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Jones v. City of Shreveport

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

August 24, 2018

CLARENCE JONES, JR.
v.
CITY OF SHREVEPORT, ET AL.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HORNSBY

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, the City of Shreveport (“the City”), Officer Daniel Meyers (“Officer Meyers”), Officer Jesse Camp (“Officer Camp”), and Chief Alan Crump (“Chief Crump”) (collectively “Defendants”). See Record Document 16. Plaintiff, Clarence Jones Jr. (“Jones”) opposes the Motion. See Record Document 18. Defendants seek dismissal of all of Jones' claims. For the reasons stated in the instant Memorandum Ruling, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is hereby GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 23, 2016, Shreveport Police Officers were dispatched to a 911 call of “shots fired” in the area of Holly Street and East Olive Street. See Record Document 18-2 at p. 1, ¶ 1. Officer Meyers was one of the officers dispatched to the area. See id. at ¶ 2. Once Officer Meyers arrived in the area, he began circulating the neighborhood in his patrol vehicle looking for suspicious activity. See id. At the same time, Jones was driving in the same area.

         Officer Meyers alleges that he began following Jones on Alexander Avenue. See Record Document 18-4 at p. 5, Officer Meyers' Deposition, Exhibit B. However, the evidence shows Officer Meyers did not activate his dash cam until he reached East Olive Street. See Record Document 16-3, Officer Meyers' Dash Cam at 7:43-8:00, Exhibit A-1. Officer Meyers' dash cam footage begins to play as Jones is turning right on to Centenary Boulevard from East Olive Street. See id. Once on Centenary Boulevard, Officer Meyers increased his speed in an effort to follow Jones more closely. See id. at 8:05-8:23. Soon thereafter, Officer Meyers activated his lights and siren signaling Jones to pull over as they both approached the corner of Centenary Boulevard and East Kings Highway. See id. at 8:25-8:35. Seconds later, Jones stopped his vehicle at the intersection of Centenary Boulevard and East Kings Highway. See id. at 8:38. Once stopped, Officer Meyers requested Jones to “roll your windows down and let me see your hands.” Id. at 8:44-8:47. Jones initially complied with this request. See id. at 8:56-9:06. However, as Officer Meyers was approaching the vehicle, Jones drove away. See id. at 8:56-9:06; Record Document 18-4 at p. 8, Officer Meyers' Narrative Supplement, Exhibit C

         In response to Jones' action, Officer Meyers ran back to his patrol vehicle and pursued Jones through the Highland neighborhood with his vehicle's lights and sirens activated. See id. at 9:12-12:00. During the pursuit, several other officers responded and attempted to set up a roadblock for Jones' vehicle. See id. at 11:46-11:49. The roadblock consisted of two marked vehicles with their lights activated in an effort to halt Jones. See id. However, Jones drove off the road into the grass in an effort to evade those officers as well as Officer Meyers. See id. This pursuit lasted for several minutes with Jones disregarding traffic signs, speed limits, and officer requests. See id. at 9:12-12:00. The pursuit finally ended when Jones turned into a driveway on East Olive Street and came to a stop. See id. at 11:58.

         Without any prompting from the officers, Jones got out of the vehicle with his hands up, and immediately laid face down on the ground, with his hands above his head and away from his body. See id. at 12:05-12:08; Record Document 16-3 at p. 56, Officer Meyers' Deposition, Exhibit E. While Officer Meyers and another unidentified officer cleared the driver's side of the vehicle for any other passengers and weapons, Jones laid still on the ground, not moving. See id. at 12:12-12:30. Officer Camp was simultaneously clearing the passenger side. See Record Document 16-3 at p. 64, Officer Camp's Deposition, Exhibit F. Once the vehicle was cleared, Officer Meyers delivered a knee strike to what appears to be Jones' facial area. See id. at 12:30-12:32. He then delivered three kidney strikes for pain compliance to get Jones' hands behind his back. See id. at 12:34-12:37; Record Document 18-4 at p. 6, Officer Meyers' Deposition, Exhibit B. Officer Meyers states that this was necessary because Jones was not complying with his request to put his hands behind his back.[1] See id., Officer Meyers' Deposition.

