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Hightower v. City of St. Louis

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

November 3, 2016

CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the joint motion of defendants Dorothy Stewart and Anthony Davis and the separate motion of defendant Richard Edwards for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[1] Plaintiff has responded in opposition to both motions, and the issues are fully briefed.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff David Hightower brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against defendant Richard Edwards, a St. Louis police officer, and defendants Anthony Davis and Dorothy Stewart, nurses at the St. Louis City jail. In Count I, plaintiff claims that Edwards used excessive force in arresting him on June 19, 2014. According to plaintiff, the force used by Edwards resulted in fracturing plaintiff's shoulder. In Count II, plaintiff claims that Davis and Stewart were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's injuries after he was brought to the jail, and as a result plaintiff suffered extreme pain and was subjected to assault and verbal abuse by other inmates. In Count III, plaintiff asserts a state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against all three defendants.[2]

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts. AgriStor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987). The moving party bears the burden of showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). If the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations of its pleadings, but must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Gannon Int'l, Ltd. v. Blocker, 684 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2012); Gibson v. Am. Greetings Corp., 670 F.3d 844, 853 (8th Cir. 2012). “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.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587).

         III. Discussion

         A. Excessive Force

         In Count I of the third amended complaint, plaintiff claims that defendant Edwards used excessive force in arresting plaintiff on June 19, 2014, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. A claim that a law enforcement officer used excessive force in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure of a free citizen is properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's objective reasonableness standard, rather than the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process standard. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989); Dennen v. City of Duluth, 350 F.3d 786, 790 (8th Cir. 2003). Therefore, Edwards is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the Fourteenth Amendment claim in Count I.

         The undisputed evidence is that plaintiff ran from police officers as they were attempting to arrest him for a parole violation. An officer deployed a Taser, and plaintiff fell to the ground. Plaintiff testified that at that point he stopped resisting arrest and “[s]omebody held me down, put my shoulder around my back and twisted my arm all the way up and put me in handcuffs.” Pl.'s Dep. 56:175-20, 21-24 [Doc. #83-2]. Plaintiff sustained a non-dislocated fracture of his left shoulder.

         In support of his motion, Edwards submitted a statement of uncontroverted material facts, excerpts from plaintiff's deposition, and several documents. He did not submit an affidavit or other sworn statement. However, Edwards asserts that the alleged twisting of plaintiff's arm “occurred before he was secured in handcuffs, ” and that plaintiff ultimately pled guilty to a charge of resisting arrest. Def't. Statement of Uncontroverted Facts, ¶¶ 6 and 8 [Doc. #83-1].

         “A use of force is unlawful under the Fourth Amendment if it is objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting law enforcement officers at the time of the incident.” Procknow v. Curry, No. 15-2046, 2016 WL 3383776, at *3 (8th Cir. June 20, 2016) (citing Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 600 (8th Cir. 2014)). “The ‘reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. This calculus allows “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Id. at 396-97. “Circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the officer's conduct include ‘the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.'” Brown v. City of Golden Valley, 574 F.3d 491, 496 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). “A court may also evaluate the extent of the suspect's injuries, as well as standard police procedures.” Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 826 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted); see Chambers v. Pennycook, 641 F.3d 898, 906 (8th Cir. 2011) (“The degree of injury is certainly relevant insofar as it tends to show the amount and type of force used.”). An officer's underlying intent or motivation is not relevant to an objective reasonableness analysis. Graham, 490 U.S. at 397.

         The Court cannot determine on the basis of the present record whether twisting plaintiff's arm to the point of fracturing his shoulder was a reasonable use of force after plaintiff ceased running from the police and was no longer resisting arrest. Thus, it cannot be said that Edwards is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the excessive force claim.

         Edwards argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity. “[Q]ualified 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.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “To overcome the defense of qualified immunity the plaintiff must show: ‘(1) the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation.'” Meehan v. Thompson, 763 F.3d 936, 940 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Parrish v. Ball, 594 F.3d 993, 1001 (8th Cir. 2010)). As to the first prong, “whether summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity is appropriate from a particular set of facts is a question of law.” Lambert v. City of Dumas, 187 F.3d 931, 935 (8th Cir. 1999). “The issue of qualified immunity, however, is frequently intertwined with unresolved factual questions.” Littrell v. Franklin, 388 F.3d 578, 585 (8th Cir. 2004).

         Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, Edwards held plaintiff down on the ground and twisted his arm with enough force to fracture plaintiff's shoulder. Even if plaintiff was not handcuffed at the time, he had been disabled by the Taser and was not resisting arrest. When plaintiff was arrested in June 2014, the law in the Eighth Circuit was clearly established that a police officer's use of excessive force in effecting an arrest violates the Fourth Amendment. See Kukla v. Hulm, 310 F.3d 1046, 1050 (8th Cir. 2002) (right to be free from excessive force clearly established; genuine issue of fact precluded summary judgment when defendant police officer twisted plaintiff's arm, causing injury to his collar ...

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