United States District Court, D. Delaware
Wilmington this 27th day of March, 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:
Brenda Mathis ("plaintiff) filed a complaint against the
above named defendants related to her arrest in the City of
Wilmington on January 27, 2014. Plaintiff alleges: (1)
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 use of excessive force, as
to defendants Wilmington Police Officers Michael Fossett
("Fossett") and Samuel Smith ("Smith")
(count 1); (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on
Fourth Amendment unlawful detention and arrest, as to
defendants Fossett and Smith (count 2); (3) violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1983 based on First Amendment retaliation, as
to defendants Fossett, Smith, and Wilmington Police Officer
Jose Vasquez ("Vasquez") (count 3); (4) violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on malicious prosecution
against all of the named defendants (Fossett, Smith, Vasquez,
and Wilmington Police Officer D. "Jones") (count
4); (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress, as to
defendants Fossett (count 5) and Smith (count 6); (6)
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on Fourth Amendment
unlawful seizure and retention of plaintiff's BMW, as to
defendant Fossett (count 7); and (7) trespass to chattels, as
to defendants Fossett and Jones. (D.I. 1, ex. A) Through the
course of discovery and the instant summary judgment motion
practice, plaintiff has withdrawn counts 6, 7 and
The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
morning of January 27, 2014, Fossett and Vasquez stopped a
BMW sedan ("the BMW") after they saw the vehicle
pass through a stop sign. (D.I. 37 at A-3) Plaintiff's
son, Steven Wright ("Wright"), was driving the BMW
(which was owned by plaintiff), and Jeremy Watkins
("Watkins") was in the passenger seat.
(Id.) Wright pulled the BMW over in the parking lot
of plaintiff's business, LJ's Playpen Academy.
(Id. at A-135) Vasquez approached the driver's
side window of the BMW, and Fossett approached the passenger
side. (Id. at A-3, A-9-10, A-135-36) Vasquez asked
Wright for his license, registration and insurance card;
Wright refused to comply with the request until he was told
why he was pulled over; Vasquez responded that the stop would
be explained once Wright complied with the request.
(Id. at A100, A107, A109) Because neither Wright nor
Watkins rolled down the passenger door window, Fossett
"could not gather information from or have an
unobstructed view of the passenger compartment of the vehicle
and the passenger." (Id. at A-3; A-108-109)
"Due to the lack of cooperation, Fossett called for an
assisting unit." (Id. at A-3)
was about at this time that plaintiff approached the BMW, by
her own admission coming within 15 to 20 feet of the car.
(D.I. 1, ex. A at 4; D.I. 37 at ¶ 136, A142, A211)
Defendants assert that they warned her to not interfere with
the traffic stop,  and that plaintiff and a second
female "were advised to go across the street
numerous times with negative results." (Id. at
A4) Shortly after the incident and in her complaint,
plaintiff also asserted that she was told by police officers
to "[g]et the away from the car." (D.I. 1, ex. A at
4; D.I. 37 at ¶ 211) By the time of her deposition, she
was asked if she recalled either Fossett or
Vasquez "telling [her] to leave the immediate
area of the stop." Her reply was
"No." (Id. atA144) Although plaintiff
concedes that she conversed with her son, she denies telling
him to disregard the police officers' instructions or
using loud or offensive language. (Id. at A135-36,
the assisting officers arrived on the scene, Fossett ordered
Smith to place plaintiff under arrest due to her continued
interference with the traffic investigation. (Id. at
A3-4, A12-13, A34-35, A37) The parties have different
accounts of the attempts by Smith and Fossett to effectuate
the arrest, with defendants recounting plaintiff's
efforts to physically resist arrest and plaintiff describing the
force used to effectuate the arrest. At a minimum, however, it is
undisputed that plaintiff remained at the traffic stop, did
not refrain from participating in some manner with the police
activity, and cannot be characterized as cooperating with
police efforts to carry out their duties. After plaintiff
was taken into custody, she was transported to the emergency
room by police officers due to her complaints of chest pain
and wrist pain. It is not easy to decipher the related
medical records (id. at A79-94), but it appears that
plaintiff was discharged "with a negative work up,
" then came back later that day "upset
that she was not given [a] proper work up" in the first
instance. Plaintiff presented the second time with complaints
of right wrist pain and body-wide pain related to her earlier
interaction with police. (Id. at A68) The discharge
diagnosis was contusion of the left wrist and rib pain.
(Id. at A61, A68) Plaintiff ultimately was charged
with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and was released
from custody. Plaintiff contends in this litigation
that she continues to suffer from physical pain and weakness
and emotional trauma.
Standard of Review.
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 Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 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
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").
Qualified immunity defense.
respect to counts 1, 2, and 4, defendants assert that they
are protected from suit by the qualified immunity doctrine.
(D.I. 36 at 8) Under certain circumstances, government
officials are protected from § 1983 suits by qualified
immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity serves to
protect officers from civil liability "when they perform
their duties reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Accordingly, it gives "ample
room for mistaken judgments, " Hunter v.
Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229 (1991), whether the
official's mistake is a mistake of fact, mistake of law,
or mistake based on mixed questions of fact and law,
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. In the context of Fourth
Amendment claims, qualified immunity operates to
"protect officers from the sometimes 'hazy border
between excessive and acceptable force, ' and to ensure
that before they are subjected to suit, officers are on
notice their conduct is unlawful." Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 206 (2001) (quoting Priester v.
Riviera Beach, 208 F.3d 919, 926 (11th Cir. 2000)
(internal citation omitted)).
court makes two inquiries when analyzing qualified immunity.
Under the constitutional inquiry, the court examines
"whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged or shown
make out a violation of a constitutional right."
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232 (quoting Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)) (citation omitted).
Second, the court inquires "whether the right at issue
was 'clearly established' at the time of a
defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson,
555 U.S. at 232. Courts have the 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. Id. at 236.
Unlawful arrest and detainment (count 2), and malicious