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Huston v. City of Birmingham Police Department

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 28, 2017




         This case concerns Plaintiff's allegations that City of Birmingham police officers[1]violated his rights under state and federal law in arresting him following an altercation on April 26, 2014. This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 31). Plaintiff filed a response. (Doc. 34).

         I. Statement of Facts[2]

         Taken in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the evidence before the court shows the following. On April 26, 2014, Mr. Huston was involved in an altercation at Steps and Traditions, a Veterans Administration-run medical, rehabilitation, and mental health facility in Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Huston was living at Steps and Traditions at the time. During the altercation, Mr. Huston cut a fellow resident of the facility with a butter knife. The Birmingham Police Department dispatched Officer Eric Burpo to the scene. When Officer Burpo arrived at Steps and Traditions and exited his vehicle, he observed a man bleeding. Officer Burpo later learned the man was Cody Carter, the individual Mr. Huston injured. Individuals at the scene pointed Officer Burpo in the direction of Mr. Huston. Officer Burpo approached Mr. Huston and asked him to sit in the backseat of his patrol car, and Mr. Huston complied.

         After Officer Burpo finished interviewing Mr. Carter and two witnesses, who identified Mr. Huston as the person who cut Mr. Carter, other officers arrived at the scene. Officer Burpo then opened the door of the patrol car and asked Mr. Huston to turn around so that he could handcuff him. Mr. Huston was then handcuffed while still in the patrol car. Officer Burpo claims that he handcuffed Mr. Huston. Mr. Huston disputed at his deposition that Officer Burpo handcuffed him, but could not say which officer handcuffed him instead. Mr. Huston asked Officer Burpo if he could stand up outside of the car to be handcuffed because he had a knee injury and a back injury, but he was ignored.

         Officer Burpo drove Mr. Huston to the Birmingham Police Headquarters in his patrol car. Either en route to Headquarters or upon arrival there, Mr. Huston told the officer(s) present that he could not feel his hands and asked them to loosen his handcuffs. When the patrol car arrived at Headquarters, (an) officer(s) “snatched” him out of the back seat of the car. Upon exiting the patrol vehicle, Mr. Huston yelled out, because, according to Mr. Huston, the handcuffs were causing him pain. Inside Headquarters, Officer Burpo removed Mr. Huston's handcuffs. Mr. Huston was released without being charged with a crime.

         At all relevant times, the Birmingham Police Department maintained a policy of observing the rights and dignities of individuals with whom members of the Department came into contact. The policy included not using excessive force; not falsely arresting or imprisoning individuals; not assaulting or battering individuals; not maliciously prosecuting individuals; not willfully, wantonly, and/or negligently conducting any arrest procedure; and not failing to investigate claims of excessive force. The Department did not have a policy, custom, or practice of violating individuals' constitutional rights, but maintained a policy against violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. All Birmingham officers, including Eric Burpo, were trained in these policies.

         All Birmingham City police officers undergo extensive training at the Birmingham Police Academy, which is accredited both by the state and by an external commission with stringent accreditation standards. The training covers all aspects of police work, including execution of search warrants, the standards for arrest and detention, and use-of-force standards. The Academy supplies officers with a copy of the Birmingham Police Department Rules and Regulations, which contains the procedures officers are to follow. These rules and regulations cover the proper use of handcuffs.

         The training officers receive at the Academy teaches them to respect the constitutional and statutory rights of individuals with whom they come into contact. Birmingham City officers are taught the specific policies of the Department regarding proper arrest procedures and use of force to effect an arrest, and are taught to use only such force as is reasonably necessary to effect a lawful arrest. All Birmingham City officers, including Officer Eric Burpo, received this training.

         Mr. Huston's deposition notice included a request for document production that asked him to produce all medical records showing that he was injured. He did not present any medical records to the Defendant. Mr. Huston testified that he saw a primary care physician for a back injury prior to the April 26 incident and that he “rarely even go[es] to the doctor, ” that he “stay[s] fit, ” and that he is “in shape.” (Doc. 31-2 at 34). During his deposition, Mr. Huston stated that his only claim against the City related to his being handcuffed.

         II. Discussion

         Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: whether any genuine issues of material fact exist, and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

         The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).

         Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary ...

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