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Lane v. Pulaski County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 13, 2014

PATRICIA LANE, Personally and as ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES LANE, Plaintiff,
v.
PULASKI COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

When they arrived at the scene, Officers Pevley and Williams could hear the disturbance taking place inside the Lane's residence. After having been told by 911 dispatch that the doors were unlocked, they entered the front door and were confronted by an intoxicated and armed James Lane. Despite repeated warnings, Lane raised his gun and approached the Officers. Pevley fired on Lane and killed him. Plaintiff, Patricia Lane, personally, and as Administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband, James Lane, seeks damages arising from this incident. [R. 1-1.] Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendants, Pulaski County, Danny J. Pevley, Jon Williams, and Todd Wood. [R. 1-1.] For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion will be GRANTED.

I

On February 24, 2011, Virginia "Ginger" Matthews (James Lane's sister-in-law) was at the home of James and Patricia Lane, in Wayne County, Ky. That evening, Ms. Matthews called Wayne County 911 and "advised that James Lane was intoxicated and was tearing up the residence." [R. 23-2 at 2; See generally R. 23-5 (911 Transcript).] Wayne County dispatch requested help from Pulaski County 911 as the Wayne County deputy was unable to respond. [Id.] While Pulaski County Sheriff Deputy Danny Pevley and Sergeant Jon Williams were responding, Ms. Matthews called Wayne County 911 two more times to report that Mr. Lane was intoxicated and had assaulted his wife. [Id. at 2.] She advised the 911 operator that Mr. Lane was armed with a.25 caliber handgun. [Id. at 2; R. 23-5 (911 Tr.).] Ms. Matthews and the Administratrix barricaded themselves in a bedroom of the Lanes' residence. [Id. at 2.] Throughout the course of these calls, the Administratrix took the phone and also demanded officer assistance. Specifically, she told the 911 operator to get the Officers to her house "because we'd done be dead because you can't get somebody here." [R. 23-2; R. 23-5 at 37 (911 Tr).] Later she stated, "I'm going to shoot my husband because they can't get here to protect us." [R. 23-5 at 39 (911 Tr).] In the background, James Lane can be heard belligerently screaming profanities, "Yes, I know, you stupid, MFer" and "GD, you're stupid. If you wasn't Fing trying to hold... That's because you're a bunch of dumb MFers." [R. 23-5 at 38 (911 Tr).]

In his response to the summary judgment motion, the Administratrix suggests that "[James] Lane was alone and barricaded in a room at the residence and therefore was not posing an immediate threat to the officers or to others in the home." [R. 24 at 1.] She further argues that the transcript of the 911 call "shows that the Dispatch officer was notified that Lane was in the back bedroom of the residence by himself and posed no threat to others in the home at the time." [Id.]

When Officers Pevley and Williams arrived at the scene they heard James Lane yelling and banging on doors inside the residence. [R. 23-2 at 13; R. 25 at 2.] Pevley entered the home, "identified himself as a police officer and ordered Lane to drop his gun several times." [R. 25 at 3; R. 23-2 at 15; R. 23-8 (Ky. State Police Report).] "Lane responded by pointing the gun at Pevley and advancing rapidly toward him." [R. 25-2 at 2; R. 23-2 at 15.] Pevley then fired four shots and killed James Lane. [R. 1-1 at 3; R. 25 at 2; R. 24 at 1.]

On February 23, 2012, Patricia Lane, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of James Lane, filed suit against Pulaski County, Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood, Deputy Pevley and Sergeant Williams in Wayne Circuit Court. [R. 1.] The case was removed to this Court on March 27, 2012. [Id.] The Administratrix asserts claims arising out of violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution. She also alleges state law claims for conspiracy, assault and battery and negligence. [R. 1-1.] Defendants oppose these claims on substantive grounds and on the basis that they are entitled to various types of immunity, most prominently qualified immunity. [R. 6 at 2.]

II

A

When considering the issue of summary judgment, a federal court applies the standards of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 rather than "Kentucky's summary judgment standard as expressed in Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Serv. Ctr. Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476 (Ky. 1991)." Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co. 997 F.2d 150, 165 (6th Cir. 1993). Under Rule 56, summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). "A genuine dispute exists on a material fact, and thus summary judgment is improper, if the evidence shows that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Olinger v. Corp. of the President of the Church, 521 F.Supp.2d 577, 582 (E.D. Ky. 2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Stated otherwise, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). In terms of burden shifting, the moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). The movant may satisfy its burden by showing "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts to demonstrate there is a genuine issue. Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.) Moreover, "the nonmoving party must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact. It must present significant probative evidence in support of its opposition to the motion for summary judgment." Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (internal citations omitted).

