Case: Cole v. Memphis

2:13-cv-02117 | U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

Filed Date: Feb. 25, 2013

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Case Summary

This is a case about a Memphis Police Department (MPD) policy that resulted in the use of excessive force and unlawful arrests. On February 25, 2013, an officer of the MPD and a special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) filed this class action lawsuit against the City of Memphis and six MPD police officers in the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs sued on behalf of themselves and similarly situated persons for violations of …

This is a case about a Memphis Police Department (MPD) policy that resulted in the use of excessive force and unlawful arrests. On February 25, 2013, an officer of the MPD and a special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) filed this class action lawsuit against the City of Memphis and six MPD police officers in the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs sued on behalf of themselves and similarly situated persons for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for negligence under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, fees and costs, and injunctive relief to stop Memphis from continuing this practice. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Jon McCalla.

The "Beale Street Sweep"

The MPD had a practice known as the "Beale Street Sweep," where it would order all persons to immediately leave the sidewalks of Beale Street, even though there was nothing threatening the safety of the public or MPD police officers. This was typically early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, or during weekday entertainment events. The complaint stated that Memphis knew this incited hostile behavior among its police officers. The complaint additionally alleged that in the course of implementing this policy, the MPD assaulted, employed excessive force against, unlawfully detained and arrested, and fabricated criminal charges against numerous innocent people in an attempt to conceal their own unlawful conduct.

The first plaintiff, an off-duty MPD officer, alleges that he was assaulted by the MPD while eating pizza outside of a club. Several MPD officers approached him, shouting "didn't we tell you to get off the street?" (the complaint claims he was not previously told this). The complaint goes on to say the police "viciously attack[ed]" him, slamming his body into a police vehicle with enough force to dent it, arresting him, and preparing fabricated charges against him. The MPD dismissed the charges shortly after.

The other plaintiff, an off-duty ATF agent, was arrested after failing to gain entry to a club. The MPD confronted him and a family member after they were turned away, then arrested him for public intoxication. The complaint emphasizes that he was at no point intoxicated, and he was released immediately after his supervisor arrived on the scene.

Both of these events occurred during Beale Street Sweeps. Plaintiffs claimed the sweeps violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to "to remain in a public place with no apparent purpose and to travel locally through public spaces and roadways," as well as their Fourth Amendment right against excessive force and unreasonable seizure.

On April 4, 2013, two of the defendant officers moved to dismiss. Another followed suit on May 16, and another on May 31.

On June 4, 2013, Judge McCalla granted the first motion in part, dismissing the Fourteenth Amendment claim against the defendant on the grounds that his actions would more properly be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. The Court denied, however, that plaintiffs had failed to state a claim. He granted the other two motions on the same grounds on June 6 and July 10.

The Court Grants Class Certification

On November 27, 2013, plaintiffs moved for class certification. After 10 months of heated discovery, the Court granted class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) on September 29, 2014. He allowed plaintiffs' definition of the class as "[a]ll persons who have been unlawfully removed from Beale Street and/or adjacent sidewalks by City of Memphis police officers pursuant to the custom, policy and practice known as the Beale Street Sweep." 2014 WL 8508560.

The Court Mostly Denies Summary Judgment for the Defendants

Both parties subsequently moved for summary judgment on October 27, 2014. That same day, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claims against the individual MPD officers, leaving the City of Memphis as the lone defendant.

Judge McCalla granted in part the city's motion for summary judgment on January 18, 2015. 97 F.Supp.3d 947 (2015 WL 1567824). The plaintiffs had previously conceded that the record and case law did not support their claims for failure to train, investigate or discipline; negligence under the Governmental Tort Liability Act; and punitive damages. Consequently, Judge McCalla granted the motion for the defendant on those claims. However, he denied summary judgment against the plaintiffs on their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims as well as their municipal liability claims. He found that the plaintiffs had a Fourteenth Amendment right to travel that was potentially violated prior to their seizure. Additionally, genuine questions of fact remained on whether their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated and on whether the city was generally liable.

A Jury Returns a Verdict for the Plaintiffs

A jury trial began two days later on January 20, 2015. The jury returned a verdict for one of the individual plaintiffs (the MPD officer) but not the other (the ATF agent). In regards to the class, the jury found that: (1) Memphis had “through its police officers, carried out a custom and/or well-established practice...of preventing persons from standing and/or walking on the sidewalk or street of Beale Street;" (2) this well-established practice “occur[ed] without consideration to whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area pose an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety;” (3) this was “the cause of persons being prevented from standing and/or walking on the sidewalk or street of Beale Street;” and (4) “since at least 2007, thousands of persons were cleared off of Beale Street pursuant to” that practice.

