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Coitrone v. Murray

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

May 19, 2015

JAMES H. COITRONE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOBBY D. MURRAY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GREG N. STIVERS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 37). In addition, the parties have moved to exclude each other's expert witnesses. (Pl.'s Mot. in Limine, DN 34; Defs.' Mot. in Limine, DN 36). The motions have been completely briefed and are now ripe for a decision. For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 37) is GRANTED. Both motions in limine (DN 34, 36) are DENIED AS MOOT.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND CLAIMS

On August 19, 2012, Plaintiff James H. Coitrone ("Coitrone") resided with his girlfriend, Shasta McCollum ("McCollum"). (Compl. ¶ 6, DN 1; Coitrone Dep. 16:19-22, 48:6-17, Feb. 24, 2014, DN 37-2). That morning Coitrone had planned to take McCollum to church in Bowling Green on his motorcycle. (Coitrone Dep. 49:18-50:5). En route they traveled down a major thoroughfare until they reached a stop light by a Wal-Mart store. Trooper Kevin Mayfield pulled up in his police cruiser behind Coitrone and ran the license plate on the motorcycle, which revealed outstanding warrants for Coitrone "[f]or kidnapping, sodomy, rape, [and] bail jumping." (Coomes Dep. 35:11-19; Coitrone Dep. 52:10-19). After they proceeded through the intersection Mayfield activated his blue lights but Coitrone did not stop, instead leading law enforcement on a 6.4-mile chase.[1] (Coitrone Dep. 53:9-11). At some point during the chase, Defendant Trooper Brett Coomes took over leading the pursuit that traversed several major thoroughfares and proceeded through two-lane streets in residential areas.

Coitrone testified that he did not initially stop because there were orange cones with pedestrians along the right side of the road, but also claims that he waved to the officer to indicate that he intended to stop. (Coitrone Dep. 53:12-20). When he reached another major thoroughfare, Coitrone maintains that he intended to stop but sped away after hearing screeching or squealing tires because he believed that he was going to be struck from behind. (Coitrone Dep. 54:17-24, 55:10-12, 59:16-17). Coitrone eventually reached a fast-food restaurant, where he pulled between a parking barrier and a tree to drop off McCollum. (Coitrone Dep. 59:17-23). Coitrone testified that he pulled into that area because he was "[s]cared to take an ass whooping. I knew for sure they were gonna whoop me." (Coitrone Dep. 60:25-61:10).

After dropping off McCollum, the chase continued on a two-lane road through a residential area. (Coitrone Dep. 64:5-8, 65:15-20). Coitrone later made a left turn onto another two-lane residential street.[2] (Coitrone Dep. 68:6-18). According to Coomes, Coitrone ran the red light at that intersection, although Coitrone did not specifically recall running that light. (Coomes Dep. 42:6-19; Coitrone Dep. 66:4-5, 68:2-5).

Coitrone then proceeded down the residential street until he encountered Lieutenant John Clark ("Clark"), who was Coomes' supervisor, at the intersection of another major thoroughfare. (Clark Dep. 16:2-10, Aug. 28, 2014, DN 37-4; Coomes Dep. 52:8-15). Clark had parked his cruiser across most of the residential street hoping that Coitrone would stop. (Clark Dep. 16:2-10). As Coitrone approached the cruiser obstructing the roadway, he drove along the edge of the road to circumvent the cruiser and continued across major thoroughfare near a large church. (Coitrone Dep. 71:20-25; Clark Dep. 16:2-20). At that point, Coitrone was weaving in and out of the left lane into oncoming traffic as he was passing vehicles. (Coitrone Dep. 72:12-22, 73:10-12). Coomes had decided that he would terminate the chase once they reached the next cross-street due to the increase in amount of vehicular traffic. (Coomes Dep. 93:25-94:9).

While Coitrone maintains that he let off the throttle as he approached church traffic, Coomes testified that he did not observe Coitrone give any indication that he intended to stop before Coitrone abruptly slowed in front of Coomes. (Coomes Dep. 25:17-23; (Coitrone Dep. 72:2-8). Coomes testified that he attempted to stop after Coitrone suddenly slowed down but was unable to avoid colliding with the motorcycle.[3] (Coomes Dep. 25:6-8). The motorcycle hit a concrete culvert and spun around several times, ejecting Coitrone who also struck the culvert. (Coomes Dep. 25:11-16).

