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Stallins v. City of Princeton

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

October 9, 2014

DENNIS STALLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PRINCETON, CITY OF PRINCETON POLICE DEPARTMENT AND TIMOTHY MERRICK, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 16). Plaintiff Dennis Stallins has responded, (Docket No. 25) and Defendants have replied. (Docket No. 31). This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has alleged various claims stemming from his August 20, 2012 arrest: that the Defendants 1) used excessive force during his arrest; 2) used cruel and unusual punishment by placing Plaintiff, a disabled man, in Caldwell County jail following his arrest; and 3) were negligent. The characterization of what happened on that evening is contested by the parties, however Defendants have provided video and audio recordings of the arrest.

Plaintiff Stallins is a quadriplegic. Additionally, he underwent a surgery in March of 2012 that removed his right hip, leg, and foot after suffering from a severe infection. On August 20, 2012, Stallins rode as a passenger to the Dollar General in Princeton, Kentucky. His son's wife, Tonya Adams, drove the vehicle. When they arrived, she entered the store and he remained in the vehicle. Police officers, including Defendant Timothy Merrick, were called to the scene after receiving a report that Stallins had an outstanding state court arrest warrant, and that he may be armed. (Docket No. 25). Officers approached Stallins while he was in the vehicle.

At this point, the parties' stories diverge. According to Defendants, Officers asked Stallins to keep his hands up on the dashboard, but Stallins dropped his hands to his lap area and placed his left hand on a rifle. Officer Merrick handcuffed Stallins' hands behind his back, while Officer Hardin secured the rifle and asked if Stallins had any more weapons. Stallins replied that he did not, and Officer Merrick removed the handcuffs so that Stallins could assist the Officers in getting into his wheelchair. Officers then noticed a shotgun in the back seat. After securing the shotgun, Officers saw Stallins holding a handgun. Officers pulled Stallins from the vehicle and onto the pavement, handcuffing him behind his back. As they did this, another handgun fell from the waistband of his shorts. In all, Officers found four guns, and determined that all were loaded and chambered. Stallins indicated that he had a concealed weapons license but Officers confirmed on the scene that he did not have one. Officers put Stallins in his wheelchair and offered him medical treatment, which he refused. A family member on the scene insisted, and Officers called an ambulance.

Stallins was transported to the Caldwell Medical Center in Princeton, Kentucky, where he was examined by a nurse and the emergency room doctor, Dr. Michael Howard. (Docket No. 16; Howard Dep.). He was treated for a superficial abrasion and bruising to his knee. An X-ray of his ribs and knee came back normal. His other ailments, pressure ulcers, were deemed chronic as a result of his amputation and confinement to a wheelchair and were not caused by the events of the evening. Dr. Howard indicated that Stallins was acceptable for admission to jail on the Prisoner Medical Clearance Report with no special suggestions for his care. Stallins was then transported to the Caldwell County Jail. Nicholas Dickerson, the deputy jailer on duty, booked Stallins under standard operating procedures. (Docket No. 16; Dickerson Dep.). Stallins signed an intake form indicating that he was not in need of medical attention. Dickerson placed Stallins into a separate cell with its own shower and bathroom because Stallins was in a wheelchair. Dickerson stated that nothing occurred while Stallins was at the Jail that required medical attention. A friend picked Stallins up the next morning, and he did not request an ambulance.

Stallins paints a different picture of events, starting with his arrest. Stallins claims to have handed two guns out the window to the Officers. He agrees that Officer Merrick first handcuffed him in the truck with his hands behind his back, before removing the handcuffs and replacing them with his hands in front of his body. But Stallins alleges that Officer Merrick put him in a headlock and threw him onto the pavement of the parking lot. The affidavit of Donna Davis, Assistant manager of the Dollar General, states that she saw officers "throw [Stallins] onto the blacktop." (Davis Aff.). Next, Stallins alleges that all three Officers pinned him down and kicked and hit him, and that Officer Merrick told Stallins he wished he could kill him. Lindy Rogers, who was in a different vehicle parked at the Dollar General, claims to have heard this statement as well. (Rogers Dep.). Plaintiff attaches the Affadavit of his expert witness, Jim Blackburn. Blackburn, a former police officer, reviewed the videos and believes that the Officers used excessive force in this case. (Blackburn Aff.).

Additionally, Stallins claims that the Caldwell County Hospital personnel were not prepared to care for a disabled inmate and that it was "cruel and unusual" to place him there when the jail was not equipped to care for him. He also alleges that he "did not receive at least twelve (12) medications when he was in jail" and that he was "subjected to unbearable conditions in jail and he could not control his nervous stomach and his bowels and he was dirty during the night until he left." (Docket No. 25).

Defendants have provided three audio/visual recordings from the vehicles of Officers Trent Hardin, Timothy Merrick, and Logan Payne. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Reply Supporting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment refer extensively to the audio and video recordings of the arrest, but Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment does not mention the recordings. The Court has reviewed the videos in this case. Officer Merrick's recording does not show video of the scene, but it captures the audio. In this recording, an Officer asks Stallins if he has any other weapons and whether he has any weapons in his pockets. Stallins responds "no." Officers ask him if he can lean forward on his own will without hurting himself, and offer to help. Next, Officers can be heard finding additional weapons. At the end of the encounter, Officers ask whether Plaintiff needs emergency medical treatment or an ambulance and confirm that he is refusing medical treatment. Officers call an ambulance in spite of his refusal.

Officer Logan Payne's recording provides the Court a visual of the arrest. In this video, the Officers approach Stallins in the truck. The Officers repeatedly tell Stallins to keep his hands on the dashboard. They tell him twice, "hands on the dash, " then find another weapon in the vehicle. An Officer states that it is loaded and chambered. Stallins is then told again three times to keep his hands on the dashboard. At this point, an Officer removes Stallins from the vehicle. Around this time, Officer Merrick can be heard yelling at Stallins, "We asked if you had any more guns in the car, do you not know what that means? You could have got yourself killed."

STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

"[N]ot every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact." Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). The test is whether the party bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of his position; the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for the plaintiff. See id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). The plaintiff may accomplish this by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Mere speculation will not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment; "the mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate." Monette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Lews v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp., Inc., 681 ...


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