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Easter v. Hendrix

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

October 23, 2018

MICHAEL B. EASTER, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON HENDRIX, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendants seek summary judgment as to Plaintiff Michael B. Easter's federal claims, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Kentucky Constitutional claims, and Kentucky state law claims. [R. 37.] For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' motion.

         I

         On April 10, 2016 at approximately 2:30 a.m., Defendant-Officers Jason Hendrix and Austin Sasser were dispatched to an apartment located in Shelbyville, Kentucky in response to an excessive noise complaint. [R. 1 at 4; R. 37-2; R. 37-3.] The apartment was that of Plaintiff Michael B. Easter, where he resided with his mother, Elizabeth “Libby” Easter, and his twelve-year old daughter. [R. 1.] Libby Easter called the officers to their home because Mr. Easter was listening to music on his laptop computer at a high volume and refused to turn the music down. [R. 1; R. 37-2 at 1.] Upon Defendants' arrival at Mr. Easter's residence, Officer Hendrix knocked and Libby answered the door. [R. 1; R. 37-2; R. 37-3.] The parties disagree as to whether Libby invited the officers into the home, but both agree that upon arrival, Libby Easter told the officers that the noise disturbance had ceased, and Mr. Easter told the Officers to “get the F out of my house.” [R. 1; R. 37-1, R. 39.]

         Upon entering the residence, Officer Hendrix heard what he described as “a person hyperventilating into a plastic bag.” [R. 37-2.] Among continued protestations from Mr. Easter, Officer Hendrix sought the source of the noise, which turned out to be Mr. Easter's twelve-year-old daughter. Id. Officer Hendrix found Mr. Easter's daughter breathing heavily in her bedroom. [R. 37-2.] It is undisputed that she and Mr. Easter were involved in a disagreement prior to police being called to the home, but details of the disagreement are disputed. [R. 1 at 6; R. 38-2 at 2.] Mr. Easter asserts that his daughter “physically struck, shoved, and briefly confined” him. [R. 1 at 6.] The Officers conducted an interview with Mr. Easter's daughter outside of the presence of Mr. Easter, with Libby Easter's consent. [R. 1 at 7] Officers Hendrix and Sasser claim that the daughter informed them that Mr. Easter had “hit her in the face and pushed her on the bed causing her to hit her head on a mirror.” [R. 38-2 at 2.] Officer Hendrix noticed redness on the right side of her face, and that she appeared to have a “bruise” or “knot” toward the back of her head. Id. Because Officer Hendrix believed that Mr. Easter's daughter needed medical evaluation, EMS was called to the apartment. Id.

         At some point Mr. Easter was handcuffed in his home. [R. 39; R. 38-2.] The parties agree that officers informed Mr. Easter that he was not under arrest, and that the handcuffs were for his own safety. Id. Following the interview with Mr. Easter's daughter, the Defendants believed they had probable cause to arrest Mr. Easter for Assault in the Fourth Degree, Child Abuse, and Mr. Easter was informed he was under arrest. [See R. 1 at 7; R. 38-2 at 3.] The parties agree that Mr. Easter verbally protested as Officer Sasser escorted him to a police cruiser. [See R. 1 at 7; R. 38-2 at 3.] The Officers claim that Mr. Easter engaged in “violent, tumultuous, and threatening behavior” such that he caused residents living in neighboring apartments to come to their doors to see what was going on outside. [R. 38-2 at 3.] Mr. Easter disputes this claim and says that no nearby residents came to investigate. [R. 39 at 2.]

         Whatever occurred, Mr. Easter was subsequently charged with Disorderly Conduct in the Second Degree. [R. 1.] Mr. Easter was transported to Shelby County Detention Center and claims that, either during transport or booking at Shelby County Detention Center, Officer Sasser “grabbed the hood of the [Mr. Easter's] hoody and tightened it around his neck . . . and executed a chokehold that caused the [Mr. Easter] to lose consciousness.” [R. 1 at 7-8.] At the time of booking, a Standard Medical Questions form was prepared by the Detention Center in which Plaintiff indicated that he was not in need of medical attention. [R. 37-2 at 12.] A photo taken during the booking process shows no sign of injury to Mr. Easter's neck or head. Id. at 13.

         In a one-day jury trial on October 12, 2016, Mr. Easter was acquitted of the Assault in the Fourth Degree, Child Abuse charge and convicted of the offense of Disorderly Conduct in the Second Degree. [R. 1 at 9.] Mr. Easter subsequently filed this action on April 9, 2017 against Defendants Jason Hendrix, Austin Sasser, and Danny Goodwin, both individually and in their official capacities. Mr. Easter alleges violations of his Constitutional rights under the Fourth, Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as §§ 10 and 11 of the Kentucky Constitution. [See R. 1.] Additionally, Mr. Easter brings Kentucky state law claims for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and outrage. Id. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment disputing these claims and putting forth the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. [R. 37-1.] Mr. Easter, now proceeding pro se, filed what he called a “Motion for Summary Judgment and Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary of Judgment.” [R. 39.] The Defendants filed a reply to that motion, urging the Court to construe it as a Response to their earlier motion for Summary Judgment, rather than as a cross-motion for Summary Judgment. [R. 43.]

         II

         A

         As an initial matter, the Court takes up the issue of how to interpret Mr. Easter's motion. It is styled as “Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary of Judgment.” [R. 39.]

         Generally speaking, filings by pro se litigants are construed liberally. See Spotts v. United States, 429 F.3d 248, 249 (6th Cir. 2005). Where a party is without representation, pro se pleadings “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). 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.

         Even applying a liberal construction, Mr. Easter's motion [R. 39] falls short of the standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Mr. Easter's motion seeks no affirmative relief aside from asking the Court “to honorably block [Defendants'] motion as it is false.” Id. To the extent he cites to the record, Mr. Easter directs the Court's attention to whole affidavits, as well as a video recording of the entirety of his day-long jury trial. [R. 39.] Mr. Easter puts forth no argument for Summary Judgment on his own behalf. See Id. Accordingly, Mr. Easter's motion is most appropriately construed as a response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         B

         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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). 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 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         C

         This case involves three Defendants, each of whom has been sued in both their official and individual capacities: Officer Danny Goodwin, Officer Jason Hendrix, and Officer Austin Sasser. [R. 1.] Defendants Hendrix and Sasser responded to Mr. Easter's home on April 10, 2016, but Officer Goodwin was not involved in responding to the call. [See R. 1.] Instead, Officer Danny Goodwin is sued in his individual and official capacity because he was, at the time, Chief of the Shelbyville Police Department, and therefore established policies which governed the employment, training, supervision and conduct of the officers of the Shelbyville Police Department. [R. 1; R. 9.]

         The law is clear that any federal charges asserted against the Defendants in their official capacity are functionally equivalent to charges against the City of Shelbyville, because “individuals sued in their official capacities stand in the shoes of the entity they represent.” Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 810 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). This is because a plaintiff seeking to “recover on a damages judgment in an official-capacity suit must look to the government entity itself.” Id. Thus, the City of Shelbyville is the true defendant, and Officers Goodwin, Hendrix, and Sasser are dismissed as defendants with respect to the pending federal and state law claims. See Clark v. Kentucky, 229 F.Supp.2d 718, 721-22 (E.D. Ky. 2002) (dismissing official capacity claims). Summary judgment is GRANTED in favor of the Defendants on all claims made against them in their official capacity.

         D

         There are nine remaining claims against Officers Goodwin, Hendrix and Sasser in their individual capacities in this action. [R. 1.] Defendants oppose these claims on substantive grounds as ...


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