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Russell v. Lowman

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 10, 2017



         At Wilmington this\& day of February, 2017, having reviewed defendants' motion for summary judgment and the papers submitted in connection therewith, the court issues its decision based on the following reasoning:

         1. Background.

         Plaintiff Shawn Russell ("plaintiff') filed a complaint against the above named defendants related to his detention by police on September 25, 2013. More specifically, plaintiff alleged in his complaint that, "[a]s a direct and proximate result" of defendants' conduct, "committed under color of state law, " he was

deprived of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable force, the excessive use of force, false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and to be secure in his person and property and he was deprived of his Fourteenth Amendment rights of being free from malicious prosecution and he was denied his liberty without due process of law. As a result, [he] suffered and continues to suffer harm in violation of his rights under the laws and Constitution of the United States, in particular the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments thereof, and 42 U.S.C. [§] 1983.

(D.I. 1 at 8) After the completion of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The court has jurisdiction over the pending matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.

         2. Undisputed facts.

         On September 25, 2013, Sergeant John Lloyd ("defendant Lloyd"), the head of the Delaware State Police ("DSP") Drug Unit, received information from a confidential informant that an individual named William Camp ("Camp") was distributing heroin in New Castle County, and that Camp would be making a sale of heroin that night at a local restaurant. Defendant Lloyd assembled a stakeout crew of officers at the restaurant. The officers first saw Camp's vehicle arrive. They then saw a second vehicle (a Suburban) pull up in close proximity to Camp's car. The Suburban left, and defendant Lloyd directed Corporal Adalberto Garcia ("defendant Garcia") to follow. The remaining officers proceeded to detain Camp. Camp told the officers that the driver of the Suburban had the drugs, and that Camp had directed him to leave. (D.I. 36[1] at 132-37; D.I. 47 at 2)

         3. With that information, defendant Lloyd put a broadcast over the radio for defendants Garcia, Corporal Suzanne Lowman ("defendant Lowman"), and Trooper Ryan Kirchenbauer ("defendant Kirchenbauer") to stop the Suburban. Defendants Lowman and Kirchenbauer were in the same vehicle and heard the radio broadcast to stop the Suburban as part of a drug investigation. They activated their emergency equipment and pulled the Suburban over on the right shoulder of west Route 273. (D.I. 36 at 113-14, 137; D.I. 47 at 2) "As part of the stop, Plaintiff's vehicle was searched. . .. After the vehicle stop and search, Plaintiff was transported to Delaware State Police Troop 2 Barracks." (D.I. 47 at 2) "While Plaintiff was detained at the barracks, he was subjected to a strip search and after approximately 30 minutes was released. Several days after Plaintiffs release, Defendant Sergeant Lloyd applied for and obtained a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest charging him with possession of a controlled or counterfeit substance. Plaintiff was later indicted by a Grand Jury on the same charge. On April 14, 2014 the Attorney General for the State of Delaware nolle prossed all charges against the Plaintiff." (D.I. 47 at 3)

         4. Plaintiff and defendants have given different accounts of what happened during the stop and what happened at the police station where plaintiff was subsequently detained. Plaintiff no longer disputes, however, that defendants "had a legitimate reason to stop" plaintiff's car, and that defendants had "cause to detain the plaintiff and bring him back to Troop 2 for questioning." (D.I. 38 at 7)

         5. Standard of review. "The court shall grant summary judgment 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). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Bee. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 415 U.S. 475, 586 n. 10 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be-or, alternatively, is-genuinely disputed must be supported either by citing to "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motions only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B). If the moving party has carried its burden, the nonmovant must then "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita, 415 U.S. at 587 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court will "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150(2000).

         6. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87; see also Podohnik v. U.S. Postal Service, 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (stating party opposing summary judgment "must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue") (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, " a factual dispute is genuine where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (stating entry of summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial").

         7. Excessive force claims. Plaintiff claims that one (or more) law enforcement officers at the stop struck him in the face, and that one of said officers grabbed plaintiff's face and put his hands in plaintiff's mouth while the other officers were striking plaintiff in the back. (D.I. 47 at 3) Defendants contend that no force was used on plaintiff at any time during the course of the stop. (Id.) The parties agree that plaintiffs excessive force claims "are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's 'objective reasonableness' standard, " as articulated in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). In this regard, the Supreme Court explained in Graham that "[w]here, as here, the excessive force claim arises in the context of an arrest or investigatory stop of a free citizen, it is most properly characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right 'to be secure in their persons . . .against unreasonable . . . seizures' of the person." Id. at 394. Such excessive force claims, therefore, should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's "reasonableness" standard. Id. at 395.

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 of the individual's Fourth Amendment interest'" against the countervailing governmental interests at stake. . . . Our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it. . . . Because "[t]he test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application, " . . ., however, its proper application requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including 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. . . .
The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather that with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. . . . The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and ...

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