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Wiggins v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County

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

November 14, 2017

JERALD WIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE-DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Plaintiff Jerald Wiggins (“Wiggins”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and Tennessee law against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”) and six Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (“MNPD”) officers - Kevin Crotts, Matthew Norris, James Dunaway, William Hampton, Keith McNamara, and Tim Brewer (“Officer Defendants”). Wiggins' claims arise out of a body cavity search that allegedly occurred in a public restroom at a Logan's Roadhouse restaurant (“Logan's”).[1]

         Before the Court is the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 99) on the pending Motions to Dismiss, Wiggins' Objections (Doc. No. 100), and the Defendants' Responses thereto (Doc. Nos. 102-107). For the following reasons, the Report and Recommendation will be ADOPTED.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On or about October 7, 2013, one or more of the Officer Defendants approached Wiggins in the Logan's parking lot in Madison, Tennessee, and accused him of criminal conduct. (Doc. No. 53 at 2.) The Officer Defendants situated their vehicles behind Wiggins' car in such a way that Wiggins could not leave, drew their service weapons, and pointed them at Wiggins. (Id.) Crotts approached and questioned a white male parked adjacent to Wiggins, Jackie Carter, while Norris approached and questioned Wiggins, who is African-American male. (Id. at 2-3.) Carter claimed that Wiggins sold him drugs. (Id. at 3.) At that point, Crotts ordered Norris to arrest Wiggins and place him in handcuffs. (Id.) Norris handcuffed Wiggins and made him sit on the ground beside his car. (Id.) The other Officer Defendants appeared on the scene and commenced a search of Wiggins' car. (Id.)

         Four to five of the Officer Defendants, including Norris and Crotts, put on purple surgical gloves and starting chanting “nuts and butts, nuts and butts.” (Id.) Crotts asked Wiggins if he had anything on him and stated that if Wiggins did, Wiggins was “going down.” (Id.) Crotts then told Wiggins that he would be taken into the Logan's restroom to be searched. (Id.) Either Crotts or Norris contacted their supervisor, Sergeant Dunaway, and obtained his approval to conduct a “more in-depth” search of Wiggins. (Id.) Wiggins protested and said he did not feel comfortable going into a public bathroom. (Id.) Nevertheless, Crotts pushed him through the door of the Logan's and asked the General Manager if he could use the restaurant bathroom for a search of Wiggins. (Id.) The General Manager agreed. (Id.)

         Once in the bathroom with Crotts and Norris, Wiggins again protested. (Id.) While Wiggins remained handcuffed, Crotts pushed Wiggins over a sink with one hand on Wiggins' neck and with the other hand started to remove Wiggins' pants and underwear. (Id.) Wiggins volunteered to squat and cough. (Id.) In response, Crotts said, “no, that ain't going to get it. I got to go in you.” (Id.) Wiggins started to resist, told Crotts that he was “not going to let him go in his ass, ” and asked to be taken to a hospital. (Id. at 3-4.) Crotts became extremely angry and hit Wiggins with his closed fist on his face. (Id. at 4.) Norris stood by or assisted while this was happening. (Id.) After the punch, Wiggins was thrown to the ground by both Crotts and Norris and put face down on the dirty public restroom floor with his pants and underwear pulled down. (Id.) While held down by Norris, Crotts proceeded to penetrate Wiggins' rectum with his finger in search of drugs. (Id.) Wiggins yelled loud so loud that he was heard by the General Manager and several patrons eating their meals in close proximity to the bathroom. (Id.) Upon hearing the yelling, the General Manager went to the back of the Logan's where the other Officer Defendants were congregated and informed them of it. (Id.) Two of the other Officer Defendants responded to the bathroom. (Id.) Some of the restaurant patrons were so disturbed by Wiggins' yelling for help that the General Manager had to offer them free meals. (Id. at 4-5.)

         After Crotts completed the rectal digital penetration, he and Norris further discussed what had just occurred while leaving Wiggins on the floor fully exposed and still handcuffed with his hands behind his back. (Id. at 4.) Wiggins was then escorted back outside where the other Officer Defendants taunted him about letting Jackie Carter go free. (Id.) Jackie Carter, a white man, was not forced to submit to a digital rectal penetration like Wiggins, an African-American man. (Id.) All the Officer Defendants are white. (Id.)