         Upon the third kidney strike, Officer Camp came around the back end of the vehicle to assist Officer Meyers. See Record Document 16-3, Officer Meyers' Dash Cam at 12:36-12:37. With Officer Camp assisting Officer Meyers in detaining Jones, Officer Meyers delivered three closed fist strikes to the right side of Jones' face due to Jones' alleged noncompliance. See Record Document 18-4 at p. 6, Officer Meyers' Deposition, Exhibit B; Record Document 18-4 at p. 8, Officer Meyers' Narrative Supplement, Exhibit C. However, the video evidence does not clearly show this taking place nor does it show Jones actively resisting being placed in handcuffs. See Officer Meyers' Dash Cam at 12:32-15:12. Furthermore, Officer Camp, in his deposition, testified that he did not see Officer Meyers strike Jones three to four times in the facial area. See Record Document 16-3 at p. 64, Officer Camp's Deposition, Exhibit F. Once Jones was handcuffed, he was patted down for weapons and Mirandized. See Officer Meyers' Narrative Supplement, Exhibit A-2. Jones was arrested for flight from an officer in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:108.1 and reckless operation of a vehicle in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:99.[2] See id.

         Following Jones' arrest, officers called the Shreveport Fire Department (“SFD”) to the scene to evaluate Jones due to Jones “complaining of swelling of the eye” before transporting him to the Shreveport City Jail. Record Document 16-3 at p. 22, Shreveport Fire Department Incident Report, Exhibit B. Jones was assessed along with his vital signs and all were within normal ranges. See id. Accordingly, the SFD released Jones to the Shreveport Police Department (“SPD”). See id.

         Later on February 23, 2016, Jones was transported by an officer of the SPD to the University Health Emergency Department for treatment. See Record Document 18-4 at p. 12, University Health ER Records, Exhibit E. He was diagnosed with a conjunctival hemorrhage to the right eye, an unspecified injury of the head, and an abrasion of an unspecified part of the head. See id. at p. 20.

         Following Jones' arrest, he claims to have suffered extensively from headaches and memory problems. See Record Document 18-4 at p. 24, Jones' Deposition, Exhibit F. In an effort to determine the cause of these headaches and memory loss, Jones visited Dr. Sun, an assistant professor in the LSU Neurosurgery Department. See Record Document 16-3 at p. 67, Dr. Sun's Deposition, Exhibit G. Dr. Sun had Jones submit to a MRI. See id. at p. 68. Jones was diagnosed by Dr. Sun as having a pineal cyst in his brain, but cautioned that it was a limited diagnosis because he has not taken a piece of the tissue and examined under the microscope to confirm or dispel this limited diagnosis. See id. Furthermore, Dr. Sun testified that he did not know what caused Jones' alleged brain cyst and that he could not under a medical opinion say that the brain cyst was caused by head trauma resulting from Officer Meyers' actions. See id. at p. 70.

         On February 21, 2017, Jones filed the present lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants alleging federal and state law claims of false arrest, excessive force, failure to intervene, and failure to properly train or supervise. See Record Document 1. Further, Jones alleges state law claims of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, failure to train or supervise, assault, and battery. See id. Defendants now seek summary judgment in their favor on the grounds that: (1) Officer Meyers had reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop of Jones, (2) probable cause existed for his arrest, (3) the amount of force used was not clearly excessive to the need, (4) Officer Meyers and Officer Camp are entitled to qualified immunity, (5) there is no evidence of an official policy or custom to establish municipal liability. See Record Document 16-1 at p. 10. Jones opposes Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment arguing Officer Meyers' actions were unreasonable, excessive, and without reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010). “A genuine [dispute] of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 728. During this stage, courts must look to the substantive law underlying the lawsuit in order to identify “which facts are material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986)

         “Rule 56[(a)] 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.” Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004). If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir. 2004). A nonmovant cannot meet the burden of proving that a genuine dispute of material fact exists by providing only “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, then summary judgment should be granted. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005).

