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Staten v. City of Dickson

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

September 26, 2017

TRAVIS STATEN and KEITH KIMBROUGH, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF DICKSON, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Travis Staten and Keith Kimbrough brought this action against the City of Dickson, Tennessee, Detective Diane Moore, and Sergeant Michael Phillips, asserting claims for malicious prosecution and municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 40.) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 46.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS

         On October 11, 2014, Adam Marsh contracted with Staten, a bail bondsman, to act as a surety on Marsh's criminal appearance bond. (Doc. No. 40 at 3; Doc. No. 54 at 2; Doc. No. 55 at 2.) Marsh agreed to pay Staten a bond premium of $100.00 plus $37.00 in fees for a total of $137.00. (Doc. No. 55-2 at 2.) Marsh paid a portion of the amount owed up front and agreed to pay Staten additional money each week. (Id.) Ultimately, Marsh fell behind on his payments. (Id.) On November 22, 2014, Kimbrough, who worked for Staten, and Michael Story, a bounty hunter who lived across the street from Marsh, went to Marsh's house, placed him in handcuffs, and transported him in Story's vehicle to Staten's workplace at McDonalds, which was in the opposite direction as the jail. (Id. at 2-3; Doc. No. 51-1 at 2.) Marsh asked Kimbrough if Staten would agree not to surrender Marsh if he could pay some of the money owed to Staten. (Doc. No. 55-2 at 3.) Staten agreed, and Marsh paid Kimbrough $35.00. (Id.) Staten also stated that he hoped Marsh “took[ ] care of” the charges he filed against Staten after an incident the previous night.[1] (Doc. No. 51-1 at 2.)

         After Kimbrough released Marsh, Story called the Dickson Police Department to report Staten and Kimbrough for arresting Marsh without a warrant. (Doc. No. 49-2 at 6-7.) Story told Officer Katrena Pulley that he initially believed they were going to take Marsh to the jail and turn him over to the Sheriff's Office, but instead went to the McDonald's. (Doc. No. 51-6.) Story “didn't feel right about what he witnessed, ” and “what just happened should not have happened, ” so he decided to notify the police department. (Id.) Pulley instructed Story to come to the police station and give a statement. (Id.) In his statement, Story told Pulley that Marsh owed Staten $50.00 on his bond, and that Marsh gave $35.00 to Kimbrough to give to Staten to avoid going to jail. (Id. at 7.) Pulley called Detective Moore to the police station to investigate the incident. (Id.)

         Moore came to the police station and interviewed Story, Marsh, and Marsh's wife Kayla Marsh. (Doc. No. 51-1 at 2-3.) Moore averred that Marsh did not tell her that he owed money to Staten, but only that Marsh had not missed any court dates and did not have any outstanding warrants. (Id. at 3.) For the purposes of summary judgment, however, Marsh's affidavit establishes that he told Moore that he owed Staten the $35.00 as part of a bonding agreement. (Doc. No. 55-2 at 2-3.) Moore also checked for outstanding warrants against Marsh and found none, which indicated his bond had not been revoked. (Doc. No. 51-1 at 4.) As a result of Moore's investigation, she believed Staten hired Kimbrough to arrest Marsh for a revoked bond when his bond had not been revoked, and used extortion to obtain the $35.00. (Id. at 5.) Moore contacted District Attorney Ray Crouch, Jr., who, based on the facts Moore provided, recommended that Moore bring charges against Staten and Kimbrough for false imprisonment and extortion. (Id. at 5-6.) Moore then wrote and signed an Affidavit of Complaint, stating that the confinement of Marsh was “illegal, ” and that Staten and Kimbrough “used coercion to obtain funds that are a civil matter between [Staten] and [Marsh] from a bonding transaction.” (Doc. No. 55-1 at 3.)

         The Dickson Police Department then contacted Magistrate Mike Fizer to issue warrants for Staten and Kimbrough. (Id.) Fizer wrote for each defendant, “Based on the affidavit of complaint, I find that there is probable cause to believe that on the date set forth above in Dickson County, Tennessee, the defendant committed the offense of” extortion. (Doc. No. 51-3 at 1-2.) Fizer signed the “Probable Cause Determination” stating that an arrest warrant shall issue. (Id.)

         On May 18 and 19, 2015, the Dickson County General Sessions Court held a preliminary hearing on the charges against Staten and Kimbrough. (Doc. No. 49-4 at 1.) At the preliminary hearing, Marsh, the only witness, testified that he owed Staten the $35.00 under the bonding agreement. (Id. at 2.) Based on that statement, Judge Holly dismissed the extortion charge for lack of probable cause. (Id.) However, Judge Holly found that probable cause existed on the false imprisonment charges against both defendants, and bound those charges over to the Grand Jury. (Id. at 4.) Moore did not testify before the Grand Jury, and the Grand Jury indicted both defendants for false imprisonment. (Id.; Doc. No. 55-1 at 5.) The State eventually dismissed the charges against both defendants. (Doc. No. 49-4 at 4-5.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this Court will only consider the narrow question of whether there are “genuine issues as to any material fact and [whether] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment requires that the Court view the “inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . in light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). The opponent, however, has the burden of showing that a “rational trier of fact [could] find for the non-moving party [or] that there is a ‘genuine issue for trial' ” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of plaintiff's position, however, will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). If the evidence offered by the nonmoving party is “merely colorable, ” or “not significantly probative, ” or not enough to lead a fair-minded jury to find for the nonmoving party, the motion for summary judgment should be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 479-52. “A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate.” Hill v. White, 190 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-49).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Moore and Phillips move for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim. (Doc. No. 54 at 5-16.) In the alternative, they move for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. (Id. at 16.) Dickson also moves for summary judgment on the municipal liability claim. (Id. at 20.)

         A. Malicious Prosecution Claim against Moore

         Moore seeks dismissal because (1) Magistrate Fizer made an independent finding of probable cause on both the extortion and false imprisonment charges; (2) the General Sessions Court made a finding of probable cause for the charge of false imprisonment; (3) the Grand Jury made a finding of probable cause for the charge of false imprisonment; (4) intervening decisions broke the chain of causation so that Staten and Kimbrough cannot recover from Moore; and (5) probable cause for the ...


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