Coitrone later pled guilty to the felonies of wanton endangerment in the first degree (KRS 508.060), and fleeing or evading police in the first degree (KRS 520.095) in Warren Circuit Court.[4] Coitrone filed this lawsuit against Murray, Allen, and Coomes alleging violations of Coitrone's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and asserting pendent state-law tort claims of negligence, negligence per se, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED").[5] (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 15-25).

II. JURISDICTION

This Court has subject-matter jurisdiction of alleged violations of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court also has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's pendent state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether there is any genuine issue of any material fact that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of stating the basis for the motion and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party must then produce specific evidence proving the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show the existence of some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must present specific facts proving that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of the 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). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's excessive force claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Coitrone alleges that Coomes violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by using excessive force against him in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable seizures shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV. As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, "[a] Fourth Amendment seizure [occurs]... when there is a governmental termination of freedom of movement through means intentionally applied." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007) (quoting Brower v. Cnty. of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 596-97 (1989) (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

In addressing whether Coomes' actions violated the Fourth Amendment, the Court will assume that he intentionally struck Coitrone.[6] In analyzing excessive use of force claims:

The inquiry in § 1983 actions against a police officer for unlawful or unconstitutional use of force is an objective one based upon the "information possessed" by the police officer involved. It involves what a reasonable police officer would believe to be lawful based upon the information then possessed, not what the officers subjectively may have believed.... We view the scene and activity from the perspective, then, of the reasonable police officer at the scene based on reports and information received and what he has observed.

Boyd, 215 F.3d at 600-01 (citations omitted). See also Ali v. City of Louisville, 395 F.Supp.2d 527, 534 (W.D. Ky. 2005) ("The reasonableness of the officer's belief as to the appropriate level of force should be judged from [the] on-scene perspective' of the officer, not the 20/20 vision of hindsight.'" (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 205 (2001))); Estate of Sowards v. City of Trenton, 125 F.Appx. 31, 38-39 (6th Cir. 2005) (noting that courts must "avoid substituting our personal notions of proper police procedure for the instantaneous decision of the officer at the scene. We must never allow the theoretical, sanitized world of our imagination to replace the dangerous and complex world that policemen face every day. What constitutes "reasonable" action may seem quite different to someone facing a possible assailant than to someone analyzing the question at leisure." (quoting Smith v. Freland, 954 F.2d 343, 347 (6th Cir. 1992))).

In determining whether Coomes' use of force was objectively reasonable:

the court must take into consideration that totality of the circumstances. In applying the objective reasonableness test, the court is required to pay "careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including [1] the severity of the crime at issue, [2] whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and [3] whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight."

Frodge v. City of Newport, 501 F.Appx. 519, 529 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)). All of these factors weigh in favor of Coomes' use of force.

With respect to the severity of the crime, there is no question that criminal warrants were outstanding for Coitrone on charges of kidnapping, sodomy, and rape, which are all felonies under Kentucky law.[7] See KRS 509.040; 510.040-090. Coitrone's behavior during the chase also constituted a severe crime. During the chase, Coomes observed Coitrone "[s]peeding, reckless[ly] driving, [and] passing on double yellow." (Coomes Dep. 33:11). Coitrone admitted that he exceeded the speed limit by 25 miles per hour and was traveling as fast as 65 to 70 miles per hour, and there is evidence indicating that Coitrone ran at least one red light during the course of the chase. (Coitrone Dep. 75:1-5; Coomes Dep. 42:6-19). Coomes testified that he continued the pursuit because of the outstanding warrants and because he had witnessed Coitrone commit another felony by attempting to elude law enforcement. (Coomes Dep. 27:18-24). Coitrone ultimately pled guilty to felony counts of evading police and wanton endangerment. See KRS 508.060(2); KRS 520.095(2). Thus, there is abundant evidence in the record that supports the use of force under the first factor. See, e.g., McCoy v. Myers, No. 12-3160-CM, 2015 WL 751936, at *6 (D. Kan. Feb. 23, 2015) (explaining that "the court views crimes such as kidnapping... to be severe crimes."); Blosser v. Gilbert, 422 F.Appx. 453, 458 (6th Cir. 2011) (noting that dangerous driving behavior-including speeding and running red lights-can satisfy the first factor).

Coitrone's actions during the chase also constituted an immediate threat to the officers and others. It is uncontested that Coitrone was racing his motorcycle at high speeds through residential areas on a Sunday morning where church was letting out and that he evaded Clark's roadblock. Under these circumstances, there is no question that Coitrone's conduct posed an immediate threat to officers and bystanders. As discussed above, Coitrone pled guilty to fleeing the police and wanton endangerment-both first degree ...


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