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Johnson v. Metro Government of Nashville & Davidson County

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

October 11, 2019

METRO GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, ALFREDO AREVALO, Sergeant, in his individual capacity, and STEVE ANDERSON, Chief of Police, in his official capacity and individual capacity, Defendants.



         Robert Johnson has filed a Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Docket No. 21), to which the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) and Sergeant Alfredo Arevalo have filed a Response (Docket No. 24). For the reasons set out herein, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Johnson's Original Allegations[1]

         On January 26, 2014, Shondell Martin was killed by a single gunshot at an Elks Lodge in Nashville. (Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 7-11.) At the time, Robert Johnson, his wife, and his brother-in-law were also at the Elks Lodge, for a birthday party. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.) Johnson describes a dimly lit, crowded scene, with loud music playing and large amounts of alcohol being consumed. (Id. ¶ 12.) Johnson was wearing blue jeans and a black coat with a Bugs Bunny logo on the front. (Id. ¶ 16.) According to witnesses, Martin's shooter was wearing a gray hoodie and a brown jacket and fled in a white Chevy Malibu. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Sergeant Arevalo was assigned to investigate the shooting. (Id. ¶ 13.) According to Johnson, Arevalo oversaw the investigation in a manner designed only to produce evidence of Johnson's supposed guilt, not uncover the truth. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22.) Despite the differences between Johnson's clothing and the shooter's, and despite the fact that Johnson and his wife did not drive a white car, Arevalo sought and received an arrest warrant for Johnson. In support of that warrant, Arevalo provided an affidavit in which he claimed that a witness had told him that Johnson was the shooter. Johnson maintains that the affidavit was false and that there was no such witness. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Arevalo also conducted photographic lineups that, Johnson alleges, were unduly suggestive, in order to support his pursuit of Johnson. (Id. ¶ 27.) Johnson alleges that Arevalo's decision to focus exclusively on him as a suspect was due to Arevalo's having learned of Johnson's “background, ” which the court takes to mean his criminal history. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         Johnson's bond was set at $500, 000, which he could not pay. He was incarcerated for over three and one-half years awaiting trial. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) When the case did finally go to trial, he was acquitted after 45 minutes of jury deliberation. (Id. ¶ 43.) On March 12, 2019, Johnson filed his Complaint in this court, alleging causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Arevalo in his individual capacity, Metro Chief of Police Steve Anderson in his official and individual capacities, and Metro. He also pleaded a claim for malicious prosecution under Tennessee common law, although it is unclear whether that claim is directed at defendants other than Arevalo. (Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 32-47.) In his original Complaint, Johnson alleged that “Arevalo['s] use of a photographic lineup identification procedure is widespread practice for MNPD which is so permanent and well settled it constitutes a custom of the MNPD, ” but he did not provide much detail about the allegedly inappropriate procedure. (Id. ¶ 34.) Johnson also included the following two paragraphs, directed specifically at Metro's responsibility for his alleged mistreatment:

48. The Metropolitan Police Department, through its agents, servants, or employees have established a practice, policy, or custom of inadequate training or supervision of its police officers regarding their duty in general, and the Defendant in particular, to disclose exculpatory evidence in determining probable cause to arrest and in prosecuting a citizen accused of a crime.
49. The Metropolitan Police Department's above-described practice, policy, or custom deprived others in general, and Plaintiff in particular, of one or more of the following constitutional rights: The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure contrary to Amendments IV and XIV of the United States Constitution. The right to due process of law and to a fair trial, contrary to Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution.

(Id. ¶¶ 48-49.)

         On May 13, 2019, Metro filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6), arguing that Arevalo had failed to allege any wrongdoing by Metro itself that would be sufficient to create municipal liability. (Docket No. 8 at 1.) The time to file a response to a motion to dismiss is 14 days, meaning that Johnson should have filed a response by May 27, 2019. L.R. 7.01(a)(3). He did not do so. On June 6, 2019, Johnson filed an Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to Respond. (Docket No. 13.) In the motion, Johnson claimed that the deadline for his response was June 3, 2019, based presumably on his counsel's belief that the time for responding to a motion to dismiss in this district is 21 days, the amount of time permitted to respond to a motion for summary judgment. (Id. at 1.) Johnson, through his attorney, explained that, “given existing calendar obligations, ” Johnson required until June 28, 2019 to file his response. (Id.) The defendants did not object to the extension (id.), and it was granted (Docket No. 15).

         On June 28, 2019, Johnson filed a Second Motion for Extension of Time to Respond, again citing “existing calendar obligations, ” seeking an extension of the deadline until July 12, 2019. (Docket No. 18 at 1.) Johnson's counsel stated that she had “attempted to confer[] with counsel for the defendants, ” but that she had not been “able to reach counsel yet.” (Id.) The court granted the motion. (Docket No. 19.)

         The July 12, 2019 deadline passed without the filing of a response. On July 22, 2019, Johnson filed an Unopposed Third Motion for Extension of Time to Respond, seeking to extend the deadline to that day, July 22. (Docket No. 20 at 1.) Johnson's counsel again cited “existing calendar obligations.” (Id.) The court granted the motion. (Docket No. 23.) Also on July 22, Johnson filed a Motion to Amend Complaint that his counsel characterized as “unopposed.” (Docket No. 21 at 1.) Metro quickly filed a preliminary Response, informing the court that the Motion to Amend was not, in fact, unopposed and that Metro reserved the right to file a response in opposition. (Docket No. 22.)

         B. Johnson's ...

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