Bridget M. Murphy Plaintiff-Appellee
A. A. Engelhart Defendant-Appellant
Submitted: April 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - Kansas City.
LOKEN, WOLLMAN, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
State Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Engelhart stopped Bridget
Murphy for driving on top of the right outside lane line on a
federal highway. When Murphy refused to comply with
Engelhart's instructions to remain in his patrol car
during the traffic stop, Engelhart took Murphy to the ground,
breaking her knee. Murphy brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983
action against Engelhart,  alleging Fourth Amendment excessive
force and unlawful seizure claims, and assault and battery
claims under state law. The district court denied Engelhart
summary judgment on the excessive force claim because
"[t]he critical portion of the encounter in which
plaintiff alleges that Trooper Engelhart used excessive force
against her . . . happens out of view of the dash cam
appeals the district court's denial of summary judgment
on the excessive force claim, arguing he is entitled to
qualified immunity because Murphy failed to "present
sufficient facts which, when construed in the light most
favorable to her, show (1) the officer violated a
constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly
established at the time of the violation." Montoya
v. City of Flandreau, 669 F.3d 867, 872 (8th Cir. 2012).
Viewing the undisputed facts most favorably to Murphy, the
non-moving party, we conclude that Engelhart's actions
did not violate Murphy's clearly established
constitutional right and therefore reverse.
night in question, Murphy had several drinks before getting
in her car "a little before 10:00" p.m. to drive to
work. Soon after, Engelhart saw Murphy drive on top of the
right outside lane line and turned on his patrol car's
emergency lights. Murphy pulled onto the shoulder of the
highway and stopped. Engelhart's dashcam video recorded
much, but not all, of the ensuing encounter.
told Murphy he stopped her because she "went off the
right side of the road there a couple times" and asked
her to sit in his patrol car while he checked her license.
Murphy initially complied but exited Engelhart's car a
few minutes later and walked back to her vehicle. Engelhart
followed her, grabbed her arm, and instructed her at least
seven times to go back and sit in his car. Murphy refused and
repeatedly tried to pull her arm from Engelhart's grasp.
Engelhart told Murphy at least twice to "turn
around." Murphy again did not comply. Using an arm bar,
Engelhart moved Murphy to the front of the patrol car, where
they slid to the passenger side, out of the dashcam
video's view. At this point, their stories diverge.
According to Murphy, whose account we credit for purposes of
this appeal, Engelhart "threw" or
"shove[d]" her to the ground and landed on top of
her. The force of the fall broke Murphy's knee. Murphy
was then transported to the hospital, where a doctor
surgically treated the broken knee.
immunity shields an officer if his "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). To
establish that her right was clearly established, Murphy must
identify "controlling authority" or "a robust
'consensus of cases of persuasive authority'"
that "placed the statutory or constitutional question
beyond debate" at the time of Engelhart's alleged
violation. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741-42
(2011). "Use of excessive force is an area of the law in
which the result depends very much on the facts of each case,
and thus police officers are entitled to qualified immunity
unless existing precedent squarely governs the specific facts
at issue." Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148,
case, Murphy denied that she assaulted Engelhart before he
threw her to the ground. But it is undisputed that she
disobeyed Engelhart's repeated instructions to return to
his car, was uncooperative when Engelhart grabbed her and
told her to turn around, and repeatedly tried to pull her arm
away from his grasp. In addition, it is undisputed that
Murphy had been drinking and driving erratically, and the
dashcam video shows their struggle took place on the shoulder
of a dark highway, while several cars drove by. In these
circumstances, accepting the facts of the takedown as Murphy
describes them, we cannot conclude that Engelhart violated a
"clearly established" constitutional right when he
threw or shoved Murphy to the ground.
time of Murphy's injury, it was clearly established that
an officer could not "throw to the ground a nonviolent,
suspected misdemeanant who was not threatening anyone, was
not actively resisting arrest, and was not attempting to
flee." Montoya, 669 F.3d at 873. But in
Carpenter v. Gage, we held that it was reasonable
for a law enforcement officer to tase an uncooperative
suspect who "refused to offer his hands when ordered to
do so" and physically resisted arrest. 686 F.3d 644,
649-50 (8th Cir. 2012). In Blazek v. City of Iowa
City, when a belligerent occupant refused to "stay
seated as directed" while officers completed a search,
the officers grabbed his arm, twisted it upward behind his
back, threw him to the ground, jumped on his back, and
handcuffed him. 761 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 2014). Though we
held that the officers were not entitled to qualified
immunity for a subsequent injury, we also held: "It is
clear . . . that if the officers had lifted the belligerent
Blazek off his feet, thrown him to the ground, and jumped on
his back to handcuff him, without causing the alleged
[subsequent] injury . . . then the officers would have acted
reasonably or at least be entitled to qualified
immunity." Id. at 924. In Ehlers v. City of
Rapid City, which involved an incident before
Murphy's injury, we held it was constitutional for a
police officer to use a "spin takedown" on a man
who ignored twice-repeated instructions "to put his
hands behind his back." 846 F.3d 1002, 1011 (8th Cir.
2017). This year, the Supreme Court vacated denial of
qualified immunity to an officer who executed a takedown of a
man who disobeyed the officer's command not to close an
apartment door and then tried to "brush past" the
officer. City of Escondido v. Emmons, 139 S.Ct. 500,
light of these authorities, we cannot conclude that Murphy
has identified "a robust consensus of cases" that
placed the excessive force question "beyond debate"
at the time of Engelhart's alleged violation.
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 741-42.
Accordingly, Engelhart's takedown did not violate a
clearly established constitutional right. The order of the
district court denying Engelhart summary judgment on Count I
of the Second Amended Complaint is reversed.