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Caldwell v. Albano

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 26, 2018

JOHN CALDWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES A. ALBANO, JR., and TOWN OF JUPITER, FLORIDA, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR FINAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBIN L. ROSENBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Count I of the Amended Complaint [DE 48] and Defendant James A. Albano, Jr.'s Motion for Final Summary Judgment and Incorporated Memorandum of Law [DE 64]. The Court has carefully considered both Motions, and the parties' respective filings in support thereof and in opposition thereto, and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Final Summary Judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an action for deprivation of civil rights. Plaintiff John Caldwell alleges that Defendant James A. Albano, Jr., an officer employed by the Town of Palm Beach Police Department, arrested him without probable cause, entered his home without a warrant, and used excessive force against him in violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [DE 7] contains seven counts against Defendant Albano and the Town of Jupiter, Florida. Following Plaintiff's voluntary dismissal of Counts III through VI, see DE 25, and this Court's dismissal of Counts I and II against the Town, Count VII, and all claims against Defendant Albano in his official capacity, see DE 39, the only claims remaining are Counts I and II against Defendant Albano in his individual capacity.

         In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Albano violated his Fourth Amendment rights by “opening the door to Plaintiff's residence with neither permission nor a warrant” and “reaching into Plaintiff's home, physically grabbing Plaintiff, and dragging him out of his home” without a warrant or probable cause. See DE 7 ¶¶ 43-44. Consistent with the parties' briefing on their respective summary judgment motions, the Court construes Count I as asserting claims for false arrest, warrantless entry, and excessive force in violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Albano violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by “[h]andcuffing Plaintiff without [a] warrant and without probable cause, ” without stating that Plaintiff was under arrest or informing Plaintiff of his Miranda rights, “inflict[ing] . . . extrajudicial punishment . . . without arrest, ” and “us[ing] . . . excessive and unnecessary force and violence.” See Id. ¶¶ 48-52. The Court construes Count II as asserting claims for false arrest and excessive force in violation of Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         Defendant Albano has moved for summary judgment in his favor on both Count I and Count II. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment in his favor on Count I only.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). The existence of a factual dispute is not by itself sufficient grounds to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather, “the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “a reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). A fact is material if “it would affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).

         In deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006). The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007). Thus, upon discovering a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court must deny summary judgment. See id.

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         On the morning of November 25, 2016, Plaintiff and a woman by the name of Pamela Paxton were shouting at each other and going in and out of Plaintiff's apartment in Jupiter, Florida. See DE 65, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (“SOMF”) ¶¶ 1-3;[2] DE 67, Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (“Response”) ¶¶ 1-3. Plaintiff was wearing a yellow shirt. SOMF ¶ 4; Response ¶ 4.

         At approximately 9:45 a.m. that day, an unidentified person called 911 to report a domestic incident occurring at Plaintiff's address. SOMF ¶ 5; Response ¶ 5. The caller stated that a man named John and a woman named Pamela, both of whom were possibly intoxicated, were fighting and running in and out of Plaintiff's apartment. SOMF ¶ 7; Response ¶ 7. The caller also stated that John was wearing a yellow shirt. SOMF ¶ 7; Response ¶ 7.

         Defendant and Officer Nicholas Brandt, both of whom were working as patrol officers for the Town of Jupiter Police Department on November 25, 2016, responded to the call. SOMF ¶¶ 9-10; Response ¶¶ 9-10. Defendant was advised that he was responding to a reported domestic incident involving a man named John and a woman named Pamela who were fighting in front or outside of a particular apartment; that both John and Pam were possibly intoxicated; and that John was wearing a yellow shirt. SOMF ¶ 10; Response ¶ 10.

         Shortly after arriving on the scene, Defendant saw two people exit the subject apartment; these two people matched the description provided by the 911 caller. SOMF ¶ 11; Response ¶ 11. Officer Brandt advised Defendant that the man, who was wearing a yellow shirt, was named John. SOMF ¶ 12; Response ¶ 12. Both Defendant and Officer Brandt were familiar with and recognized the woman as Pamela Paxton. SOMF ¶ 13; Response ¶ 13.

