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Lewis v. Hawkins

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

March 6, 2018

KEITH HAWKINS, et al., Defendants.



         This civil matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 58]. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, responded in opposition [Doc. 63][1], and defendants replied [Doc. 68]. Plaintiff then filed a motion for leave to file sur-replies [Doc. 69], which Magistrate Judge H. Bruce Guyton granted in part [Doc. 78]. Magistrate Judge Guyton noted that “[t]he District Judge will determine whether to consider the Plaintiff's [request to file a sur-reply in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment]” [Id. at 5-6]. The Court will grant in part plaintiff's motion to file sur-replies [Doc. 69], and will consider plaintiff's sur-reply [Doc. 72] in deciding the motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will then grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         On July 24, 2015, plaintiff was traveling on Highway 27 near the Tennessee/Kentucky border [Doc. 24 ¶ 7]. As plaintiff and his companions crossed from Kentucky into Scott County, Tennessee, defendant Keith Hawkins of the Scott County Sheriff's Department began to follow plaintiff's vehicle in a marked police car [Id.]. Defendant Hawkins followed plaintiff's vehicle for several miles before turning on his blue lights and pulling plaintiff over [Id. ¶ 9]. At the time, plaintiff was traveling over the speed limit [See Doc. 59 p. 2; 59-2 p. 15].[2]

         Defendant Hawkins asked plaintiff if there were any drugs in the vehicle and stated that a K9 unit was on its way [Doc. 24 ¶ 24]. When the unit arrived, the dog sniffed around the perimeter of his vehicle [Doc. 59-2 p. 24]. During the traffic stop, defendant Hawkins learned that a warrant had been issued for plaintiff's arrest [ 26-27]. Defendant Hawkins asked plaintiff to step out of the vehicle, and plaintiff complied [Doc. 24 ¶¶ 26- 27].

         Plaintiff's right leg is amputated above his knee [Id. ¶ 27]. When he stepped out of the vehicle, defendant Hawkins asked if he could stand without the aid of his crutches [Doc. 59-2 pp. 9-10]. Plaintiff responded that he “probably could” [Id. at 10]. Plaintiff stood outside his vehicle, without his crutches, for two or three minutes while Hawkins searched plaintiff's person and told plaintiff that he was under arrest [Id.]. Plaintiff then grabbed his crutches and walked to Hawkins's truck, which was about twenty feet away, with Hawkins walking directly behind him [Id. at 11]. When he arrived at Hawkins's truck, he had to get himself in the backseat, which took a couple of minutes [Id. at 12-13]. Plaintiff was not handcuffed during this time, and after he got into defendant Hawkins's vehicle, he was transported to the Scott County jail [Id. at 13].

         Plaintiff asserts that the traffic stop, vehicle search, and arrest were unlawful. The Court construes these claims as an unreasonable search and seizure claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also asserts that he was discriminated against because of his physical handicap. The Court construes this claim as both a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for discrimination based on disability and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unreasonable seizure. See City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1773 (2015) (considering whether officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they failed to accommodate an individual's disability). As a result, plaintiff asserts that he suffered physical, mental, and emotional distress, and he therefore brings these claims against defendant Hawkins and Mayor Dale Perdue.

         II. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and the Court must “liberally construe the briefs of pro se litigants and apply less stringent standards to parties proceeding pro se than to parties represented by counsel.” Bouyer v. Simon, 22 Fed.Appx. 611, 612 (6th Cir. 2001). At the same time, however, “the lenient treatment generally accorded to pro se litigants has limits, ” Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996), and courts have not “been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits, ” Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989).

         Summary judgment is proper where there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The Court may consider the pleadings, discovery, affidavits, and other evidence on the record. Id. In the Sixth Circuit, there is a genuine issue of fact “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Hedrick v. W. Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444, 451 (6th Cir. 2004). “A fact is material only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit.” Id. at 451-52. The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Sutherland v. Mich. Dep't of Treasury, 344 F.3d 603, 613 (6th Cir. 2003). Thus, “the moving party has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Hedrick, 355 F.3d at 451 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). On a motion for summary judgment by a defendant asserting a sovereign immunity defense, the Court must adopt the plaintiff's version of the facts. Campbell v. City of Springboro, 700 F.3d 779, 786 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Government officials are shielded from liability under the doctrine of qualified immunity so long as their “conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs, therefore, have the burden of showing that each individual defendant violated a constitutional right that was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. at 232.

         III. Analysis

         A. Defendant Hawkins

         In determining whether defendant Hawkins is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must first define the right and determine whether that right was clearly established. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. Under the Fourth Amendment, individuals have a right to be free from unreasonable seizures, so the Court must determine whether the seizure in this case was reasonable. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989); see also White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (holding that the “clearly established law should not be defined at a high level of generality[;] . . . [it] must be particularized to the facts of the case” (internal quotation marks omitted)). In evaluating the reasonableness of the seizure, the Court weighs the intrusion on an individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the governmental interests. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Plaintiff claims that the traffic stop, vehicular search, and arrest ...

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