United States District Court, D. Delaware
NORMAN SINGLETON AND CHERAYNE WILLIAMS, a minor through her parent and natural guardian, SHERRIE WATTS, Plaintiffs,
PATROLMAN ROBERT CUNNINGHAM, POLICE OFFICER JACOB RANKIN, CORPORAL ROBERT BARRETT, CHIEF PAUL M. BERNAT, ROBIN R. CHRISTIANSEN, MAYOR, CITY OF DOVER and THE CITY OF DOVER, DELAWARE, Defendants.
A. Denham, Joseph M. Jachetti, Schuster Jachetti LLP,
Wilmington, DE; Brian J. Zeiger, Levin & Zeiger,
Philadelphia, PA - attorneys for plaintiffs
A. Griffith, Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLC, Wilmington,
DE - attorney for defendants
NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Norman Singleton ("Singleton") and Cherayne
Williams ("Williams"), a minor, (collectively
"Plaintiffs") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983, asserting use of excessive force (Counts
I and II), illegal seizure (Count III), and municipal
liability (Count IV) in violation of their fourth and
fourteenth amendment rights. They also raise supplemental
state law claims. (Counts V-VII). Pending before the court is
a motion for summary judgment (D, I. 23) filed by defendants,
Patrolman Robert Cunningham, Police Officer Jacob Rankin,
Corporal Robert Barrett, Chief Paul M. Bernat, Robin R.
Christiansen, Mayor, City of Dover, and the City of Dover,
Delaware (collectively "Defendants") with respect
to all claims asserted in Plaintiffs' complaint (the
"Complaint"). (D.I. 1). For the reasons discussed
below, the Court will grant-in-part and deny-in-part
Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
claims arise from interactions with police officers on July
6, 2016. Many facts are undisputed, but where disputes are
alleged, they are noted below.
7, 2016, Plaintiffs were traveling from their home in Smyrna,
Delaware to Dover, Delaware. At the time, Singleton was on
probation from a former drug conviction. (D.I. 25, Exh. A at
3). Williams, who was a minor at the time,  is
Singleton's step-daughter. (D.I. 1 at 2; D.I. 24 at l).
officers had received a tip about Singleton coming to Dover
for a drug transaction. (D.I. 25, Exh. A at 3). Consistent
with that tip, Officer Stagg, a probation officer who was
monitoring Singleton's location, noticed that Singleton
was travelling toward Dover. (Id.). Corporal Barrett
and Officer Rankin positioned themselves along the route to
Dover and initiated a stop of Singleton's car in the
parking lot of the Dover Inn located on North DuPont Highway.
(D.I. 25, Exh A at 3; D.I. 25, Exh. B at 19-20). After he was
pulled over, Singleton was instructed to step out of the car
and to talk to Officer Staggs. (D.I. 27, Exh. A at 32-33, 40,
43-44). At that point, he threw up his hands and ran across
DuPont Highway towards a gas station. (D.I. 45-46). Before he
reached the highway, Corporal Barrett attempted to fire his
TASER at Singleton, but one of the probes missed. (D.I. 25,
Exh. A at 4). After Singleton reached the gas station,
Patrolman Cunningham fired his TASER at
Singleton. (Id.). Singleton fell face
forward to the ground and sustained serious injuries,
including a fracture to his jaw, lacerations on his face, and
road rash. (D.I 25, Exh. D at 4). He asserts that he
currently walks with a slight limp in his gait and reports
mild cognitive impairment. (D.I. 27 at 5; D.I 27, Exh. A at
he was subdued, police searched Singleton and found two bags
of cocaine in his pockets. (D.I. 25, Exh. A at 4). Police
also searched the car and found three cellphones but no
drugs. (Id.). Singleton admits he was in
possession of cocaine, but denies he was en route to
sell it. Plaintiff was not convicted of any narcotics related
offenses based on the July 7, 2016 incident. (D.I. 27 at 5).
apparently had remained in the vehicle when Singleton
attempted to flee. After Singleton was apprehended, Officer
Rankin testified that Williams was "taken into custody
as part of [the] overall investigation." (D.I. 24 at 8).
