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Albea v. Bunn

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

November 16, 2017




         This action for deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for injuries suffered under Tennessee law arises from the response of law enforcement to a custodial dispute between the mother of a minor child and the paternal grandparents of that minor child.

         The mother reported an assault and kidnapping to Madison County law enforcement. After an initial investigation, Madison County Sherriff's Deputy Dennis Ifantis contacted the Gibson County's Sheriff's Department for assistance because the grandparents resided in Gibson County. Two deputies of the Gibson County Sheriff's Department arrived at the grandparents' residence and ultimately arrested them before taking them back to Madison County to be charged with custodial interference, domestic assault, and contribution to the delinquency of a minor. A grand jury dismissed all of the charges. The grandparents subsequently filed this suit against Madison and Gibson Counties as well as the Sheriffs' deputies involved. Now before the Court is the Motion of Defendants Rhonda Bonds, Daniel Miller, Dennis Ifantis, David Travis, and the Counties of Madison and Gibson, Tennessee, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 27) on the claims raised in the grandparents' Complaint (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs Jerry Albea and Carolyn Albea, the aforementioned paternal grandparents, have filed a Response in Opposition to the instant Motion (ECF No. 31), to which Defendants then filed a Reply (ECF No. 33). Thus, the Court finds the instant Motion ripe for decision. For reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed by the parties unless otherwise noted. See Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Mar. 9, 2017, ECF No. 27-2 [hereinafter “Defs.' Statement of Facts”]; Pls.' Answers to Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Apr. 6, 2017, ECF No. 31-2 [hereinafter “Pls.' Statement of Facts”]; Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' Add'l Material Facts, Apr. 20, 2017, ECF No. 33-1 [hereinafter “Defs' Statement of Add'l Facts”]. Plaintiffs' son, D'Metric Albea, and Courtney Hammond (“Hammond”) are the parents of a minor child, who was four years old at the time of the events described in the Complaint. Madison County Juvenile Court awarded D'Metric Albea visitation with the minor child in a permanent parenting plan from the Madison County Juvenile Court (the “Order”). Despite the Order granting D'Metric Albea visitation, Hammond refused to comply with the Order on multiple occasions. Plaintiffs had traveled to pick up the minor child in accordance with the Order at the time of the events giving rise to this dispute. The Order, referenced and cited to by all parties, states that the minor child is to be picked up by Plaintiffs but that D'Metric Albea must be present during the visitation. Dep. of Dennis Ifantis, Ex. 5, ¶ 2, Oct. 12, 2016 [hereinafter “Ifantis Dep.”].[3]

         On or about Saturday, November 29, 2014, Defendant Madison County Sherriff Deputy Dennis Ifantis (“Ifantis”) received a call over the radio, reporting a possible child kidnapping. When Ifantis arrived at the scene, Hammond was hysterical. Hammond claimed that “people” had taken her two-year-old child. After a few moments, Hammond was finally able to articulate to Ifantis that the “people” were the minor child's paternal grandparents, Plaintiffs Jerry Albea and Carolyn Albea. But at that time, Hammond could not recall or state Plaintiffs' full names to Ifantis. Hammond could only recall that Jerry Albea's name was “Jerry” and she believed Plaintiffs lived in Humboldt, Tennessee.[4] Hammond additionally claimed that Jerry Albea, along with his two juvenile daughters, physically attacked Hammond, allowing Plaintiffs to take the minor child without Hammond's permission. The parties dispute whether Hammond specifically told Ifantis that Carolyn Albea was also involved in these acts, and the portions of the record cited by the parties are not sufficiently clear to permit the Court to make a determination. Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶ 2; Ifantis Dep. 47:24-48:5. Plaintiffs also take issue with the characterization of the removal of the minor child “by force” rather than “against [Hammond]'s wishes.” Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶ 2. The portions of the deposition cited by the parties are not clear on this point either. Ifantis Dep. 46:6-49:12. Carolyn Albea, however, did pick up the minor child, who came to her, and attempted to return to her vehicle. Hammond then requested that Carolyn Albea return the minor child to her. Plaintiffs were aware that Hammond did not want them to have possession of the minor child. A physical altercation then took place between Hammond and one of Plaintiffs' juvenile daughters in which Hammond attempt to recover the minor child. The parties dispute who escalated the altercation, but they are in agreement that the result was a “beatdown” of Hammond. Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶ 3; Defs' Statement of Add'l Facts, ¶ 3-4. In any event, Plaintiffs then left with their juvenile daughters and the minor child, and they all traveled back to their residence in Gibson County, Tennessee.

