Blair v. Meter et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 11 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Officer Van Meter, Kevin Bounds; granting with regard to Officer Bounds and Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Officer Bounds are hereby dismissed with prejudice; the motion for partial summary judgment is denied with regard to Officer Van Meter; denying 25 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Officer Van Meter, Kevin Bounds, resulting in Plaintiff's individual capacity claims against Officer Bounds and her official and individual capacity claims against Officer Van Meter proceeding to trial. Signed by Honorable Harry F. Barnes on September 18, 2008. (cap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT W E S T E R N DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS T E X A R K A N A DIVISION LA T A N Y A BLAIR V S. O F F IC E R VAN METER and OFFICER KEVIN BOUNDS, in their individual and official c a p a c itie s M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER O n November 8, 2006, Plaintiff LaTanya Blair filed the present lawsuit against Officer John V an Meter and Officer Kevin Bounds, asserting claims against each officer in his individual and o fficial capacities. Now before the Court is a Motion For Partial Summary Judgment on Behalf of E a ch Separately Named Defendant in his Official Capacity. (Doc. 11). Plaintiff has responded, o p p osin g the motion as to Officer Van Meter. (Doc. 18). Plaintiff does not oppose the Motion for P a rtia l Summary Judgment as to Officer Bounds. Subsequently, a second Motion for Summary Ju d gm en t was filed on behalf of Officer Van Meter and Officer Bounds, seeking dismissal of P laintiff's claims against each officer in both official and individual capacities. (Doc. 25). Plaintiff h as responded in complete opposition to the second Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 33). Both m otion s are now before the Court and ripe for consideration. CASE NO. 4:06-CV-4099 PLAINTIFF
I. BACKGROUND T h is civil rights lawsuit, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arises out of the November 18, 20 04 arrest of Plaintiff LaTanya Blair by Officer John Van Meter and Officer Kevin Bounds. R eturn ing to her home that evening, Plaintiff pulled inside the fence surrounding her house and noticed O fficer Van Meter in his police squad car parked next to her house. Officer Van Meter had previously
tic k ete d and arrested Plaintiff for criminal trespass, following an altercation she had with her sister. A fte r seeing Officer Van Meter, Plaintiff exited her car, but then immediately got back in before e x i tin g a second time. Officer Van Meter then approached Plaintiff's car and told Plaintiff that there w as a problem with her car's tail lights. Officer Van Meter asked Plaintiff for her driver's license, and in fo rm ed her that he was calling for backup. Plaintiff assumed Officer Van Meter already had all of h er personal information, having issued her a citation only a few months previous, and she did not p ro v ide Officer Van Meter with her driver's license upon request. W h ile Officer Van Meter was waiting for his backup to arrive, Plaintiff exited her car and began walking towards her front door. Plaintiff then heard Officer Van Meter loudly scream her first nam e. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that Officer Van Meter then ran up to her and kicked her "so hard it almost knocked me down." (Doc. 12-2, pg. 7). According to Plaintiff, Officer Van Meter then to ld her to lay on the ground, which she did, and then jumped on top of her and "started beating [her] in the head." While Officer Van Meter was in the process of handcuffing Plaintiff, Officer Bounds arrived at the scene. Officer Bounds quickly came to assist Officer Van Meter, and Plaintiff alleges th at Officer Bounds then "jumped on Plaintiff injuring her left shoulder." (Doc. 1, pg. 2). Having p h ys ic a lly restrained Plaintiff, the two officers handcuffed her with two sets of handcuffs. As the O fficer picked her up off the ground, they noticed that something was wrong with Plaintiff's leg, and that she was complaining of pain. Plaintiff alleges that the officers forcefully pulled her up by her arm s, causing further pain. Plaintiff denies resisting arrest in any way. In any event, after Plaintiff had been handcuffed, the officers sat her in a lawn chair and called for an ambulance. As a result of the injuries Plaintiff sustained during her arrest, she was taken to the emergency roo m at Wadley Health System in Texarkana. In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she has suffered
chro nic and severe pain in her leg, causing mental anguish and past and future medical expenses. P lain tiff brings this suit against Officer Van Meter and Officer Bounds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the officers used excessive force against her. The matter is now before the Court on each o fficer 's official-capacity motion for summary judgment. II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD T h e standard of review for summary judgment is well established. The Federal Rules of Civil P ro ced u re provide that when a party moves for summary judgment: T h e judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with 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. F ed . R. Civ. P. 56(c); Krenik v. County of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953 (8th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court has issued the following guidelines for trial courts to determine whether this standard has been s a tis fie d : T he inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trialwhether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be reso lv ed only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of eith er party. A nd erson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 447 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). See also Agristor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F .2 d 732 (8th Cir. 1987); Niagara of Wisconsin Paper Corp. v. Paper Indus. Union-Management P ension Fund, 800 F.2d 742, 746 (8th Cir. 1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the eviden ce is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252. T h e Court must view the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the eviden ce in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d
7 4 3 , 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. County of LeSueur, 47 F.3d at 957. A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary jud gm ent may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 256.
