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Phat's Bar & Grill v. Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

January 22, 2013

PHAT'S BAR & GRILL, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
LOUISVILLE JEFFERSON COUNTY METRO GOVERNMENT, et al., Defendants.

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Daniel J. Canon, J. Fox Demoisey, Clay Frederick Adams PLC, Louisville, KY, for Plaintiffs.

Kelly M. Rowan, Lee E. Sitlinger, Sitlinger, McGlincy, Theiler & Karem, Robert R. Degolian, Degolian Law Office, Eugene L. Mosley, M. Thomas Underwood, Mosley, Sauer, Townes & Watkins, PLLC, Lisa A. Schweickart, Louisville, KY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. HEYBURN, II, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Bert Williams, Jr. and Bert Williams, Sr., sued a number of defendants, including Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government (" Louisville Metro" ) and more than twenty Louisville Metro police officers (collectively, " Defendants" ) over a series of raids and arrests occurring at or near their business, Plaintiff Phat's Bar & Grill (" Phat's" ). A number of dispositive motions are currently pending.

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This memorandum begins the process of addressing each motion in due course.

One of the more significant motions is that of Officer Kevin Smith for summary judgment. Prior to filing this motion, this Court dismissed all claims against Officer Smith with the exception of malicious prosecution under both state and federal law. In his instant motion, Officer Smith seeks dismissal of the malicious prosecution claims on qualified immunity grounds or for Plaintiffs' failure to prove the elements of the tort of malicious prosecution under both federal and state law. Both of these issues involve many interrelated disputed facts as well as serious questions of law. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Officer Smith's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I.

Although Plaintiffs allege that all Defendants committed a number of unlawful acts over a period of time, the factual scope of the present motion is limited to the arrest and subsequent prosecution of Williams, Jr., because Officer Smith was only involved in this portion of the alleged illicit activity.

On April 19, 2007, Officer Smith arrested Williams, Jr. at Phat's. Officer Smith and Williams, Jr. offer significantly different accounts of events the night of the arrest. The following, however, is undisputed: Louisville Metro Police received a 911 phone call early in the morning on April 19, 2007 from a woman claiming an assault and robbery inside Phat's. Responding to the call, Officer Smith and his partner arrived at Phat's around 4:30 am, knocked on its door and eventually entered. Once inside, he asked patrons twice whether anyone inside needed police assistance. No one answered " yes." He then went back to the entrance where he requested that Williams, Jr. hand over his identification. Moments later, Officer Smith arrested Williams, Jr. on four charges: (1) Obstructing Governmental Operations, (2) Terroristic Threatening, (3) Alcohol Intoxication, and (4) Disorderly Conduct. He then placed Williams, Jr. in the backseat of his police car and drove off towards the police station.

The other details of the event are disputed. Officer Smith says that Williams, Jr. specifically denied him access to Phat's, both in orally refusing and in physically blocking the entrance way. He says that these actions prevented his ability to investigate the 911 call. Officer Smith then says that in his initial discussions at Phat's doorway, Williams, Jr. was uncooperative, hostile and verbally threatening. Officer Smith says that he remained hostile throughout their interaction. Officer Smith, in his testimony provided at Williams, Jr.'s subsequent trial, stated that he was concerned about the woman who made the 911 phone call and sought entry to ensure her safety.

In his motion, Officer Smith claims that both a denial of access to Phat's and Williams, Jr.'s otherwise uncooperative behavior led to his arrest. The otherwise uncooperative behavior in part refers to Officer Smith's request for Williams, Jr.'s identification, which Officer Smith claims Williams, Jr. refused to provide absent significant pressure from him and his partner.

Williams, Jr.'s account of this night is different in a number of important ways. He says that when Officer Smith first arrived at Phat's, the door was properly locked because business operations were closed. When Williams, Jr. came to the door, Officer Smith immediately began questioning him about his failure to change the deadbolt lock. According to Williams, Jr., Officer Smith had visited Phat's in the recent past over other concerns, and had

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specifically commented about this lock. Moving on from this topic, Williams, Jr. says that he explained the context for the 911 call and told Officer Smith that the alleged victim had left the building.

Williams, Jr. asserts that he had recently consulted with his attorney at the time, Douglas Weaver, about his rights when the police came to Phat's. According to Williams, Jr., his attorney informed him that he did not have to allow the police entrance unless the police had probable cause. Because the alleged victim was no longer present, when Officer Smith asked to look around, Williams, Jr. objected. Nevertheless, Williams, Jr. contends that Officer Smith shoved him aside, and made a perfunctory investigation regarding the phone call. Although Phat's is a multiple-storied establishment and several people remained in the building at the time, Officer Smith conducted an investigation in around twenty seconds. Accordingly, Williams, Jr. claims the 911 call was pretext for gaining entry to Phat's.

Williams, Jr. then claims that when he and Officer Smith met again in the entranceway, Officer Smith requested his identification. When Williams, Jr. inquired into the purpose, Officer Smith became hostile. Williams, Jr. did hand over his identification to Officer Smith's partner. However, Officer Smith forced Williams, Jr. to turn around in the doorway and put his hands behind his back, and then arrested him.

Officer Smith's uniform citation says that he drove Williams, Jr. to the police station. However, it is unclear from the record exactly what happened immediately thereafter. On the citation, Officer Smith alleged the four charges listed above and provided several statements explaining the circumstances behind the arrest. At some later time, three of the four charges were dropped. Williams, Jr. claims that the prosecutors would not drop the final charge at the insistence of Officer Smith, who was present at most of the meetings between him and prosecutors, unless Williams, Jr. stipulated to probable cause. Nevertheless, Williams, Jr. refused to stipulate to probable cause. The Jefferson County Attorney's Office prosecuted Williams, Jr. on the remaining charge for Obstructing Governmental Functions. Nearly two years later, a jury acquitted Williams, Jr. of the charge.

In the briefs on this motion, all parties refer to the following three sets of videos in the record to support their accounts of the events that transpired on April 19, 2007: (1) videos taken from Phat's security system, (2) a video of the arrest taken by one of Williams, Jr.'s employees, and (3) videos of the underlying state court criminal prosecution at which both Williams, Jr. and Officer Smith testified. The security videos do not contain audio of the conversations that took ...


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