United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
L.V., a minor, by and through his parent and guardian, LENARD VANDERHOE F, Plaintiff,
CITY OF MARYVILLE and MAURICE KELLY DIXON, in his individual capacity as an Officer for the Maryville Police Department, Defendants.
W. PHILLIPS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
19, 2016, plaintiff L.V., a minor, was involved in an
automobile accident in Blount County, Tennessee, with
defendant Maurice Kelly Dixon, who is a Reserve Officer with
the City of Maryville Police Department. Immediately
following the accident, Mr. Dixon detained L.V. and his two
passengers at gunpoint for approximately one minute. L.V.
claims that Mr. Dixon and the City of Maryville, Tennessee
(“the City”) violated his constitutional rights
to due process and to be free from unreasonable seizure and
other state law claims.
Dixon and the City of Maryville have filed motions for
summary judgment [Docs. 22, 26], with thorough briefs and
exhibits in support [Docs. 23, 24, 27, 39, 41] and the
plaintiff has responded in opposition [Docs. 31, 32, 42]. For
the reasons set forth herein, Mr. Dixon's motion will be
granted in part and denied in part, and the City's motion
will be granted.
Dixon is employed full-time as an SPO, security police
officer, at the Y-12 nuclear plant [Doc. 24-2 at p. 2]. He
also works part-time as a reserve police officer with the
City of Maryville Police Department [Id.]. On the
afternoon of May 19, 2016, Mr. Dixon was not on duty with the
Maryville Police Department, nor was he wearing a police
uniform, traveling in a police vehicle, or carrying a
department-issued firearm [Id.at pp. 29-30]. Just
prior to the accident, Mr. Dixon had mowed his son's lawn
and was traveling to his own home in his personal truck
towing a lawn mower on a trailer [Doc. 24-2 at pp. 3-5].
time of the accident, plaintiff L.V. was 16 years old and
driving his first car, a 2000 Ford Mustang [Doc. 26-1 at pp.
2-3]. His friends, brothers N.N. and M.N., also minors at the
time, were riding with him [Id. at p. 5]. A third
friend, D.H., was following L.V. in his own Mustang
[Id. at p. 7]. As the cars approached the intersection
of Keener Road and Cunningham Road, L.V. came around a curve
too fast and swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic
[Id. at pp. 9-10]. Mr. Dixon was traveling in the
opposite direction [Id. at pp. 9-11; Doc. 24-2 at p.
5]. L.V. swerved into the left-hand ditch, hit a telephone
pole, and then swerved back across the road, hitting the
front fender of Mr. Dixon's truck in the process [Doc.
26-1 at pp. 9-10].
the impact and both cars came to a stop, Mr. Dixon exited his
truck and approached L.V.'s car about 100 feet away,
“[p]robably [at a] fast walk” but he “might
have ran” [Doc. 24-2 at p. 8; Doc. 31-3 at p. 5]. As he
reached the back of the Mustang, the front passenger, N.N.,
jumped out and said “Come on, get out, let's go,
let's go” [Doc. 24-2 at pp. 10-11]. Mr. Dixon
observed N.N. reach into the back seat, but he could not see
what N.N. was reaching for [Id. at p. 11]. Mr. Dixon
feared that the passenger was reaching for a gun or other
weapon or preparing to flee the scene [Id.]. In
light of his police training and experience, Mr. Dixon drew
his personal handgun and repeatedly directed the three
teenagers, “Let me see your hands. Get on the
ground.” [Id. at pp. 11-12]. The teenagers
complied and got on the ground [Doc. 26-2 at p. 11].
testified that Mr. Dixon had his gun pointed at L.V.'s
head, he told L.V. to put his hands behind his head, and the
teenagers were held at gunpoint for about one to two minutes
[Doc. 26-1 at pp. 13-14; Doc. 31-5 at p. 4]. Ms. Keller
estimated the teenagers were on the ground for about five
minutes [Doc. 31-2 at p. 7]. Mr. Dixon claims he never had
his gun pointed at anyone's head; rather, he had his gun
at “low ready” [Doc. 24-2 at p. 16]. He describes
this as aiming at ¶ 45-degree angle, waist-level or
lower, and ready to engage if the subject is reaching for
something [Doc. 31-3 at pp. 20-21].
