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Jarmon-Goodman v. City of Muscle Shoals

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

January 30, 2019

CHERYL JARMON-GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MUSCLE SHOALS, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This case arises from an incident that allegedly occurred during the night hours of Monday, April 18, 2016, when plaintiff, Cheryl Jarmon-Goodman, contends that she was injured in her home as a result of being “Tasered”[1] by one of the defendant police officers. Plaintiff's original complaint alleged federal constitutional and state-law tort claims against eleven defendants: i.e., the cities of Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, Alabama; the “Police Departments” of each of those municipalities; the Chiefs of each police department (i.e., Clint Reck in Muscle Shoals, and Greg Ray in Sheffield); the Shift Commanders of each police department (i.e., Captain Cedric Morris in Muscle Shoals, and Ricky Terry in Sheffield); Muscle Shoals police officer Steven Benson; Sheffield police officer Sam Garrison; and a second Sheffield police officer identified only as “Officer Bishop (first name unknown).”[2]

         Plaintiff alleged in her original complaint that Muscle Shoals police officer Steve Benson and Sheffield police officers Sam Garrison and “Officer Bishop” used excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and, thereby, caused her to suffer a “felonious injury” as defined in Alabama Code § 6-5-370, as well as committing the state-law torts of assault, battery, and outrage.[3]Plaintiff also asserted a state law claim for negligent failure to train and supervise against the cities of Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, Alabama, and their respective police departments, as well as against supervisory personnel Muscle Shoals Police Chief Clint Reck and Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray, and Shift Commanders Captain Cedric Morris in Muscle Shoals, and Captain Ricky Terry in Sheffield.

         Motions for summary judgment were filed by Muscle Shoals Police Chief Clint Reck and Shift Commander Captain Cedric Morris.[4] Chief Reck contended that summary judgment was due because, on April 18, 2016, he was employed as a captain for the Muscle Shoals Police Department, and was the shift supervisor for only the day shift.[5] Chief Reck averred that Officer Benson was assigned to the night shift, and as such, Chief Reck did not supervise him on the date the incident occurred.[6] Likewise, Captain Morris[7] contended that he was employed as a lieutenant for the Muscle Shoals Police Department on April 18, 2016, was assigned to supervise only the day shift, and that Benson was assigned to the night shift.[8]

         Motions to dismiss the complaint were filed by the City of Muscle Shoals and its police officer Steve Benson, the City of Sheffield Police Department, Sheffield's police officer Sam Garrison, and Sheffield Shift Commander Ricky Terry.[9]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This court entered an order on August 21, 2018, directing plaintiff to show cause why four of the original defendants (i.e., the City of Sheffield Police Department, Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray, Muscle Shoals Police Department Shift Commander Captain Cedric Morris, and the Sheffield police officer identified only as “Officer Bishop”) should not be dismissed as a result of plaintiff's failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), which requires a complaint to be served within ninety days.[10] Plaintiff conceded that her claims should be dismissed as to the City of Sheffield Police Department, Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray, and Muscle Shoals Police Shift Commander Cedric Morris, but asked for additional time to attempt to better identify and serve “Officer Bishop.”[11] Accordingly, this court dismissed all claims against the Sheffield Police Department, Ray, and Morris on August 30, 2018, and granted plaintiff fourteen additional days to perfect and prove service of the complaint on the Sheffield police officer identified only as “Officer Bishop.”[12]

         Even so, plaintiff failed to serve that defendant within the extended period. Accordingly, this court dismissed all claims against “Officer Bishop” on September 19, 2018.[13]

         The court granted the motions to dismiss filed by the City of Sheffield, Alabama, the Sheffield Police Department, Sheffield Shift Commander Ricky Terry, and Sheffield police officer Sam Garrison on October 9, 2018, and directed plaintiff to file an amended complaint.[14] The court denied the remaining motions - i.e., those filed by the City of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Muscle Shoals Police Chief Clint Reck, and Muscle Shoals Police Officer Steven Benson without prejudice to renew the motions following the filing of plaintiff's amended complaint.[15]

         Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on October 19, 2018, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and state law claims of battery only against Muscle Shoals Police Officer Steven Benson and Sheffield Police Officer Sam Garrison.[16]

         Benson filed the motion for summary judgment presently before the court on November 2, 2018.[17]

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a 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). In other words, summary judgment is proper “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-moving party are not unqualified, however. “[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.

Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”). The court's role in deciding a summary judgment motion is not to evaluate the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 249-50.

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Discovery has not been conducted in this case, so the facts are limited to those that can be gleaned from plaintiff's declaration and defendant Benson's affidavit and supporting documentation: i.e., the affidavit of Muscle Shoals Police Lieutenant Robert Newton, and records relating to the Taser assigned to Benson by the Muscle Shoals Police Department.