III. DISCUSSION As noted above, Plaintiff does not contest the official capacity Motion for Summary Judgment w ith regard to Officer Bounds. As a result, summary judgment will be entered in favor of Officer B o u n d s on Plaintiff's official capacity claim. The Court's analysis will cover the individual capacity c la im s against Officer Bounds and official and individual capacity claims against Officer Van Meter. A ) Official Capacity Claims Against Officer Van Meter It is well settled that a suit against a governmental actor in his official capacity is treated as a suit against the governmental entity itself. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 30 1 (1991)(citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985)). A governmental entity cannot be held vicariously liable for its agent's acts under § 1983. Monell v. D ep 't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Rather, a plaintiff m u st identify a governmental "policy or custom that caused Plaintiff's injury" to recover from a gov ernm ental entity under § 1983. Bd. of the County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403, 117 S.Ct. 13 82 , 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997). A governmental policy "involves a deliberate choice to follow a course o f action ... made from among various alternatives by an official who has the final authority to
establish governmental policy." Doe v. Special Sch. Dist., 901 F.2d 642, 645 (8th Cir. 1990). On the other hand, a governmental custom involves "a pattern of `persistent and widespread' ... practices w hich bec[o]me so `permanent and well settled' as to have the effect and force of law." Id. at 646 (qu oting Monell, 436 U.S. at 691). Monell and its progeny require a link between the policy or custom an d the plaintiff's injury: "[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made b y its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under 1983." 436 U.S. at 694. In moving for summary judgment, Defendants rely on the Texarkana Police Department's Use of Force Policy and Use of Force Continuum, which outline standards for the reasonable use of force in proportion to the threat faced and prohibit the use of excessive force at all times. (Doc. 12, pgs. 911 ). The Court finds this reliance misplaced. Instead, the key inquiry in this case is whether D ep artm en t custom had become sufficiently "persistent and widespread" and "permanent and settled' as to have the effect and force of law." Doe v. Special Sch. Dist., 901 F.2d at 646 (quoting Monell, 436 U .S . at 691). On this point, Plaintiff has presented summary judgment evidence showing that Officer V an Meter has a history of disciplinary problems, including a suspension for being at fault in a co llision involving his patrol vehicle, (Doc. 33-2); another suspension for firing at a deer during a BiS ta te Narcotics Task Force mission and for carrying an unapproved firearm, (Doc. 33-3); a written rep r im a n d for two incidents of sleeping during training at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training A c ad e m y, (Doc. 33-4); a suspension for failure to properly use his in-car video camera, (Doc. 33-5); an d a suspension for driving both in an "extremely dangerous" manner and under the influence of alcoh ol, (Doc. 33-6). In addition, Plaintiff has presented evidence showing that Officer Van Meter m issed 22 hours of training, (Doc. 33-7) and was previously arrested for disorderly conduct. (Doc.
3 3 - 8 ) . Plaintiff also highlights the fact that Officer Van Meter failed to use his in-car video camera system in the arrest forming the basis of this lawsuit, giving a previous disciplinary problem added relev an ce to the matter at hand. In light of the summary judgment record before the Court, and p a rtic u la rly given the numerous personal conduct and disciplinary problems in Officer Van Meter's file, the Court is satisfied that genuine issues of material fact exist with respect to the official capacity claim against Officer Van Meter, and his motion for partial summary judgment should be denied. B) Individual Capacity Claims against Officer Bounds and Officer Van Meter P la in tiff' s individual capacity claims against Officer Bounds and Officer Van Meter require the Court to consider whether the Officers are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is no t simply a defense to liabilityit constitutes immunity from suit. Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 824 (8th Cir. 2005)(citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). In analyzing qualified immunity, the Court often refers to Harlow v. Fitzgerald, which provides that " q u alified immunity would be defeated if an officer or official `knew or reasonably should have known tha t the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff], or if he took the action with the malicious intention to cause a deprivation of co n stitu tio n al rights or other injury.'" 457 U.S. 800, 814, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed. 396 (1 9 8 2 )(em p h asis in original). Viewing the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as the Court must at this stage, M a tsu sh ita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. at 587, the Court cannot conclude that O fficer Bounds' and Officer Van Meter's conduct did not violate "clearly established statutory or con stitution al rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. at 818 (citing Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 565, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978)); Hope
v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741, 122 U.S. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002)(providing that the "`salient q u estio n ... is whether the state of the law' gave the officials `fair warning that their alleged [conduct] w as unconstitutional'"); Shockency v. Ramsey County, 493 F.3d 941, 947 (8th Cir. 2007); Brockinton v. City of Sherwood, Arkansas, 503 F.3d 667, 671-72 (8th Cir. 2007). Accordingly, neither Officer B ou nd s nor Officer Van Meter is entitled to qualified immunity, and genuine issues of material fact are present with regard to whether either or both Officer used excessive force in effectuating the arrest o f Plaintiff Latanya Blair. As such, summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 is inappropriate and D efend ants' second Motion for Summary Judgment is denied. IV. CONCLUSION For the reasons discussed herein and above, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be and hereby is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is granted with regard to Officer Bounds. Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Officer Bounds are hereby DISMISSED W IT H PREJUDICE. The Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED with regard to Officer V an Meter. For the same reasons, Defendants' second Motion for Summary Judgment should be and hereb y is DENIED. The result is that Plaintiff's individual capacity claims against Officer Bounds and her official and individual capacity claims against Officer Van Meter will proceed to trial. IT IS SO ORDERED, this 18th day of September, 2008.
/s/Harry F. Barnes Hon. Harry F. Barnes United States District Judge
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