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Brown v. Elliott

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 21, 2017

ARLEAN K. BROWN, as the Personal Representative of Melvin K. Lawhorn, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
BRIAN ELLIOTT; JIM MATTHEWS, individually and in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Kershaw County; KERSHAW COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; KERSHAW COUNTY, Defendants - Appellants. ARLEAN K. BROWN, as the Personal Representative of Melvin K. Lawhorn, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
BRIAN ELLIOTT; JIM MATTHEWS, individually and in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Kershaw County; KERSHAW COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; KERSHAW COUNTY, Defendants - Appellees.

          Argued: September 15, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Columbia. J. Michelle Childs, District Judge. (3:14-cv-01188-JMC)

         ARGUED:

          H. Thomas Morgan, Jr., DUBOSE-ROBINSON, PC, Camden, South Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

          Jordan Christopher Calloway, MCGOWAN, HOOD & FELDER, LLC, Rock Hill, South Carolina, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert V. Phillips, MCGOWAN, HOOD & FELDER, LLC, Rock Hill, South Carolina, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Before MOTZ, TRAXLER, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.

          DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

         This case arises from the fatal police shooting of Melvin Lawhorn. His personal representative, Arlean Brown, brought this action in state court, asserting Fourth Amendment excessive force claims, pursuant to § 1983, and various state law claims against Kershaw County, the County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Jim Matthews, and Deputy Sheriff Brian Elliott (collectively, "the Defendants"). After the Defendants removed the case, the district court dismissed Ms. Brown's § 1983 claims against the County and the Sheriff's Office and against Sheriff Matthews and Deputy Elliott in their official capacities. The court then granted summary judgment on Ms. Brown's claims against Sheriff Matthews and Deputy Elliott in their personal capacities, holding them entitled to qualified immunity, and remanded the state law claims to state court. In the course of litigation, the district court also imposed a monetary discovery sanction on the Defendants. The Defendants appeal that discovery sanction. Ms. Brown cross-appeals, challenging the discovery sanction as insufficient and contending that Sheriff Matthews and Deputy Elliott are not entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I.

         A.

         The traffic stop at the center of this case occurred on February 28, 2012, around 8:23 p.m. That evening, officers with the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office, including Deputy Elliott, received a tip from a confidential informant that Melvin Lawhorn would be purchasing and transporting a large quantity of cocaine in a truck along a given rural road and that Lawhorn "usually carr[ies] a gun . . . when he goes and picks up dope." The detectives set up a perimeter along the route. When the truck passed Deputy Elliott, it was speeding and crossed the center line, so he initiated a traffic stop by activating his blue lights. The truck pulled over. Deputy Elliott approached the truck from the passenger side, where Lawhorn, the suspect, was sitting with his window halfway down. Deputy Mickey Sellers approached the truck from the driver's side. The driver, Darryl Herbert, kept his foot on top of the accelerator with the truck's engine still running.

         As Deputy Elliott arrived at the passenger door, Lawhorn jumped toward the driver's seat, put his left foot on top of the driver's foot on the gas pedal, and attempted to shift the truck into drive. The deputies shouted "freeze" and "don't move." Deputy Elliott leaned inside the passenger-side window to grab Lawhorn. However, Lawhorn successfully shifted the truck into drive, and the truck began moving forward. Moments later, Deputy Elliott, who stated that he feared for his life and that of the other officers, reached for his gun and fired one shot into the truck, striking Lawhorn in the back and killing him.

         The magistrate judge recommended and the district court held that Deputy Elliott (and Sheriff Matthews) were entitled to qualified immunity, because, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Brown, Deputy Elliott did not violate ...


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