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Williams v. Town of Smyrna

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

April 14, 2017

TOWN OF SMYRNA, TENNESSEE, and DON GODBY, Officer of Smyrna, Tennessee Police Department, Defendant.



         Pending before the Court are Defendant Don Godby's (“Officer Godby”) and Defendant Town of Smyrna's (“Smyrna”) Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 33 & 36). Plaintiff Lashawn Williams (“Williams”) filed a Response to both. (Docket No. 51). Smyrna and Officer Godby then replied. (Docket Nos. 58 & 59). Officer Godby further filed a Supplemental Reply. (Docket No. 67). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Smyrna's Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Officer Godby's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         In October 2013, Lashawn Williams was a 28 year old female employed by Calsonic, a vendor located within the Nissan Plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. Williams was a small woman, weighing approximately 115-120 pounds. She worked the night shift, and on October 15, 2013, Williams left work at 8:00 am. Although the exact timeline is disputed, all parties agree that sometime after work, Williams and her friend Kaia Loving ended up at Williams' apartment and started drinking. The two women began drinking inside Williams' apartment but eventually moved outside to Loving's car, either because Williams' mother and child were sleeping inside her apartment, or because Loving wanted to smoke-the exact reason is disputed. Loving and Williams were sitting in Loving's car and drinking for about ten or fifteen minutes before Officer Godby arrived on scene.

         Officer Godby stated that when he arrived on scene, he heard screams coming from the direction of Loving's car. (Docket No. 48-5 at 10). Officer Godby approached the car on the driver's side where Loving was sitting. He asked them if they had been fighting and the women replied that they were fine and had just been laughing and being loud. Officer Godby claims he saw Williams make a sudden hand movement, as if to hide something between the car door and the passenger's side seat. (Id. at 27). Officer Godby claims this action made him suspicious, so he called for backup. (Id. at 28). Williams disputes that she ever made a hand movement.

         While waiting for backup, Officer Godby asked the two women for identification. Loving handed Officer Godby her driver's license, but Williams had left hers in her apartment. Officer Godby refused to allow Williams to go inside and retrieve it out of safety concerns. Officer Godby offered to call the apartment complex office to confirm that Williams lived there, which Officer Godby claims made Williams “extremely irate.” (Docket No. 54 at 15). Williams disputes this, saying that she was “insistent and not irate” but simply did not want a police officer calling her apartment complex as she did not want a mark on her record with the apartment complex. (Id.).

         At this point, Officer Godby walked over to the passenger's side of the car where Williams was sitting. Williams admits that when he was speaking to her directly, she raised her voice. Williams admits that she did use curse words “but they were not directed at Officer Godby[.]” (Docket No. 54 at 17). She admits that she was upset, acting “wild, ” and “getting loud.” She further admitted that, during the encounter, she stated she “was not going to be harassed by no fucking police.” (Id. at 18-19).

         After Officer Schoon-Officer Godby's backup-arrived on the scene, Officer Godby asked Williams to step out of the car. Williams did so voluntarily, and Officer Godby then did a light pat down of Williams' person. During the pat down, Officer Godby found an unopened bottle of “99” brand liquor in Williams' pocket. Officer Godby then asked Williams to turn around and place her hands behind her back, which she also did willingly.

         At this point, Officer Godby attempted to handcuff Williams, and the parties disagree about the exact actions each party took. Officer Godby claims that Williams became belligerent and started swinging her arms and kicking him, while Williams claims that Officer Godby “yanked” her arm and that she did not kick him. (Id. at 26). The dash-cam footage does not definitively help either side. During this situation, Officer Schoon yelled “get on the ground, ” and Williams describes the actions as happening very quickly like “bam.” (Id. at 27). Officer Schoon and Officer Godby took Williams to the ground, which resulted in Williams breaking her clavicle. During this encounter, Officer Schoon had been on Williams' left side and Officer Godby had been on Williams' right. Williams' clavicle was broken on her left side.

         While Williams was taken to the back of Officer Schoon's car, Loving consented to Officer Godby searching her car. Officer Godby found twelve airplane bottles of liquor, but did not find other drugs or weapons. (Id. at 31; Docket No. 48-5 at 28).

         Williams complained of shoulder pain, and the officers called an ambulance to the scene to evaluate her. The parties dispute whether Williams was acting too belligerent to be taken to the hospital by the ambulance; regardless, Williams was transferred to the hospital in the back of Officer Schoon's car. At the hospital, Williams was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.159 and a broken left clavicle.

         Williams was charged with public intoxication, assault, and resisting arrest. During the course of the state law proceedings concerning these charges, Williams filed a Motion to Supress, which was heard in front of Judge David Bragg in Rutherford County Circuit Court. Judge Bragg determined that “Officer Godby did not have reasonable suspicion to continue the encounter with Williams once he ascertained that Williams and Loving were not fighting.” (Docket No. 54 at 37). He ordered that all the evidence “accumulated following the illegal seizure” was to be suppressed and the charges dismissed. (Id.).

         Williams has subsequently brought the present case against both Officer Godby and the Town of Smyrna. She claims that both Officer Godby and Smyrna violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. She brings two state law claims against both Defendants: false imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress.


         Summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact [such that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). But “summary judgment will not lie if the . . . evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The movant therefore has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1388-89 (6th Cir.1993). But the non-moving party “may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Searcy v. City of Dayton, 38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). The non-moving party must present “significant probative evidence” to show that there is more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Moore v. Philip Morris Co., 8 F.3d 335, 339-40 (6th Cir. 1993).


         I. Excessive Force Claims

         Williams has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Godby in his individual capacity and the Town of Smyrna.

Section 1983 makes liable only those who, while acting under color of state law, deprive another of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law. To establish a claim pursuant to ยง 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate two elements: (1) that she was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that she was subjected or caused to be subjected to this deprivation by a person acting under color of state law. Section ...

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