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Gann v. Jefferson City

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

December 22, 2017

JOHNNY BRUCE GANN, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON CITY, TENNESSEE, JIMMY CARDWELL, and JOSEPH C. REFF, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This case arises out of Gann's arrest for driving under the influence. Gann alleges that the officers lacked probable cause for his arrest. Because probable cause existed to arrest Gann for driving under the influence, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted and this action dismissed.

         I. Background

         In the early morning of May 28, 2015, Gann drove with his girlfriend, Rebecca Hutsell, to the home of her estranged spouse to pick up “gas money” that Hutsell's husband had promised to repay. It was approximately 4:50 a.m. when Gann knocked on the husband's door. Not surprisingly, an altercation occurred between Gann and the husband, where Gann alleges he was thrown to the floor and struck in the head approximately 25 times. Gann and Hutsell left the residence and returned to the parking lot of Gann's apartment complex.

         Officers Reff and Cardwell received a dispatch relating to the altercation at the husband's residence at approximately 5:20 a.m. Officer Cardwell responded to the address of the altercation.[1] Meanwhile, Officer Reff traveled to Gann's apartment complex. He found Gann and Hutsell sitting in their car in the parking lot of the apartment complex at approximately 5:46 a.m. Officer Reff stated that while he did see Gann operating his car prior to parking at the apartment complex, he observed no speeding, no erratic driving, and no swerving. Officer Reff spoke briefly to Hutsell, who was impaired to the point that she had little to no memory of the incident. Officer Reff continued his investigation by questioning Gann.

         Officer Reff noted that Gann was visibly shaking and appeared to be impaired. Gann advised Officer Reff that he had taken multiple prescription medications, including Lithium and Depakote, both of which fall within a category of drugs known for the potential to impair drivers. After a brief discussion about the assault, Officer Reff asked Gann to exit his car and submit to field sobriety tests.

         Officer Reff first administered the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, followed by a number of additional field sobriety tests including walk and turn, one leg stand, alphabet recital, finger count, and Rhomberg balance. Gann performed poorly and was very unsteady on his feet throughout each physical test. Several of the tests were recorded on the cruiser video (there is no audio associated with the video). After Gann was unable to perform the field sobriety tests, Officer Reff charged him with driving under the influence and placed him under arrest. Gann was transported to the Jefferson County Detention Center and was released from custody later that afternoon.

         Gann states he performed the verbal portions of the tests without difficulty; however, he admits having difficulty with the physical portions of the tests due to head injuries from the altercation. Gann avers his medical condition, injury from the assault, and stress from the altercation were not adequately considered by the officers. Blood tests revealed that Gann had no alcohol or intoxicants in his system. The driving under the influence charge was dismissed.

         II. Standard for Summary Judgment

         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. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n. 2 (1986); Moore v. Philip Morris Co., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita elec. Indus. Co. Ltd v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v. Keifer, 301 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. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. To establish a genuine issue as to the existence of a particular element, the nonmoving 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 fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (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. Probable Cause for Arrest

         The legal principle is well established that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution require probable cause to justify an arrest of an individual. Crockett v. Cumberland Coll., 316 F.3d 571, 580 (6th Cir. 2003). A police officer has probable cause for arrest if, at the time the officer makes the arrest, the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge and of which he had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. Courtright v. City of Battle Creek, 839 F.3d 513, 521 (6th Cir. 2016).

         The officers argue they are entitled to qualified immunity because they had probable cause to arrest Gann for driving under the influence. Qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015). For a reasonable official to have understood that his actions violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right, existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011). Officers Cardwell and Reff are therefore shielded by qualified immunity unless the facts, when viewed in the light most favorable to Gann, would permit a reasonable juror to find that (1) they violated a constitutional right; and (2) the right was clearly ...


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