         Hammond informed Ifantis of the existence of the Order and that it required D'Metric Albea to be present during visitation rights. D'Metric Albea, however, was in East Tennessee at that time. Hammond stated that, because D'Metric Albea was not present at the time of Plaintiffs' arrival, she refused to relinquish custody of the minor child. Ifantis then asked Hammond for a copy of the parenting plan, but Hammond explained that she did not have a copy of the documents at that time. The parties dispute whether Hammond showed visible signs of injury at that time. Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶ 5. But a neighbor present at the scene substantially corroborated Hammond's portrayal of the events, also reporting that she, the neighbor, heard what sounded like “bloody murder” during the incident. Hammond's sister partially corroborated Hammond's portrayal as well, but the parties dispute the degree to which Hammond's story was supported. Id. at 6. After Hammond had identified Plaintiffs as the minor child's paternal grandparents, Ifantis considered the investigation to be one into a custodial issue rather than a potential kidnapping.

         Ifantis was eventually able to make contact with D'Metric Albea, and they discussed the issues concerning the taking of the minor child. Ifantis does not recall asking D'Metric Albea whether he was required to be present for the pick-up of the minor child. At that time D'Metric Albea advised Ifantis of his location, which is disputed by the parties. Id. Ifantis then established telephone contact with Jerry Albea. The parties dispute whether Jerry Albea refused to return to the scene. Id. at 7. But Jerry Albea provided his address to Ifantis and corroborated the existence of a parenting plan outlining the custody rights concerning the minor child. At this point, Ifantis informed Jerry Albea that a Gibson County Sheriff's Officer would be sent to Plaintiffs' residence to confirm the well-being of the minor child and to review the purported court order. Ifantis told Jerry Albea that if the Order stated that Plaintiffs were to pick-up the minor child, “everything would be fine.”

         Ifantis then reached out to the Gibson County Sheriff's Department and requested the assistance of its officers. Ifantis was then put in contact with Defendant Gibson County Sheriff Deputy Daniel Miller (“Miller”). Ifantis informed Miller that there was a child custody dispute, that Plaintiffs and their juvenile daughters had allegedly assaulted Hammond, and that Plaintiffs had allegedly taken the minor child in violation of a court order.[5] Miller, along with Gibson County Sheriff Deputy Rhonda Bonds (“Bonds”), then traveled to Plaintiffs' residence.

         Upon their arrival, Miller and Bonds were allowed in by Jerry Albea. Plaintiffs claim this was for the stated purpose of verifying the minor child's wellbeing and the contents of the court order despite the actual purpose being to gain entry to the residence in order to arrest Plaintiffs. Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶ 9; Defs' Statement of Add'l Facts, ¶ 6. Miller and Bonds then saw that the minor child was “perfectly fine.” Miller was presented with an unsigned copy of the purported custody Order. Miller then spoke with D'Metric Albea, who was en route to the visitation but had been delayed in traveling from his home in Knoxville. D'Metric Albea explained that he was in possession of the signed Order that he had taken a screenshot of and sent to Plaintiffs by text message. At this point, Miller was presented with said screenshot and later stated that he had no reason to believe that it was not an accurate and true copy of the very Order Plaintiffs possessed. Miller then contacted Ifantis and explained that the child was fine and that he had seen an unsigned, physical copy of the Order as well as the signed, digital copy. Ifantis believed he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs for simple domestic assault, custodial interference, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.[6] Ifantis then instructed Miller and Bonds to arrest Plaintiffs.

         Relying on Ifantis's probable cause determination, Miller and Bonds effected a warrantless arrest of Plaintiffs in their homes. Plaintiffs were then placed into a Gibson County Sheriff patrol car and transported to the Gibson County-Madison County line at the Humboldt Municipal Airport by Bonds. Ifantis met Bonds at the Airport and obtained custody of Plaintiffs.

         At that time, Ifantis handcuffed Plaintiffs, placed them in the back seat of his patrol car, and transported them to the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex. Plaintiffs were then booked and incarcerated. Prior to the conclusion of his shift that evening, Ifantis completed an investigation report and narrative concerning the arrest of Plaintiffs. After approximately fourteen hours, Plaintiffs made an $8, 000 bail via a bail bondsman and were released.

