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Salter v. Aaron

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

May 17, 2017



          Greg N. Stivers, Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a convicted prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff Donald Joshua Salter leave to proceed in forma pauperis. This matter is before the Court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 594 U.S. 199 (2007). For the reasons set forth below, the action will be dismissed in part and allowed to continue in part.


         Plaintiff brings this action against Albany City Deputy Brad Cross (#254), Parole Officer Matt Aaron (#1056), Clinton County Sheriff Jim Guffey (#1250), and Kentucky State Trooper Jason Warinner (#729), in both their official and individual capacities.

         In his complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants used excessive force against him. He alleges that on April 15, 2016, the four Defendants approached the work truck in which he was a passenger. He states that one or more of the defendant officers asked him his name but that he informed them that he had the right to remain silent. Upon being asked, he also told the officers that he did not have any identification on him. Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Cross then asked him to step out the truck.[1] Plaintiff states that, as he began to step out of the truck, Deputy Cross grabbed him by his “left wrist (hand)” and then shut the truck door on him as he was opening it. Plaintiff states that once he was out of the truck, he informed the officers that he had a pocket knife clipped to him and told them that they could remove it. The officers removed the pocket knife and again asked Plaintiff to identify himself. Plaintiff alleges that when he again refused to identify himself, all four Defendants began to assault him. He specifically alleges that Trooper Warinner punched him in the throat and grabbed him by the back of the neck and that Deputy Cross slammed him to the ground. He further alleges that Trooper Warinner grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed his face into the concrete boat ramp on which his work truck was parked. He also states that Parole Officer Aaron grabbed him by the leg and dragged him face down as another Defendant punched him in the side of the face. Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of this assault, he had to be taken to the hospital for medical attention.

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief in the form of termination of Defendants' employment.


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner seeking relief against governmental entities, officers, and/or employees, this Court must review the instant action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the court determines that it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See § 1915A(b)(1), (2); McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d at 604. In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         “[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). “[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, while liberal, this standard of review does require more than the bare assertion of legal conclusions. See Columbia Natural Res., Inc. v. Tatum, 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995). The court's duty “does not require [it] to conjure up unpled allegations, ” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979), or to create a claim for a plaintiff. Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). To command otherwise would require the court “to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         III. ANALYSIS

         “Section 1983 creates no substantive rights, but merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere.” Flint ex rel. Flint v. Ky. Dep't of Corr., 270 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2001). Two elements are required to state a claim under § 1983. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635 (1980). “[A] plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “Absent either element, a section 1983 claim will not lie.” Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

         It is axiomatic that individuals have a constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive force during an arrest. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). Claims of excessive force in the context of an arrest are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's “objective reasonableness standard.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 204 (2001) (citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 388). If the amount of force used to accomplish the arrest is objectively reasonable based on Fourth Amendment seizure principles, then no constitutional violation occurred.

         In Graham, the Supreme Court established the test for determining objective unreasonableness. Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. While individuals clearly have a right to be free from excessive force, police officers have an essential duty to arrest suspects and, necessarily, “the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect [the arrest].” Id. Courts evaluate whether the arresting officer's use of force is reasonable on a case by case basis, from the perspective of an officer on the scene, and in light of the “difficulties of modern police work.” Baker v. City of Hamilton, Ohio, 471 F.3d 601, 606 (6th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Although the ultimate inquiry is whether the totality of the circumstances justifies the force used to accomplish the arrest, the Supreme Court has identified three factors for the district court to consider in determining reasonableness: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the police officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect actively resisted arrest or attempted to evade arrest by flight. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396.

         A. ...

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