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Stewart v. Speiser

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

January 29, 2018

MICHAEL STEWART, et al., Plaintiffs,
DAVID SPEISER, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, (Doc. 34), asserts nine claims against law enforcement officers from the Lathrop Police Department, the Clinton County Sheriff's Department, the North Kansas City Police Department, and a security guard at the North Kansas City Hospital, (“the Hospital”). All defendants are purportedly sued in their individual and official capacities. (Doc. 34, ¶¶ 9-10.) The first eight counts are claimed civil rights violations, brought by Plaintiff Michael Stewart (“Michael”)[1] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count IX is a claim for loss of consortium brought by Plaintiff Jennifer Stewart (“Jennifer”).

         Defendant Christopher Kimmel is an officer with the North Kansas City Police Department. He has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, contending the undisputed facts demonstrate that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiffs contend that there are disputed issues of material fact that preclude judgment as a matter of law. As set forth below, Kimmel's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 69), is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. General Observations

         At the outset the Court addresses some general matters to explain why they are not discussed in greater detail in this Order. First, some aspects of Plaintiffs' claims refer to incidents that Kimmel was not involved in and that form the basis for Plaintiffs' claims against other Defendants. Each side disputes the other's characterization of these events but the Court should not delve deeply into those disputes because, as stated, Kimmel was not involved in them and they do not form the basis for Plaintiffs' claims against Kimmel. The Court can provide sufficient context for Plaintiffs' claims against Kimmel by discussing those other matters generally, without detail.

         Second, in some instances Plaintiffs attempt to dispute facts by discussing unrelated facts that have nothing to do with the proposition originally advanced by Kimmel. The Court finds it unnecessary to discuss these extraneous allegations.[2] Relatedly, there are several occasions in which Plaintiffs attempt to dispute a fact with a contention that is not supported by the portion of the Record cited by Plaintiffs. The Court will not point out all such occasions, and will provide citations to the Record as necessary.

         B. Events Giving Rise to Plaintiffs' Claims Against Kimmel

         Michael was arrested outside a convenience store in Lathrop, Missouri, on August 8, 2014; the arresting officer (David Speiser, of the Lathrop Police Department) administered force in the course of arresting Michael. He was then taken to the Clinton County Jail; there, he was involved in another physical altercation. At some point thereafter, Michael was transported to the Hospital by ambulance. Two deputies from Clinton County (John Patterson and Jeffrey Parton) and Speiser came to the Hospital as well. An incident occurred when the officers removed Plaintiff from the ambulance, after which Speiser signed a complaint alleging that he was assaulted by Michael. Speiser did not have authority to arrest Michael (because he was not a law enforcement officer for North Kansas City or Clay County), so Gary Ficken - an off-duty North Kansas City police officer who was working as a security officer at the Hospital - directed that Michael be arrested when he was discharged from the Hospital. The arrest was effectuated by Kimmel.

         According to Michael, when Kimmel put the handcuffs on “he slapped the handcuff on” and Michael “said ‘Ow, could you do that a little bit harder next time?' and he did. He smacked on [sic] the right side.” (Doc. 101-1, p. 36 (Michael Stewart Depo., p. 134).) Michael further testified that “[i]f you slap the handcuff from a distance, it hurts . . . and that was done.” (Doc. 101-1, p. 36 (Michael Stewart Depo., p. 135).)

         At the police station, Michael refused to answer questions asked by Kimmel and told him to talk to his attorney; the two eventually became “verbally aggressive” in their exchange. (Doc. 101-1, p. 38 (Michael Stewart Depo., p. 141).) However, there is no suggestion that Michael was physically aggressive; the evidence viewed in the light most favorably to Plaintiffs suggests that Michael was uncooperative, perhaps belligerent, and refused to answer certain questions. After the booking process was completed, Kimmel told Michael that he was “going into the tank, ” grabbed him, and began escorting him to a cell. According to Michael, when the pair reached the doorway to the cell, Kimmel stepped back, hit Michael from behind, and knocked him into the wall. (Doc. 101-1, p. 38 (Michael Stewart Depo., p. 143).) Michael described the contact as similar to a football player running into another from behind, and stated the force was sufficient to knock him off of his feet and into the wall head-first, at which point Michael fell to the ground. (Doc. 101-1, pp. 38-39 (Michael Stewart Depo., pp. 143-45).) Michael then asked for an ambulance to return him to the Hospital, and this was done.

         As summarized earlier, Michael was involved in several altercations with law enforcement on August 8 prior to the incident with Kimmel. The Record contains some evidence regarding Michael's injuries, but there is little evidence that would allow a factfinder to attribute a specific injury to a particular incident.[3] Michael testified that his collision with the cell's wall caused a knot on his head. (Doc. 101-1, p. 39 (Michael Stewart Depo., p. 146).) Jennifer testified that at the end of the day Michael “looked disheveled, like he had been in a fight, bruis[ed], ” “had a mark on his face and he had a huge bump on his head and he complained of a headache, ” and his [w]hole body hurt.” (Doc. 101-5, p. 40 (Jennifer Stewart Depo., pp. 150-51).)[4] Records from the Hospital on his return visit indicate that Michael complained of a sore throat and swelling on his side and neck from being choked earlier in the day (not by Kimmel), but nothing specifically related to the incident at the North Kansas City Police Department. (Doc. 101-5, p. 4.) He was not treated for head trauma or wrist pain at the Hospital. Michael saw Dr. Braden Dunbar approximately twelve days later; a CT scan was performed but the results were normal. (Doc. 70-6, pp. 1-2.) He returned to Dr. Dunbar in November 2014, complaining of injuries from the events of August 8 (including “being pushed forcefully unto the jail cell where he struck his head on the wall losing consciousness”); those injuries consisted of frequent severe headaches and pain in his neck and wrist. An MRI was normal. (Doc. 70-6, p. 6.)[5]

         Most of Plaintiffs' claims do not involve Kimmel, but the Court will list them because Plaintiffs allege that Kimmel conspired to commit the violations in all of the claims in the Amended Complaint. Count I asserts Michael was subjected to excessive force before he was brought to the Hospital. Count II alleges that Michael's arrest outside the convenience store in Lathrop was not supported by probable cause. Count III asserts that law enforcement officers failed to protect Michael from excessive force. Count VI is a specific attempt to impose liability on Lathrop and Clinton County. Kimmel is not a defendant in any of these claims.

         Kimmel is named as a Defendant in Counts IV, VII, and IX.[6] Count IV is a conspiracy claim, which asserts that all or most of the law enforcement officers (including Kimmel) conspired with each other to violate Michael's civil rights as set forth in the Amended Complaint's other claims. Count VII alleges that Kimmel employed excessive force. Count IX is a loss of consortium claim asserted by Jennifer; Kimmel is a defendant on this derivative claim to the extent that he is a defendant in Counts IV and VII.[7]

         Kimmel argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Counts IV and VII because the uncontroverted facts demonstrate that (1) he did not apply excessive force and that he did not form an agreement with any of the other Defendants to violate Michael's civil rights, and (2) even if he did, a reasonable officer in his position would not have known that he was violating Michael's constitutional rights. He further contends that he cannot be liable to Jennifer under Count IX if he is not liable under either Count IV or Count VII. Plaintiffs oppose summary judgment. In the course of the Court's analysis additional facts will be discussed, but as detailed below Kimmel's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART.


         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only upon a showing that “there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” See generally Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). In applying this standard, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 (8th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 ...

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