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Zambon v. Crawford

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

September 9, 2019

SHEILA J. ZAMBON, Plaintiff,
SHAWN CRAWFORD, et. al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Shawn Crawford, Todd Nallion, Matt Nicol, and Don Myers's (“City Defendants'”) motion for summary judgment [doc. 93], Plaintiff's Motion for Dismissal of Summary Judgment [doc. 98], which is more properly construed as a response to the motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff's motion to amend or supplement the amended complaint [doc. 96]. Each of these motions have been fully briefed. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion to amend or supplement [doc. 96] will be denied, the City Defendants' motion for summary judgment [doc. 93] will be granted, and Plaintiff's motion for dismissal of summary judgment [doc. 98] will be denied. Furthermore, as discussed in detail below, the Court hereby provides the parties with notice of its intent to sua sponte grant summary judgment in favor of Defendant Laura Porch, in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f).

         I. Relevant Facts

         On the afternoon of November 11, 2017, Laura Porch was sitting in her car in the parking lot of a shopping center in Sevierville, Tennessee, when she saw a blue crossover-type vehicle back up and hit a Mustang that was parked outside the Staples. [Doc. 97-1 at 4]. Ms. Porch saw the driver exit the vehicle, inspect the damage, return to her vehicle, and leave the scene. [Id. at 4]. Ms. Porch then went inside the Staples store to report the incident, and the Staples manager instructed her to call the police. [Id.]. Ms. Porch then called the Sevierville Police Department. [Id.; Defendants' Exhibit 5 (“Exh. 5”) (recording of telephone call)]. On the call, Ms. Porch informed dispatch that she had just seen a car back into another car and then leave the scene. [Exh. 5]. Ms. Porch described the vehicle that was hit as a blue convertible Mustang, and the one that left the scene as a blue Toyota crossover. [Id.].

         Officer Crawford responded to the scene, where Ms. Porch was standing outside of her vehicle, two parking spots away from the Mustang that was hit. [Defendants' Exhibit 6 (“Exh. 6”) (dashcam footage from Officer Crawford's cruiser)]. Ms. Porch informed Officer Crawford that she had previously been in another parking spot, and saw a woman in a blue Toyota crossover back into a parking spot and hit the Mustang. Ms. Porch stated that the driver stopped when she hit the Mustang, got out of the car, walked around to look at where she had hit the Mustang, then got back in her car and drove off. [Id.]. Photographs from the scene indicate that the Mustang was light blue, and had the front driver-side headlight busted out, as well as significant scraping to the front passenger bumper. [Doc. 93-5]. There was blue paint and broken pieces of the headlight around the car. [Id.]. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Porch if she got the license plate number of the car that left, and Ms. Porch provided a possible plate number of E1653W. [Exh. 6]. Ms. Porch stated that she could not see the county on the license plate because something was covering it. Ms. Porch stated that the damage on the crossover was on the rear passenger side of the vehicle. [Id.].

         Officer Crawford called in the plate number but was unable to get a match. [Id.]. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Porch whether she was sure about the license plate number, and she responded that she was not “100 percent sure, ” but knew that the first letter was E. Ms. Porch stated that the vehicle had left the parking lot and turned left on the main road. Ms. Porch again stated that the car was a Toyota, a “newer model, ” possibly either a RAV-4 or CR-V. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Porch to give a written statement. Officer Crawford then made contact with the driver of the Mustang, and spoke to the car's owner, who declined a police report. [Id.].

         While Officer Crawford was with Ms. Porch at Staples, Ms. Zambon called the Sevierville Police Department, stating that she was at the post office on Dolly Parton Parkway, and someone had hit her car and taken off. [Defendant's Exhibit 9 (“Exh. 9”) (recording of call to police department)]. She stated that she did not know what type of car had hit her, because she was in the post office when it happened. She stated that she was driving a blue 2015 RAV-4. [Id.]. While talking to the driver of the Mustang, Officer Crawford received information about the call from the post office involving a RAV-4. [Exh. 6]. Ms. Zambon's receipt from the post office indicates that she exited the post office around 4:44 p.m. [Doc. 103 at 8].

         Officer Crawford drove to the post office, which was just down the road from the Staples. [Plaintiff's Exhibit 7 (“Exh. 7”) (dashcam footage from Officer Crawford's police cruiser)]. A royal blue Toyota RAV-4 was sitting in the parking lot. [Id.]. Officer Crawford immediately called in the vehicle's license plate, which was E1653V, only one letter off from the plate number provided by Ms. Porch. [Doc. 93-6 at 3; Exh. 7]. The county on the license plate is partially covered by a portion of the license-plate cover, which read “BUCKEYES.” [Doc. 93-6 at 3]. Dispatch reported that the vehicle was registered to Sheila Zambon. [Exh. 7]. Officer Crawford made contact with Ms. Zambon, who exited the vehicle, and showed Officer Crawford damage to her vehicle on the rear passenger side. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Zambon where the damage occurred, and Ms. Zambon responded “right here.” Ms. Zambon stated that she was in the post office for “quite a while, ” and someone must have hit her car while she was inside. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Zambon for her license, registration, and insurance, and she complied. Officer Crawford then asked Ms. Zambon if she was positive the damage to her vehicle happened at the post office, and she stated that she was 100% positive. Officer Crawford warned Ms. Zambon that lying to a police officer is a felony offense. Ms. Zambon asserted that she was not lying, and Officer Crawford then read Ms. Zambon her Miranda[1]rights, and Ms. Zambon stated that she understood. Officer Crawford then asked Ms. Zambon whether she wanted “to start over again, ” and Ms. Zambon yelled “it happened right here.” [Id.].

