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Daniels v. City of Columbia

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

October 26, 2016

NICHOLAS DAMANULE DANIELS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF COLUMBIA, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge.

         Nicholas Daniels has sued a number of Columbia police officers for allegedly violating his federal constitutional rights when they arrested him at the Fieldhouse on October 23, 2013. He also filed claims for state law violations. The defendant police officers and the City of Columbia argue that there is insufficient evidence to show any violation of the U.S. Constitution or state law, and even if there is such evidence, the defendant officers are entitled to either qualified or official immunity. Therefore, the Defendants argue a judgment should be entered in their favor.

         At this stage of the litigation, the Court's sole role is to determine whether there is evidence that the Defendants violated Mr. Daniels' constitutional rights. If such evidence has been presented, the Court must then determine whether an objective police officer in the same circumstances would understand that his or her actions violated the U.S. Constitution. Unless a court has previously found a constitutional violation involving similar facts, the police are not on notice that their actions violate the Constitution. When notice is lacking, the police are entitled to qualified immunity even if a constitutional violation occurred.

         In short, the Court does not sit as a super-personnel board to determine whether defendants acted professionally or reflected the expectations of the community. Rather, the Court's job is to follow the law outlined above, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.

         Given these limitations, the Court finds that Summary Judgment should be granted to all the Defendants on Mr. Daniels' federal claims. The Court exercises its discretion to dismiss the state claims without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled in state court.

         I. Undisputed Facts[1]

         On the evening of October 23, 2013, Officers Terranova and Corcoran were conducting a routine business check at the Fieldhouse, a bar in downtown Columbia. [Doc. 54, p. 8]. Near the same time, Officers German and Sinclair separately entered the Fieldhouse for a walkthrough. [Doc. 54, p. 8].

         The Fieldhouse was dimly lit and in some places was crowded that evening. [Doc. 70, p. 53-54; Exhibit I at 1:11]. Loud music played over the speaker system. [Doc. 70, p. 53-54; Exhibit I at 1:11].

         Plaintiff, Nicholas Daniels, an African American man, was at the Fieldhouse when the police entered. Daniels was a football coach at Lincoln University and weighed approximately 230 pounds. [Doc. 54, p. 5 and p. 43].

         Brock Gettemeier, a tall white man, was working as a Fieldhouse bouncer that night. [Doc. 54, p. 15]. Gettemeier wore his black Fieldhouse shirt, which said “The Fieldhouse” in yellow print on the front. [Doc. 54, p. 15].

         As Terranova checked the identification of several women, Corcoran approached Gettemeier and yelled into his ear, “Just a head's up-there's some real players in here. There's probably a gun or two in here tonight.” [Doc. 70, p. 51-2; Exhibit I at 2:13 and 3:30].

         Terranova and Corcoran then continued their walk through the bar. [Exhibit I at 3:38]. As Corcoran followed Terranova toward the front of the bar, he stopped, grabbed Terranova's shoulder and said, “Watch this guy. He's coming around the corner, man.” [Exhibit I at 4:25]. They then saw Brock Gettemeier, the Fieldhouse bouncer, having a physical confrontation with Daniels. [Doc. 54, p. 22]. Corcoran and Terranova moved toward them shouting, “Hey! Police, police, police!” [Doc. 70, p. 64; Exhibit I at 4:33]. As Gettemeier and Daniels went into the second dance floor area, Daniels reached up toward Gettemeier's neck.[2] [Doc. 54, p. 22; Exhibit 1 at 4:31-4:34]. As Terranova and Corcoran closed the distance with Daniels and Gettemeier, Daniels was trying to choke Gettemeier.[3] [Doc. 54, p. 24, ¶ 73]. Upon approaching, Corcoran grabbed Gettemeier's shoulder. [Exhibit I at 4:33-4:34]. During the altercation, Daniels heard officers yell, “Freeze” and “Get down.”[4] [Doc. 54, p. 35, ¶ 125; Doc. 39-1, p. 63 of 202; Exhibit M at 2:52]. Corcoran ordered Daniels to get on the ground, but he did not get on the ground. [Doc. 54, p. 25].[5]

         Corcoran then pulled Daniels' left arm slightly down, but Daniels forced it back up level with his head and again spread his fingers to display his palm. [Exhibit H at 3:48-50; Doc. 54, p. 24]. During these few seconds, German had also reached the altercation. [Exhibit H at 3:48]. With Corcoran still on Daniels' left side as he was pulling down Daniels' left arm, German faced Daniels and yelled in his face, “Put your hands behind your back! Put your hands behind your back!” [Exhibit H at 3:48-3:53]. Daniels' arms remained raised above his head. [Exhibit H at 3:48-3:53].

