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Canady v. Prator

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

February 6, 2015

CAROLYN B. CANADY,
v.
CADDO PARISH SHERIFF STEVE PRATOR, ET AL

RULING

ROBERT G. JAMES, District Judge.

This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on claims of false arrest, retaliatory arrest, and excessive force asserted by Plaintiff Carolyn Canady ("Plaintiff") against Caddo Parish Deputies Jessica Benevage and Justin McDonnell and Sergeant Carl Henderson in their individual and official capacities and against Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator in his official capacity. Plaintiff also asserts related state law claims.

Pending before the Court are Defendants' "Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Affidavit of Brittany Rotharmel" [Doc. No. 38] and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 30]. For the following reasons, the Motion to Strike is DENIED, and the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 5, 2012, Plaintiff took a typed eviction notice to her nephew, Ronnie Goodman ("Goodman"). Plaintiff, along with her brother and two sisters, owns an undivided interest in five acres of property in Keithville, Louisiana.[1] Plaintiff's daughter, Jeri Bruner ("Bruner"), Goodman, and several of Plaintiff's relatives live in trailer-homes on the property, but Plaintiff does not.

En route to Goodman's residence, Plaintiff called the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Department and asked that an officer be dispatched to assist with the eviction notice and for protection. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-2, Deposition of Carolyn Canady ("Canady Depo."), pp. 18-25]. Goodman is known for being "erratic and aggressive, " and, earlier that same day, a Shreveport police officer searched Goodman's trailer on suspicion of drug manufacture, although the search had finished by the time Plaintiff and the deputies arrived. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. BR-1, Affidavit of Brittany Rotharmel ("Rotharmel Affidavit"), ¶6]. In response to Plaintiff's request, Caddo Parish Deputies Justin McDonnell ("Deputy McDonnell") and Mike King ("Deputy King") were dispatched to Goodman's residence, and the eviction notice was served.

Later that same night, Caddo Parish deputies were again dispatched to the property regarding a female visitor of Goodman. The female had apparently abandoned an infant in the nearby woods. Goodman was not arrested. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-2, Canady Depo., pp. 147-48].

The next day, on May 6, 2012, Deputies Jessica Benevage ("Deputy Benevage") and King responded to a call involving a dispute between Goodman and Donna Gaspard, who is Plaintiff's sister and Goodman's mother. Goodman had threatened to slit his mother's throat because he believed she owed him money for electricity for the property's community well. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. DG, Deposition of Donna Gaspard, pp. 11-17]. Gaspard declined to press charges. Id. at pp. 42-43.

Hours later, Deputies Benevage, King, and McDonnell and Sergeant Carl Henderson ("Sergeant Henderson") were again dispatched to the same location, this time regarding a fight between Plaintiff and Goodman. Bruner, who was out of town for work, called her mother (the Plaintiff) and informed her that Goodman had stolen a breaker out of Bruner's breaker box, which consequently had cut the electricity to her trailer-home. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-2, Canady Depo., pp. 134, 143, 154 and 164]. Plaintiff drove to the property and confronted Goodman; a heated argument ensued. The commotion alerted Brittany Rotharmel ("Rotharmel"), a neighbor, and she called 911, telling the operator that her neighbors were "fighting out front." [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 3, CD of 911 Calls and Radio Dispatches].

After the deputies arrived, they interviewed Benny Howell; Plaintiff; Goodman; and Rotharmel. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 4, Benevage Affidavit, ¶¶ 3-4]. When questioned by Deputy McDonnell, Rotharmel confirmed that she had heard Plaintiff and Goodman screaming and arguing. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 9, Transcript of Conversation Between Rotharmel and Deputy McDonnell]. However, Rotharmel testified later that Plaintiff did nothing to alarm her, but, rather, that Goodman was the primary source of the disturbance. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. BR-1, Rotharmel Declaration, ¶ 5]. The deputies and Sergeant Henderson discussed the information they had obtained and agreed that there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and Goodman for disturbing the peace. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 4, Benevage Affidavit, ¶ 6]. Deputy Benevage then arrested Plaintiff for disturbing the peace. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 2, Recording of Deputy McDonnell's MVS, at 2112:30]. The charges against Plaintiff were later dismissed. [Doc. No. 34. Exh. A, Caddo Parish Order of Dismissal]. Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Benevage informed her that she was being arrested because they had been out there too many times. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-2, Canady Depo., p. 175].

When initially handcuffed, Plaintiff complained that the handcuffs were too tight. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. 1, at p. 10, ¶ 12]. Plaintiff is five-feet-two inches tall and weighs approximately 235 pounds. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 11, Verification of Dr. Michelle Ritter, p. 2]. She also claims to have extraordinarily short arms, to such a degree that she contends that her wrists were unable to meet behind her back, causing the handcuffs to pull against the outside of her wrists, no matter how tightly or loosely they were secured. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. 1, at p. 10, ¶ 11]. Plaintiff alleges her arms are so short that the condition is apparent and needs no explanation. See, e.g., [Doc. No. 32, Exh. DC, Deposition of Deborah Campbell, p. 35].

