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King v. Storm

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

May 17, 2017

JIMMY KING and RENEE KING, Plaintiffs,
v.
MILTON STORM, individually and in his official capacity as LAUREL COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF; LAUREL COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; and LAUREL COUNTY, KENTUCKY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon the Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 21] filed by Defendants. Milton Storm arrested Defendants on September 11, 2014 for Trespass in the Third Degree pursuant to KRS 511.080(2). Plaintiffs allege wrongful arrest; excessive use of force; false arrest and imprisonment; malicious prosecution; failure to train, supervise, and monitor; vicarious liability on the part of Laurel County Sheriff's Office; vicarious liability on the part of Laurel County, Kentucky; and punitive damages. Having reviewed the record, the Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part the Defendants' request for summary judgment.

         I

         A

         On September 11, 2014, Deputy Milton Storm responded to a 911 call reporting a burglary in progress at 1108 Lark Lane, Corbin, Kentucky. [R. 21 at 1.] He drove past the address and saw individuals moving around in the house through open curtains. [Id.] He then went to meet the victim, Dora King, a few houses away. [Id.] After meeting with Dora, Deputy Storm returned to the house in question and observed individuals moving around the house again. [Id.] He also saw that the handle and lock had been broken off a door near the garage and a vehicle outside full of various items. [Id.]

         Plaintiffs explain they were in the house because Terry King asked them to go clean up the house because Dora King, who had lived there before, had left the house in “shambles.” [R. 23-39 at 44.] Plaintiff Jimmy King testified, and a neighbor corroborated, that Terry King was present with Jimmy King when he entered the house. [R. 23 at 5.] Plaintiff Jimmy King thought that the house was abandoned and no one was living there because the grass was about 18 inches deep. [R. 23-38 at 9.] Additionally, Terry King told Plaintiff Jimmy King that he had paid to evict Dora King from the house. [Id. at 13.] Terry King gave Jimmy King keys to the house, but the keys would not work, so Terry King advised Jimmy to make entry into the residence without damaging the property. [R. 23 at 5.] After entering the residence at Terry King's request, Jimmy called his wife Renee to join him at the property to clean up rotting and expired food and other garbage. [Id. at 5.]

         Deputy Storm entered the residence and encountered Plaintiffs Jimmy and Renee King, along with other individuals. [R. 21 at 1; R. 23-40 at 32.] Renee alleges that she was not in the house when Deputy Storm arrived, but on a sun porch, which Plaintiff Jimmy corroborated. [R. 23-39 at 47; R. 23-38 at 16.] Deputy Storm ordered the Plaintiffs to stop what they were doing and the Plaintiffs complied. [R. 21 at 2.] Deputy Storm admitted that the Plaintiffs were in no way attempting to conceal their location and they fully complied with his instructions while on the property. [R. 23 at 6.] The Plaintiffs informed Deputy Storm that they had permission to enter the residence from Terry King and they called him to come to the residence. [R. 21 at 2.] When Terry King arrived, he showed Deputy Storm documentation that he had filed an eviction notice on Dora King. [Id. at 3.]

         According to Defendants, there was never any question that the residence was in Dora King's possession and Dora King indicated to Deputy Storm that she wanted the Plaintiffs arrested. [Id. at 3.] Plaintiffs allege that the property is owned jointly by Imogene King (now deceased) and Terry King, and that a landlord-tenant dispute has never been the issue at hand. [R. 23 at 4.]

         Through discussions, Deputy Storm realized that this dispute involved some family conflict issues. [R. 21 at 3.] Deputy Storm had dispatch run Plaintiffs' information to see if there were any active warrants for them and it was revealed that Jimmy King had no warrants and had no arrests whatsoever on his record. [R. 23 at 6.] Deputy Storm made the decision that the situation would not resolve itself if he were to leave all parties at the residence and that something more serious might occur later, resulting in another 911 call. [R. 21 at 3.] Deputy Storm also referenced the fact that Dora King was very adamant that the Plaintiffs be arrested. [R. 23 at 6.] Deputy Storm called his sergeant, Greg Poynter to discuss whether to arrest the Plaintiffs and was directed to do so. [R. 21 at 3.] He charged the Plaintiffs with criminal trespass with the intention to bring a burglary charge before a grand jury. [Id.]

         Renee went to Terry King's car when he arrived to avoid some of the conflict. According to Plaintiffs, when Deputy Storm arrested her, he pulled her out of the car and “grabbed [her] arm and wrenched her arm behind her back to handcuff her, which caused Renee to cry out in pain.” [R. 23 at 6; R. 23-38 at 25.] Renee testified that she said to Deputy Storm, “[Y]ou can't do that, I've had open-heart surgery, you're hurting me, you're hurting me . . .” [R. 23-38 at 27.] Renee further testified that when Deputy Storm took her to his cruiser, he took off her handcuffs from behind and put her handcuffs in front before he put her in the back of the cruiser. [R. 23-38 at 28.] At that time, Renee told her husband, “Jim, my arms are hurting . . . and these things are hurting me, you know, my hand's turning blue. You know, I'm hurting.” [R. 28.] Deputy Storm testified he did not have contact with Renee while she was in the car and that he did not pull her out of the car. [R. 23-40 at 62.] Deputy Storm also denies that he handcuffed Renee behind her back, but testified that he handcuffed her hands in front. [Id. at 71.]

         The Plaintiffs were taken to the police station and Renee told the officers there, “I'm hurting, you know, can you take these [handcuffs] off of me?, ” and an officer there agreed to loosen the handcuffs. [R. 23-28 at 28.] Renee testified that the handcuffs were “cutting into [her] wrist.” [Id. at 28.] Renee was unable to give a fingerprint because she couldn't roll her hand, so she told the jailer that Deputy Storm had hurt her arm. [R. 23-39 at 29.] The Plaintiffs were released the following day at 5 p.m. after being bonded out by Terry King and were arraigned on 3rd Degree Criminal Trespassing charges pursuant to KRS 511.080 on September 12, 2014. [R. 21 at 3.] On November 4, 2014, prosecutors dismissed all charges against the Plaintiffs.

