United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES UNITED SLATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CAUSE is before the Court on the Defendant's
Dispositive Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24, Motion). On
July 3, 2017, Plaintiff, Ryan Dexter Wilson, filed an Amended
Complaint against Defendant, Bill Leeper, in his official
capacity as Sheriff of the Nassau County Sheriff's
Office, alleging federal and state claims arising out of
Wilson's arrest and detention for arson and burglary.
See Doc. 5 (Amended Complaint), filed July 3, 2017.
After completing discovery, on October 3, 2018, Leeper filed
this Motion. In response to the Motion, on November 15,
2018, Wilson filed his Amended Memoranda of Law Opposing
Defendant Bill Leeper's Motion for Summary Judgment.
See Doc. 40 (Amended Response). Accordingly, the
matter is ripe for review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)),
“[t]he court shall 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.” Rule 56(a). The record to be considered on a
motion for summary judgment may include “depositions,
documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes
of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials.” Rule 56(c)(1)(A). An issue is
genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. Mize v.
Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir.
1996) (quoting Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g
Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). “[A] mere
scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving
party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for
summary judgment.” Kesinger ex rel. Estate of
Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir.
2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).
party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
demonstrating to the court, by reference to the record, that
there are no genuine issues of material fact to be determined
at trial. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929
F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). “When a moving party
has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go
beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Jeffery v. Sarasota White
Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995)
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Substantive
law determines the materiality of facts, and “[o]nly
disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of
summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a
court “must view all evidence and make all reasonable
inferences in favor of the party opposing summary
judgment.” Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d
918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Dibrell Bros.
Int'l, S.A. v. Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, 38 F.3d
1571, 1578 (11th Cir. 1994)).
31, 2013, Wilson was arrested by members of the Nassau County
Sheriff's Office and charged with three counts of second
degree arson and two counts of burglary of a structure or
conveyance. See Bass Affidavit at 20-21; Arson and
Burglary Information at 1. After appearing in state court, Wilson
was detained on a bond of $35, 000, see First
Appearance Hearing Notice at 1,  and went to trial on these
charges in May of 2014. See Bass Deposition at 79. A
jury acquitted him of all charges. Id. at 80. Wilson
subsequently brought the instant action against Leeper, in
his official capacity as Sheriff of the Nassau County
Sheriff's Office, alleging federal and state law claims
arising from his unlawful arrest and detention. See
Amended Complaint. The events leading up to Wilson's
lawsuit against Leeper are set forth below:
the Spring of 2013, a series of automobile arsons occurred at
the Eastwood Oaks Apartment Complex (Eastwood Oaks), located
in Hilliard, Florida. There were at least three different arson
incidents at the apartment complex over a one month period,
resulting in fire damage to at least nine vehicles, as well
as other arsons and burglaries in the surrounding area during
that same time frame. See Investigative Summary at
2, 3-4, 5. Joshua Bass, a Property Crimes Detective for the
Nassau County Sheriff's Office, investigated the arsons
and associated burglaries. See Bass Deposition at
27, 29, 30.
particular, on April 25, Bass was called to Eastwood Oaks to
investigate the arson of three different vehicles.
See Investigative Summary at 3. Then on April 29,
another five vehicles suffered fire damage. Id. at
3-4. Finally, on May 28, another two vehicles were set on
fire, along with some of the stairs at the apartment complex.
Id. at 4.
his investigation, Bass and his associates were unable to
gather any physical or DNA evidence from the crime scenes,
and did not discover any evidence specifically indicating how
the car fires were started. See Bass Deposition at
33, 35-36. Bass also was unable to identify any eye-witnesses
to the arsons. Id. at 36-37. However, Bass did
receive numerous tips from Eastwood Oaks residents and others
relating to the arsons and suggesting potential suspects for
the crimes. See Bass Investigative Summary at 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9-10. Bass investigated these tips and interviewed
any number of individuals, including several potential
suspects. Id. Nevertheless, after investigation,
most of the reported tips did not result in Bass identifying
the individual responsible for the arsons. Id.
about the ongoing arson threat to its community, Eastwood
Oaks management donated $5, 000 to the local Crime Stoppers
organization in an effort to encourage individuals who might
have information regarding the arsons to share that
information with authorities. See Bass Deposition at
40, 58. Likewise, Crime Stoppers, a “private
organization that offers reward money for tips leading to the
arrest of criminal suspects, ” id. at 39,
offered a reward of up to $1, 000 for any tips related to the
arson. Id. at 40. Finally, the Florida Advisory
Counsel on Arson Prevention also contributed an additional
$5, 000 to help further the investigation. Id. at
58. Therefore, there existed a total reward of up to $11, 000
for information about the fires at Eastwood Oaks. Bass
testified that “[r]ewards for tips leading to an arrest
are occasionally offered through private organizations such
as Crime Stoppers or the Florida Advisory Council on Arson
Prevention. [However, to] the best of my knowledge, these
organizations do not receive funding from the Nassau County
Sherriff's [sic] Office.” Bass Affidavit at ¶
27. Moreover, Bass stated that while Crime Stoppers worked
“hand in hand with law enforcement across the state to
provide tips, ” Bass Deposition at 39-40, including
tips to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, it was not
his understanding that the Nassau County Sheriff's Office
“offer[ed] rewards for information or tips that [might]
lead to an arrest, prosecution, and conviction of a
suspect.” Id. at 40.