         On the following Monday, December 1, 2014, Madison County Sheriff's Deputy David Travis (“Travis”) reviewed the investigation report and narrative concerning the arrest of Plaintiffs drafted by Ifantis and attested to the Clerk of Madison County General Sessions Court that Ifantis had articulated sufficient facts in his reports to establish probable cause concerning Ifantis's determination to arrest Plaintiffs.[7] Travis had no personal interaction with Plaintiffs whatsoever. Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know Travis or remember ever seeing or interacting with him. They further admitted they do not even know why Travis was even named in this action.

         Jerry Albea was charged with simple domestic assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and custodial interference. Carolyn Albea was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and custodial interference. Plaintiffs' mugshots were published subsequent to their arrest. Plaintiffs then hired an attorney to represent them on their criminal charges. Following two appearances in the Madison County General Sessions Court, Plaintiffs waived their cases to the Madison County Grand Jury. And the Grand Jury found that there was insufficient evidence to support any of the charges against Plaintiffs.


         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review all the evidence, viewing it in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and also drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Roell v. Hamilton Cty., 870 F.3d 471, 479 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Watson v. Cartee, 817 F.3d 299, 302 (6th Cir. 2016)); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations []or weigh the evidence.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014). “The burden is generally on the moving party to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists, but that burden may be discharged by ‘showing . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Bennett v. City of Eastpointe, 410 F.3d 810, 817 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). When the motion is supported by documentary proof such as depositions and affidavits, the nonmoving party may not rest on his pleadings but, rather, must present some “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324; Eastham v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 754 F.3d 356, 360 (6th Cir. 2014). These facts must be more than a scintilla of evidence and must meet the standard of whether a reasonable juror could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the nonmoving party is entitled to a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The Court must enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to . . . [meet the burden] that party will bear . . . at trial.” Celotex Corp, 477 U.S. at 322.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claim for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights[8]

         Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims on the basis of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a doctrine that “shields officials from civil liability if their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Darrah v. Krisher, 865 F.3d 361, 374 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). Its purpose is to provide some protection from suit to government officials that perform discretionary functions. Beard v. Whitemore Lake Sch. Dist., 402 F.3d 598, 602-03 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The doctrine applies to police officers. Jefferson v. Lewis, 594 F.3d 454, 459 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hills v. Kentucky, 457 F.3d 583, 587 (6th Cir. 2006)). A qualified-immunity analysis has two steps: “(1) whether, considering the allegations in a light most favorable to the party injured, a constitutional right has been violated, and (2) whether that right was clearly established.” Estate of Carter v. City of Detroit, 408 F.3d 305, 310-11 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). In Pearson, however, the Supreme Court abandoned the requirement that the lower courts must perform this analysis sequentially because it often forced the courts to unnecessarily decide constitutional questions. Jefferson, 594 F.3d at 460 (citing Pearson, 555 U.S. 223). But the Supreme Court thought the prior statement of the test was “still appropriate and a correct statement of the test for qualified immunity.” Id. And in this instance, this Court finds it appropriate to follow the previously prescribed sequence.

         1. Whether a Constitutional Right Has Been Violated

         The Fourth Amendment, which is applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, Ondo v. City of Cleveland, 795 F.3d 597, 610 n.4 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 650-55 (1961)), provides first that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const., amend. IV. It further states that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Id. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in three respects. First, Plaintiffs claim that Ifantis, Bonds, and Miller violated Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights by acting in concert to enter their home to arrest them without a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement. Second, Plaintiffs claim that Ifantis, Bonds, and Miller violated Carolyn Albea's Fourth Amendment right to be free from false arrest and false imprisonment by arresting Carolyn Albea without probable cause.[9] Third, Plaintiffs argue that Ifantis and Travis violated the Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to be free from malicious prosecution by prosecuting Plaintiffs without probable cause. The Court will address each of these alleged violations in turn. But the Court must also note that stating a violation of his constitutional rights is insufficient for a plaintiff to recover damages under § 1983. Plaintiffs “must [have] allege[d] with particularity[] facts that demonstrate what each defendant did to violate the asserted constitutional right.” Heyne v. Metro. Nashville Pub. Sch., 655 F.3d 556, 564 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lanman v. Hinson, 529 F.3d 673, 684 (6th Cir. 2008)). Thus, the Court “cannot ascribe the acts of all [law-enforcement-officer] Defendants to each individual defendant.” Id. (citing Landman, 529 F.3d at 684-88; Hull v. Cuyahoga Valley Joint Vocational Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 926 F.2d 404, 512-`5 (6th Cir. 1991)). Instead, Plaintiffs must demonstrate each Defendant's personal involvement in the violation. Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 481 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 375-76 (1976)).

         i. Warrantless Entry of ...

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