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Stafford v. Jackson County, Tennessee

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 4, 2017


          Session June 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Jackson County No. 11-CV-27 Clara W. Byrd, Judge

         An arrestee sued the arresting sheriff's deputy, the sheriff, and the county for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment. We affirm as to the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress but find that there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment on the claim for assault and battery.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part and Remanded

          Richard Marshall Brooks, Carthage, Tennessee, for the appellants, Shira Jean Stafford and Donnie Stafford.

          Robyn Beale Williams, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Chris Carter, Jackson County Sheriff, Jackson County, Tennessee, and Brad Stafford.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.



         Factual and Procedural Background

         On the afternoon of November 16, 2010, Deputy Chris Carter of the Sheriff's Department of Jackson County, Tennessee pulled over a car driven by Donnie Stafford for speeding on Jennings Creek Highway at Whitleyville. After hearing of the traffic stop over a police scanner, Shira Stafford, Mr. Stafford's wife, and their son, Jacob, drove to the scene in a van and parked behind Deputy Carter's police car.[1] Mrs. Stafford got out of the van, questioned Deputy Carter about why her husband had been stopped, and attempted to go check on Mr. Stafford. When Mrs. Stafford refused his instructions to return to the van and continued to interfere, Deputy Carter arrested her and placed her in handcuffs.

         On November 15, 2011, Mr. and Mrs. Stafford ("the plaintiffs") filed suit against Jackson County, Sheriff Brad Stafford, and Deputy Carter ("the defendants") for numerous causes of action. The plaintiffs sued the defendants in their official capacity for negligence; negligent hiring, training, supervision and discipline; and false arrest and imprisonment. They sued the defendants as individuals for negligence, excessive force, assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and loss of consortium.

         The civil proceedings were stayed in April 2012 until criminal charges against Mrs. Stafford were resolved. Mrs. Stafford was then convicted of preventing or obstructing a law enforcement officer from effecting a stop, frisk, halt, or arrest in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-602, and her conviction was upheld by the Court of Criminal Appeals. State v. Stafford, No. M2013-01319-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 2902278 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 26, 2014). The parties filed a joint motion to lift the stay in December 2014.

         The defendants answered, and the parties engaged in discovery. On March 14, 2016, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment supported by excerpts from the criminal trial transcript and excerpts from the depositions of Mr. Stafford, Mrs. Stafford, Jacob Stafford, Sheriff Brad Stafford, and Deputy Carter. The plaintiffs opposed the motion and submitted deposition excerpts from Mr. and Mrs. Stafford and an excerpt from the criminal trial transcript.

         The plaintiffs' response to the defendants' statement of facts in support of their motion for summary judgment shows the following pertinent factual disputes and points of agreement:

11. As soon as the van stopped, Mrs. Stafford exited and walked in front of the van and approached Deputy Carter's door.
RESPONSE: Admitted.
12. Carter then exited his vehicle and instructed Mrs. Stafford numerous times to return to her car but she repeatedly refused to do so.
RESPONSE: It is denied that Mrs. Stafford refused to get back in her car. In fact, she tried to go.
13. Instead, she kept trying to push her way around Deputy Carter to try and get to Mr. Stafford's vehicle.
RESPONSE: It is denied that Mrs. Stafford kept trying to push her way around Defendant Carter. In fact, Mrs. Stafford tried to get back in her car.
14. During this exchange, Mr. Stafford got out of his vehicle and Jacob began exiting his vehicle.
RESPONSE: Admitted.
15. Deputy Carter then had three people in different locations all outside of their vehicles which posed a safety issue.
RESPONSE: It is denied that this caused a safety issue.
16. Carter then instructed the Stafford men to return to the vehicles and called for back-up.
RESPONSE: It is disputed that Defendant Carter then instructed the Stafford men back to their vehicles. Testimony will show that Defendant Carter then handcuffed the plaintiff.
17. The men returned to their vehicles and Mrs. Stafford walked back toward the rear of the patrol car at which time Carter asked her for identification and she questioned why he needed her identification to which she replied she would not.
RESPONSE: It is disputed that Mrs. Stafford told Defendant Carter that she "would not" show her identification.
18. At that point, Carter makes the decision to arrest her for obstructing his traffic stop of Mr. Stafford and failing to comply with instructions and informs her that she is under arrest.
RESPONSE: This is admitted for the purposes of summary judgment as contemplated by Rule 56 of the T.R.Civ.P., but the Plaintiff disputes that this is a "material fact" . . . .
19. Mrs. Stafford attempted to return to her vehicle to get her identification, and Deputy Carter took her by the right forearm and placed a handcuff on her arm.
RESPONSE: Admitted.
20. Mrs. Stafford attempted to pull away and Deputy Carter instructed her to stop and ...

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