J.B. v. Amerson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B Propst on 8/30/2012. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1)(AVC)
2012 Aug-30 PM 01:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
J.B., a minor, who sues by and
through his Mother and next
friend, Stacy Brown
SHERIFF LARRY AMERSON
and DEPUTY WARD
This cause comes to be heard on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the
defendants on May 25,2012, and orally argued by the parties at a recorded hearing on July 26,
While Shakespeare suggested in The Merchant of Venice that a good deed "shines" in a
naughty world," others have said that "no good deed goes unpunished. ,,2 Sheriff Amerson's good
deed was to volunteer to conduct a community service program (not one of his prescribed duties)
attempting to steer juveniles away from disorderly conduct and more serious conflicts with law
enforcement, and to aid public schools in this pursuit. The plaintiff was voluntarily enrolled by
his mother in a program Amerson created called "Success Academy" or "Suspended Student
Program." The program was distinguished, in writing, from so-called "scared straight"
Remaining claims against defendant Ward were dismissed by the plaintiff.
2 There is no clear cut answer to the question of who originated the latter quote. It has been associated with
G. K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, Billy Wilder, Clare Booth Luce, etc. Some of these persons obviously just further
popularized the expression.
After some initial legal jousting, the remaining issue in this case has become whether the
plaintiff suffered from more than de minimis force by defendant Amerson in violation of the
Fourth Amendment. In other words, did Amerson apply excessive force to the plaintiff? What
happened with regard to the only remaining issue in this case is substantially established by a
video of the interaction between Amerson and the plaintiff, 3 the depositions of plaintiff and his
mother, and documents maintained by the Coosa Valley Youth Services and Juvenile Detention
of the State of Alabama.
Standard of Review
Under Rule 56(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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." "Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, 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). The
moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
ld. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to "go beyond the
pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted).
3 It is clear that the only force which should be considered relates to the one brief application of force after
the two sat side by side on a bench. Amerson claims that he heard plaintiff "hocking" in preparation to spitting on
him. The court cannot so determine as a matter of law.
A dispute about a material fact is genuine "ifthe evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986). The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the
non-moving party's favor). "On summary judgment, "[i]fthere is conflict between the plaintiff's
and the defendant's allegations or in the evidence, the plaintiff's evidence is to be believed and
all reasonable inferences must be drawn in his favor." Shotz v. City ofPlantation, Fla., 344 F. 3d
1161, 1164 (lith Cir. 2003) (quoting Molina v. Merritt & Furman Ins. Agency, 207 F. 3d 1351,
1356 (11 th Cir. 2000)). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are
legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321,
1326 (l1th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F .2d 1560,
1563 (11th CiT. 1989)). Moreover, "[a] mere
of evidence supporting the opposing
party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could
reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990)(citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
Amerson argues that there is no evidence of a Constitutional violation because, among
other reasons, the alleged force was de minimis and not excessive. He argues that, in any event,
he is entitled to a dismissal of claim(s) based on qualified immunity.
"Qualified immunity operates 'to ensure that before they are subjected to suit, officers are
on notice their conduct is unlawfuL'" Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002) (citing Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 206 (2001». Therefore, "[g]overnment officials performing discretionary
functions are entitled to qualified immunity 'insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. '"
Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1424 (lIth Cir. 1997) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982». Indeed, officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless the "supposedly
wrongful act was already established to such a high degree that every objectively reasonable official
standing in the defendant's place would be on notice that what the defendant official was doing
would be clearly unlawful given the circumstances." Bozeman v. Orum, 422 F.3d 1265, 1273 (11 th
Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In other words, qualified immunity
"gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments."
Messerschmidt v. Millender, _U.S._, 132 S.Ct. 1235, 1344-45 (2012). Therefore, '''[b]ecause
qualified immunity shields government actors in all but exceptional cases, courts should think long
and hard before stripping defendants of immunity. ,,, GJR Investments, Inc. v. County ofEscambia,
132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir. 1998)(quotingLassiterv. Alabama A & MUniv. Bd. ofTrs., 28 F.3d
1146,1149 (11th Cir. 1994».