Dixon claims he did not identify himself as a police officer
initially, but he did so when talking to Ms. Keller [Doc.
24-2 at p. 14]. Mr. Dixon states that Ms. Keller told him to
calm down and that it was just an accident [Id. at
p. 15]. He believes that he holstered his weapon “about
the time” Ms. Keller initially spoke to him
[Id. at p. 25]. Mr. Dixon admits he “finally
told her to shut up and mind her own business and get back in
the car” [Id. at p. 14]. Ms. Keller refused
his instruction to get back in her car [Doc. 31-2 at p. 6].
When Ms. Keller stated she was going to call the police, Mr.
Dixon responded, “Fine, call ‘em. I'm a
police officer. I'll talk to them when they get
here” [Doc. 24-2 at p. 14].Mr. Dixon explained, “I
told her I was a police officer so she would understand that
I knew what I was doing and was handling the situation”
[Doc. 31-3 at p. 28]. Ms. Keller asked Mr. Dixon if he was
with the City or the County, but she did not understand his
answer [Doc. 31-2 at p. 22]. While Ms. Keller was on the
phone with 911, Mr. Dixon put his gun away and retrieved his
police badge from his vehicle [Doc. 24-2 at pp. 18-19, 42].
After her 911 call, Ms. Keller claims that Mr. Dixon told her
she could leave because she did not see the accident [Doc.
31-2 at p. 8]. However, she refused to do so because
“the situation was not about the accident. It was about
his behavior after the accident” [Doc. 31-2 at p. 8].
Dixon claims he told the three teenagers they could get up
after he put his gun away [Doc. 26-2 at p. 14]. Per Maryville
Police Department policy, Mr. Dixon does not have arrest
authority when he is not on duty or working in an official
capacity [Doc. 24-2 at p. 31].
Standard of Review
judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that
no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Moore v.
Philip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All
facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v.
Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). “Once
the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a
motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to
a trial merely on the basis of allegations.” Curtis
Through Curtis v. Universal Match Corp., 778 F.Supp.
1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477
U.S. 317). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence
of a particular element, the non-moving party must point to
evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact
could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The genuine issue must
also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.
Court's function at the point of summary judgment is
limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been
presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the
factfinder. Id. at 250. The Court does not weigh the
evidence or determine the truth of the matter. Id.
at 249. Nor does the Court search the record “to
establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886
F.2d 1472, 1479- 80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus, “the inquiry
performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether
there is a need for a trial-whether, in other words, there
are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved
only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be
resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 250.
Acting Under Color of Law
has alleged two violations of his constitutional rights
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a violation of his due
process rights and a violation of his right to be free from
unreasonable seizure. In order to establish liability under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) he was
deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or law of the
United States; and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person
acting under the color of state law. Flagg Bros., Inc. v.
Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978); Neuens v. City of
Columbus, 303 F.3d 667, 670 (6th Cir. 2002). Both
defendants argue that plaintiff cannot establish a §
1983 claim because Mr. Dixon was not acting under color of
law at the time of the incident. Whether Mr. Dixon was acting
under color of law is a legal issue for resolution by the
Court. Neuens, 303 F.3d at 670.
actor's conduct occurs under color of law in the course
of performing an actual or apparent duty of his office or if
the conduct is such that the actor could not have behaved as
he did without the authority of his office. West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49-50 (1988) (a person “acts
under color of state law when he abuses the position given to
him by the state”); Waters v. City of
Morristown, 242 F.3d 353, 359 (6th Cir. 2001).
“The key determinant is whether the actor
intends to act in an official capacity or to
exercise official responsibilities pursuant to state
law.” Waters, 242 F.3d at 359 (emphasis added)
(citing West, 487 U.S. at 50). The state actor's
conduct must relate “in some meaningful way either to
the actor's governmental status or to the performance of
his duties.” Id. “[A] defendant's
private conduct, outside the course or scope of his duties
and unaided by any indicia of actual or ostensible state
authority, is not conduct occurring under color of state
law.” Id.; see Massey v. Hess, No.
