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Khoury v. Miami-Dade County School Board

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 26, 2018

Susan Khoury, Plaintiff
v.
Miami-Dade County School Board and Gregory Williams, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Susan Khoury lives in a home near the Glades Middle School baseball field. For years she has complained about cars she believed were parking illegally around the field where the Glades Baseball and Softball league holds practices and games in the evenings. The police have received many complaints over the years from parents of the ball players that Khoury has videotaped and photographed their children and that she has had several aggressive confrontations with the parents. On January 29, 2015, Officer Gregory Williams, a Miami-Dade School Police Officer, was called to the area of the ball field by yet another parent who felt threatened by Khoury. After conducting an investigation, Williams determined that Khoury was a danger to herself or others and detained her pursuant to Florida's Baker Act.[1] Khoury sued the Miami-Dade School Board (“School Board”) and Officer Williams (collectively “Defendants”) because she believed that she was wrongfully detained and the School Board had a policy, custom, or practice of detaining citizens who did not qualify under the Baker Act. The Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' motions (ECF No. 147, 148) are granted.

         1. Background

         On February 24, 2016, Khoury filed a seven-count complaint, which included federal claims and a state law claim, against the School Board and Officer Williams. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) On March 21, 2016, the Defendants moved to dismiss the federal claims in the complaint. (Mot., ECF No. 8.) The Court granted the Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Count II, which was a failure-to-train claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the School Board based on the First Amendment, but denied the motion on all other grounds. (ECF No. 19.) Relevant here, in the Plaintiff's response to the School Board's motion for summary judgment, she withdrew her remaining failure-to-train claim against the School Board. (ECF No. 158 at 12, n.7.) As a result, the Plaintiff's remaining claims against the School Board are: a § 1983 claim against the School Board for having a policy, custom, or practice of improperly subjecting citizens to the Baker Act in violation of the Fourth Amendment in an effort to reduce crime statistics (Compl. at ¶¶ 95-103, ECF No. 1); three § 1983 claims against Officer Williams, in which the Plaintiff alleges a Fourth Amendment violation for false arrest and imprisonment (id. at ¶¶ 104-109), a Fourth Amendment violation for excessive force (id. at ¶¶ 110-116), and a First Amendment violation for retaliation (id. at ¶¶ 117-125); and, a state law claim for false arrest and false imprisonment against the School Board and Officer Williams. (Id. at ¶¶ 126-132.)

         A. Events of January 29, 2015

         The crux of the Plaintiff's claims stems from events that occurred not too far from her home. The Plaintiff lives near Glades Middle School, where the Glades Baseball and Softball League (GBSL) practices and conducts their games. (Pl. Dep., ECF No. 151-1 at 78:1-79:8). By way of background, the use of the field became a nuisance to the Plaintiff and several of her neighbors because of the noise and lights that emanated from the field on a regular basis. (Id. at 245:24-247:21). Beginning in 2011, the Plaintiff presented various complaints to the School Board, including complaints about illegally parked cars and the field gates being left open. (Id. at 247:11-23; 253:3-24.) When the issues continued, the Plaintiff decided to start taking photos or filming cars that were illegally parked near the field. (Id. at 156:5-23.) On January 14, 2015, she had a discussion with a School Board official about the fact that the field gates were open despite the fact that they were supposed to be locked. (Id. at 278:14-24.)

         On the night of January 29, 2015, the Plaintiff sought to take a photograph of an open gate next to two illegally parked cars. (Id. at 278:2-16; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 160-20.) Doris Zubilliaga, a mother of one of the GBSL players, was in one of the cars and believed that the Plaintiff was filming her. (Zubilliaga Aff. at ¶ 7-8, ECF No. 151-5.) Ms. Zubilliaga became upset, which led to a confrontation between the two women. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Ms. Zubilliaga proceeded to call the police. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         About 20 minutes later, Officer Williams arrived on the scene. Officer Williams spoke first with Ms. Zubilliaga, who told him that she was sitting in her car when the Plaintiff came up to her and started filming her, and that she asked her multiple times to refrain from doing so to no avail. (Zubilliaga Aff. at ¶ 10, ECF No. 151-5.) Ms. Zubilliaga also told Officer Williams that the Plaintiff was taking photos of “the kids, her kids and filming her and . . . [that the Plaintiff] got combative and aggressive with her when she asked her not to do it.” (Williams Dep., ECF No. 151-6 at 25:2-8.)