         In drafting the affidavit of complaint against Wiggins, Crotts failed to mention that he punched Wiggins or that Wiggins had yelled for help and resisted the search. (Id.) Norris filed false reports failing to detail what had actually happened in the bathroom and claiming that Wiggins gave his consent for a strip search. (Id.) After Wiggins was arrested and in jail, his girlfriend, Kara Childers, filed a complaint on Wiggins' behalf with Metro's Office of Professional Responsibility. (Id. at 5.) Even though Sergeant Dunaway had given the approval to conduct a more “in-depth” search of the plaintiff in the Logan's public bathroom, Dunaway was assigned to conduct the investigation. (Id.) As part of the investigation, Dunaway interviewed Norris. (Id.) On the next day, Norris drafted a supplemental report in which he claimed that after “retrieving the narcotics, Mr. Wiggins began to yell and scream in an attempt to create a disturbance.” (Id.) This part of the supplemental report was never mentioned in any previous statements made by Norris. (Id.) As part of the investigation, Dunaway interviewed Crotts. (Id.) Crotts referred to his original report and stated that everything he did was pursuant to MNPD policy. (Id.) None of the other Officer Defendants submitted use of force reports or reported the digital rectal search to superiors in the MNPD. (Id.) Dunaway concluded that both Crotts and Norris “conducted themselves with professionalism, and at no point was force used against Jerald Wiggins nor was he abused physically or verbally.” (Id.)

         Wiggins was charged in a two-count indictment. Count One alleged that Wiggins was in possession with intent to sell over .5 grams of cocaine. (Id.) This count was in reference to drugs pulled out of Wiggins' rectum after the digital penetration by Crotts. (Id.) Count Two was for the sale of less than .5 grams of cocaine. (Id. at 6.) This was in reference to the drugs that were alleged to have been sold to Jackie Carter in the Logan's parking lot before Wiggins was taken into the Logan's restroom. (Id.) Wiggins pled guilty to Count Two, and Count One was dismissed by the State of Tennessee. (Id.) None of the Defendant Officers were disciplined or counseled in any way about this incident. (Id.)

         The Amended Complaint brings (a) § 1983 claims against Metro (Count I) and the Officer Defendants (Count II); (b) § 1985 conspiracy claims against the Officer Defendants (Count IV); (c) a Tennessee state law assault and battery claim against Defendants Crotts and Norris (Count VI); and (d) a claim under T.C.A. § 40-7-121 against the Officer Defendants (Count VII) and Metro (Count VIII) based on an improper body cavity search under state statute.

         The Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss. (Doc Nos. 59, 62, 68, 71, 75, 79.) Norris and Crotts filed partial motions, moving to dismiss only the § 1983 unlawful detention and § 1985 claims. (Doc. Nos. 59, 68.) All other Defendants moved to dismiss all claims against them. (Doc. Nos. 71, 75, 79.) Wiggins filed a Consolidated Response to the Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 87.) In that response, Wiggins clarified that he had not intended to make an unlawful detention claim and that his § 1983 claims were based solely upon assertions of unlawful search/excessive force. (Id. at 5, 27.) The Defendants filed Replies. (Doc. Nos. 94, 95, 96, 97.)

         On November 25, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) on the Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 99.) In relevant part, the Magistrate Judge recommended that (1) Defendant Norris and Crotts' Partial Motions to Dismiss be granted and (2) all other full Motions to Dismiss be granted. (Id. at 34-35.) He further recommended that all Defendants be terminated from this action except for Norris and Crotts, against whom the remaining charges would proceed. (Id. at 35.) Wiggins timely filed Objections to the R&R (Doc. No. 100), and the Defendants filed Responses (Doc. Nos. 102-107.)

         On March 24, 2016, Senior Judge William J. Haynes, Jr., set aside the Report and Recommendation and dismissed this action for lack of jurisdiction.[3] (Doc. Nos. 108-09.) Wiggins appealed Judge Haynes's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Appeals Court subsequently reversed Judge Haynes's order on jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings.[4] (Doc. No. 116.) On June 1, 2017, the Court issued an Order reopening the Partial Motions to Dismiss, the Motions to Dismiss, the Magistrate Judge's R&R, Wiggins' Objections to the R&R, and the Defendants' Responses thereto. (Doc. No. 124.) The matter is now ripe for decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) governs dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and requires the Court to take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court has carefully reviewed the Amended Complaint, the Motions to Dismiss, the R&R, the Objections, and the Responses, and the Court has conducted a de novo review of the record.

         A. Capacity of Individual Defendants

         As an initial matter, the Magistrate Judge found that Wiggins “sues the individual Defendants solely in their official capacities as ‘sworn police officers'” because Wiggins did not “specify the capacity” in which he brought this action against them. (Doc. No. 99 at 7 (citing Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591 (6th Cir. 1989)). Wiggins objects to this conclusion. (Doc. No. 101 at 2-4.) While Wiggins concedes that the Amended Complaint does not specifically designate whether his claims against the Officer Defendants are individual or ...


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