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Wallace v. Houston

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 26, 2015

ERIC HOUSTON, et al., Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


The plaintiff Branden Wallace ("Wallace") filed this prose action on June 25, 2012. (D.I. 2.) In his complaint, Wallace asserted constitutional tort claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort law claims against defendants Eric Huston ("Huston"), Phillip Graham ("Graham"), Gregory Simpler ("Simpler"), and John Doe(s), in connection with Wallace's arrest on or about July 22, 2010. (Id. ) The John Doe(s) were then-unknown members of the Delaware Police's Special Operations Response Team ("SORT"). (Id. ¶ 7.) After some discovery, Wallace filed an amended complaint on November 18, 2013, replacing the John Doe(s) with the following specific members of the SORT, alleged to have been involved in Wallace's arrest: Eric Daniels ("Daniels"), Andrew Hudak ("Hudak"), James Cras ("Cras"), Scott Galbreath ("Galbreath"), David Chorlton ("Chorlton"), Ralph Thomas ("Thomas"), Roger Davis ("Davis"), Timothy Aube ("Aube"), and Jason Russo ("Russo") (collectively, the "Newly Added Defendants"). (D.I. 54.) Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment, filed on behalf of all the defendants (collectively, "the Defendants").[1](D.I. 110.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.


On April 1, 2010, Officers Huston and Simpler and Probation Officer Graham completed a probation compliance search of a residence believed to belong to Wallace and his girlfriend Johanna Garcia ("Garcia"), both of whom were on probation. (D.I. 112 at A-80, A-85; D.I 113 at A-135.) The officers seized drugs, a gun, and ammunition from the premises. (Id. at A-135-37.) Garcia was arrested, but Wallace was not present. (Id. at A-138.) Huston ultimately obtained arrest and search warrants for Wallace, to be executed at the Days Inn in Newark, Delaware. (Id. at A-123, A-131.)

Wallace's causes of action stem from his arrest the night of July 22 or early morning July 23, 2010, at the Days Inn hotel. Although many of the facts are in dispute, members of the SORT executed the search warrant in the middle of the night while Wallace was sleeping in a hotel room with Garcia. After an attempt to breach the door to the room failed, Aube broke the window to allow the SORT to gain access. (Id. at A-140.) Three members of the team-Daniels, Thomas, and Hudak-made contact with Wallace in order to secure his arrest. (Id. at A-76, A-82, A-87.) Daniels struck Wallace with a shield in the head-whether accidentally or purposefully is contested-during the arrest. (Id. at A-76.) The blow caused a two-centimeter laceration, which subsequently had to be closed with a staple. (D.I. 120 at A-114.) Thomas also stunned Wallace with a Taser between one and three times. (D.I. 113 at A-87-88.) The parties dispute the extent to which Wallace resisted arrest and whether he was already handcuffed when force was applied to secure his arrest.

Wallace asserts claims for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and § 1983 against Daniels, Thomas, and Hudak.[2] (D.I. 54, ¶ 45.) Wallace also asserts failure to intervene claims against Daniels, Thomas, Hudak, and Cras for failing to prevent the misuse of force.[3] (Id. ¶ 47.) Finally, Wallace asserts a number of Delaware state tort law claims: assault and battery against Daniels and Hudak (Id. ¶ 49); negligent infliction of emotional distress against Daniels and Hudak (Id. ¶ 50); and negligent, reckless, or intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 52.)


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 n.10 (1986). A fact is material if it "could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011). There is a genuine issue "if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the district court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the moving party is able to demonstrate an absence of disputed material facts, the nonmoving party must then "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

Because Wallace proceeds pro se, his pleadings are liberally construed and, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nonetheless, even a prose plaintiff still has "the formidable task of avoiding summary judgment by producing evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for [him].'" Zilich v. Lucht, 981 F.2d 694, 696 (3d Cir. 1992) (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A plaintiff's pro se status "does not eliminate [his] obligation to allege specific facts, substantiated by evidence on the record." Harp v. Rahme, 984 F.Supp.2d. 398, 409 (E.D. Pa. 2013).


The Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because (1) Wallace's claims against the Newly Added Defendants are untimely, (2) Wallace has failed to offer evidence supporting all of the elements of his excessive force claims, (3) the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and (4) the court should decline to exercise jurisdiction of the supplemental state law claims. (D.I. 111.)

A. Statute of Limitations

Each of Wallace's claims is subject to a two-year statute of limitations. See Gibbs v. Deckers, 234 F.Supp.2d 458, 461 (D. Del. 2002) ("Section 1983 claims are characterized as personal injury claims, and district courts must apply the state statute of limitations for personal injury claims."); see also 10 Del. C. § 8119 (imposing a two-year statute oflimitations for personal injury claims). Because the events in question occurred July 23, 2010, at the latest, Wallace was obligated to bring his claims before July 23, 2012. The original complaint against Huston, Graham, and Simpler was filed within this time, on June 25, 2012. (D.I. 2.) The amended complaint naming the Newly Added Defendants, however, was filed on November 18, 2013, after the two-year statutory deadline. ...

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