mrs. Neeley responded: “He just wants me out of the house” [Id.].

         The medics arrived shortly thereafter [Id.]. As they entered, one medic, Justin Stalsworth, asks Mr. Neeley: “She been laying in the floor for an hour?” [Id.]. Mr. Neeley responded: “Yep” [Id.]. Stalsworth asked: “How come?” and Mr. Neeley responded: “I refused to pick her up” [Id.]. Stalsworth then ordered Mr. Neeley out of the house and proceeded to speak with Mrs. Neeley [Id.].

         Stalsworth mentions to Mrs. Neeley that the dispatcher said Mr. Neeley left her on the floor for an hour, to which Mrs. Neeley nods in response [Id.]. The medics asked Mrs. Neeley if Mr. Neeley ever hit her [Id.]. She advised them that he had hit her in the past but not that morning and not recently [Id.]. Mrs. Neeley then described how she fell that morning [Id.]. She mentioned that Mr. Neeley was holding her arm and looking at her “real hard” after she fell [Id.]. She also provided that she did not feel threatened at her house [Id.].

         The body-camera video ends before the medics complete their assessment of Mrs. Neeley and prior to Officer Cook's arrival [Doc. 35-3 p. 4]. Before he arrived, Cook had been advised by the dispatcher that Mrs. Neeley had been on the floor for approximately an hour, that Mr. Neeley had refused to help her up, and that the couple had been arguing [Id. at 2]. When Cook arrived at the house, he spoke with Mrs. Neeley and saw that she had some bruising on her arm and a small cut [Id. at 2-3].

         Mrs. Neeley informed Cook that Mr. Neeley had previously stated that if anybody caused him to go to jail, he would kill them [Id. at 8-9]. Cook perceived Mrs. Neeley as being fearful of Mr. Neeley [Id. at 6-7]. Cook also learned from Mr. Neeley and the dispatcher that Mr. Neeley called 911 only after three individuals told him to [Id.].

         Based on these circumstances, Cook believed that Mr. Neeley had placed Mrs. Neeley in fear of imminent bodily injury [Id. at 5-9]. Cook then arrested Mr. Neeley for domestic assault [Id. at 5].

         Mr. Neeley was taken to Grainger County Jail [Id. at 10]. After he was booked in at the jail, Mr. Neeley asked for a pillow and a mat, but he was not provided either [Doc. 35-2 pp. 27-28]. Mr. Neeley did not provide the jailer with any reason why he needed those items [Id. at 31-32]. The domestic assault charge against Mr. Neeley was dismissed at the preliminary hearing [Id. at 36; Doc. 55-16 pp. 2-3].

         Plaintiffs Jane and Ray Neeley filed suit against defendants on April 27, 2015 [Doc. 1], and amended their complaint as a matter of course on May 12, 2015 [Doc. 4]. Both plaintiffs assert the following claims in their amended complaint: (1) negligence claims against Grainger County and Bean Station pursuant to Tennessee state law; and (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress claims against all defendants pursuant to Tennessee state law [Id. at 8-9, 10]. Plaintiff Ray Neeley asserts the following additional claims: (1) disability discrimination claims against Grainger County pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act; (2) claims against Officer Cook pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (3) false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment claims against Officer Cook pursuant to Tennessee state law [Id. at 9-12].

         There are a number of pending motions before the Court in this matter. The following motions concern whether plaintiff Jane Neeley's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1): (1) Bean Station's Motion to Dismiss Claims Brought by Jane Neeley [Doc. 16]; (2) Ray Neeley's Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 20]; (3) Bean Station's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 22]; (4) Grainger County and Nathan Cook's Motion to Dismiss the Claims of Jane Neeley [Doc. 24]; and (5) Ray Neeley's Motion for Extension of Time Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 6(b) [Doc. 27]. Also pending before the Court is Ray Neeley's Motion to Amend Pleading [Doc. 43]. In addition, all defendants filed motions for summary judgment [Docs. 35, 38, 44], and Ray Neeley filed a Motion for Extension of Time Within Which to File a Certificate of Good Faith or Excuse Compliance for Extraordinary Cause [Doc. 56], which relates to the motions for summary judgment. The Court will first address the five pending motions [Docs. 16, 20, 22, 24, 27] pertaining to whether Mrs. Neeley's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1). The Court will then turn to the motion to amend [Doc. 43]. Lastly, the Court will consider the motions for summary judgment [Docs. 35, 38, 44] and Ray Neeley's related motion [Doc. 56].