To receive qualified immunity from suit, "the government official must first prove that he
was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred." Mathews v. Crosby, 480 F.3d 1265, 1269 (11th Cir. 2007). The burden then shifts to the
plaintiff to demonstrate that qualified immunity is not appropriate by showing that (1) "the
government official's conduct violated a Constitutional right" and (2) the Constitutional right was
"clearly established" by preexisting federal law at the time ofthe action. Id. (citing Saucier, 553 U.S.
at 201). A court need no longer follow the rigid two-prong approach introduced in Saucier. The
Supreme Court has provided that 'judges of the district courts ... should be permitted to exercise
their sound discretion in deciding which ofthe two prongs ofthe qualified immunity analysis should
be addressed first in light ofthe circumstances in the particular case at hand." Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
"'Whether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an
allegedly unlawful action generally turns on the 'objective legal reasonableness' of the action,
assessed in light of the legal rules that were 'clearly established' at the time it was taken. '"
Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1244-45 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987».
In the Eleventh Circuit, "the law can be 'clearly established' for qualified immunity purposes only
by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit Court ofAppeals, or the highest court of
the state where the case arose." Jenkins v. Talladega Bd. ofEduc., 115 F.3d 821, 827 (1Ith Cir.
1997) (en banc) (internal citations omitted). To be "clearly established," pre-existing law must
provide "fair warning" to the defendant government official that his conduct was illegaL
Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1244-45. The Eleventh Circuit has held that "[w]hen an excessive force
plaintiff shows that the official's conduct lies so obviously at the very core of what the Constitution
prohibits that the unlawfulness of the conduct was readily apparent to the official, notwithstanding
the lack ofcase law, the official is not entitled to the defense ofqualified immunity." Priester v. City
ofRiviera Beach, Fla., 208 F.3d 919,926 (l1th Cir. 2000).
The Supreme Court has provided that a plaintiff s excessive force claim is "properly analyzed
under the Fourth Amendment's 'objective reasonableness' standard." Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S.
386, 388 (1989). 4 The objective reasonableness standard requires the court to "carefully balance 'the
nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests' against 'the
countervailing governmental interests at stake.'" Oliver v. Fiorino, 586 F.3d 898, 905 (11th Cir.
2009) (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). See also Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1233, 1250 (11th Cir.
2012). The Eleventh Circuit has stated that "[i]n determining the reasonableness of the force
applied, we look at the fact pattern from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene with
knowledge of the attendant circumstances and facts, and balance the risk of bodily harm to the
suspect against the gravity of the threat the officer sought to eliminate.'" Id. at 1251 (quoting
McCullough v. Antonlini, 559 F.3d 1201, 1206 (11th Cir. 2009». Courts musttake into accountthe
Supreme Court's statement that '" [t]he calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the
fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments about the amount of force
that is necessary in a particular situation.'" Penley v. Eslinger, 605 F.3d 843, 950 (11th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Graham, 490 U. S. at 397». The "reasonableness ofthe officer's belief as to the appropriate
level offorce should be judged from [the] on-scene perspective." Saucierv. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,205
However, "the application of de minimis force, without more, will not support a claim for
excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment." Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, 1094
(II th Cir. 2003) (citing Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253,1257 (11th Cir. 2000)). The Eleventh Circuit
has considered de minimis force to include "where an officer grabbed the plaintiff from behind the
shoulder and wrist, threw him against a van three or four feet away, kneed him in the back and
pushed his head into the side of the van, searched his groin area in an uncomfortable manner, and
See, however, Rodriquez v. Phillips, 66 F.3d 470 (2nd Cir. 1995).
handcuffed him." Id. (quoting Nolin, 207 F.3d at 1255). See also Jones v. City a/Dothan, 121 F.3d
1456, 1460 (llth Cir. 1997) (finding the level offorce used to be only minor where officers pushed
the plaintiff against a wall, kicked his legs apart, put his arms above his head, and removed his wallet
from his pants pocket). The Supreme Court has recognized that "[nJot every push or shove, even if
it may seem unnecessary in [the] peace of a judge's chambers, violates the Fourth Amendment."
Saucier, 533 U.S. at 209.