Finally, the trial court is under no duty to "search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact." In re Morris, 260 F.3d 654, 655 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989)). Instead, "the nonmoving party has an affirmative duty to direct the court's attention to those specific portions of the record upon which it seeks to rely to create a genuine issue of material fact." In re Morris, 260 F.3d at 655.

B

Section 1983 does not create substantive rights but, rather, "provides a remedy for deprivations of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States...." Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982); Mertik v. Blalock, 983 F.2d 1353, 1359 (6th Cir. 1993). "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). "The first step in any such claim is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989) (additional citations omitted)).

As a preliminary matter, Patricia Lane may not recover personally under § 1983 for damage done to her husband. "In the Sixth Circuit, a section 1983 cause of action is entirely personal to the direct victim of the alleged constitutional tort." Claybrook v. Birchwell, 199 F.3d 350, 357 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Jaco v. Bloechle, 739 F.2d 239, 241 (6th Cir. 1984) (additional citations omitted.)) As such, "only the purported victim, or his estate's representative(s), may prosecute a section 1983 claim; conversely, no cause of action may lie under section 1983 for... consequent collateral injuries allegedly suffered personally by the victim's family members." Claybrook, 199 F.3d at 357. To the extent that Patricia Lane seeks to recover personally under section 1983 her claims are dismissed.

The Administratrix pleads three violations of the United States Constitution. She alleges her husband's Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful search and seizure were violated when Officers Pevley and Williams entered Lane's home without a warrant and then used excessive force in shooting Lane. [R. 1-1 at 4.] She also pleads a substantive due process violation of the Fourteenth Amendment on the grounds that lane was deprived his "enjoyment of life." [R. 1-1 at 4.]

1

The Administratrix argues that Lane's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Officers entered Lane's home without a warrant. [R. 1-1 at 3.] Defendants plead qualified immunity as a defense.

When invoked, "the doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). In evaluating claims of qualified immunity, Federal Courts generally apply a two-step analysis. First, "[t]aken in a light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Second, the Court must ask whether the right at issue was "clearly established." Id. "The relevant dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 199 (2004). "The burden of convincing a court that the law was clearly established rests squarely with the plaintiff." Key v. Grayson, 179 F.3d 996, 1000 (6th Cir. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Although at one time courts were required to follow these steps sequentially, the Supreme Court has abandoned that position and now permits courts to "exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. Qualified immunity analysis for federal claims is "essentially identical to the qualified immunity inquiry under [Kentucky] state law." Jefferson Cnty. Fiscal Court v. Peerce, 132 S.W.3d 824, 837 (Ky. 2004); see also Yanero v. Davis, 65 S.W.3d 510, 521-23 (Ky. 2001).

The issue of whether qualified immunity applies is one that should be settled at "the earliest possible stage in litigation." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991). Significantly, qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability... it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)).

Because the Defendants have plead qualified immunity as a defense, the Court must first consider if the action "[t]aken in a light most favorable to the party asserting the injury" shows "the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. As the Administratrix claims the police entered her home unlawfully, the starting point for this analysis is the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Const. Amend. IV. The police did not have a warrant and concede that "warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest" is not constitutional. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 576 (1980). They argue, however, their entrance was permissible because they had consent and further were justified by exigent circumstances. [R. 23-2 at 22-23.]

Warrantless entry based on consent of a third party is valid when the police reasonably believe that the consenting person possesses authority over the premises. Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990). Whether the person consenting actually has authority to consent is ultimately not as important as whether it is reasonable for the Officers to believe that they did have consent at the time of entry. "Whether the basis for such authority exists is the sort of recurring factual question to which law enforcement officials must be expected to apply their judgment; and all the Fourth Amendment requires is that they answer it reasonably." Illinois, 497 U.S. at 177.

In this case, Ms. Matthews had been on the phone with the 911 Operator for an extended period of time. She reported that she, her husband and the Administratrix were trapped in a bedroom of the residence, unable to escape. [R. 23-5 at 36 (911 Tr).] Ms. Matthews not only ...


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