Greg Foster, supervising Captain of the Nassau County
Sheriff's Office Administrative Services Division,
testified “[w]hile certain private organizations such
as Crime Stoppers or the Arson Tip Hotline may pass
information onto law enforcement agencies, such as the Nassau
County Sheriff's Office, the Nassau County Sheriff's
Office has no control over those private
organizations.” Foster Affidavit at ¶ 9. Likewise,
he confirmed that the Nassau County Sheriff's Office does
not provide any funding to those organizations. Id.
at ¶ 8. Foster nonetheless acknowledged that the Nassau
County Sheriff's Office does maintain an Investigative
Funds Policy to help further narcotics investigations.
Id. at ¶ 5-6. The policy allows investigating
officers to use funds to cover the costs for narcotics
purchases, as well as to encourage otherwise reluctant
confidential informants to provide investigators with
information. Id. at 4-8. However, Foster testified
that the fund was only used to further narcotics
investigations, and not arson investigations. Id. at
¶ 6. Moreover, Foster stated that the “Nassau
County Sheriff's Office did not offer money for
information about the investigation in the Eastwood Oaks
Apartment Complex Arsons.” Id. at ¶
7. Finally, Foster explained that it was “not
a custom of [sic] practice of the Nassau County Sheriff's
Office to provide witnesses with the contact information of
private organizations who may provide financial rewards to
individuals with information about unsolved crimes.”
Id. at ¶ 10.
18, Bass received a phone call from Wendy Goodman, a resident
of Eastwood Oaks, reporting that her boyfriend, Wilson,
“had told her that he set the first set of vehicle
fires at the apartments.” Bass Investigative Summary at
7. Goodman further informed Bass that Wilson told her that he
used a bag of potato chips to ignite the first vehicle. She
also reported that one of the arson victims, Susan Gibson,
had been in a traffic accident with Wilson in the prior year,
for which Wilson was found at fault. Goodman reported to Bass
that Wilson “was upset by this and had a problem with
that victim.” Id. See also Bass Affidavit at
¶ 11; id. at 21; Bass Deposition at 47, 50.
and Goodman grew up in the same town and were childhood
friends. See Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-1 at 14, 15.
As youths, they had an “on and off” dating
relationship, but eventually went their separate ways.
Id. at 15-16. Later in their adulthood, Wilson and
Goodman reconnected and were a couple. Id. at 16.
However, Wilson indicated that Goodman became easily jealous
when Wilson spent time with his children, and was jealous of
the positive co-parenting relationships he had with the
mothers of his children. Id. at 17. In 2011, Goodman
accused Wilson of some form of domestic violence, although
Wilson denied that he ever hit Goodman or had an altercation
with her. See Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-2 at 14-15.
According to Wilson “nothing further” came from
Goodman's 2011 allegation of domestic violence against
him. Id. at 15-17. Eventually, based on
Goodman's escalating jealousy, Wilson sought to end their
relationship, in part by changing his phone number and
refusing to communicate with her. See Wilson
Deposition, Doc. 36-1 at 17-18.
not clear from the record before the Court when Wilson ended
his relationship with Goodman. In Goodman's interactions
with the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, she once
fleetingly referred to herself as an
“ex-girlfriend.” See Goodman Audio
Interview. However, in Bass' Investigative Summary and
Affidavit, where the detective details his interactions with
Goodman, he records Goodman referring to Wilson as her
“boyfriend.” See Bass Investigative
Summary at 7; Bass Affidavit at ¶ 11. In his deposition,
Bass refers to Goodman and Wilson as no longer being a couple
at the time of the fires. See Bass Deposition at
54-55. Wilson was also unable to remember exactly when he
ended his relationship with Goodman. See Wilson
Deposition, Doc. 36-1 at 18. Nonetheless, Wilson believed
that Goodman falsely reported to Bass that Wilson started the
fires because she was angry he had ended their relationship,
rather than for any potential financial reward. See
Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-2 at 25, 26-27.