On February 13, 2015, Memphis moved to decertify the class on the basis that class membership was "unascertainable without a full adjudication on the merits of each potential member's claim." The Court denied this motion on May 28, though it granted a modification to the class definition by defining what the "Beale Street Sweep" was. 2015 WL 3442277. Simultaneously, it denied plaintiffs' October 27 motion for summary judgment.

The Court Enters Judgment for the Plaintiffs and Grants the Injunction

On June 3, 2015, Judge McCalla entered judgment for the plaintiffs and granted declaratory and injunctive relief. 108 F.Supp.3d 593 (2015 WL 3507110). The Court declared that "since at least 2007, the City of Memphis violated the constitutional rights of thousands of persons who were subjected to 'the Beale Street Sweep,' that is, 'the policy, procedure, custom, or practice by which police officers of the Memphis Police Department order all persons to immediately leave the sidewalks and street on Beale Street without consideration to whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area pose an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety.'" The Court also permanently enjoined the city from engaging in the Beale Street Sweep, issuing several instructions as orders to ensure it would not happen. The Court further determined that a monitor would be appointed to observe and report on the MPD's progress for one year after appointment.

Memphis Appeals and the Court Grants Fees to Plaintiffs

On July 6, 2015, Memphis appealed the Court's injunctive order, as well as the jury's verdict, the Court's earlier ruling on summary judgment, and the Court's granting of class certification, to the Sixth Circuit.

On August 27, 2015, Judge McCalla granted attorneys' fees, reimbursement of expenses, entry of judgment, and post-judgment interest to the plaintiffs. 2015 WL 5076974.

Memphis Appeals Again and the Court Stays the Judgment

On September 11, 2015, Memphis filed notice of a new appeal to the Sixth Circuit of the August order and judgment. It also moved to stay the injunction, declaratory order, judgment, and monetary relief pending resolution by the Sixth Circuit. The court granted the motion in part on October 28, allowing a stay of the judgment and monetary damages, but denying a stay of the injunctive and declaratory relief.

The Sixth Circuit Denies the Appeals

A Sixth Circuit panel consisting of Circuit Judges Julia Gibbons, Bernice Donald, and Richard Griffin heard oral arguments for both appeals concurrently on June 14, 2016. On October 17, 2016, Judge Gibbons delivered an opinion joined by Judge Donald and joined in part by Judge Griffin (who also filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). She first held that plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right was violated, and that it should be subject to intermediate scrutiny. Even though it was subject to strict scrutiny in the District Court, that was a "harmless error" (this was the only part on which the dissenting in part opinion disagreed). Next, Judge Gibbons found that there was no abuse of discretion in certifying the class of people subject to the Beale Street Sweep. Although Memphis had claimed "ascertainability" was a requirement for class certification, Judge Gibbons held that, in this case, the "precise identity of each class member need not be ascertained." Finally, she addressed the City's claim that there was "insufficient evidence" that the Beale Street Sweep was the "moving force" behind the plaintiffs' arrest. She pointed out that Memphis had failed to preserve this issue procedurally, but even if it had, it would fail on the merits because there was sufficient evidence. 839 F.3d 530 (2016 WL 6068911).

On October 31, 2016, Memphis petitioned for a rehearing by the Sixth Circuit en banc. The petition was denied on January 4, 2017, and the Sixth Circuit issued a mandate on January 12.

The District Court Lifts the Stay of the Judgment

Back in the District Court, the plaintiffs moved to lift the stay of judgment and moved for additional attorneys' fees and post-judgment interest on January 25, 2017. The Court granted the motion to lift the stay on February 28, 2017, holding that it lacked the authority to stay the mandate of the Court of Appeals. But it held off on granting the motion for supplemental fees, instead ordering Memphis to file a response. 2017 WL 782929.

Memphis Appeals Yet Again, Unsuccessfully

Undeterred, Memphis appealed the District Court's order on March 16, 2017. It also filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court on April 7, 2017, hoping to obtain review of the Sixth Circuit's October 17 decision affirming the District Court's judgment.

The Supreme Court denied the City's petition on June 7, 2017. Memphis then voluntarily dismissed its appeal to the Sixth Circuit on June 13.

The Court Grants Supplemental Fees

On July 31, 2017, the Court entered an order taxing costs, indicating that the parties had come to an agreement on expenses. On August 4, 2017, Judge McCalla issued an order and judgment granting attorneys' fees, enhancements of those fees, and post-judgment interest to the plaintiffs.

