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A.J. v. Tanksley

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 3, 2015

A.J., a minor, by and through her Next Friend, LORI DIXON, et al., Plaintiffs, and DEBORAH LEE JOHNSON, Intervenor, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNELL W. TANKSLEY, et al., Defendants

For A.J., by and through her next friend Lori Dixon, D.M., by and through his next friend Shannon Mers, B.M., by and through his next friend Shannon Mers, The Estate of Robert Jason Johnson, Plaintiffs: James W. Schottel, Jr., SCHOTTEL AND ASSOCIATES, P.C., St. Louis, MO.

For Deborah Lee Johnson, Intervenor, Plaintiff: Brian F. Reinhold, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICE OF BRIAN F. REINHOLD, P.C., Kirkwood, MO.

For Donnell W. Tanksley, in his individual capacity, Matthew J. Waggoner, in his individual capacity, Perri A. Johnson, in his individual capacity, Defendant: Karin A. Schute, LEAD ATTORNEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MISSOURI, St. Louis, MO.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CHARLES A. SHAW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on defendants Perri A. Johnson, Donnell W. Tanksley, and Matthew J. Waggoner's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs A.J., D.M., B.M., and The Estate of Robert Jason Johnson filed a response in opposition, to which defendants filed a reply. Intervenor plaintiff Deborah Lee Johnson did not file her own response in opposition but incorporated by reference plaintiffs' response memorandum and " Statement of Material Facts in Opposition." [1] For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

The matter in dispute stems from a fatal motor vehicle accident that occurred in St. Louis, Missouri on June 1, 2008. Plaintiffs allege that the decedent, Robert Jason Johnson, who was riding a motorcycle, was killed as a result of the negligence of Bryant Howard, who was driving the car that collided with Mr. Johnson. St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers Donnell Tanksley and Matthew Waggoner responded to the scene of the accident. Plaintiffs allege that these officers prepared a false police accident report, which was approved by their supervisor Perri Johnson, assigning fault to Mr. Johnson. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants Tanksley, Waggoner, and Johnson failed to properly investigate the accident, and that defendants Tanksley and Waggoner provided false testimony in connection with a 2009 wrongful death suit against Mr. Howard, in which the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Howard.

Three claims, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their civil rights, remain in this case against defendants Tanksley, Waggoner, and Johnson: violation of civil rights -- substantive due process (Count I); violation of civil rights -- equal protection (Count II); and violation of civil rights -- conspiracy (Count III).[2] In the motion presently before the Court, defendants Tanksley, Waggoner, and Johnson argue they are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law as to all the remaining claims against them.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

The Eighth Circuit has recently articulated the appropriate standard for consideration of motions for summary judgment, as follows:

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and must identify those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge. The nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.

Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). " Although the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact rests on the movant, a nonmovant may not rest upon mere denials or allegations, but must instead set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Wingate v. Gage Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 34, 528 F.3d 1074, 1078--79 (8th Cir. 2008) (cited case omitted).

With this standard in mind, the Court accepts the following facts as true for purposes of resolving the parties' motions for summary judgment.

III. Facts

On June 1, 2008, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Lieutenant Donnell Tanksley was patrolling in an unmarked car in the City of St. Louis. While driving west on Natural Bridge approaching Marcus, defendant Tanksley observed a yellow motorcycle traveling among a group of motorcycles. Tanksley testified that he observed the yellow motorcycle weaving in and out of the bicycle lane. Plaintiffs deny that the yellow motorcycle was weaving in and out of the bicycle lane and points to the testimony of Yolanda Diggs, a witness, who testified that the yellow motorcycle was not weaving, but was doing tricks, such as popping wheelies. Defendant Tanksley turned on his siren and followed the yellow motorcycle into a Shell station parking lot on the corner of Natural Bridge and Marcus. The driver of the yellow motorcycle turned his head, looked at defendant Tanksley, and sped off of the gas station lot. Defendant Tanksley notified the police dispatcher that he had tried to stop a yellow motorcycle, which then sped off at a high rate of speed heading eastbound on Natural Bridge with careless and reckless driving.[3] Defendant Tanksley did not pursue the yellow motorcycle.

Sometime after, either a few seconds or moments later, defendant Tanksley continued patrolling on eastbound Natural Bridge. Soon after, he observed that an accident had occurred between a yellow motorcycle and a white car near Natural Bridge and Paris. Defendant Tanksley did not see the collision occur, but he was the first officer to arrive at the scene. Defendant Tanksley testified that he believed the yellow motorcycle that was involved in the accident was the same motorcycle that he attempted to stop on the Shell station lot.