         II. Jane Neeley's Claims[4]

         Plaintiff Ray Neeley filed a Suggestion of Death Notice on January 7, 2016, providing that his wife, plaintiff Jane Neeley, died on December 14, 2015 [Doc. 15]. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1), if a motion to substitute is not made within ninety days after service of a statement noting death, the decedent's claims “must be dismissed.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(1). Here, the deadline under Rule 25(a)(1) for filing a motion to substitute was April 6, 2016-ninety days after the suggestion of death notice was filed.

         On April 13, 2016, defendant Bean Station filed a Motion to Dismiss Claims Brought by Jane Neeley, stating as grounds the absence of a motion for substitution [Doc. 16]. Thereafter, on April 19, 2016, Ray Neeley filed a Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 20]. On April 28, 2016, Bean Station filed a Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 22], and defendants Grainger County and Nathan Cook filed a Motion to Dismiss the Claims of Jane Neeley [Doc. 24]. On May 16, 2016, Ray Neeley filed a Motion for Extension of Time Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 6(b) [Doc. 27], in which he moves the Court for an enlargement of time to file the motion to substitute.

         The Court will first address Mr. Neeley's motion for an extension [Doc. 27]. Then the Court will turn to Mr. Neeley's motion to substitute [Doc. 20] and Bean Station's motion to strike [Doc. 22]. Lastly, the Court will consider defendants' motions to dismiss [Docs. 16, 24].

         A. Motion for Extension of Time

         Ray Neeley moves for an extension of time, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b), to file a motion to substitute, in order to allow him to pursue claims on behalf of his deceased wife, plaintiff Jane Neeley [Doc. 27]. As Mr. Neeley requested this extension after the deadline for filing the motion to substitute had already expired, Rule 6(b) provides that the Court may grant the request only if Mr. Neeley “failed to act because of excusable neglect.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1)(B). Such neglect exists “where the failure to do something occurred because of a simple, faultless omission to act, or because of a party's carelessness.” Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 650 (6th Cir. 2005). The Supreme Court has noted that, while mere inadvertence does not usually constitute excusable neglect for the purposes of Rule 6(b), the term is a “somewhat ‘elastic concept' and is not limited strictly to omissions caused by circumstances beyond the control of the movant.” Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 392 (1993). Thus, whether neglect is excusable is an equitable determination based on consideration of all relevant circumstances. Turner, 412 F.3d at 650.

         When considering whether a plaintiff has met the standard for excusable neglect, courts should balance the following factors: (1) the danger of prejudice to the defendants; (2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on the judicial proceedings; (3) the reason for the delay; (4) whether the delay was within the plaintiff's reasonable control; and (5) whether the plaintiff acted in good faith. Howard v. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 306 F. App'x 265, 266-67 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Pioneer Inv. Serv. Co., 507 U.S. at 395). The Sixth Circuit has cautioned that excusable neglect is a “strict standard which is met only in extraordinary cases.” Nicholson v. City of Warren, 467 F.3d 525, 527 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). The burden is on the movant to demonstrate excusable neglect. D.B. v. Lafon, No. 3:06-CV-75, 2007 WL 896135, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Mar. 22, 2007).

