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Blakemore v. Roberson

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

September 23, 2019


          Guyton, Magistrate Judge.


          Pamela L. Reeves, Chief Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 14), seeking dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment arising out of his arrest by Defendant for boating under the influence in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 69-6-217. Defendant argues he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and is entitled to qualified immunity because his actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment in this matter and the Motion (Doc. 14) will be denied.


         On September 24, 2016, Plaintiff, Marcus Blakemore, and his wife, Heather Blakemore, attended a cookout/tailgating event at the marina outside Neyland Stadium. (Doc. 19-5 at 18-19; Doc. 19-7 at 6-7). The cookout began sometime prior to the football game, which was televised at 3:30 p.m. E.S.T. (Doc. 19-2 at 1; Doc. 19-5 at 19). At the cookout, Plaintiff consumed two beers. (Doc. 19-5 at 12). In the evening, Plaintiff, Mrs. Blakemore, and their friend, Tommy Wykle, decided to take Wykle’s boat out because it was a nice night. (Doc. 19-5 at 11-12). Though the exact time of their departure is not clear, it was dark and appears to have been around 8:00 p.m. (Doc. 14-5 at 3; Doc. 19-7 at 7; Doc. 19-11 at 2). Wykle pulled the boat out of the slip, and Plaintiff drove the boat into the channel. (Doc. 14-5 at 3-4; Doc. 19-5 at 13). Shortly after the boat left the marina, it was pulled over by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers Greg Julian and Jeff Roberson. (Doc. 19-5 at 13-14; Doc. 14-5 at 4; Doc. 19-11). One or both of the officers observed a starboard navigational light out on Wykle’s boat and initiated the stop with flashing blue lights. (Doc. 14-3 at 9; Doc. 19-11 at 2). While Officer Julian piloted the patrol boat, Defendant indicated to the occupants of Wykle’s boat that a navigational light was out. (Doc. 19-5 at 14; Doc. 14-3 at 11). Plaintiff or Wykle had checked all the lights prior to leaving the dock, and they appeared to be working properly. (Doc. 14-5 at 3; Doc. 19-5 at 14). They tried to correct the light issue, but the light did not turn back on. (Doc. 14-3 at 11-12; Doc. 14-5 at 4).

         From his position on the patrol boat, Defendant says he saw “several open containers” on Wykle’s boat and detected an odor of alcohol coming from the boat. (Doc. 19-10 at 3, 6-7). He noticed a clear glass on the dash in the operator’s area, which to him “appeared to be an alcoholic beverage.” (Doc. 19-10 at 7, 31). In his testimony, Defendant recalled it was a brownish liquid. (Doc. 19-10 at 31). The bodycam footage of the incident shows it was clear liquid or ice. (Doc. 20, at 20:16). Plaintiff avers the glass contained water. (Doc. 19-1 at 1). Though there was nothing about the way the boat was being operated that indicated the driver was boating under the influence of an intoxicant, Defendant testified that “every stop is a BUI investigation until evidence shows otherwise.” (Doc. 19-10 at 6).

         Defendant then indicated he would be conducting a safety inspection, boarded Wykle’s boat, and asked the occupants to produce life jackets. (Doc. 19-5 at 14, Doc. 14-5 at 5). The bodycam footage begins aboard Wykle’s boat. (Doc. 20). Plaintiff went down in the cabin of the boat, with Wykle directing him as to the location of the life jackets. (Id. at 20:15). Plaintiff produced the life jackets and returned to the deck. (Id.). As Plaintiff walked up the stairs, Defendant asked Plaintiff if he had been drinking. (Id. at 20:17). Plaintiff indicated he had two beers earlier. (Id.). Defendant asked if that was all, and Plaintiff confirmed it was. (Id.). Defendant then asked Plaintiff to say the alphabet without singing and count backwards from 89 to 65. (Id. at 20:17 to 20:19). Plaintiff did so but not to Defendant’s satisfaction. (Doc. 19-10 at 19, 21). According to Defendant, Plaintiff sang the alphabet and repeated several letters; in counting, he hesitated on a few numbers and continued past 65. (Id.). Though he was quite close to it at times, Defendant did not investigate the glass, ask what it was, test it, or make any effort to determine what it contained. (Doc. 19-10 at 7, 28-31; Doc. 20 at 20:15).

