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White v. Wilson

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

September 10, 2019

WILLIAM RAY WHITE, et al., Plaintiffs,
RIC WILSON, et al., Defendants.




         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court are the County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 20), Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. No. 28) to the Motion, and Defendants' Reply (Doc. No. 45). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 20) is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part. The Court grants the request to dismiss Defendants Wayne County, Wayne County Sheriff's Department, and Ric Wilson. The Court also grants the request to dismiss Count Nine, and the Tennessee Constitutional claim raised in Count Two.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

          In the Complaint (Doc. No. 1), Plaintiffs William Ray White, Bernice R. White, and Tiffany Jones bring claims for violation of their federal constitutional rights, as well as state law claims, arising out of two separate incidents in which certain of the defendants entered their home. Plaintiffs have named as defendants Harold Robertson and Associates Bail Bonding, and its owner/employees Harold Robertson and David Butler; ABC Fugitive Recovery Corporation and its employees, Roosevelt Jones, and John Doe Bounty Hunter; and the “County Defendants, ” Wayne County, Tennessee, the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, Ric Wilson, former Sheriff of Wayne County, and Sheriff's Department employees Dusty Malugen and Donnie Carroll.

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs William and Bernice White are married and live at 198 Treece Lane in Clifton (Wayne County), Tennessee. On December 20, 2017, [1] Plaintiffs allege, at approximately 7:30 a.m., Defendants Robertson and Butler knocked on Plaintiffs' back door, and Defendant Robertson advised Mrs. White that he was there to arrest Keith Staggs on a warrant for failure to appear in court. Mrs. White advised the defendants that Keith Staggs did not live at the house, and had only visited once and spent the night six weeks earlier. Defendants Robertson and Butler allegedly pushed past Mrs. White and entered the house without permission. At that point, Plaintiffs allege, Mr. White had made it downstairs in his pajamas and found Defendants Robertson and Butler standing in his living room. When the defendants told Mr. White they were there with an arrest warrant to arrest Mr. Staggs, Mr. White allegedly told the defendants Mr. Staggs did not live there, and that he thought Mr. Staggs lived in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Plaintiffs allege Defendants Robertson and Butler then became “aggressively confrontational, telling the Whites they did not believe their ‘story' and had on good information” that Keith Staggs was in their home. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 29). Mr. White allegedly told the defendants to have a look around to satisfy themselves that Keith Staggs was not there. According to the Complaint, Defendants Robertson and Butler conducted the search, did not find Mr. Staggs, and after forty minutes, left the house.

         About a week later, the Complaint alleges, Defendants Roberson and Butler returned to Wayne County to search for Mr. Staggs, and were accompanied by Defendants Jones and Doe, “bounty hunters” from ABC Fugitive Recovery Corporation. Plaintiffs allege one of these defendants advised Dusty Malugen, a detective with the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, that they would be going to the Whites' home in an attempt to apprehend Mr. Staggs. Detective Malugen allegedly stated that he had long suspected illegal activity at the Whites' home, but had not been able to confirm his suspicions.

         At approximately 7:30 a.m. on December 27, 2017, Plaintiffs allege, the Whites were allegedly asleep in their home, along with their daughter, Plaintiff Tiffany Jones, who was visiting and sleeping in the guest bedroom on the first floor. According to the Complaint, these defendants violently pounded on the back door, and when Mrs. White looked through the glass, she saw two males holding large guns and wearing military-type clothing with law enforcement badges on the chests of their shirts and bullet-proof vests. As Mrs. White started to open the back door, she allegedly heard pounding at the front door, and when she turned to go to the front door, she left the back door slightly ajar. As she turned the knob on the front door, Mrs. White heard the men at the back door “storm inside” her home, and at the same time, the individuals at the front door “forced their way inside” as well. (Id. ¶ 39). Plaintiffs allege all the “intruders” appeared to be wearing bullet-proof vests and were armed with shotguns attached to straps. One of the intruders allegedly began yelling for Mr. White.

         According to the Complaint, Mr. White was awakened by the commotion, and headed down the stairs in his underwear. Along the way, he was allegedly confronted by Defendant Doe, who pointed a gun at Mr. White's head. Plaintiffs allege Mr. White asked why the men were there, and when he was told they were looking for Mr. Staggs, Mr. White told them Mr. Staggs did not live there. When Mr. White asked the men if they had a search warrant, Plaintiffs allege, one of the bounty hunters responded “‘I don't have to have a search warrant, I can go anywhere I want anytime I am in Tennessee.'” (Id. ¶ 41). Plaintiffs allege Mr. White repeatedly asked the men to leave, but rather than leaving, the men told Mr. White “he had better get down the stairs and take a seat on the sofa or he would be shot.” (Id. ¶ 42). Mr. White allegedly complied by taking a seat on the sofa with his wife, where he was told not to move.