At least one factor that has been considered by the court in determining the reasonableness
of the level of force used against a plaintiff is whether the plaintiff was restrained at the time the
force was used. See Durruthy, 351 F.3d at 1094 ("Notably, Durruthy had not been restrained at the
time the force was applied, distinguishing the instant case from two cases on which the district court
relied.").' For example, in Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1191, 1198-99 (lIth Cir. 2002), the court
denied qualified immunity, finding the level offorce used against the plaintiff to be excessive where
the plaintiffhad already been handcuffed when officers slammed her into a car. Similarly, in Priester
v. City a/Riviera Beach, 208 F.3d 919, 927 (11th Cir. 2000), the court found force to be excessive
where an officer had released an attack dog on the plaintiff after the plaintiff had already been
forced to lie on the ground and while the officer pointed his gun at the plaintiff's head.
In Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989), the Court stated:
As in other Fourth Amendment contexts, however, the "reasonableness" inquiry in
an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers'
actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances
confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. See Scott
v. Untied States, 436 U.S. 128, 137-39, 98 S.Ct. 1717, 1723-24, 56 L.Ed.2d 168
(1978); see also Terry v. Ohio, supra, 392 U.S., at 21,88 S.Ct., at 1879 (in analyzing
5 Here, the plaintiff was cuffed and shackled. That fact, however, had little to do with the nature and
degree of force applied here.
the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure, "it is imperative that the facts be
judged against an objective standard"). An officer's evil intentions will not make a
Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will
an officer's good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force
constitutional. See Scott v. United States, supra, 436 U.S., at 138,98 S.Ct., at 1723,
citing United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 94 S.Ct. 467,38 L.Ed.2d 427 (1973).
fd. at 397.
The Eleventh Circuit recently reiterated the objectivity requirement of the reasonableness
analysis in the excessive force context in Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1166 (1Ith Cir.
2009) ("'the 'reasonableness' inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one ... "') (quoting
Graham, 490 U.S. at 397). The plaintiff cites an Eleventh Circuit case, Hadley v. Gutierrez, 526 F.3d
1324 (11 th Cir. 2008), for the proposition that in determining the reasonableness of force used, a
court can consider whether the officer applied the force in a "malicious" and "sadistic" manner or
else in "good faith." See Hadley, 526 F.3d at 1324 ("Our cases identify several factors instructive
in determining whether an officer's use offorce was objectively reasonable, including ... (4) whether
the force was applied in good faith or maliciously and sadistically.") (quoting Slicker v. Jackson, 215
F.3d 1225, 1233 (11 th Cir. 2000). However, inquiry into the officer's subjective intentions behind
using force was expressly foreclosed in Graham. 490 U.S. at 397. The Hadley and Slicker opinions
directly rely on a quote from the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Leslie v. Ingram, which came out
three years before the Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Graham. The Leslie court stated that one
of the factors a court could consider in "determining whether an officer's use of force was
objectively reasonable" was "whether the force was applied in good faith or maliciously and
sadistically." 786 F.2d 1533, 1536 (11th Cir. 1986). The Graham decision directly overruled the use
of this factor. 490 U.S. at 397 ("An officer's evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment
violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer's good intentions make
an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutionaL"). See also Graham, 490 U.S. at 397 ("We
do not agree with the Court of Appeals' suggestion, see 827 F.2d, at 948, that the "malicious and
sadistic" inquiry is merely another way ofdescribing conduct that is objectively unreasonable under
the circumstances...the fact remains that the "malicious and sadistic factor puts in issue the
subjective motivations of the individuals officers, which our prior cases make clear has no bearing
on whether a particular seizure is 'unreasonable' under the Fourth Amendment.").
Other Eleventh Circuit cases have recognized Graham's overruling of Leslie's use of the
subjective intent factor. In Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1257 n. 3 (lIth Cir. 2000), the court stated,
"[t]he district court correctly noted that Leslie included the now-superceded four part test for
excessive force claims." Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit in Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1198
n.7 (lIth Cir. 2002) stated:
Although this Circuit's test previously included a subjective prong examining
whether the force was applied maliciously, see, e.g., Leslie, 786 F.2d at 1536, this
factor has been eliminated from the analysis by Graham and other cases establishing
that the excessive force inquiry should be completely objective, therefore excluding
consideration ofthe officer's intentions. See Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1257 n.3
(11 th Cir. 2000) (referring to subjective element of excessive force test as
"invalidated"); see also Graham, 490 U.S. at 397-99, 109 S.Ct. 1872-73 ("An
officer's evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an
objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer's good intentions make an
objectively reasonable use offorce constitutionaL"). The other three elements ofthe
Leslie test are still valid after Graham. See, e.g., Jackson, 206 F.3d at 1170 n. 18.