         Defendant then asked Plaintiff to put on a life jacket and directed Plaintiff to his patrol boat. (Doc. 19-10 at 23; Doc. 20 at 20:19, 20:22; Doc. 14-5 at 5). On the patrol boat, Defendant conducted four seated field sobriety tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”), Finger to Nose, Palm Pat, and Hand Coordination. (Doc. 19-10 at 32, 35, 36, 38). In Defendant’s estimation, Plaintiff failed the first three tests by exhibiting sufficient “clues” to indicate impairment and passed the final test. (Doc. 19-10 at 52; Doc. 19-11 at 4-5). During the tests, the flashing lights of the patrol boat appear to have remained on. (Doc. 20 at 20:23). The boat visibly rocks and the sound of motors and sirens can be heard in the background during or between several tests. (Id. at 20:25, 20:26, 20:27). Plaintiff, a large man, appears to clasp the seat on either side while the boat rocks after the HGN test and again after the Hand Coordination test. (Id. at 20:26; 20:32).

         Defendant did not discuss the results of the test with Plaintiff. (Id.). He again asked Plaintiff whether he in fact had only had two beers, referencing liquor he may have seen on the boat. (Id. at 20:32). Plaintiff confirmed he had only two and indicated it was during the football game, around halftime. (Id.). The game was televised beginning at 3:30 p.m. E.S.T., approximately five hours earlier.

         Defendant then asked Plaintiff for some personal information, chatting and commenting on Plaintiff’s impressive level of education while he filled out a form. (Doc. 20 at 20:33-20:34). Plaintiff appears visibly more relaxed and answers Defendant’s questions. (Id.). Defendant still did not inform Plaintiff that he had failed the tests or that he was under arrest. (Id.). Defendant then told Plaintiff he was going to read a form aloud and give Plaintiff the option to sign it. (Doc. 20 at 20:38). He read aloud the BUI Implied Consent Form, which reads in part: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that you were operating or in physical control of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. You are under arrest and I request that you submit to a test to determine your alcohol and/or drug level.” (Id.).

         When Plaintiff hears the word “arrest, ” the video shows him lean forward to listen more intently, looking confused. (Id.). Defendant then hands Plaintiff the BUI Implied Consent Form and explains he is asking for a blood alcohol sample, so Blakemore needs to check whether he will submit or not. (Id.). Blakemore takes the form and says yes, he has no problem with it. (Id.). He holds the pen as if to sign the form and then pauses, looks up and says “You said I’m under arrest?” (Id.). Defendant says yes. (Id.).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff was handcuffed and transported to Knox County jail. (Doc. 19-10 at 34, 42). A blood sample was taken, which came back negative for alcohol and basic drugs. (Doc. 19-11 at 7-8). After all charges against him were dropped, Blakemore sued Officer Roberson in Knox County Circuit Court for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment. (Doc. 1 at 8-13). Defendant removed the action to this Court on the basis of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. (Doc. 1 at 1). Defendant now moves for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff’s claims based on the assertion that he acted with probable cause and is entitled to qualified immunity because his actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances. (Doc. 14, Doc. 15). Blakemore maintains that genuine issues of material fact as to probable cause and qualified immunity preclude summary judgment for Defendant. (Doc. 19).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs the Court to grant summary judgment “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). A party asserting the presence or absence of genuine issues of material facts must support its position either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” including depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, or other materials, or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat’l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). But, where there is “‘a videotape capturing the events in question, ’ the court must ‘view the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.’” Green v. Throckmorton, 681 F.3d 853, 859 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378-81 (2007).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may discharge this burden either by producing evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact or simply “by ‘showing’ – that is, pointing out to the district court – that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. Where the movant has satisfied this burden, the nonmoving party cannot “rest upon its . . . pleadings, but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 374 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The nonmoving party must present sufficient probative evidence supporting its claim that disputes over material facts remain and must be resolved by a judge or jury at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49 (citing First Nat’l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253 (1968)); see also White v. Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc., 617 F.3d 472, 475-76 (6th Cir. 2010). A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough; there must be evidence from which a jury could reasonably find in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Moldowan, 578 F.3d at 374. If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff brings suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, asserting claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. “To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that a person acting under color of state law deprived the plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Green, 681 F.3d at 860.

         To succeed on a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983 based on a Fourth Amendment violation, a ...

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