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court is to view “the facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Tubos de Acero de Mexico, S.A. v. Am. Int'l Inv. Corp., Inc., 292 F.3d 471, 478 (5th Cir. 2002); see also Harris v. Serpas, 745 F.3d 767, 771 (5th Cir. 2014). However, when there is video evidence available in the record, the court is not bound to adopt the nonmoving party's version of the facts if it is contradicted by the record, but rather should “review [ ] the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007); see also Carnaby v. City of Houston, 636 F.3d 183, 187 (5th Cir. 2011) (“Although we review evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, we assign greater weight, even at the summary judgment stage, to the facts evident from video recordings taken at the scene.”). Further, the court should not, in the absence of any proof, presume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts. See Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         II. Section 1983

         Section 1983 provides that any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of “any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .” Harrington v. Harris, 118 F.3d 359, 365 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section 1983, however, does not create any substantive rights; it simply provides a remedy for the rights designated therein. See id. at 365. “Thus, an underlying constitutional or statutory violation is a predicate to liability under § 1983.” Id. (citation omitted). “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Leffall v. Dallas Independent School District, 28 F.3d 521, 525 (5th Cir. 1994). The first inquiry is whether plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right at all. See id. at 525; Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 51 F.3d 512, 515 (5th Cir. 1995).

         Jones alleges that Defendants unlawfully detained and arrested him and in doing so used excessive force. Claims that law enforcement officers made an unlawful detention or arrest are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. See Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 2640 (1979). Furthermore, claims that law enforcement officers used excessive force are also analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. See Mace v. City of Palestine, 333 F.3d 621, 624 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1871 (1989)). Therefore, Jones meets the first prong as he has alleged a violation of his 4th Amendment rights.

         The second inquiry requires the alleged deprivation to be committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See Leffall, 28 F.3d at 525. As Shreveport Police Officers, Officers Meyers and Camp were acting under the color of state law. Therefore, Jones has meet the second prong to state a claim under Section 1983. Accordingly, Jones has sufficiently stated a claim pursuant to Section 1983. However, Officer Meyers and Camp have raised the defense of qualified immunity. The Court will now discuss the law as it relates to a qualified immunity defense.

         III. Qualified Immunity

         When, as here, plaintiff seeks money damages from government officials in their individual capacities[3] under Section 1983, the affirmative defense of qualified immunity is available to protect defendants “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815 (2009) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738 (1982)). The qualified immunity doctrine balances two often conflicting interests - “the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly, and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Id. at 231, 129 S.Ct. 815. As such, “[t]he protection of qualified immunity applies regardless of whether the government official's error is “a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.” Id. (citations omitted). In effect, qualified immunity “gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Mendenhall v. Riser, 213 F.3d 226, 230 (5th Cir.2000) (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct.1092, 1096 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Qualified immunity is technically characterized as an affirmative defense. However, once raised by defendants, it devolves upon plaintiff to negate the defense by showing that the officials' conduct violated clearly established law. See Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir.2008) (citation omitted). Plaintiff's burden is two- pronged. See Club Retro LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 194 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoted sources omitted). First, plaintiff must demonstrate that defendant(s) violated a constitutional right under current law. See id. at 194. “Second, [plaintiff] must claim that the defendant's actions were objectively unreasonable in light of the law that was clearly established at the time of the actions complained of.” Id. (quoted source and internal quotation marks omitted). Courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances of the particular case at hand.” Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         IV. Official Capacity Claims Against Officers Meyers and Camp

         Jones has asserted Section 1983 claims against Officers Meyers and Camp in their official and individual capacities. See Record Document 1 at p. 2, ¶ 5. However, Jones cannot obtain relief against these officers in their official capacities for two reasons.

         First, because a suit against a public official in his official capacity is simply a suit against the local governmental entity itself, the proper official to sue in his official capacity to impose liability upon a local governmental entity is the official with final policymaking authority for the entity under state or local law.[4] See Burge v. Parish of St. Tammany, 187 F.3d 452, 468-70 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing, inter alia, St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123, 108 S.Ct. 915, 924 (1988) (plurality opinion). Under the undisputed facts in the summary judgment record, Officers Meyers and Camp both hold the rank of Officer in the SPD. See Record Document 16-3 at p. 3, ¶ 1, Officer Meyers' Affidavit, Exhibit A; Record Document 16-3 at p. 62, Officer Camp's Deposition, Exhibit F. Therefore, these officers are unquestionably not the final policymaking authorities for the SPD, and as such are not the appropriate officials to sue in their official capacity to impose liability on the City.

         Second, municipal entities cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior, but rather can only be held liable for an unconstitutional policy or custom that causes the deprivation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights under the framework set forth in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2036 (1978). Thus, any claims against these officers, even if they were the correct officers to sue as the final policymaking ...


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