19, 2013, the day following Goodman's initial phone call
to Bass, the detective went to Eastwood Oaks to interview her
in person. See Bass Investigative Summary at 7; Bass
Affidavit at ¶ 13; Bass Deposition at 48. During his
recorded interview with Goodman, Goodman reiterated much of
what she related to Bass on the phone. Goodman stated that
about four to five days after the first fire, Wilson told her
he had set the fires by lighting a potato chip bag and
placing it under Gibson's vehicle. Goodman said that
right before the fire, Wilson and Gibson had an altercation,
that Wilson was angry and hated Gibson, and that he wanted to
bash her car with a bat. Goodman further reported that she
had stayed with Wilson the night of the second set of arsons.
She said that she woke up in the middle of the night and
Wilson was not in the apartment. When she awoke later, he was
back in the apartment and she saw him looking out the window
at the fires. See Goodman Audio Interview.
said that when she heard from neighbors that other
individuals were being identified as potential suspects for
the arsons, she had to come forward because the “right
people needed to be brought to justice, ” but that she
was not fulfilling any type of vendetta. Id. Goodman
also told Bass that Wilson was upset about recently losing
his job, and that he had suffered a significant workplace
injury for which he was expecting a workers' compensation
payment. She reported that he had changed since the injury
and “acted kind of crazy.” Bass Investigative
Summary at 7. She warned Bass that he needed to “move
fast” against Wilson because as soon as Wilson received
his workers' compensation payment, Wilson was planning to
leave town. See Goodman Audio Interview. She also
noted that Wilson had already changed his phone number.
Goodman advised Bass that she had initially attempted to
contact Crime Stoppers, but because she was on hold for so
long, she called the Nassau County Sheriff's Office
directly. Bass advised Goodman that she should call back
because Crime Stoppers only pays rewards to individuals who
provide tips directly to the organization. Bass also gave
Goodman a copy of his card, which included the phone number
of the Florida Arson Tip Line on the back, and believes he
gave Goodman a separate card from Crime Stoppers.
See Bass Deposition at 48-49.
his interview with Goodman, Bass returned to Eastwood Oaks on
two different occasions in an attempt to locate and talk to
Wilson. See Bass Investigative Summary at 8; Bass
Affidavit at ¶ 19. On both instances, Wilson was not at
home, but Bass left his business card tucked in Wilson's
door. See Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-2 at 28;
id. Doc. 36-4 at 10, 13. All the while, Bass
continued his investigation of the arsons at Eastwood Oaks,
interviewing residents and following up on other tips.
See generally Bass Investigative Summary.
11, 2013, after finding Bass' business card tucked into
his front door, and hearing from his neighbors that he was a
potential suspect for the arsons, Wilson went to the Nassau
County Sheriff's Office to talk to Bass. See
Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-4 at 10. Wilson stated several
times throughout his conversation with Bass that he was hurt
and angry to hear from several people that he was a suspect
of the arsons. Therefore, he came to the Sheriff's Office
to clear his name. Additionally, several times in his
interview Wilson emphatically denied that he set the fires.
See generally Wilson Audio Interview.
the interview, Wilson noted that he had suffered a work
injury and was expecting a workers' compensation payment.
He told Bass that he was going to use the payment to help pay
off his outstanding rent, and then had plans to move
elsewhere. He also acknowledged that, on the night of the
second set of fires, the light and noise from the fires woke
him, and he walked out of his apartment to see what was
happening. Wilson confirmed that Goodman was with him that
night, and Wilson suggested that at that point in time, they
were still a couple. Id.
the interview with Bass, Wilson brought up the subject of his
car accident with Gibson. On other occasions, Bass raised the
subject. Regardless, Wilson repeatedly denied that he had
anything to do with the arson of Gibson's car, but also
suspected that Gibson was accusing him of the fires. He
acknowledged that just prior to the fires, he had completed
paying restitution to Gibson for the damage caused to her car
from their accident. He noted that the accident had cost him
a great deal of money, and that he did not believe he should
have been held at fault. He suggested that the officer who
responded to the crash was biased in Gibson's favor,
complained that Gibson had improperly moved her car before
the police arrived at the scene, and even suggested that
perhaps she was drunk at the time of the accident. Wilson
said he was willing to go back before a judge under oath to
clarify what happened. Nonetheless, Wilson emphasized that he
had not had any recent interactions with Gibson. Id.
the interview, Wilson agreed to return to the Sheriff's
Office and undergo a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer
(C.V.S.A.) test. However, the next day an attorney on behalf
of Wilson called Bass to say that Wilson would not take the
test if it was administered by a law enforcement officer,
fearing bias on the part of the officers. See Bass
Investigative Summary at 8. The attorney stated that Wilson
would nonetheless be willing to “take a polygraph or
C.V.S.A administered by an impartial civilian with the
sheriff's office bearing the cost.” Id. See
also Bass Affidavit at ¶ 21.
on the information Wilson provided to Bass during their
interview, along with Bass' own further investigation,
the detective was able to confirm several aspects of
Goodman's earlier statements regarding Wilson. These
facts included that Wilson and Gibson had a traffic collision
in which the police determined Wilson to be at fault, but
that Wilson continued to insist otherwise. Based on Bass'
additional search of Nassau County court records, he was able
to verify the accident between Wilson and Gibson; that Wilson
was found at fault; that Wilson was placed on probation; and
that he was ordered to pay restitution. See Car
Accident Judgment; Car Accident Termination of Probation.