         Officer Crawford again informed Ms. Zambon that lying to a police officer is a felony offense, and Ms. Zambon yelled “I'm not lying!” [Id.]. Officer Crawford informed Ms. Zambon that he had a witness who had informed him that the accident had not happened at the post office, but at Staples. Ms. Zambon denied that the accident happened at Staples. Officer Crawford informed Ms. Zambon that the witness provided Ms. Zambon's license plate number and vehicle as the one that left the scene at Staples. Ms. Zambon then produced a paper, which appears to be her receipt from the post office, and Officer Crawford responded that he did not deny that she had been at the post office, but she had previously been at the Staples. Ms. Zambon admitted that she was at the Staples, and began searching for her receipt to tell Officer Crawford the exact time that she was at Staples. Ms. Zambon asserted that she parked at the end of the parking lot, away from all other cars at Staples. [Id.]. Ms. Zambon handed the receipt to Officer Crawford, who noted that the receipt indicated Ms. Zambon had been at Staples at 4:30 p.m. [Doc. 103 at 8; Exh. 7]. Officer Crawford then asked dispatch what his call time to Staples was, and dispatch responded that the call time was 16:42 (in other words, 4:42 p.m.). [Exh. 7]. Officer Crawford pointed out damage to Ms. Zambon's vehicle that matched the paint of the blue Mustang at Staples. Officer Crawford asked Ms. Zambon if she wanted to continue lying, and she again asserted that she was not lying. Officer Crawford then informed Ms. Zambon that he would have the witness come to the scene. Ms. Zambon stated that she would like to speak to Officer Crawford's supervisor. [Id.].

         Officer Crawford then radioed dispatch, asking them to call Ms. Porch and ask her to come to the post office to identify a suspect. [Id.]. Meanwhile, Ms. Zambon appears to talk to someone on her cell phone. Officer Crawford also requested back-up at the post office, noting that Ms. Zambon wanted to speak to supervisors. Officer Crawford then began taking photographs of Ms. Zambon's vehicle. Ms. Zambon tells the individual on her cell phone that Officer Crawford is taking photographs. Officer Crawford asked if it was Ms. Zambon's husband on the phone, and Ms. Zambon confirmed that it was her husband, Joseph Zambon. Officer Crawford briefly spoke with Mr. Zambon about the situation, but ended the conversation when Mr. Zambon began yelling and cursing. Officer Crawford then continued taking photographs of the vehicle. [Id.]. These photographs show significant scraping along the back passenger side of the RAV-4, as well as some lighter blue paint transferred from another vehicle. [Doc. 93-6 at 1-2]. Mr. and Ms. Zambon continue talking amongst themselves about why Officer Crawford does not have a partner present, why he is trying to “railroad” Ms. Zambon, and why the witness is not there yet. [Exh. 7].

         When Ms. Porch arrived at the post office, Officer Crawford asked her if Ms. Zambon was the person that she saw hit the Mustang at Staples. [Id.]. Ms. Porch took a moment to look and then responded “yes.” Officer Crawford then began explaining the situation to other police officers who had arrived at the scene. Another officer approached Ms. Zambon, who began telling her side of the story to the officer, although the audio of this exchange cannot be made out, as Officer Crawford was also talking to a third officer to arrive on the scene. One of the other officers present approached Officer Crawford and said “I tried to talk to her-do what you gotta do.” Officer Crawford and the other officer discussed the evidence that indicated that Ms. Zambon was lying. The other officer asked Officer Crawford how he found Ms. Zambon, and Officer Crawford explained that Ms. Zambon had called in a hit-and-run at the post office. Officer Crawford then asked the other officer to point out to Ms. Zambon that there was no debris or marks on the ground near her car, as there would be if the accident had occurred at the post office. The officer goes to tell Ms. Zambon this information, however, the beginning of this conversation cannot be heard.[2] [Id.].