(emphasis in original). When examining the reasonableness of the force used by an officer against
the plaintiff, the officer's motivations and intentions will not be taken into account. The only thing
the court will consider is whether the officer's use of force was objectively reasonable under the
circumstances. Therefore, the court will not consider any argument put forth by the plaintiff that the
defendant allegedly used force against the plaintiff in a malicious or sadistic manner.
De Minimis Force
In the Fourth Amendment excessive force analysis, courts do not give de minimis injury
separate consideration from de minimis force, but instead consider them in conjunction with one
another. For example, in Jones v. City ofDothan, 121 F.3d 1456, 1460 (lIth Cir. 1997), the Eleventh
Circuit determined that qualified immunity protected the officers because while "the use of force
against [the plaintiff] may have been unnecessary, the actual force and the injury inflicted were both
minor in nature." The Eleventh Circuit has also considered de minimis injury as evidence that the
level offorce applied against the plaintiff was also merely de minimis, as opposed to excessive. See
Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1256 (lIth Cir. 2000)(quoting Goldv. City ofMiami, 121 F.3d 1442,
1446-47 (lIth Cir. 1997) ("The minor nature ofthis injury reflects that minimal force was used to
apply the handcuffs.").
Conclusions of the Court
The undisputed evidence in this case establishes that the purported injury to the plaintiff was
de minimis, if existent, and, thus, that any force was de minimis and not excessive. The court
initially looks to the depositions ofplaintiff and his mother. The plaintiffs deposition suggests that
he had social-type problems before the incident and that his experiences at the jail may have actually
caused some improvement in his interaction with authority figures. He was polite throughout his
deposition. At one point he stated, "I used to have a problem with authority. I'm getting over that
now. ,,6 Plaintiff stated that his present grades are good. Plaintiff stated that prior to the incident with
Amerson he had been confronted with inappropriate language and that he responded in kind with a
That, of course, was one of the purposes ofthe subject program at the jail.
female officer and perhaps others. He said that he got disrespectful and may have been trying to
"pick a fight or something." He threatened to sue the officers he dealt with before he was turned
over to Amerson.
Plaintiff testified that he was cuffed and shackled before Amerson came to the bench
where he was sitting. He testified that Amerson said he was "here to help me and all this other stuff
and I made the statement, I don't really care about this .... I remember saying that and all I
remember after that was the moment where he had choked me." He did not remember being struck
by Amerson. 7 The alleged "choking" incident was all that he could recall with reference to any
physical conduct by Amerson. Plaintiff stated that Amerson's hand( s) were on his neck and throat,
not his mouth, and that it "shortened" his breath after he applied a "small amount of pressure."
(Emphasis added). He acknowledged that he challenged Amerson to fight. Plaintiff stated, "I did
not try to spit." After the incident he was taken to a room where he cracked a window with a chair
and did other damage because he allegedly had been told that inmates would come in the room.
Plaintiffs mother testified to the medicines he has been taking since before the
incident and that "he's doing pretty good." Plaintiffs mother testified that prior to the incident a
judge had "placed him on probation and put him in the "Success Academy." This resulted from a
"squabble" with a teacher when plaintiff used vile language and a threat. She stated that at the time
of the deposition (April 26, 2012) he was current with his grades and "on time."
His mother signed plaintiff into Amerson's program. She dropped him offat the jail.
She testified that he did not have as much problem with people of authority as with what he
perceived as untruthful people. She testified that his ADHD had something to do with it; that he gets
Plaintiff repeatedly (many dozens oftimes) stated that he could not "remember" when asked questions.
frustrated and finds it hard to pull back on it. She stated that, "he had gotten suspended at the middle
school a couple of times .... [for] fighting with another student, arguing, speaking out, talking at
lunch." Asked, "How are his grades now," she stated, "they have improved greatly." She's had no
out of pocket expenses on account of the incident. She does not know of any medical treatment he
has received since the incident. He's refused to go to therapists.