         As to the first factor the Court should consider, the danger of prejudice to defendants, Mr. Neeley points out that he included in the suggestion of death notice that he intended on moving to be substituted as a party for Jane Neeley [Doc. 27-1; see also Doc. 15 p. 1]. He contends, therefore, that defendants were given actual notice on January 7, 2016, of who would be the substituting party. Accordingly, Mr. Neeley argues that defendants would not be prejudiced should the Court grant him the extension. Although defendants may have had some notice that Mr. Neeley would be the substituting party, the Court notes that all defendants have filed motions to dismiss based on the absence of a motion to substitute within the ninety-day timeframe [Docs. 16, 24]. Granting Mr. Neeley's motion for an extension would likely result in denying defendants' motions to dismiss. Consequently, the Court finds that defendants would be prejudiced should the Court grant the extension.

         As to the second factor, the length of the delay and its potential impact on the judicial proceedings, Mr. Neeley's deadline for filing a motion to substitute was April 6, 2016 [See Doc. 15]. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(a)(1). Mr. Neeley filed his motion to substitute on April 19, 2016 [Doc. 20], and his motion for an extension on May 16, 2016 [Doc. 27]. Although Mr. Neeley did not miss the deadline by a lengthy period, the Court notes that he filed his motion to substitute just five days after Bean Station filed its motion to dismiss, which states as its ground for dismissal the failure to file a motion for substitution. In addition, Mr. Neeley moved for an extension only after Bean Station moved to strike the motion to substitute based in part on Mr. Neeley's failure to move for an extension. Upon consideration of these circumstances, it appears that Mr. Neeley likely would not have filed the motion to substitute had Bean Station not filed its motion to dismiss, and that he likely would not have filed the motion for an extension had Bean Station not filed its motion to strike. See Wentz v. Best W. Int'l, Inc., No. 3:05-CV-368, 2007 WL 869620, at *3 (E.D. Tenn. Mar. 20, 2007) (stating that where the plaintiff filed a motion for substitution four days after the defendants filed their motion to dismiss, the Court was “left with the indelible impression” that the plaintiff would not have filed the motion to substitute had the defendants not filed the motion to dismiss). As such, while the delay was not long, it is likely that the delay would have been much longer had Bean Station not filed its motion to dismiss.

         The Court now turns to the third factor, that is Mr. Neeley's reason for the delay. Mr. Neeley provides that he could not file the motion to substitute until April 18, 2016-the date the Grainger County Probate Court appointed him as Jane Neeley's representative [Doc. 27-1 p. 2]. In response to this argument, Bean Station points out that Mr. Neeley did not file his Petition to Open Intestate for Jane Neeley until April 18, 2016, the same day Mr. Neeley was appointed Mrs. Neeley's representative [Doc. 30 p. 3; see Docs. 19, 30-1]. Consequently, Bean Station argues that Mr. Neeley should have filed his petition earlier than he did [Doc. 30 p. 3]. Mr. Neeley provides, however, that the Chancellor in Grainger County only handles probate matters once a month [Doc. 31 p. 1]. While Mr. Neeley submits that he could only file his petition on one specific day in each month, he does not provide any explanation for why he failed to file his petition in January, February, or March. In addition, he does not provide any explanation for why he failed to move for an extension within the ninety-day timeframe. Mr. Neeley could have filed a motion for an extension during the ninety-day timeframe and cited the fact that he had not yet been appointed as Jane Neeley's representative as justification for extending the deadline for him to file a motion to substitute. Mr. Neeley, however, failed to move for an extension until over a month after his deadline for filing the motion to substitute.

         Mr. Neeley also provides that he did not move to extend earlier because the requirements of a motion for substitution were satisfied in his suggestion of death notice [Doc. 27-1 p. 2]. Rule 25(a)(1) provides, however, that a motion must be made within ninety days after service of a statement noting the death. Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(1). Mr. Neeley specifically styled the notice of suggestion of death as a notice, not a motion, and even provided in the notice that he “will move to be substituted as a party for Jane Neeley” [Doc. 15 p. 1]. As evidenced by this language, Mr. Neeley contemplated that he would have to file a motion for substitution in addition to the notice. Consequently, Mr. Neeley's notice does not satisfy Rule 25(a)(1) because it is not a motion. Furthermore, the Court notes that Mr. Neeley does not argue that the notice satisfies Rule 25(a)(1) in his motion to substitute [Doc. 20], which was filed before his motion to extend.