Deputy Benevage ensured that the handcuffs were not secured too tightly by placing two fingers between the handcuffs and Plaintiff's skin. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 1, Recording of Deputy King's MVS, at 2116:02 and Doc. No. 30 Exh. 4, Benevage Affidavit, ¶ 12]. In transit to the jail, Plaintiff again stated the handcuffs were too tight, so Deputy Benevage pulled over at the Caddo Sheriff substation and asked Deputy McDonnell to check the handcuffs. [Doc. No. 30 Exh. 4, Benevage Affidavit, ¶ 12]. Deputy McDonnell made sure the handcuffs were not too tight-he confirmed that he could place two fingers between the handcuffs and Plaintiff's skin. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 1, Recording of Deputy King's MVS, at 2130:26]. However, Plaintiff alleges that at "no time did a deputy stick their fingers between her wrists and the handcuffs." [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-1, Canady Declaration, ¶11].

Plaintiff had no injury to or pain in her wrists and hands prior to being handcuffed. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. A-1, Canady Declaration, p. 5]. However, Plaintiff suffered bruises and contusions on her wrists and hands, allegedly from the handcuffs. Plaintiff continues to suffer pain in her wrists and hands to this date. Id.

After her release, Plaintiff sought medical treatment from Dr. Marion Milstead, complaining of soreness and swelling in her wrists. Dr. Milstead diagnosed Plaintiff with handcuff palsy, attributing the condition to external trauma to the superficial radial nerve. [Doc. No. 32, Exh. MM, Deposition of Dr. Milstead, pp. 11, 16-17]. Dr. Milstead opines that handcuff palsy generally results from handcuffs being applied too tightly, but also opines that even appropriately placed handcuffs can cause the condition. Generally, however, when handcuffs are applied appropriately, Dr. Milstead testified that handcuff palsy does not result. Id. at pp. 70, 75. Dr. Milstead further testified that the risk is reduced where an individual is handcuffed in front rather than behind the back. Id. at p. 75.

Plaintiff was also evaluated by Defendants' expert, Dr. Michelle Ritter, an orthopaedic hand surgeon. Dr. Ritter opines that Plaintiff's injuries were not caused by overly tightened handcuffs. [Doc. No. 30, Exh. 11, Verification of Dr. Michell Ritter, p. 4]. Rather, referencing Plaintiff's "body habitus, " Dr. Ritter states that Plaintiff's injuries were likely caused by her inability to "get her wrists closer than about 10 inches from one another" when handcuffed behind her back. Id. Dr. Ritter concludes that this resulted in considerable tension in the handcuffs on her wrists and hands. Id.

On May 5, 2013, Plaintiff initiated this action, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, retaliatory arrest, and excessive force. Plaintiff also alleged related state law claims.

On December 8, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 30]. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition [Doc. No. 32], to which Defendants replied. [Doc. No. 37].

On January 12, 2015, Defendants also filed a Motion to Strike the Affidavit of Brittany Rotharmel. [Doc. No. 38]. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition, [Doc. No. 41], to which Defendants did not reply.

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Strike

A motion to strike an affidavit filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment is governed by Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56(e), in pertinent part, provides that "supporting and opposing affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence...." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e).

Citing S.W.S. Erectors, Inc. v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 495 (5th Cir. 1996), Defendants argue that Rotharmel's affidavit should be struck from the record because it is contradicted by her later deposition testimony. The S.W.S. Erectors court held that a party cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by relying on facts in an affidavit that clearly contradicts the party's prior deposition testimony. Id. The holding in S.W.S. Erectors is distinguishable, however, because Rotharmel is not a party and because the affidavit was produced before the deposition, not vice versa as in S.W.S. Erectors.

The implicit rationale undergirding the S.W.S. Erectors decision was that courts should view contradictory evidence offered by interested parties with suspicion, especially when, for purposes of summary judgment, an interested party attempts to invalidate damaging deposition testimony by correcting it with a later, inconsistent "sham" affidavit. That is not the case here. Because Rotharmel is not a party, she had no motive when she signed the affidavit to be anything but truthful. The Court notes that her subsequent deposition testimony clarifies that there were "errors" in her affidavit, but that clarification does not implicate the sham affidavit doctrine. Moreover, Rotharmel clearly has personal knowledge of the events she averred to, and her affidavit would be admissible. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Strike Brittany Rotharmel's Affidavit is DENIED.

B. Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment "should be rendered 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." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann, 954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir. 1992). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

If the moving party can meet the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Norman v. Apache Corp., 19 F.3d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1994). In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the Court must accept the evidence of the nonmovant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Thus, Summary Judgment is appropriate if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict ...


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