         Plaintiff's declaration states that, on the night of April 18, 2016, she heard the sounds of her “door being knocked in” and of someone falling.[18] She states that Officers Benson and Garrison had entered her home “by knocking the front door down.”[19] Garrison directed her to go with him and Benson.[20] When plaintiff asked for an explanation, the officers said there was a warrant for her arrest, but did not show her a copy.[21] Garrison eventually admitted that they did not have a warrant, but contended that an arrest warrant had been issued by an official in neighboring Limestone County, Alabama.[22] Plaintiff continued to ask to see the warrant, which resulted in Benson suggesting that she was resisting arrest.[23] Plaintiff insisted that she was not resisting arrest, but wanted to see the warrant.[24] Benson then stated that plaintiff was resisting arrest and Tasered her three times.[25] One of the prongs of the Taser entered her side, and two prongs entered her breast.[26] Benson and Garrison grabbed her by her arms and legs and dragged her from her home.[27] Benson and Garrison kicked her in her side while she was handcuffed.[28] Plaintiff's husband asked the officers to stop kicking plaintiff.[29]

         Plaintiff was not subsequently charged with resisting arrest.[30]

         At some unspecified time, plaintiff was taken to Helen Keller Hospital for treatment of the laser prongs that had lodged in her breast.[31] The prongs could not be completely removed, and plaintiff has suffered complications, including a false diagnosis of breast cancer.[32]

         Plaintiff avers that she had no opportunity to observe the serial number on the Taser deployed by Benson.[33] She states that she is not familiar with the policies of the Muscle Shoals Police Department regarding the assignment of Tasers to its officers, or “any policy restricting the sharing of Tasers among its police officers or otherwise, ” and that she has had no opportunity to “know or find out whether MSPD [i.e., Muscle Shoals Police Department ] officers always comply with any such policy restricting the sharing of Tasers among its police officers.”[34]

         Muscle Shoals police officer Steven Benson states that he began his shift at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 18, 2016.[35] His assigned patrol car had mechanical issues, however, so he drove a different vehicle on that date.[36] The Taser issued to him, bearing serial number X290025AR, remained in his assigned, but undriveable patrol car.[37] He contends, therefore, that he was not “carrying [his] assigned Taser on [his] person, and was not otherwise equipped with a Taser, when [he] encountered Ms. Jarmon-Goodman, on April 18, 2016.”[38] Benson declares that he only assisted officers from the Sheffield Police Department in the arrest of plaintiff at her residence between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. on April 18, 2016.[39]

         Benson states that, when he first encountered plaintiff, she was in bed.[40]Officers got her out of bed, and she walked down the hall of her residence.[41] She was escorted outside by an unnamed officer or officers.[42] Benson spoke to a man who identified himself as plaintiff's husband, and asked Benson how he could obtain plaintiff's release.[43] Benson states that he did not personally participate in escorting plaintiff out of the residence, did not place her in a patrol car, and did not deploy a Taser.[44]

         Benson also submitted records relating to the Taser assigned to him, and the affidavit of Muscle Shoals Police Lieutenant Robert Newton.[45] Benson contends that those records show that the Taser assigned to him was not discharged or otherwise activated on April 18, 2016. Lieutenant Newton verified the “Muscle Shoals Police Department Equipment Issued Form” showing that a Taser model X2 bearing serial number X290025AR was issued to Benson on March 18, 2015.[46] He stated that the Taser was “brand-new” when issued to Benson, and that Benson had not been issued another Taser since that date.[47] He further stated that Muscle Shoals Police Department policy prohibits an officer from using a Taser that is not assigned to him or her.[48]

         Lieutenant Newton explained the significance of the data displayed in the report submitted as an exhibit to his affidavit as follows:

10. The report on pages two through thirteen of Tab 1 shows the activity of the Taser with serial number X290025AR from May 13, 2014, when the device was first manufactured, to October 19, 2018, when I generated the report.
11. To generate the Taser activity report for the Taser with serial number X290025AR, I plugged a cable into the bottom of that particular device.
12. The other end of the cable contains a USB plug, which I plugged into a USB port on a departmental computer at MSPD.
13. The data from the device is then uploaded to the computer using the software from TASER International, Inc., the Taser's manufacturer.
14. A report showing this data may then be generated and printed.
15. The report shows each event that the particular Taser experiences in the column titled “Event.” 16. For example, the term “Armed” means that the Taser was turned on, and was ready for use.
17. The term “Trigger” means that the trigger on the device was pulled or squeezed, deploying one of the two ...

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