         After speaking with Ms. Zubilliaga, who was across the street from the Plaintiff at the time, Officer Williams opened a locked gate leading to the baseball field. (Pl.'s Resp. to School Board's Stmt. of Material Facts at ¶ 10, ECF No. 159.) Officer Williams then asked the Plaintiff to come speak to him by his car, which the Plaintiff refused to do because she wanted to avoid a confrontation with Ms. Zubilliaga. Officer Williams then approached the Plaintiff to speak to her.[2] (Pl.'s Dep., ECF No. 151-1 at 295:23-297:14.) The Plaintiff tried to explain her side of the story to Officer Williams and also asked him why he had opened the gate. (Id. at 291:23-292:20.) She claims that he replied, “[b]ecause I can open any of the gates anytime.” (Pl.'s Aff. at ¶ 21, ECF No. 160-20.) Officer Williams claims that they also discussed whether the cars were illegally parked, and that he told the Plaintiff that the cars were not illegally parked but she did not believe him. (Williams's Dep., ECF No. 151-6 at 29:1-6.) The Plaintiff disputes that they had this discussion but affirmatively contends Ms. Zubilliaga's car was illegally parked. (Pl.'s Resp. to William's Stmt. at ¶ 31.) When Officer Williams proceeded to walk away from the Plaintiff, she asked him multiple times for his name and Officer Williams did not respond. (Id. at 297:12-19.)

         Officer Williams then went back across the street to speak with Ms. Zubilliaga and other residents. Ms. Zubilliaga asked him to report the incident out of fear that the situation could escalate if not properly documented. (Zubilliaga Aff. at ¶ 12, ECF No. 151-5.) Other residents complained to Officer Williams about Plaintiff Khoury, and told him that she would often take photos and videotape their children at the field. (Williams Dep., ECF No. 151-6 at 79:25-80:10). One resident told Officer Williams that when the residents would ask her to stop, she would “get in their face” and several residents said they were “afraid of her.” (Id. at 81:1-4.)

         While Officer Williams was across the street, the Plaintiff proceeded to record a video. (Plaintiff's Video, ECF No. 142.) She then said: “Hey officer! Can you tell me your name please?” Officer Williams did not respond. (Id.) She then approached Officer Williams's vehicle, beside which Officer Williams was standing with Ms. Zubilliaga and others. (Id.) Officer Williams, while walking towards the Plaintiff, asked: “Why are you filming me?” (Id.) The parties dispute what happened next.

         Plaintiff claims that at this point, Officer Williams charged towards her. (Pl.'s Aff. at ¶ 26, ECF No. 161-20.) Officer Williams then twisted her left arm behind her back in an attempt to arrest her. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Plaintiff claims that she “felt excruciating pain and heard a crackling sound.” (Id.) There is no dispute that Plaintiff resisted Officer Williams's attempts to arrest her. (Pl.'s Dep., ECF No. 160-2 at 14:6-16:24.)

         Officer Williams claims that after he asked the Plaintiff why she was filming him, she approached him, and the light from the Plaintiff's cellphone caused him to put his “arm up to block the light, ” at which point, the Plaintiff pushed him and he lost his footing and stumbled, causing them both to fall to the ground. (Williams Dep., ECF No. 151-6 at 34:3-20.) He claims that while he was trying to help the Plaintiff up, she said that he was attacking her. (Id. at 34:25-35:4). After initially getting her up, Officer Williams claims that she put her weight on him, which caused them to fall down again. (Id. at 35:6-11.) Plaintiff Khoury vehemently disputes Officer Williams's claim that she pushed him. (Pl.'s Resp. to William's Stmt. of Material Facts, ECF No. 159 at ¶ 43; Pl.'s Resp. to School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 23.)

         An off-duty police officer, Officer Victor Agosto of the Homestead Police Department, was at the location and came over to the scene and attempted to assist Officer Williams in controlling the Plaintiff. (School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 29, ECF No. 151-4.) While Officer Williams and Officer Agosto were trying to handcuff the Plaintiff, she called out for help multiple times, exclaimed that she had done nothing wrong, used the phrase “false arrest, ” and shouted out “call Metro-Dade.” (Bystander's Video, ECF No. 142.) She also claims that she was shouting that the officers were hurting her. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 29, ECF No. 160-20.) Upon gaining control over the Plaintiff, and handcuffing her, Officer Williams detained her pursuant to the Baker Act and took her to Kendall Regional Center, where she received treatment for a dislocated elbow. (Medical Records, ECF No. 160-26.) She was then transferred to Miami Behavioral Health Center for a mental health evaluation. (Id.)

         B. Evidence of the School Board's Policy, Custom, or Practice

         The Plaintiff asserts that in 2012, the School Board, under the leadership of then-Chief of Police Charles Hurley developed an unwritten policy of improperly detaining citizens under the Baker Act to reduce crime statistics. (School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 69, ECF No. 149.) Reports from various newspapers at the time discussed the high number of incidents in which the Baker Act was invoked. (Sample Articles, ECF No. 160-27.) However, these incidents involved the use of the Baker Act to detain students at the school during school hours - not an adult neighbor outside a ball field in the evening. Frank Zenere, the Chairperson of the Crisis Management Program for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, testified that his previous supervisor, Suzy Berrios, [3] on several occasions promoted reliance on the Baker Act when officers sought to arrest students instead. (Zenere's Dep., ECF No. 151-22 at 25:7-30:12.) Detective Steve Hadley also testified regarding a letter that was sent in 2012 in which he stated that the Baker Act was being used to manipulate crime statistics under Chief Hurley. (Hadley's Dep., ECF No. 160-7 at 45:7-46:25.) Officer Nanette Badger, who was the administrative officer to Chief Hurley, also testified that she had received phone calls regarding Ms. Berrios and she had been concerned about an increase in Baker Act incidents coupled with the reduction of arrests at the time. (Badger Dep., ECF No. 160-8, 17:11-17, 24:6-14, 31:9- 34:2.) There was also evidence that Officer Badger had contacted Commander Deanna Fox-Williams with information regarding Chief Hurley's misuse of the Baker Act to manipulate crime statistics. (Email, ECF No. 160-25 at 3.)

