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Lee v. Town of Seaboard

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 14, 2017

BRIAN C. LEE, SR., Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
TOWN OF SEABOARD, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: March 23, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, Chief District Judge. (2:13-cv-00020-D)

         ARGUED:

          Eric Laurence Doggett, DOGGETT LAW OFFICES, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Dan M. Hartzog, Jr., CRANFILL, SUMNER & HARTZOG, LLP, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Dan M. Hartzog, CRANFILL, SUMNER & HARTZOG, LLP, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER, KING, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

          WYNN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Early on the morning of May 15, 2010, Sergeant Howard Phillips ("Sergeant Phillips"), a police officer employed by Defendant Town of Seaboard, North Carolina ("Seaboard"), shot and wounded Plaintiff Brian C. Lee, Sr. ("Lee") as Lee was driving to escape a mob that had attacked him as he left a party at an Elks Lodge in Seaboard. Lee filed a diversity suit in federal district court against Seaboard, asserting a variety of state-law tort claims relating to the shooting. Seaboard moved for summary judgment, arguing that Sergeant Phillips's use of deadly force was justified under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A- 401(d)(2), thus precluding Lee's state-law tort claims. The district court granted the motion, holding that the undisputed evidence established that Sergeant Phillips reasonably believed deadly force was necessary because Lee posed an imminent threat to Sergeant Phillips and others. But upon viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Lee, as we must, see Bauer v. Lynch, 812 F.3d 340, 347 (4th Cir. 2016), the record reveals several genuine disputes of material fact bearing on the reasonableness of Sergeant Phillips's decision to use deadly force against Lee. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court reversibly erred in awarding summary judgment in favor of Seaboard.

         I.

         A.

         On the evening of May 14, 2010, Lee, his brother, and his cousin drove from Norfolk, Virginia, to attend a party at an Elks Lodge in Seaboard, a town of 500 people. Lee was invited to the party by another cousin who was serving as deejay at the party. Between 9:30 PM and 10:00 PM, Lee and his companions arrived at the Elks Lodge to attend the party, which included between fifty and seventy-five partygoers. Off-duty Seaboard Police Officer David Twine ("Officer Twine") provided security for the party, and on-duty Seaboard Police Sergeant Phillips monitored the party by repeatedly visiting the Elks Lodge throughout the night and patrolling the area around the lodge.

         At 2:15 A.M., with between twenty and thirty partygoers remaining, Sergeant Phillips and Officer Twine announced that the party was over. Because there was, as stated by Lee, "tension in the air with the Seaboard crowd, " J.A. 349, Sergeant Phillips and Officer Twine escorted Lee and his companions to their car through a crowd of fifteen to twenty local men who "rush[ed] up on" the three men, J.A. ...


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