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Howell v. Cox

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

November 30, 2017




         Matthew Howell (“Howell”) brought this action against the Government of Fairview, Tennessee (“Fairview”) and Officer Joseph Cox (“Cox”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, arising out of an arrest on July 25, 2012, and subsequent prosecution. (Doc. No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 30); Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 37); Defendants' Reply (Doc. No. 40); Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. No. 34); Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts and Additional Proposed Facts (Doc. No. 38); Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Proposed Facts (Doc. No. 41); and numerous exhibits. The Motion is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion will be GRANTED.


         On July 25, 2012, Fairview police officers were dispatched to a bar to respond to a report of a possible fight in progress. (Doc. No. 32-1 at 1-2.) Cox arrived and saw two men walking away from the bar. (Id. at 2.) He stopped them and asked whether they were engaged in a fight. (Id.) Howell had been drinking. (Doc. No. 31-1 at 25, 43, 87, 95-96, 101-02.) Howell confirmed to Cox that he had been in a verbal altercation with someone at the bar. (Id. at 88, 96-97, 99; Doc. No. 32-1 at 2.) According to Cox, Howell was acting aggressively and using foul language.[1] (Doc. No. 32-1 at 2.)

         Cox arrested Howell, transported him to the police station, gave him a citation for public intoxication, and released him to a sober ride. (Doc. Nos. 31-3; 31-1 at 131; 32-1 at 2.) Howell's preliminary hearing was scheduled for August 17, 2012, at which time Howell waived the hearing and was released on his own recognizance. (Doc. Nos. 32-1 at 2; 31-3.) On September 10, 2012, a grand jury indicted Howell on the charge of public intoxication. (Doc. No. 31-4.)

         Howell's case was tried by a jury in the Williamson County Criminal Court on July 11, 2013. (Doc. No. 31-5.) However, during the proceedings, Howell was hospitalized and the judge declared a mistrial. (Id.) The court rescheduled the case for “review” on February 6, 2015. (Doc. No. 31-6.) Howell failed to appear. (Doc. Nos. 32-1 at 3; 31-7.) The court issued a Capias for Howell's arrest. (Doc. No. 31-7.)

         On March 17, 2015, Cox was on patrol and spotted Howell. (Doc. No. 32-1 at 3.) Cox detained Howell until the Williamson County Sheriff's Office could arrive with the Capias, arrest Howell pursuant to it, and transport Howell to jail. (Id.) Howell remained in jail without bail for fourteen days, until April 1, 2015. (Id.; Doc. Nos. 31-1 at 151; 31-8.) During that intervening time, Howell filed an emergency motion to set bond, and it was denied. (Doc. No. 31-1 at 151.) On April 1, 2015, the Court set aside the Capias and reinstated Howell's release on his own recognizance. (Doc. No. 31-8.) According to Howell's declaration, the judge and court clerk acknowledged to Howell that they had not properly notified him of the court date he missed. (Doc. No. 39-5 at 1-2.)

         The court retried the case to a jury on June 10, 2015. (Doc. No. 31-9.) Howell was acquitted.[2] (Id.)


         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, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). If the evidence offered by the nonmoving party is “merely colorable, ” “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

         Plaintiff brings two § 1983 causes of action against Fairview and Cox: one under the Fourth Amendment and one under the First Amendment. (Doc. No. 1.) The Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. No. 30.)

         As a preliminary matter, the Court is satisfied that Defendants had sufficient notice that the Complaint, however inartfully worded, is brought against Cox in his individual and official capacities. See Moore v. City of Harriman, 272 F.3d 769, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) (stating that the failure to “explicitly state whether a defendant is sued in his or her ‘individual capacity' [] is not fatal if the course of proceedings otherwise indicates that the defendant received sufficient notice”); Shepherd v. Wellman, 313 F.3d 963, 968 (6th Cir. 2002) (stating that the court considers the nature of the plaintiff's claims, including requests for compensatory or punitive damages). Here, Howell brought claims and requested punitive damages, which are not available in official capacity suits or suits against municipalities. Furthermore, in response to the instant motion, Howell clarified the nature of his claims. See Moore, 272 F.3d at 772 (“We have also looked to later pleadings, such as a response to a motion for summary judgment, to determine whether proper notice had been given.”) (citing Abdur-Rahman v. Mich. Dept. of Corr., 65 F.3d 489, 491 (6th Cir. 1995)). The Court will analyze Howell's claims accordingly.

         A. Section 1983 Fourth Amendment Malicious ...

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