         The fourth factor the Court must consider is whether plaintiff's delay in filing the motion to extend and motion to substitute was within plaintiff's reasonable control. As the Court has already noted, even though Mr. Neeley argues he could not move to substitute until April 18, 2016, he provides no reason for why he failed to file his petition in January, February, or March, or why he could not move to extend earlier, citing the fact that he had not yet been appointed as a representative as a reason justifying the extension. As such, the Court finds that Mr. Neeley's delay on this basis was within his reasonable control.

         Looking at Mr. Neeley's argument that he did not file a motion to extend because his notice was sufficient for purposes of Rule 25(a)(1), “multiple courts, ” including this Court, “have expressly held that such misapplication or misunderstanding of Rule 25 does not constitute excusable neglect for the purposes of Rule 6(b).” E.g., Wentz, 2007 WL 869620, at *3 (citing Kaubisch v. Weber, 408 F.3d 540, 543 (8th Cir. 2005); In re Cosmopolitan Aviation Corp., 763 F.2d 507, 515 (2d Cir. 1985)). Rather, the Court finds that Mr. Neeley's misapplication or misunderstanding of Rule 25 was within his reasonable control.

         Finally, the Court must consider whether plaintiff acted in bad faith. Although the Court does not find any evidence of bad faith, the Court finds that, upon consideration of the other factors discussed herein, Mr. Neeley has not met his burden of showing that he failed to act because of excusable neglect. See D.B., 2007 WL 896135, at *2. He has not provided any evidence that he failed to act “because of a simple, faultless omission to act, or because of [his] carelessness.” Turner, 412 F.3d at 650. Mr. Neeley also does not provide any justification for why he waited until April to file his petition to be appointed as Jane Neeley's representative. Furthermore, Mr. Neeley did not move for an extension during the ninety- day timeframe for filing a motion to substitute, and he does not provide any reason for his failure to do so. Indeed, Mr. Neeley did not file his motion for an extension until May 16, 2016-over a month after his deadline had expired. Instead of initially filing a motion for an extension, Mr. Neeley first filed an untimely motion to substitute and provided no reason for his delay and no request for an extension within that motion [Doc. 20].

         In addition, the Court notes that it previously denied a motion for enlargement of time under similar circumstances. See Wentz, 2007 WL 869620, at *1-3. In Wentz, the plaintiff moved for an extension of time to file a motion to substitute after missing the ninety-day deadline by eight days. Id. at *3. Similar to the instant matter, the plaintiff in Wentz did not file a motion to substitute within the deadline because she had misinterpreted Rule 25. Id. at *2. In addition, also analogous to Mr. Neeley, the plaintiff filed her motion for enlargement of time just four days after the defendants filed their motion to dismiss based on the plaintiff's failure to file a motion for substitution. Id. This Court found that such circumstances did not constitute excusable neglect and, consequently, denied the motion to extend. Id. at *1-3. As the circumstances in the instant case are analogous to those in Wentz, the Court again finds that the motion to extend should be denied.

         Upon review of the relevant circumstances, the Court does not find that this is an “extraordinary case[]” that meets the “strict standard” of excusable neglect. Nicholson, 467 F.3d at 527. As such, the Court will deny Ray Neeley's motion for an extension [Doc. 27].

         B. Motion to Substitute

         Because the Court will deny the motion for an extension of time, the Court will also deny Mr. Neeley's Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 20] as untimely. The motion to substitute was not filed within ninety days of the suggestion of death notice, and therefore, the motion is untimely under Rule 25(a)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(1). As the Court will deny the motion to substitute, the Court will deny Bean Station's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 22] as moot.

         C. ...


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