As of April 10, 2021, there is no indication that Memphis has not adhered to the injunction or paid the fees. The case is likely not ongoing.

Summary Authors

Jack Kanarek (4/10/2021)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5338314/parties/lakendus-cole-v-city-of-memphis-tennessee/


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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

2:13-cv-02117

0:15-05999

0:17-05310

Docket [PACER]

Cole v. City Of Memphis

Oct. 28, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018

Docket
1 & 1-1

2:13-cv-02117

Class Action Complaint for Damages, Complaint for Damages for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights and Injunctive Relief

Cole v. City of Memphis

Feb. 25, 2013

Feb. 25, 2013

Complaint
22

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants Robert Forbert and John Faircloth's Motion to Dismiss

Cole v. City of Memphis

June 4, 2013

June 4, 2013

Order/Opinion

2013 WL 2013

88

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification

Cole v. City of Memphis

Sept. 29, 2014

Sept. 29, 2014

Order/Opinion

2014 WL 2014

121

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant City of Memphis' Motion for Summary Judgment

Cole v. City of Memphis

Jan. 18, 2015

Jan. 18, 2015

Order/Opinion

97 F.Supp.3d 97

160

2:13-cv-02117

Order Denying in Part and Granting in Part Motion of the City of Memphis to Decertify or Modify Class

Cole v. City of Memphis

May 28, 2015

May 28, 2015

Order/Opinion

2015 WL 2015

161

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

Cole v. City of Memphis

June 3, 2015

June 3, 2015

Order/Opinion

108 F.Supp.3d 108

188

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting Monetary Damages, Prejudgment Interest, Postjudgment Interest, and Attorneys' Fees

Cole v. City of Memphis

Aug. 27, 2015

Aug. 27, 2015

Order/Opinion

839 F.3d 839

250

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting Motion to Lift Partial Stay of Judgment & Concerning Motion for Supplemental Award of Attorneys' Fees [...]

Feb. 28, 2017

Feb. 28, 2017

Order/Opinion
274

2:13-cv-02117

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Supplemental Award of Attorneys' Fees, Reimbursement of Expenses, and Post-Judgment Interest

Cole v. City of Memphis

Aug. 4, 2017

Aug. 4, 2017

Order/Opinion

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5338314/lakendus-cole-v-city-of-memphis-tennessee/

Last updated April 3, 2024, 3:02 a.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link Date / Link
22

ORDER granting in part and denying in part 5 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Chief Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on 06/04/2013. (McCalla, Jon)

June 4, 2013

June 4, 2013

RECAP
160

ORDER denying 148 Motion of the City of Memphis to Decertify or Modify Class. Signed by Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on 5/28/2015. (McCalla, Jon)

May 28, 2015

May 28, 2015

RECAP
161

ORDER GRANTING DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF re: 151 Motion. Signed by Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on 6/3/2015. (McCalla, Jon)

June 3, 2015

June 3, 2015

RECAP
188

ORDER granting Monetary Damages, Prejudgment Interest, Postjudgment Interest, and Attorneys' Fees 162 ; terminating 169 Motion For Waiver Of Objection And To Deem Granted Plaintiffs Motion For Payment Of Attorneys Fees, Reimbursement Of Expenses, Entry Of A Judgment For Lakendus Cole, And Postjudgment Interest. Signed by Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on 8/27/2015. (McCalla, Jon)

Aug. 27, 2015

Aug. 27, 2015

RECAP
250

ORDER granting 235 MOTION TO LIFT PARTIAL STAY OF JUDGMENT & CONCERNING MOTION FOR SUPPLEMENTAL AWARD OF ATTORNEYS FEES REIMBURSEMENT OF EXPENSES, AND POST-JUDGMENT INTEREST. Signed by Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on 2/28/2017. (McCalla, Jon)

Feb. 28, 2017

Feb. 28, 2017

RECAP

Case Details

State / Territory: Tennessee

Case Type(s):

Policing

Special Collection(s):

Multi-LexSum (in sample)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Feb. 25, 2013

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

"All persons who have been unlawfully removed from Beale Street and/or adjacent sidewalks by City of Memphis police officers pursuant to the custom, policy and practice known as the Beale Street Sweep."

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

City of Memphis (Memphis, Shelby), City

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Right to travel

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Unreasonable search and seizure

Available Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Monetary Relief

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Damages

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Implement complaint/dispute resolution process

Monitoring

Training

Amount Defendant Pays: $707,873.86

Order Duration: 2015 - None

Issues

General/Misc.:

Failure to discipline

Failure to supervise

Failure to train

Over/Unlawful Detention

Pattern or Practice

Policing:

Excessive force

False arrest