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Lee v. Miami-Dade County

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 25, 2018

ZELLAIRE LEE, et. al, Plaintiffs,
v.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, et. al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES LAWRENCE KING UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDOE.

         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Miami-Dade County's Motion for Summary Judgment and Incorporated Memorandum of Law (DE 77) filed on March 6, 2017. The Court is fully advised on the matter.[1] Upon review of the record and careful consideration, the Court finds that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a civil rights case on behalf of Plaintiffs Zellaire Lee ("Zellaire"), Jeremiah Johnson ("Jeremiah"), and Joshua Johnson ("Joshua"). The Plaintiffs' bring a sixteen-count Complaint against Defendants Miami-Dade County (the "County"), Officer Brad Carter ("Carter"), Officer Alicia Lester ("Lester"), Officer Ernesto Rodriguez ("Rodriguez"), and Officer Delia Oros ("Oros"), alleging claims for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and common law tort claims for battery and false arrest.

         Calvin Lee ("Calvin"), Grace Lee, [2] Zellaire Lee, Calvinesha, Joshua Johnson, and Jeremiah Johnson were at home on October 28, 2011. Grace Lee was being disrespectful towards her mother, Zellaire Lee and her father, Calvin Lee called the police to have her removed from their house. Officer Brad Carter and Officer Alexis Marrero were dispatched to their home to investigate the alleged domestic dispute. After arriving at the home, Officers Carter and Marrero heard a commotion inside the home and proceeded to enter the home. Inside the home, an argument was ongoing between Grace Lee and Zellaire. Shortly after entering the house, the officers witnessed Calvinesha Lee attack her sister, Grace Lee. Officer Carter grabbed Calvinesha, pinned her to the ground, and proceeded to handcuff Calvinesha, put her in the back seat of a police car, and place her under arrest.

         Officer Ernesto Rodriguez arrived at the scene while Calvinesha was being placed into the police car. Outside the home, Officers Carter and Marrero became engaged in a loud verbal dispute with Jeremiah and Joshua. Officers Carter and Rodriguez proceeded to wrestle with Jeremiah while he was on the ground, handcuff him, place him under arrest, and put him into a patrol car.

         While Officers Carter and Rodriquez were arresting Jeremiah, Officers Alicia Lester and Delia Oros arrived on the scene. Officer Lester immediately ran toward Joshua and Zellaire and began shouting instructions at them in an effort to subdue Joshua. Officer Lester ultimately handcuffed Zellaire and placed her under arrest, and then Officers Lester and Oros together handcuffed Joshua and placed him under arrest.

         Miami-Dade County moves for Summary Judgement on Plaintiffs' state law battery and false arrest claims (Counts IX, XI-XIII, XV, and XVI) arguing that the officers acted well beyond the scope of their employment, maliciously, willfully, and in bad faith.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings and supporting materials establish that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is "material" if it may determine the outcome under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). If the record as a whole could not lead a rational fact-finder to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587(1986).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence and resolve all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Williamson Oil Co., Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, 346 F.3d 1287, 1298 (11th Cir. 2003). A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir. 2004). However, the Court may not undertake the jury's function of weighing the evidence properly offered by the parties in reviewing the record evidence. Latimer v. Roaring Toyz, Inc., 601 F.3d 1224, 1237 (11th Cir. 2010) ("Neither we nor the district court are to undertake credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.").

         DISCUSSION

         Miami-Dade County moves for summary judgment on the basis of sovereign immunity. The County argues that the Plaintiffs' respective testimony describing unlawful and malicious arrests, tasings, and beatings entitle the County to summary judgment on the Plaintiffs' state law battery and false arrest claims.

         Sovereign immunity provides immunity from suit-not just from liability-and it therefore "is a threshold issue that [the Court] must decide before requiring a [county] and its officers to answer a complaint against them." Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida Dept. of Revenue,750 F.3d 1238, 1242 (11th Cir. 2014). Pursuant to Florida Statute section 768.28(9)(a), "the state or its subdivisions shall not be liable in tort for the acts or omissions of an officer, employee, or agent. . . committed in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property." Fla. Stat. § 768.28(9)(a). Accordingly, Florida courts have routinely held that a governmental entity is immune from suit where its employee's actions were alleged to be malicious, in bad faith, or showed reckless and wanton disregard for human rights, safety, or property. City of Fort Lauderdale v. Todaro,632 So.2d 655, 656-58 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994). Moreover, "The question of whether an act was committed with malicious purpose, bad faith, or with wanton and willful disregard is not a question that must be submitted to a jury, but rather, can be decided by the Court depending on the ...


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