1:05-CV-249, 2007 WL 2725890, at *5 (E.D. Tenn. Sept. 17,
2007) (Collier, J.) (“the conduct allegedly causing the
deprivation of a constitutional right must be “fairly
attributable” to the state, either because the actor is
a state official, because he has acted together with or has
obtained significant aid from state officials, or because his
conduct is otherwise chargeable to the State”). For
police officers, “the nature of the act performed
… determines whether the officer has acted under color
of law.” Neuens, 303 F.3d at 670 (citing
Stengel v. Belcher, 522 F.2d 438, 441 (6th Cir.
1975)). Examples of official police authority include
“flashing a badge, identifying oneself as a police
officer, placing an individual under arrest, or intervening
in a dispute between third parties pursuant to a duty imposed
by police department regulations.” Memphis, Tenn.
Area Local, Am. Postal Workers Union v. City of Memphis,
361 F.3d 898, 903 (6th Cir. 2004); see Stengel, 522
F.2d at 441 (“[t]he fact that a police officer is on or
off duty, or in or out of uniform is not controlling”).
the question is whether Mr. Dixon's actions after the
accident were purely personal or whether he intended to act
in an official capacity or exercise official
responsibilities. It is undisputed that Mr. Dixon was off
duty, in plain clothes, driving his personal vehicle on a
personal errand, and carrying his personal handgun. Mr. Dixon
identified himself as a police officer only after Ms. Keller
stated she was going to call the police. Further, Mr. Dixon
did not have his police badge on his person, but he did
retrieve it from his truck while Ms. Keller was talking with
911. Mr. Dixon argues that he drew his weapon because he
feared that one of the passengers was retrieving a weapon or
that the occupants of L.V.'s vehicle were going to flee
the scene [Doc. 23 at p. 5]. The City similarly argues that
Mr. Dixon acted “functionally equivalent to that of a
private citizen” and that the City's policies limit
the authority of reserve officers while off duty [Doc. 27 at
argues that Mr. Dixon asserted his authority as a police
officer by showing his badge, identifying himself as a police
officer, and detaining plaintiff and his passengers [Doc. 31
at pp. 4-5; Doc. 32 at p. 4]. Plaintiff relies on Mr.
Dixon's answer to the complaint, where Mr. Dixon averred
he “was well within his authority to make certain to
secure the scene of the accident” [Doc. 31 at p. 5
(citing Doc. 6 at ¶ 14)]. Mr. Dixon testified that the
“authority” referenced in his answer meant his
authority “as a police officer” [Doc. 31-3 at p.
41]. Further, plaintiff notes Mr. Dixon's testimony that
he identified himself as an officer to Ms. Keller in order to
cause her to follow his instructions as a police officer
[Doc. 31 at p. 7; Doc. 32 at p. 4]. Mr. Dixon testified that
his commands to the three teenagers - “let me see your
hands, get on the ground” - are very common general
commands used by a police officer [Doc. 31-3 at p. 49].
Dixon notes his contrary testimony that he did not intend to
act on behalf of the City at the time of the incident [Doc.
41 at p. 2 (citing Doc. 24-2 at p. 31)]. He further notes
that a civilian has the right to keep someone from fleeing
the scene of an accident [Doc. 41-1 at p. 3]. The City
similarly responds that Mr. Dixon's actions
after the incident - identifying himself as a police
officer, retrieving his badge - are not relevant to whether
Mr. Dixon was acting under color of law at the time of the
incident [Doc. 39 at p. 2].
sides rely on Reilly v. Hamblen Cty., No.
2:07-CV-283, 2008 WL 4138117 (E.D. Tenn. Sept. 4, 2008)
(Greer, J.), in support of their positions. In
Reilly, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile
accident and attempted to use his cell phone to call
relatives for assistance. Id. at *2. Unable to
obtain a signal, the plaintiff walked up to the top of a
nearby hill to telephone his father. Id. At the
bottom of the hill, defendant Devin Cribley, an off duty
police officer dressed in casual clothes, was waiting and
directed the plaintiff to walk toward him. Id. Devin
Cribley's brother, David Cribley, appeared and the two
brothers grabbed plaintiff, dragged him across a cow pasture,