         Upon receipt of complaints made against Chief Hurley, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an inquiry, but ultimately decided that there was insufficient information to justify a criminal investigation. (FDLE Letter, ECF No. 151-14.) Miami-Dade Schools Police Department conducted a second review, which was led by then-Chief of Police Gerald Kitchell. (School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 82, ECF No. 149.) Chief Kitchell found “no validity” to the allegation that Chief Hurley “reduced arrests by directing officers to initiate Baker Acts, ” despite not interviewing individuals who had submitted complaints, or individuals who had seen or been subject to a Baker Act arrest. (Pl.'s Resp. to School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 84, ECF No. 159.) A third review was completed after current-Chief of Police Ian Moffett became Chief of Police in May of 2013. (School Board's Stmt. at ¶ 91, ECF No. 149.) That review revealed that a significant number of Baker Act incidents had occurred before he became Chief, that they were all in compliance with the statute, and that since his appointment, the number of Baker Act incidents has dropped every year since the 2012-2013 academic year, for a total 64% reduction in Baker Act incidents from the 2012-2013 academic year to the 2015-2016 academic year. (Moffett Aff. at ¶ 7, 14, ECF No. 151-17.)

         The Plaintiff cites to testimony from the School Board's non-law-enforcement employees regarding seven incidents that occurred in 2013 and 2016 to support her assertion that there is a custom or practice of relying on the Baker Act when it does not apply. The reported incidents involved: (1) a student who threw a shoe at security monitor after refusing to take her diabetes medication (Henley Dep., ECF 160-12 at 6:10-7:3); (2) a student who attempted to assault a teacher (Tunson Dep., ECF No. 160-13 at 7:22-8:8); (3) a student who had been in a physical altercation with two students and said he was going to “kill” them using a gun (Lee Dep., ECF 160-14 at 11:3-13:6); Smith Dep., ECF No. 160-15 at 9:4-20); (4) a student who was found with a knife in his pocket (Samuels Dep., ECF No. 160-16 at 6:10-24); (5) a student who struck a security monitor in the head after the security monitor attempted to diffuse an argument between the student and his sister (Head Dep., 160-17 at 7:21-10:6); (6) a student who had been in an altercation with another student and then yelled at the principal and refused to comply with the principal's demands (Hepburn Dep., ECF No. 160-18 at 9:1-7); and, (7) a student who had been caught smoking tobacco in the school bathroom (Belfield Dep., ECF No. 160-19 at 9:25-10:8).

         2. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper if following discovery, the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits and admissions on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “view the evidence and all factual inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in favor of the non-movant.” Feliciano, 707 F.3d at 1247 (quoting Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1143 (11th Cir. 2007)). So, when a conflict arises between the facts presented by the parties, the Court must credit the nonmoving party's version. Id. The moving party bears the burden of proof to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         3. Analysis

         The Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 147, 148.) As a result, the Court will consider each motion in turn.

         A. The School Board's Motion for Summary Judgment

         According to the Plaintiff, there was no arguable probable cause to detain her under the Baker Act. The Plaintiff contends that her constitutional rights were violated because she did not qualify for detention under the Baker Act and that the School Board Police has a policy, custom, or practice of detaining citizens who do not qualify for detention to manipulate crime statistics. The School Board now moves for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against it, arguing that the Plaintiff has failed to provide evidence of such a policy, custom, or practice. (Mot., ECF No. 148.)

         The School Board argues that summary judgment is warranted because the record is “devoid of any evidence” of a policy, custom, or practice of the School Board police that improperly subject citizens to the Baker Act in violation of the Fourth Amendment to lower crime statistics. The School Board claims that the Plaintiff has not met her burden of showing a persistent and widespread practice of the School Board police improperly applying the Baker Act.

         First, the School Board argues that the evidence the Plaintiff offers from 2012 does not present an issue of material fact. In particular, the School Board argues that the Plaintiff's reliance on a series of newspaper articles that discuss the fact that in 2012, the Miami-Dade County schools had over 600 Baker-Act incidents does not support the Plaintiff's § 1983 claim because the percentage of incidents dropped 64% from the time those articles were published to the time of the Plaintiff's incident. (Id. at 11.) It also argues that the Plaintiff has failed to show that any of the incidents referenced in the articles resulted in complaints that the Baker Act had been improperly relied upon. (Id.) The Defendant also claims that there was “no correlation” between the number of arrests and the number of Baker-Act ...


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