Additionally, during his interview with Bass, Wilson
confirmed that he was present at Eastwood Oaks on the second
night of the arsons, and that Goodman was with him that
night. Moreover, Wilson confirmed he had suffered an
on-the-job injury, was awaiting a workers' compensation
payment, and that upon receiving the payment, he intended pay
his back rent and then leave the area. Bass also interviewed
management officials for Eastwood Oaks who confirmed that
Wilson had fallen behind in his rent, had been at risk of
being evicted, and had been very stressed lately, sometimes
yelling and acting out. See Bass Investigative
Summary at 7, 9. Another apartment management representative
confirmed that management was working with Wilson to address
his debt, and that Wilson had signed a promissory note giving
the apartment complex $3, 000 of his expected workers'
compensation recovery for back rent. Id.
follow-up phone call with Goodman on July 15, 2013 - a few
days after Bass interviewed Wilson - Goodman informed Bass
that Wilson contacted her and said “he had been shown
the statement against him. She further advised he told her
that he had lied before and that he did not start the
fires.” Bass Investigative Report at 8-9. Goodman again
confirmed her original statements to Bass and said
“that she was willing to testify in trial against
him.” Id. at 9.
light of the evidence he had gathered thus far, Bass and his
investigative colleagues met with Assistant State Attorney
Stephen Seigel to review the case. Id. at 9. Seigel
requested that Bass contact Goodman and inquire as to whether
she would be willing to provide a sworn statement.
Id. Goodman agreed to do so, and she met with Bass
and Seigel on July 19, 2013, at the Sheriff's Office.
second interview, Seigel questioned Goodman under oath,
see Bass Deposition at 64, and she consistently
reiterated what she had already shared with Bass in her
initial telephone call as well as her first recorded
interview. Goodman stated Wilson told her that he set fire to
Gibson's car and used a potato chip bag to start the
fire. “She further advised Mr. Wilson told her he had
set additional fires to throw people off from the first
vehicle.” Bass Investigative Summary at 9; Bass
Affidavit at ¶ 22. She confirmed that on the night of
the second set of arsons she
awoke during the night to use the restroom and Mr. Wilson was
not present in the apartment. She stated she went back to bed
and later awoke again due to the fires outside the building.
She advised that at that time Mr. Wilson was standing in his
living room looking out at the fires.
Investigative Summary at 9. See also Bass Affidavit
at ¶ 21.
meeting with Goodman, State Attorney Seigel reported to Bass
that while he believed there was probable cause to arrest
Wilson, “he wanted more information before signing an
arrest warrant.” Bass Affidavit at ¶ 23. See
also Bass Investigative Summary at 9. Despite this, on
July 31, 2013, without a warrant, Bass, along with at least
five other law enforcement officers, arrested Wilson at his
apartment. Id. at 10; Bass Affidavit at ¶ 24.
At his initial appearance, the court ordered Wilson be held
on a $35, 000 bond, see First Appearance Hearing
Notice at 1, and he subsequently proceeded to a jury trial on
the charges stemming from the arsons which occurred on April
25, which included the arson of Gibson's vehicle.
See Arson and Burglary Information at 1; Bass
Deposition at 79.
acquitted Wilson of all the charges against him. Bass
Deposition at 80. From the time of his arrest through his
acquittal by the jury, Wilson was held in custody for nearly
ten months. During this time, “no more arson [sic]
occurred at the Eastwood Oaks Apartment Complex.” Bass
Affidavit at ¶ 25. After his acquittal, Wilson filed the
instant action against Leeper, in is official capacity as
Sheriff of the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, alleging
violations of both federal and state law.
deposition given in this case, according to Wilson, during
his criminal trial, Goodman testified that Bass met her at a
local Wal-Mart parking lot and gave her $5, 000. See
Wilson Deposition, Doc. 36-3 at 3-4, 24. Bass has denied
having engaged in any such transaction with Goodman.
See Bass Deposition at 68-69. Wilson also testified
that while he was in jail awaiting trial, he received at
least two postcards from Goodman stating “you must be
punished for your wrongdoings, you are a perpetrator and a
manipulator, compulsive and pathological liar, ” and
“you need Jesus, tell the truth.” Wilson
Deposition, Doc. 36-3 at 8, 10-11. Wilson reported that
neighbors told him that because he had ended his relationship
with Goodman, “she [said] she [was] going to ...