She was handcuffed, transported to the police station, and
detained there until it was determined that "she was a
juvenile and more than likely didn't have anything to do
with" the investigation involving Singleton. At that
point the handcuffs were removed. (D.I. 24 at 19, 6-17; D.I.
27 at 7; D.I. 28 at 7-8).
Domestic Incident Report written by Corporal Barrett offers a
different take, suggesting that officers knew while still at
the Dover Inn that Williams was a minor who was not involved
in the criminal activity. Corporal Barrett wrote that Officer
Rankin "had taken [Williams out] of the vehicle into
custody without incident." (D.I. 25, Exh. A at 4). After
several attempts, Corporal Barrett ultimately contacted
Williams' mother, Sherrie Watts, and "inform[ed] her
to come to the Dover Inn to get her daughter."
(Id.). Twenty minutes later, Ms. Watts called
Corporal Barrett and said that she was just then on her way
to the Dover Inn. (Id. ). At that point, Corporal
Barrett told Ms. Watts to go to the police station instead
and "instructed Rank[in] to transport  Williams to the
police department." (Id.). Williams was
ultimately released to the custody of her mother and not
charged with any crimes.
judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together
with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A
factual dispute is material when it "might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). All reasonable factual inferences must be made in a
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at
255; Patrick v. Moorman, 536 Fed.Appx. 255, 257 (3d
Cir. 2013) (citing Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775
(3d Cir. 2004)); Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749
F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Bowers v.
Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 475
F.3d 524, 535 (3d Cir. 2007)). The nonmoving party, however,
bears the burden to establish the existence of each element
of his case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). In doing so, the non-moving party must present
specific evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could
conclude in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248;
Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402,
407 (3d Cir. 2000). Summary judgment should be granted if no
reasonable trier of fact could find for the non-moving party.
Radich v. Goode, 886 F.2d 1391, 1395 (3d Cir. 1989).
U.S.C. § 1983 provides in pertinent part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or
the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action
at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
"In order to recover under § 1983, a plaintiff must
show that the defendant, under color of state law, subjected
the plaintiff to a deprivation of a right, privilege, or
immunity secured by the constitution or laws of the United
States." Renda v. King, 347 F.3d 550, 557 (3d
Cir. 2003) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Berg v. Cnty.
of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 268 (3d Cir. 2000)
("Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights ...
the plaintiff must allege a violation of a federal
officials performing discretionary functions are shielded
from liability for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
"insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known." Sharrar v.
Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997); see also
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). It is
the defendants' burden to establish they are entitled to
qualified immunity. Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256
F.3d 120, 142 n. 15 (3d Cir. 2001).
two-step analysis is used to evaluate whether a police
officer is protected by qualified immunity. First, the court
must determine whether the alleged facts, taken in the light
most favorable to plaintiff, show that the officer's
conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001); In re City of Phila.
Litig, 49 F.3d 945, 961 (3d Cir. 1995). The qualified
immunity analysis comes to an end, and the officer is
entitled to immunity, "[i]f no constitutional right
would have been violated were the allegations
established." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201-02;
see also Bennett v. Murphy, 274 F.3d 133, 136 (3d
Cir. 2001). If a "violation could be made out on a
favorable view of the parties' submissions, [however, ]
the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was
clearly established," i.e., "whether it
would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was
unlawful in the situation he confronted."
Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201; see also Kornegay v.
Cottingham, 120 F.3d 392, 395-96 (3d Cir. 1997).
Qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).
Count I against Corporal Barrett and Count II against
Patrolman Cunningham - § 1983 Action Based on Excessive
Force in Violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth
alleges he was the victim of excessive force during his
arrest on July 7, 2016 -first when Corporal Barrett fired his
TASER and later when Patrolman Cunningham fired his.
Defendants contend that any force used was ...