Defendant Tanksley checked to see if anyone was injured, and he called the dispatcher to report the accident. Defendant Tanksley requested the Accident Reconstruction Unit via the dispatcher. Other officers arrived at the scene after Defendant Tanksley. Defendant Waggoner was dispatched to the scene of the collision. When defendant Waggoner arrived at the scene, he observed that there had been a collision involving a motorcycle and that there were already other officers on the scene, including defendant Tanksley.

Bryant Howard was the driver of the car that collided with that motorcycle. Yolanda Diggs was a passenger in that car. Mr. Howard and Ms. Diggs both spoke to police officers at the scene of the accident. Neither Mr. Howard nor Ms. Diggs knew any of the police officers who responded to the accident scene. Mr. Howard testified that he saw a yellow motorcycle popping wheelies and going side to side as he was driving eastbound on Natural Bridge. He also testified that he believed this was the same motorcycle that crashed into his car, and that the motorcycle was driving fast and was in the bicycle lane before the collision. Ms. Diggs testified that she saw a yellow motorcycle doing tricks, weaving, speeding, and popping wheelies and that she saw an unmarked police car pull the motorcycle over. She testified that she believes this was the same motorcycle that crashed into Mr. Howard's car. Ms. Diggs further testified that she saw the yellow motorcycle driving in the bicycle lane a couple seconds before the collision.[4] Both Ms. Diggs and Mr. Howard testified that they were truthful when they spoke to the police officers at the scene of the accident.

Robert Jason Johnson, the driver of the yellow motorcycle, was taken from the scene of the collision to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Police Officer Brian Waltman of the Accident Reconstruction Unit was sent to the hospital on June 1, 2008, to determine his condition.[5] Robert Jason Johnson was alive when Officer Waltman arrived at the hospital. Officer Waltman was told by a doctor in the hospital that Robert Jason Johnson was in critical-unstable condition, and he relayed this information to the traffic sergeant.[6] According to Officer Waltman, he informed defendant Waggoner that the traffic sergeant had determined that the accident reconstruction unit would not handle the investigation of the motorcycle collision and that the investigation would be handled at the district level. Plaintiffs put forth no evidence in support of their allegation that defendants Tanksley, Waggoner and Johnson were responsible for the decision not to have the accident reconstruction team perform an investigation of the collision. District officers, such as defendants Tanksley, Waggoner and Johnson, do not have the option of performing accident reconstruction themselves because they are not trained in accident reconstruction. Defendants Waggoner and Tanksley did not have any equipment to do any kind of sophisticated measurements, and no measurements were taken with respect to the collision between Robert Jason Johnson and Mr. Howard.

Defendant Waggoner prepared the written accident report at the patrol station. There is a dispute of fact as to whether defendant Tanksley assisted defendant Waggoner in preparing the accident report, however, this fact is immaterial because it is undisputed that defendant Tanksley provided defendant Waggoner with a statement about what he saw the yellow motorcycle doing on westbound Natural Bridge, and his attempt to stop the yellow motorcycle. The narrative of the accident report provides:

Witness Lieutenant Donnell Tanksley DSN 4179 stated he was traveling west in the 4500 block of Natural Bridge when he observed approximately fifteen motorcycles traveling west on Natural Bridge just ahead of him. He stated he observed a yellow motorcycle later identified as vehicle #1 weaving in and out of lanes and traveling in the bicycle lane along side the group of motorcycles. Lt. Tanksley attempted to curve vehicle #1 at Natural ridge and Marcus. He stated vehicle #1 turned right onto Marcus going northbound and pulled into the Shell Station parking lot. He stated before he could notify the dispatcher of the vehicle stop vehicle #1 then exited the parking lot and began traveling east on Natural Bridge at a high rate of speed. Lt. Tanksley advised the dispatcher of careless and reckless driving relative to vehicle #1. He stated later while traveling east on Natural Bridge he observe that vehicle #1 had been involved in an accident at Natural Bridge and Paris.
Driver #2, [Mr. Howard], stated he was traveling east on natural Bridge when he approached the intersection of Natural Bridge and Paris. He stated he was in the process of making a right turn onto Paris southbound, when he observed vehicle #1 traveling east on Natural Bridge in the bicycle lane enter the intersection. He stated vehicle #1 clipped his front bumper, deflected off the front bumper and flipped several times. He added driver #1's body struck a utility pole on the side of the street knocking driver #1 off the motorcycle. He stated driver #1 landed in the street.
Driver #2 was not injured and refused medical attention.
Passenger in vehicle #2, [Ms. Diggs], stated they were traveling east on Natural Bridge when they approached the intersection of Natural Bridge and Paris. She stated they were in the process of making a right turn onto Paris southbound, when they observed vehicle #1 traveling east on Natural Bridge in the bicycle lane enter the intersection. She state vehicle #1 clipped their front bumper, deflected off the bumper and flipped several times. She added driver #1's body struck a ...

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