Entries in various documents created by the Coosa Valley Youth Services and
Juvenile Detention of Alabama reveal some consistencies with the depositions of plaintiff and his
mother and some possible inconsistencies. One entry (6.), indicates some possibility ofunmeasured
pain in "shoulder-wrists from being arrested." There is no indication as to who may have caused any
such pain. There is no suggestion that Amerson caused any such pain. The depositions suggest to
the contrary. The document is apparently dated Feb. 7, 2011. Another document provides a list of
possible "skin problems," (13.), with a listing ofsuch problems including "abrasions, bruises." The
section indicates no such problems, "abrasions, bruises" or otherwise. No. 16 pictures body
sketches with no indication of bruises, abrasions or otherwise. It is dated Feb. 7,2011.
Under a category ofInitial Medical Assessment, No.7, it is stated that there is no
appearance of being tearful, fearful, sad, anxious, withdrawn, agitated or with anger regarding
placement. The entry is apparently dated Feb. 18,2011. No. 20 under this heading has the same
listing as No. 13 stated above, again with a statement of none. No. 24 of this Feb. 18, 2011
document has the same body sketches referred to above as being under 16, but, unlike the number
16 sketches, has a statement of "1) abrasions" beneath the sketches.
Under a heading of "Juvenile Detention, State of Alabama," there are entries which
state the plaintiff is not ill or suffering any pain but that he has recently been physically or sexually
abused. There is no suggestion of who committed any such abuse. The form is dated Feb. 4,2011
and further states, "Claims he was beaten at the Sheriff's De [sic] arriving to CVYS." It does not
state by whom. The depositions suggest to the contrary with regard to any "beating" by Amerson.
The same form indicates that the plaintiff has no "serious injury" and does not appear to be in need
of medical attention. The same form also indicates that there are no "altered mental status,"
''trauma,'' "markingslbruises," or "open sores/wounds."
A form dated Feb. 7,2011, states, "Youth stated that he was beaten up by Sheriff
deputy (not Amerson)." Plaintiffs unsworn handwritten "Statement of Allegation ofAbuse" dated
Feb. 7, 2011 mentions Amerson only as follows: "And then even later that day they call the Sheriff
and told him that I was going to tell. So when the sheriff got there I was chained to a metal bench.
So the Sheriff ask to 'speak to me in private' and they left and locked the door behind them. And
[illegible] when the sheriffs started hitting me [contrary to the video and plaintiffs deposition] ..
Attached hereto as Exhibit 1 is a photograph of what purports to be a slight bruise to
plaintiffs neck. s Even a slight bruise cannot be truly perceived from an examination of the
photograph. Plaintiff never sought nor received any medical examination or treatment for any
purported physical or mental injury. There has been no expert testimony or other evidence ofinjury
except that which might be gleaned from the depositions. Plaintiff testified that he could not
"remember" any other physical injury other than the alleged "bruise." Plaintiff did not remember
any doctor "checking out" any injury he may have had. He could not "remember any long-term
effect" of any alleged injury.
Apparently, the only still photograph of significance in evidence.
The case of Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253 (lIth Cir. 2000) has a good discussion of
the Eleventh Circuit law on the consideration of de minimis injury in the context of excessive force
claims. Among the statements in that case are the following:
... Appellant contends the district court erred in denying his request
for summary judgment based on qualified and discretionary immunity or the failure
to establish a constitutional violation. Id. at 1254.
The crux of the dispute centers around Appellant's use of force in
arresting Appellee. Appellee claims Appellant grabbed him from behind by the
shoulder and wrist, threw him against a van three or four feet away, kneed him in
the back and pushed his head into the side of the van, searched his groin area in an
uncomfortable manner, and handcuffed him. Appellee maintains he suffered
bruising to his forehead, chest, and wrists, although he admits the bruises
disappeared quickly and he did not seek medical treatment. Id. at 1255 .
... At least three cases from this Court have used the principle of de
minimis force since Graham in reversing a district court's denial of qualified
immunity to police officers. SeeJonesv. City ofDothen, 121 F.3d 1456(11 thCir.
1997); Gold v. City ofMiami, 121 F.3d 1442 (11 th Cir. 1997); Post, 7 F.3d at1552.
