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Sheila Webb v. Leon Lott, et al.
Case Number: 3:19-cv-02031-
Judge: Cameron McGowan Currie
Court: United States District Court for the District of South Carolina (Richland County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: Christopher Trulock, Brian Shealey, Caroline Latimer, Luke Shealey
Defendant's Attorney: Robert David Garfield and Steven Richard Speeuwers for Leon Lott
Scott Joseph Hayes for Cameron Duecker
Description: Columbia, South Carolina prisoner civil rights lawyers represented Plaintiff who sued Defendants on civil rights violation theories under 42 U.S.C. 1983.
This matter is before the court pursuant to Sheriff Leon Lott's (“Sheriff Lott”) Motion to Bifurcate or to Sever and Remand. (ECF No. 60.) Sheila Webb (“Plaintiff”) originally filed this matter in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina, asserting claims against Sheriff Lott, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the Richland County Sheriff's Department (“RCSD”), and Cameron Duecker (“Duecker”), pursuant to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (South Carolina Code § 15-78-10 et seq.) (West 2022) (“SCTCA”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1-2.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Sheriff Lott's Motion to Bifurcate or to Sever and Remand. (ECF No. 60.)
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
Plaintiff's claims arise out of her arrest by Defendant Duecker on February 1, 2019, and her subsequent confinement. (ECF No. 12 at 3-4 ¶¶ 17-27.) On the day of the arrest, Duecker, acting in his capacity as a deputy with RCSD, responded to a complaint made by Plaintiff, a 58-year-old female, that her brother, William Gossette, had unlawfully used their incapacitated mother's vehicle. (ECF No. 12 at 3 ¶ 17.) While he was responding to the call, Duecker decided to arrest Plaintiff for disorderly conduct and assault while resisting arrest. (Id. at 3 ¶ 18.) In
effecting the arrest, Duecker used his tazer on Plaintiff and, as a result, Duecker was subsequently charged with assault and battery. (Id. at 3 ¶ 19, 4 ¶ 22.) The charges against Plaintiff were ultimately dropped. (Id. at 4 ¶ 25.)
On June 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed this action in state court. (See ECF No. 1-2 at 1.) On July 19, 2019, Sheriff Lott removed the action to federal court. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims for unreasonable seizure and excessive force, and state law claims sounding in negligent hiring, negligence, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, assault, battery, and malicious prosecution. (ECF No. 12 at 5-9 ¶¶ 28-79.)
On October 7, 2020, Sheriff Lott and Duecker filed separate motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 34; 35.) On December 16, 2020, the United States Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 48) in which she recommended the court deny Duecker's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34) and grant Sheriff Lott's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 35) in part and deny it in part. (ECF No. 48 at 2.) On September 3, 2021, the court issued an Order (ECF No. 54) accepting the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 48), denying Duecker's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34), and granting in part and denying in part Sheriff Lott's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 35).
On January 13, 2022, Sheriff Lott filed the instant motion, asking the court to issue an order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) providing for separate trials on the federal and state law claims. (ECF No. 60 at 1.) In the alternative, Sheriff Lott requests an order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 or 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) severing the state law claims from this action and remanding those claims to state court for resolution. (Id.) Sheriff Lott argues that separate trials are appropriate “due to the potential prejudice to the parties if the claims are tried together, the risk of jury confusion, and judicial economy.” (Id.) On January 20, 2022, the court conducted a hearing via telephone on Sheriff Lott's Motion. After the hearing Duecker filed a Response in Support of Sheriff Lott's Motion to Bifurcate (ECF No. 64) and Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 65). Sheriff Lott submitted a Reply to Plaintiff's Response (ECF No. 66).
The court first considers the specific facts before it and the particular claims asserted against each Defendant to determine how they impact the present motion. See Dawson v. Prince George's Cnty., 896 F.Supp. 537, 540 (D. Md. 1995). After the court's summary judgment ruling, the remaining claims are Plaintiff's state tort claims against Sheriff Lott for negligence; negligent hiring, retention, and supervision (“negligent hiring claim”); assault; battery; and false imprisonment; and Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against Duecker for unreasonable seizure and excessive force. Accordingly, Defendant Lott's request to bifurcate the state law claims from the federal claims essentially requests that the court grant separate trials for the defendants. In his Response in Support of Sheriff Lott's Motion to Bifurcate, Duecker appears to agree that the negligent hiring claim against Sheriff Lott should be separated, but does not provide a position on bifurcation of the other state law claims against Sheriff Lott. (See ECF No. 60 at 1.)