         Once the audio begins picking up the conversation, Ms. Zambon can be heard repeatedly stating “I am not lying.” [Id.]. Officer Crawford then placed Ms. Zambon under arrest. Ms. Zambon asked to turn her vehicle off and retrieve her purse, and the officers state that they will take care of it. Ms. Zambon, responded that there “better not be anything come up missing out of my purse.” Officer Crawford informed Ms. Zambon that she would be taking her purse with her, and he would grab it for her. Ms. Zambon stated “hope nothing doesn't fall out, ” and then tells Officer Crawford “I hope you enjoy federal court.” One of the officers can be seen picking up Ms. Zambon's purse from the RAV-4 passenger seat, and handing it off to Officer Crawford. Officer Crawford then spoke to Ms. Porch to again confirm that the woman that she saw at the post office was the same woman she saw leave the scene of the crash at Staples. Officer Crawford stated that Ms. Porch would need to finish her statement to indicate that she identified the suspect at the post office. Ms. Zambon later asked Officer Crawford if he got her cell phone, and he responded that he did. After leaving Ms. Zambon alone in the cruiser for a few minutes, Officer Crawford reentered the car and began driving Ms. Zambon to the jail. [Id.].

         Ms. Zambon was charged with leaving the scene of a crime, in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-104, and filing a false report, in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-502. [Doc. 93-1 at 1-2]. Ms. Zambon pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crime, in violation of § 55-10-104. [Doc. 89-1 at 4]. Ms. Zambon received a 30-day suspended sentence, a $50 fine, and stipulated to the underlying facts. [Id.]. The charge for filing a false report was dismissed, with the following special conditions: “dismissal contingent on payment of court costs, stipulation to fact[.]” [Doc. 98-1 at 4].

         Ms. Porch's handwritten statement confirms the information that she gave to Officer Crawford on the dashcam footage, specifically, that she saw “someone in a newer blue Toyota crossover backing into a parking space hit the front end of a blue convertible mustang.” [Doc. 93-2]. Ms. Porch's statement continues to say that the driver got out of her vehicle, circled her car, paused where the damage was on both cars, then got into her vehicle and left. [Id.].

         Don Myers was the Chief of Police for the City of Sevierville in 2017. [Doc. 93-7 at 1]. However, he did not respond to the call related to the hit-and-run, and played no role in the decision to bring charges against Ms. Zambon. [Id.].

         In her deposition, Ms. Zambon stated that Chief Myers had violated her constitutional rights because she and her husband filed a complaint against Officer Crawford, and Chief Myers told her that she would be notified about the results of the investigation, but she was never notified. [Doc. 97-at 11]. Ms. Zambon admitted that she was provided a copy of the audio and video related to her arrest, but did not believe that it accurately depicted what occurred. [Id.]. As to Officer Nicol, Ms. Zambon stated that he violated her constitutional rights by “trying to get me to admit I did something I didn't do” and “st[icking] up for what Officer Crawford was saying[.]” [Id. at 12]. Additionally, Ms. Zambon stated that Officer Naillon violated her constitutional rights by “st[icking] up for Officer Crawford” and not having his body cam or dash cam on. [Id. at 13]. Ms. Zambon asserted that Officers Nicol and Naillon had a role in deciding to charge her, because they discussed it with Officer Crawford. [Id.]. Ultimately, Ms. Zambon's deposition was ended when she refused to answer any questions, stating that every question was “irrelevant, ” and claiming her right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. [Id. at 19-20].

         II. Motion to Amend/Supplement

         Before addressing the pending motion for summary judgment, the Court must first address Plaintiff's “motion to seek relief, ” [doc. 96], in which Plaintiff requests that the Court allow her to file an addendum to her amended complaint. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 governs the procedures for filing amended and supplemental pleadings. Rule 15(a)(1) allows a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course, either within 21 days of serving it, or, if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, within 21 of service of a responsive pleading or a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f). Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). Plaintiff does not qualify to amend her complaint as a matter of right under Rule 15(a)(1), because the instant motion to amend [doc. 96] was filed on May 7, 2019, more than 21 days after the Defendants' answers to the amended complaint, which were filed on May 29, 2018 [doc. 26] and June 27, 2018 [doc. 32], respectively.

         Thus, to amend her complaint, Plaintiff must proceed under Rule 15(a)(2), which provides that “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The Court, however, must balance the harm to the moving party if she is not permitted to amend against the prejudice caused to the other party if leave to amend is granted. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Specifically, “[a] motion to amend a complaint should be denied if the amendment is brought in bad faith, for dilatory purposes, results in undue delay or prejudice to the opposing party, or would be futile.” Crawford v. Roane, 53 F.3d 750, 753 (6th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Amendment of a complaint is futile when the proposed amendment would not permit the complaint to survive a motion to dismiss. Miller v. Calhoun County, 408 F.3d 803, 817 (6th Cir. 2005).

         Additionally, the Court may “on just terms, permit a party to serve a supplemental pleading setting out any transaction, occurrence, or event that happened after the date of the pleading to be supplemented.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(d). Here, Plaintiff's proposed addendum could partially be construed as a supplemental pleading under Rule 15(d), as it contains, in part, allegations regarding incidents that have occurred since the filing of the amended complaint. Nonetheless, the ...

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