         The man holding the Whites at gunpoint told Defendant Jones to go into the bedroom where Plaintiff Jones was asleep and search the bedroom. Defendant Jones allegedly entered the bedroom and ordered Plaintiff Jones, who was wearing only a sleep shirt, out of the bed and into a chair in the living room. At this point, all the plaintiffs, who were still in their pajamas and undergarments, were told to hand over their telephones. Plaintiffs allege the house was becoming very cold at this point because the back door was open.

         Defendant Robertson allegedly told the plaintiffs they were going to search the entire house because he had an arrest warrant for Mr. Staggs and a reliable source indicated Mr. Staggs was in the house and under a bed. Plaintiffs allege Mr. White stated his refusal to give permission to search the house, and the men told him they did not need his permission. Defendant Jones then allegedly stood by the front door with a shotgun held across his chest while Defendant Doe conducted an hour-long search of the house.

         During this time, the Complaint alleges, Plaintiff Jones asked to go to the bathroom, but Defendant Butler refused, and instead asked her uncomfortable personal questions while leering at her chest. Due to a history of back problems, Plaintiff Jones found it difficult to sit for such a long period of time at gun point. Plaintiffs also allege Mr. White was initially refused a bathroom break, and when he was eventually allowed to go to the bathroom, he was forced to leave the door open while Defendant Robertson observed.

         According to the Complaint, after about an hour into the search, Defendant Doe came downstairs holding a clear jar with a small amount of marijuana. Defendant Doe was allegedly angry at not having located Mr. Staggs, and told the plaintiffs “‘I do not normally care about pot but now you have pissed me off, '” signaling his intent to continue an exhaustive search. (Id. ¶ 51). Defendant Doe then when back upstairs to continue the search.

         At approximately 11:00 a.m., Plaintiffs allege, Defendant Robertson made a call to Defendant Malugen at the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. Defendants Malugen and Carroll allegedly arrived a short time later and entered the Whites' home without permission or a warrant. Plaintiffs allege they were still being held at gunpoint at that time. Defendant Malugen then allegedly told Mr. White he needed to sign a consent form so Defendant Malugen could search, and Defendant Carroll confiscated Mr. White's phone. When Mr. White asked what would happen if he refused to sign, Defendant Malugen allegedly threatened to arrest Mr. White's wife and daughter. At this point, the Complaint alleges, “[h]aving been held at gunpoint in his underwear with his wife and daughter, for over two hours in freezing temperatures, Mr. White had no choice but to sign the consent form presented to him by Detective Malugen.” (Id. ¶ 55).

         Plaintiffs allege Defendants Robertson and Doe then searched a mobile home located behind the Whites' home, after tearing the door off. While the plaintiffs were still being held in the living room by Defendant Jones, Defendant Malugen allegedly went upstairs to continue the search, where he seized guns and marijuana. Defendant Malugen then arrested Mr. White in his home without a warrant.

         The Complaint asserts 10 claims arising out of these allegations: (1) “Negligence, Gross Negligence, and Willful and Wanton Misconduct” against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, Malugen, and the Wayne County Sheriff's Department (Count One); (2) “Violation of Federal Civil Rights 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - Right to be Secure From Unreasonable Search and Seizure - Fourth Amendment; Art. 1 § 7, Tennessee Constitution” (Count Two) against all Defendants; (3) “Violation of Federal Civil Rights 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - Pattern and Practice - Fourteenth Amendment” against Defendants Wayne County Sheriff's Department, Wilson, Malugen, and Carroll (Count Three); (4) Trespass against all Defendants (Count Four); (5) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, and Malugen (Count Five); (6) Assault and Battery against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, and Doe (Count Six); (7) False Imprisonment against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, and Malugen (Count Seven); (8) Conspiracy against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, Carroll, and Malugen (Count Eight); (9) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, and Malugen (Count Nine); and (10) Invasion of Privacy against Defendants Robertson, Butler, Jones, Doe, and Malugen (Count Ten). (Id. ¶¶ 62-107).

         Through the pending Motion, the County Defendants seek to dismiss all claims against them primarily on the grounds that Mr. White challenged the search in state criminal proceedings and the state court ruled against him. In their Response (Doc. No. 28, at 7), Plaintiffs agree to dismiss the Wayne County Sheriff's Department as a defendant in this case, and agree that Counts Five and Nine are duplicative. Accordingly, the Court grants the request to dismiss the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, and to dismiss Count Nine. Plaintiffs otherwise argue the Motion should be denied.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Standards Governing ...

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