In the earliest of the post-Graham cases, Post, the officer, who sought to arrest the
plaintiff for a building code violation, pushed the plaintiff against a wall and applied
a choke-hold before placing the plaintiff in handcuffs-all despite the fact that the
plaintiff did not resist. This Court concluded that (o)nce [the plaintiff] was
handcuffed and taken outside, no further force was needed. But, even though
pushing [the plaintiff] against the wall might have been unnecessary, this pushing
was not plainly unlawful. When [the officer] acted, the case law on excessive force
looked to, among other things, the need for force, the amount of force used, and the
injury inflicted. That the amount of force [the officer] used, even if unnecessary,
was enough to violate the law was not plain; reasonable doubt existed, and still
exists, on whether this amount of unnecessary force was unlawful.
7 F.3d at 1559-60 (citations omitted).
In Gold, the defendant officer arrested the plaintiff for disorderly
conduct, which consisted mainly of disrespectful comments to the officer, and
placed him in handcuffs. The plaintiff complained that the officer had applied the
handcuffs too tightly and had refused to loosen them for more than twenty minutes.
In granting qualified immunity to the officer, this Court stated that
the facts viewed in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff] show that [the
plaintiff] experienced pain from the handcuffs for roughly twenty minutes and that
[the plaintiff] suffered only skin abrasions for which he did not seek medical
treatment. The minor nature of this injury reflects that minimal force was used to
apply the handcuffs. Certainly, these circumstances would not "inevitably lead" a
reasonable officer in the officers' positions to conclude that the force used to apply
the handcuffs was unlawful.
121 F.3d at 1446-47.
Finally, in Jones the officer "slammed" the plaintiff against a wall,
"kicked his legs apart, required him to raise his arms above his head, and pulled his
wallet from his pants." 121 F.3d at 1460. This led the plaintiffto experience "pain
from having to lift his arms since he had previously suffered a stroke," and "pain in
his arthritic knee from having his legs picked apart." Id. In addition, the plaintiff
later received minor medical treatment for the pain in his knee. Nevertheless, the
Jones Court determined, relying on Post, that qualified immunity shielded the
officers because while "the use of force against [the plaintiff] may have been
unnecessary, the actual force used and the injury inflicted were both minor in nature.
Given such variables, the application of the excessive force standard would not
inevitably lead an official in [the defendant officers'] position to conclude that the
force was unlawful." Id. At 1460-61.
From the foregoing cases, we conclude this Circuit has established
the principle that the application of de minimis force, without more will not support
a claim for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
As described above, Appellant, pursuant to what the district court
found to be a lawful arrest, merely grabbed Appellee and shoved him a few feed
against a vehicle, pushed Appellant's knee into Appellee's back and Appellee's
head against the van, searched Appellee's groin area in an uncomfortable manner
and place Appellee in handcuffs. Appellee had minor bruising which quickly
disappeared without treatment. This factual recitation by Appellee fails well within
the ambit of the de minimis force principle of Post, Gold, and Jones. In fact, the
facts sound little different from the minimal amount offorce and injury involved in
a typical arrest.
ld. At 1259 FN4.a9
This court concludes that there was no Constitutional violation because there was no
excessive force; there was only de minimis physical or mental injury, if any injury. Further, even
it could be reasonably argued that there is a question offact as to whether there was a Constitutional
Fourth Amendment violation, the defendant Amerson is entitled to prevail on his qualified immunity
defense. The plaintiff has not met the burden of defeating qualified immunity by showing that the
law was clearly established that such force was excessive under the circumstances. Even if it could
be established that Amerson acted with rudeness and anger, that would not, in and of itself, establish
excessive force. It is apparent that Amerson started out to, as plaintiff testified, "to help me and all
this other stuff." Plaintiff didn't "really care about this," and abruptly and defiantly turned away
The court will enter judgment in favor of defendant Amerson. 1o
This the 30 th day of August, 2012.
ROBERT B. PROPST
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
9 Also see WoodrufJv. City ofTrussville, 2011 WL 2847585 No.2 (lith Cir. 2011) and Hassan v.
Lubbock Independent School District, 55 F.3d 1075, 1079-1082 (5th Cir. 2005).
10 The parties have cited a number of district court cases which this court has not directly relied upon.
These cases differ with regard to excessive force and are worthy of reading. There may still be a question as to
whether the Fourth Amendment applies because the plaintiff is considered to having been "seized." If he was not
seized, the Fourteenth Due Process Clause would apparently apply with, maybe, a different analysis. The court
assumes that the Eleventh Circuit would consider that he was seized. See Swint v. City ofWadley, Alabama, 51
F.3d 988 (lith Cir. 1995).
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