         Defendant walked toward Plaintiff and said, “You, sir, come here.” SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16 DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Plaintiff began walking toward Defendant. SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Defendant then asked Plaintiff, “What's your name?” SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Plaintiff did not answer and instead turned and began walking back toward his apartment. SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. As he did so, Officer Brandt identified him as “John.” SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Defendant then said to Plaintiff, “John, come here.” SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Plaintiff, who was not yet inside his apartment, did not comply with that command. SOMF ¶ 16; Response ¶ 16; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Defendant then said, “John don't go inside. You need to follow my orders because I'm here to investigate. Come here.” SOMF ¶ 17; Response ¶ 17; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Plaintiff stopped and turned toward Defendant, then turned back and walked through a screen door into his apartment, as Defendant said, “Don't go inside the house. Come here. Why are you going inside the house?” SOMF ¶ 17; Response ¶ 17; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. During this entire exchange, Defendant was wearing his police uniform, was never more than a few feet away from Plaintiff, was speaking loudly, and was walking toward Plaintiff and the door to Plaintiff's apartment. SOMF ¶¶ 17-19; Response ¶¶ 17-19; DE 65-7; DE 65-8. Plaintiff knew that Defendant was a police officer. SOMF ¶ 18; Response ¶ 18.

         At this point, the parties' respective versions of events begin to diverge. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, Defendant reached across the threshold of Plaintiff's apartment, pulled Plaintiff outside, and threw him to the ground. SOMF ¶ 25; Response ¶ 25; Additional Material Facts Submitted by Plaintiff, DE 67 at 6 ¶¶ 11-12. With Defendant's assistance, Officer Brandt then placed handcuffs on Plaintiff. SOMF ¶ 29; Response ¶ 29. Defendant arrested Plaintiff for resisting an officer without violence in violation of Florida Statutes § 843.02. SOMF ¶ 30; Response ¶ 30.[3]

         Shortly after he was handcuffed, Plaintiff told Officer Brandt that he had been injured. Additional Material Facts Submitted by Plaintiff, DE 67 at 7 ¶ 18. Defendant then transported Plaintiff to Jupiter Medical Center (“JMC”) for treatment. SOMF ¶ 33; Response ¶ 33. Because Plaintiff remained under arrest and was not free to go, Defendant handcuffed Plaintiff to the hospital bed. SOMF ¶ 34; Response ¶ 34.

         As a result of this incident, Plaintiff sustained injuries to his lower middle back, left shoulder, and right ring finger. SOMF ¶ 35; Response ¶ 35. Plaintiff is unable to stand for long periods of time but can sit for hours without any pain or discomfort. SOMF ¶ 36; Response ¶ 36. While Plaintiff's right ring finger is not as straight as it once was and now has a slight bend, Plaintiff describes this as “no big deal” and has no physical limitations in this finger. SOMF ¶ 37; Response ¶ 37; DE 65-9, Deposition of John Caldwell at 91:14-19. An X-ray of Plaintiff's right ring finger, taken on the date of the incident, showed no evidence of a fracture or dislocation. SOMF ¶ 38; Response ¶ 38. While Plaintiff continues to have pain in his left shoulder, aside from X-rays taken at JMC on the day of the incident, Plaintiff has received no treatment for his left shoulder. SOMF ¶ 39; Response ¶ 39. That X-ray showed no evidence of fracture and no acute abnormality. SOMF ¶ 40; Response ¶ 40. Plaintiff was diagnosed by treating physicians at JMC with a hypertensive episode, mallet finger, and contusion of the upper arm. SOMF ¶ 41; Response ¶ 41.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         With respect to Count I, the Court concludes that Defendant had probable cause, or at least arguable probable cause, to arrest Plaintiff; Defendant's warrantless entry into Plaintiff's home to effectuate the arrest was supported by both probable cause and exigent circumstances; and Defendant's use of force against Plaintiff was reasonable and de minimis. Defendant is therefore entitled to summary judgment in his favor as to Plaintiff's claims for false arrest, warrantless entry, and excessive force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. With respect to Count II, the Court concludes that Plaintiff cannot assert ...


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