         After being released from jail, Renee called her family physician, Dr. Combs, who referred her to Dr. Alan Oster. [R. 23-39 at 234] Dr. Oster's records document that Renee presented with “left should pain” due to “another person grab[bing] her arm and [moving it] backwards causing severe pain. [R. 23-30 at 1.] Dr. Alan Oster of Orthopedic Associates diagnosed Renee King with a “labral tear of the left shoulder and supraspinatus full-thickness tendon tear.” [R. 23 at 7.] He indicated that she “will likely need surgical treatment.” [R. 23-31 at 1.] Dr. Ronald Dubin of Kentucky Orthopedic Clinic confirmed Renee King's diagnosis and said that her injuries were “consistent with the injury which occurred in 2014.” [R. 23-33 at 2.] Dr. Dubin said that Renee would possibly need an additional operation, to exceed “$30, 000” in future medical expenses and will have a “20% permanent partial impairment to the body as a whole.” [Id. at 2.]

         Deputy Storm testified that he continued his investigation of the crime the next day, on September 12, 2014. [R. 23-40 at 68.] He met with Dora King, who documented what was missing from the house, and he met with two neighbors who saw Plaintiffs in the house the previous day. [Id.]

         Plaintiffs filed their Verified Complaint in Laurel Circuit Court on September 8, 2015, and filed their Notice of Removal to United States District Court on September 29, 2015 [R. 21 at 4.] Defendants moved for summary judgment, dismissing the Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice on October 7, 2016. [R. 21.]

         B

         1

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate “if 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 genuine dispute exists on a material fact, and thus summary judgment is improper, if the evidence shows ‘that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Olinger v. Corporation of the President of the Church, 521 F.Supp.2d 577, 582 (E.D. Ky. 2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Stated otherwise, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the Plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the Plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). The movant may satisfy its burden by showing “that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). Moreover, “the nonmoving party must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact. It must present significant probative evidence in support of its opposition to the motion for summary judgment.” Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (internal citations omitted).

         When applying the summary judgment standard, the Court must review the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). However, the Court is under no duty to “search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Morris, 260 F.3d 654, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather, “the nonmoving party has an affirmative duty to direct the court's attention to those specific portions of the record upon which it seeks to rely to create a genuine issue of material fact.” Id.

         2

         Detective Storm has invoked the doctrine of qualified immunity for each of the claims under 42 U.S.C § 1983 below. The analysis here will be incorporated into each count as a defense. When invoked, “the doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘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 (2009).

         In evaluating claims of qualified immunity, courts generally apply a two-step analysis. First, the court asks if the “officer's conduct violated a constitutional right” when the facts are “[t]aken in a light most favorable” to the Plaintiffs. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Second, the court asks whether the violated right at issue was “clearly established.” Id. For a right to be clearly established, it is important that “state of the law at the time of the action . . . gave respondents fair warning that their alleged treatment of the plaintiff was unconstitutional.” Baynes v. Cleland, 799 F.3d 600, 610 (6th Cir. 2015) (internal brackets omitted). Courts may “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 in the particular case at hand, ” but “both [steps] must be answered in the affirmative for the plaintiff's claim to proceed.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236; Courtright v. City of Battle Creek, 839 F.3d 513, 518 (6th Cir. 2016). Finally, once a defendant has raised the defense, “the burden shifts to the plaintiff, who must demonstrate both that the official violated a constitutional or statutory right, and that the right was so clearly established at the time of the alleged violation ‘that every reasonable official would have understood that what he [was] doing violate[d] that right .'” Thomas v. Plummer, 489 F.App'x 116, 119 (6th Cir.2012).

         II

         A

         1

         Plaintiffs, in Count 2 of their Complaint [R. 1-1], bring this action against Defendant Deputy Storm under 42 U.S.C § 1983, alleging that he violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force during their arrests. Defendant Storm contends that Plaintiffs cannot maintain a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against him because he is shielded by qualified immunity. This Court holds that there is a genuine dispute as to material facts that Deputy Storm violated Plaintiff Renee King's Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force during her arrest and that Deputy Storm is not shielded by qualified immunity to an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, this Court finds that Jimmy King has not offered any evidence that he was a victim of excessive force at the hands of Deputy Storm. Summary judgment will be partially entered on Count 2 in favor of the Defendants.

         The Sixth Circuit has “consistently held” that “the Fourth Amendment prohibits unduly tight or excessively forceful handcuffing in the course of an arrest.” Bayne, 799 at 610; see also Kostrzewa v. City of Troy, 247 F.3d 633 (stating that “the right to be free from excessive force, including ‘excessively forceful handcuffing, ' is a clearly established right for purposes of the qualified immunity analysis.”). Further, “[t]he extent of case law in this Circuit suffices to put a reasonable officer on notice that excessively forceful or unduly tight handcuffing is a constitutional violation under the Fourth Amendment.” Baynes, 799 F.3d at 614. The court applies an “objective reasonableness” standard when evaluating whether an officer has “exerted excessive force during the court of seizure” and should assess the reasonableness of the officer's conduct “on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. In analyzing whether an officer was reasonable or not, “[c]ourts should pay particular attention to the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Kostrzewa v. City of Troy, 247 F.3d 633, 639 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal citations omitted). An officer has “the right to use some degree of physical coercion” and “[n]ot every push or shove . . . violates the Fourth Amendment.” Id. To survive summary ...


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