Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

L.V. v. City of Maryville

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

November 15, 2017

L.V., a minor, by and through his parent and guardian, LENARD VANDERHOE F, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MARYVILLE and MAURICE KELLY DIXON, in his individual capacity as an Officer for the Maryville Police Department, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS W. PHILLIPS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On May 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.

         Mr. 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.

         I. Relevant Facts

         Mr. 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].

         At the 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].[1] 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].

         After 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].[2] 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].[3] The teenagers complied and got on the ground [Doc. 26-2 at p. 11].

         L.V. 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].[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].

         Mr. 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].[5]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].

         Mr. 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].

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary 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. Id.

         The 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.

         III. Analysis

         A. Acting Under Color of Law

         Plaintiff 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.[6] 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.

         A state 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”).

         Thus, 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 pp. 10-11].

         Plaintiff 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].

         Mr. 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].

         Both 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, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.