         During this time, Corcoran and Terranova punched Daniels several times, struck him in the knee, and attempted to sweep his legs out from under him; Daniels did not get on the ground or put his arms behind his back. [Docs. 70, p. 67; 39-1, p. 73]. At the same time that German reached the altercation and ordered Daniels to put his hands behind his back, Sinclair reached the altercation coming up right behind her. [Exhibit H at 3:53]. Upon reaching the group, Sinclair grabbed Gettemeier and pulled him away from the altercation, yelling, “Get back, get back, get back!” at Gettemeier. [Exhibit H at 3:55]. Immediately after, as Sinclair turned back toward Daniels and the other officers, Sinclair was punched in the face. [Exhibit H at 3:57]. Sinclair perceived[6] that he was punched by Daniels, but Daniels did not punch him. [Doc. 54, p. 33, ¶ 111].

         Shortly thereafter, Daniels broke away from the altercation with his hands at his sides. [Doc. 70, p. 73; Exhibit H at 4:00]. As Daniels began walking away from the officers, Terranova put his hands on Daniels' shoulders. [Exhibit H at 4:01]. Sinclair then raised his Taser, and shouted “Taser, Taser, Taser!” [Exhibit H at 4:02]. As Terranova released his grip on Daniels, Sinclair's Taser fired once into Daniels' back. [Exhibit H at 4:02-04; Doc. 54, p. 34]. As the Taser fired, Corcoran pulled Daniels' legs out from under him, and Daniels fell to the ground. [Exhibit H at 4:04; Doc. 70, p. 71].

         Once Daniels was on the floor, he rolled over onto his back and did not comply with the officers' orders to roll onto his stomach. [Doc. 54, p. 26]. At first, Terranova and Corcoran were unable to turn Daniels onto his stomach to handcuff him. [Docs. 39-19, p. 2; 54, p. 26]. Once Terranova and Corcoran did manage to turn him over onto his stomach, they pulled his hands behind his back and placed them in handcuffs.[7] [Docs. 39-19, p. 2; 54, p. 26]. At the police car, Daniels was told he had been arrested. [Doc. 70, p. 77; Exhibit H at 7:52].

         The officers did not record a statement about the incident from Gettemeier or any witnesses, before deciding to arrest Daniels. [Doc. 70, p. 81]. The officers did not arrest Gettemeier.

         After Daniels was driven to the Boone County Jail, Sergeant Cornman interviewed him about the incident as part of her use of force investigation. [Doc. 70, p. 83-84; Exhibit M]. During the video-recorded interview, Daniels indicated that he could feel soreness near his armpit on the side of his body. [Doc. 54, p. 44]. He also indicated that the area where the Taser struck him was sore. [Exhibit M at 8:30-9:30]. Daniels told Cornman that he suffered “scratches” from the incident. [Exhibit M at 10:30-13].

         B. Plaintiffs Claims:

         Plaintiff Nicholas Daniels' eleven claims are as follows:

• Count I: Violation of Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment Right Against Unlawful Seizure through False Arrest and Imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Asserted against Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count II: Violation of Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment Right Against Unlawful Seizure through Excessive Force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Asserted against Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count III: Violation of Plaintiffs Eighth Amendment Right Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Asserted against Officers Terranova and Sinclair.
• Count IV: Violation of Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment Right to Equal Protection of the Law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Asserted against Officer Corcoran.
• Count V: Civil Conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 to Deprive Plaintiff of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. Asserted against Sergeant Cornman and Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count VI: Failure to Train, Supervise, and Discipline Officers to Prevent Violation of Plaintiffs Constitutional Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Asserted against Chief Burton and the City.
• Count VII: Battery under Missouri law against Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count VIII: Conspiracy to Commit Battery under Missouri law against Officers Terranova and Corcoran.
• Count IX: False Imprisonment under Missouri law against Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count X: Malicious Prosecution under Missouri law against Sergeant Cornman and Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.
• Count XI: Conspiracy to Maliciously Prosecute under Missouri law against Sergeant Cornman and Officers Terranova, Corcoran, and Sinclair.

         II. Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matshushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 573, 587 (1986). A movant is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The rule requires summary judgment to be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity protects government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). This defense “provides ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Amrine v. Brooks, 522 F.3d 823, 831 (8th Cir. 2008). Thus, qualified immunity “allows officers to make reasonable errors so that they do not always err on the side of caution for fear of being sued.” Id. Qualified immunity is decided by a court as a matter of law; it is not decided by a jury. Bramblett v. City of Columbia, 2016 WL 4136960, at *4 (8th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016).

         C. Count I - ...


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