Sympathy, But No Assist |for Homeless Tenn. Man

     (CN) – A homeless man who sued Nashville and two police officers has no claim against them for the towing of his car, which he lived in, a federal judge ruled.
     Stacey Tuell sued the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn. and officers Charles Embry and Justin McCormick for due process violations and unreasonable seizure.
     Tuell was arrested on the morning of Sept. 16, 2013, in downtown Nashville for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge, according to court documents. He was living in his car at the time, which was legally parked on Ewing Street.
     He claims to have asked Embry if he should have someone watch his car, and Embry allegedly told him not to worry about it. McCormick arrived at the vehicle within an hour of Tuell’s arrest and, on orders of his superiors, ticketed the car and called a local company to tow it, the ruling states.
     Tuell was released from jail four days later and realized his car was gone.
     “After learning that the car had been towed by Martin’s Wrecker, he asked that his car be released,” the ruling states. “Martin’s Wrecker refused to release the car unless plaintiff would pay a storage cost of several hundred dollars. Plaintiff, indigent and homeless, could not pay the cost.”
     Counsel for Tuell filed a motion to dismiss and stay the sale of the car in October 2013. A month later, the Nashville traffic court ordered that the car be returned to Tuell, but it was too late.
     “Immediately after the hearing, plaintiff drove to Martin’s Wrecker. There, he was told that the car had been sold to Nashville Pull-a-Part, where it was stripped and dissembled,” the ruling states. “Plaintiff’s car had contained all of his clothes and possessions, including a wedding band and a watch; everything in the car was either lost or discarded. Plaintiff has not received any compensation for the property.”
     U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed Tuell’s claims against the local government and Embry on Friday, but added a sympathetic message to his ruling.
     “The court cannot overlook what brought us here: two years ago, all of plaintiff’s possessions were taken from him. His car – his only form of shelter – is gone. Everything that he owned was sold, lost, or thrown away. He has received neither an explanation nor an apology. His ordeal has been long, unfair, and deeply troubling,” Sharp wrote. “Nevertheless, the court is bound to follow the law. Under the applicable standards, the complaint has not alleged enough for plaintiff to hold Embry or Metro accountable for his plight.”
     The judge ruled that Tuell did not establish a municipal liability claim against Nashville because he did not show that the local government was deliberately indifferent regarding its workers.
     “In short, plaintiff argues that the mere towing of his car gives rise to an inference that Metro failed in its hiring, training, or supervision of all of the officers and employees involved. This inference would be impermissible,” Sharp wrote.
     He also ruled that Embry is entitled to qualified immunity for Tuell’s claims.
     “Even assuming that plaintiff’s allegations are correct – and Embry ordered that plaintiff’s car be towed and impounded – Embry did not violate the Fourth Amendment,” Sharp wrote, noting that police can move an arrestee’s legally-parked car from a public street. “Moreover, plaintiff never alleged that Embry’s decision was motivated by bad faith, or that the decision was a pretext for searching plaintiff’s vehicle for evidence of criminal activity.”
     An attorney listed for Tuell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
     

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