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Lowe v. Coffee County

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

January 25, 2018

CINDY LOWE, Plaintiff,




         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Danny Ferrell, Michael Jarvis, and Coffee County, Tennessee (“Coffee County”) (Doc. 20). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On May 24, 2015, Joseph Floied, Plaintiff's boyfriend, discovered a text message on Plaintiff's phone from Dallas Rife, Plaintiff's former boyfriend. (Doc. 22-1, at 86.) According to Plaintiff, Floied physically confronted her about the message, then used Plaintiff's phone to call Rife. (Id.) When Rife answered, Floied was on the line threatening him, and Rife heard screaming and crying in the background. (Id. at 29.) Soon thereafter, Rife called the Coffee County Sheriff's Department to report the call and requested that it send an officer to check on Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Shortly before 10:00 p.m., Defendant Jarvis and Deputy Sheriff Andy Neesmith responded to the call and arrived at 105 Harper Road to conduct a welfare check on Plaintiff. (Id. at 17.) The house was dark and quiet, and the officers had to knock on the door several times before Plaintiff's teenage son finally answered. (Id.) The officers asked Plaintiff's son to retrieve his mother, and she eventually emerged from a bedroom. (Id. at 18.) According to Jarvis, although Plaintiff appeared nervous and on edge, she insisted everything was okay. (Id.) After Jarvis noticed “a little bit of blood” on Plaintiff's nose and “a round circular red mark on her arm, ” he decided to keep asking questions. (Id. at 18-19) He pulled both Plaintiff and Floied onto the porch, where Floied began apologizing profusely to Plaintiff. (Id. at 19.) Both Jarvis and Neesmith noticed three scratch marks on Floied's chest. (Id. at 21, 73.) Based on these observations, Jarvis suspected that domestic violence had occurred between Plaintiff and Floied and brought Plaintiff inside the house to speak with her while Neesmith remained on the porch with Floied. (Id. at 19.) According to Plaintiff, while she was inside with Jarvis, Jarvis told her that she “shouldn't let him do this to [her]” and that she “should be God's gift not a punching bag.” (Id. at 90.) Eventually, Plaintiff acknowledged to Jarvis that Floied had assaulted her. (Id. at 20.)

         Meanwhile, Neesmith spoke with Floied on the porch. (Id. at 73.) When Neesmith asked Floied how he got the marks on his chest, Floied responded that he was scratched earlier at work. (Id.) Though Neesmith did not believe Floied, he told Jarvis what Floied had told him about the cause of the scratch marks when he went inside. (Id. at 74.)

         Jarvis returned to the porch to question Floied. (Id. at 21.) Floied, hesitant to answer Jarvis's questions at first, finally admitted “to biting [Plaintiff] on the arm after she had struck him in the face with her elbow three times.” (Id.) According to Jarvis, at that point he realized that he had “not one but possibly two victims of domestic assault, ” as well as conflicting accounts of who struck the first blow. (Id.) Based on this information, Jarvis did not believe that he had probable cause to arrest Floied. (Id. at 22.) According to Plaintiff, however, Jarvis “indicated” to her multiple times that he was going to arrest Floied. (Id. at 91.)

         At some point during the incident, Neesmith learned that Floied was the younger brother of Adam Floied, Assistant Chief of the Manchester Police Department. (Id. at 74.) According to Plaintiff, after Neesmith told Jarvis of this relation, he immediately called Adam Floied. (Id. at 90.) Plaintiff testified that Jarvis called Adam Floied “[j]ust to let him know what's going on as a courtesy call.” (Id.) According to Jarvis, he called Adam Floied for “some outside corroboration” because he was still unsure who the primary aggressor was. (Id. at 23.) However, he also indicated that he made the call as a “courtesy” and to keep “interdepartmental” harmony. (Id. at 24.)

         Jarvis kept questioning Plaintiff and Floied, but continued to receive conflicting accounts. (Id. at 25.) He believed he could not arrest both parties, and both parties “just wanted [Floied] to leave.” (Id. at 26.) Finally, when Adam Floied arrived, Jarvis released Floied to him, but instructed Floied not to make any contact with Plaintiff whatsoever. (Id. at 26-27.) Jarvis and Neesmith told Plaintiff that Floied had left with his brother, provided Plaintiff with information about domestic abuse, then left. (Id. at 31, 101.)

         A few days later, after obtaining a copy of Jarvis's incident report, Plaintiff met with Defendant Danny Ferrell, an investigator with the Coffee County Sheriff's Department, to discuss the incident. (Id. at 97.) Ferrell asked Plaintiff whether the report was accurate. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Ferrell told her that he could “tell who the aggressor [was], ” even though the report “didn't make sense, ” and assured her that she would not be arrested. (Id.)

         After investigating further, Ferrell contacted District Attorney Craig Northcott to seek legal counsel regarding his best course of action. (Id. at 9.) Northcott agreed that probable cause existed to charge Plaintiff with domestic assault and “took no issue” with Ferrell's decision to issue a criminal summons to both Plaintiff and Floied. (Id.) On July 2, 2015, a criminal summons was issued to both Plaintiff and Floied charging them with domestic assault. (Id. at 68-71, 99.) Plaintiff was not arrested, but “had to go back up to the sheriff's office at some point and sign papers.” (Id. at 99.) She was never required to post bond or spend any time in jail. (Id.) Plaintiff had to go to court “several times” due to various delays. (Id. at 100.)

         On July 8, 2016, the State of Tennessee dismissed the charge against Plaintiff “because of procedural concerns.” (Id. at 7-8.) The State also dismissed the charge against Floied. (Id.) Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on July 26, 2016, asserting claims against Defendants for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law.[2] (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on December 11, 2017, seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 20.) Defendants' motion is now ripe for review.

         II. ...

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