Plaintiff's claims against Duecker are brought pursuant to § 1983, which operates as a vehicle for imposing liability against a person who, acting under color of state law, ordinance, regulation, or custom, causes the injured party to be deprived of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Duecker violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and excessive force. In examining the unreasonable seizure claim, the jury will consider whether Duecker had probable cause to believe Plaintiff committed an offense based on the totality of the circumstances at the time of the seizure. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) (“The Fourth Amendment is not violated by an arrest based on probable cause.”). In analyzing the excessive force claim, the jury will contemplate whether Duecker had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff in the absence of a warrant, the severity of the crime at issue, whether Plaintiff posed an immediate threat to Duecker's safety, and whether she was actively resisting or fleeing arrest. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Plaintiff's evidence in support of these claims is likely to include Duecker's body camera footage from the day of Plaintiff's arrest, Duecker's warrant for assault and battery, and testimony from Duecker, RCSD Lieutenant Isenhoward, RCSD Corporal Fairbanks, Sheriff Lott, Plaintiff, and William Gossett. (See ECF No. 65 at 12.)
Plaintiff's remaining claims against Sheriff Lott sound in state tort law. To prove her assault claim against Sheriff Lott, Plaintiff must show “(1) conduct of the defendant which places the plaintiff, (2) in reasonable fear of bodily harm.” Gregg v. Ham, 678 F.3d 333, 342 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Mellen v. Lane, 659 S.E.2d 236, 244 (S.C. Ct. App. 2008)). Plaintiff's battery claim against Sheriff Lott requires a showing of “actual infliction of any unlawful, unauthorized violence on the person of another, irrespective of its degree[.]” Callum v. CVS Health Corp., 137 F.Supp.3d 817, 854 (D.S.C. 2015) (citing Gathers v. Harris Teeter Supermarket, Inc., 317 S.E.2d 748, 754 (S.C. Ct. App. 1984)). To state a claim for false imprisonment against Sheriff Lott, Plaintiff must show “(1) the defendant restrained [her] and the restraint was (2) intentional and (3) unlawful.” Id. at 855 (citing Argoe v. Three Rivers Behav. Health, L.L.C., 710 S.E.2d 67, 73 (S.C. 2011)). For her negligence claim, Plaintiff must establish that the “(1) defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff, (2) defendant breached the duty by a negligent act or omission, (3) defendant's breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, and (4) plaintiff suffered an injury or damages.” Steinke v. S.C. Dep't of Lab., Licensing & Regul., 520 S.E.2d 142, 149 (S.C. 1999) (citing Bishop v. S.C. Dep't of Mental Health, 502 S.E.2d 78 (S.C. 1998)).
Notably, Plaintiff is likely to introduce the same evidence to support her claims against Duecker that she presents to establish her assault, battery, negligence, and false imprisonment claims against Sheriff Lott. Namely, Plaintiff intends to present Duecker's body camera footage from the day of Plaintiff's arrest, Duecker's warrant for assault and battery, and testimony from Duecker, RCSD Lieutenant Isenhoward, RCSD Corporal Fairbanks, Sheriff Lott, Plaintiff, and William Gossett. (See ECF No. 65 at 12.) Conversely, to prove her claim for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against Sheriff Lott, Plaintiff must show that Sheriff Lott “knew or should have known” facts about Duecker that would suggest employing and retaining him would pose an “unreasonable risk of harm.” Anderson v. United States, No. 8:12-cv-3203-TMC-KDW, 2015 WL 9918406, at *13 (D.S.C. Oct. 9, 2015), report and recommendation adopted, No. 8:12-cv-3203-TMC, 2016 WL 320076 (D.S.C. Jan. 27, 2016). As such, Plaintiff's evidence in support of this claim will likely encompass a wider temporal scope and include evidence related to Duecker's employment history and prior bad conduct.
Outcome: 01/17/2023 192 JUDGMENT in favor of Sheila Webb against Cameron Duecker as to the first cause of action; JUDGMENT in favor of Sheila Webb against Leon Lott as to the second, third, sixth, and seventh causes of action; JUDGMENT dismissing the negligent retention and supervision claim in the tenth cause of action on the merits; SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of Leon Lott as to the fourth, fifth, eighth, and ninth causes of action, and as to the negligent hiring claim in the tenth cause of action. (cbru, ) (Entered: 01/17/2023)