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Belvin v. City of Springville

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

July 19, 2019



          Virginia Emerson Hopkins Senior United States District Judge.

         The Plaintiff, Charles Belvin, originally filed this Civil Action in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Alabama. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). Although the original Complaint does not appear in the record, the Plaintiff filed the First Amended Complaint, which is the operative complaint in this case[1], on May 22, 2018, and named as Defendants the City of Springville, Alabama (the “City”), and Officer Christopher Kelley[2], a member of the City of Springville's Police Department. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). The First Amended Complaint sets out counts for negligence against the City and Officer Kelley (Count One), wantonness against Officer Kelley (Count Two), and unreasonable use of force, in violation of 28 U.S.C. § 1983, against Officer Kelley (Count Three). All three counts arise out of Officer Kelley's actions in the course of arresting the Plaintiff.

         The case comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (the “Motion”). (Doc. 7). Despite the failures of the Defendants' initial brief (and the absence of their reply brief), the Court has attempted to consider all the arguments before it. At the end of the day, the Defendants do nothing more than create a genuine issue of material fact for trial. For that reason, and the additional reasons stated herein, the Motion will be DENIED.

         I. STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (“[S]ummary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The party requesting summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings in answering the movant. Id. at 324. By its own affidavits - or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file - it must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. If the evidence presented by the non-movant to rebut the moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may still be granted. Id. at 249.

         How the movant may satisfy its initial evidentiary burden depends on whether that party bears the burden of proof on the given legal issues at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). If the movant bears the burden of proof on the given issue or issues at trial, then it can only meet its burden on summary judgment by presenting affirmative evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact - that is, facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. Id. (citation omitted). Once the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce “significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact.” Id. (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

         For issues on which the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways. Id. at 1115-16. First, the movant may simply show that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case on the particular issue at hand. Id. at 1116. In such an instance, the non-movant must rebut by either (1) showing that the record in fact contains supporting evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2) proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency. Id. at 1116-17. When responding, the non-movant may no longer rest on mere allegations; instead, it must set forth evidence of specific facts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 358 (1996). The second method a movant in this position may use to discharge its burden is to provide affirmative evidence demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to prove its case at trial. Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. When this occurs, the non-movant must rebut by offering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict at trial on the material fact sought to be negated. Id.

         II. FACTS[3]

         A. The “Narrative Statement of Facts” Proffered by the Defendants

         The Court's Uniform Initial Order, filed in this case on June 22, 2018, states, in pertinent part:

The parties' submissions in support of and opposition to summary judgment motions must consist of: (1) a brief containing, in separately identified sections, (i) a statement of allegedly undisputed relevant material facts and (ii) a discussion of relevant legal authorities; and (2) copies of any evidentiary materials upon which the party relies.

(Doc. 3 at 15). That order continues:

All briefs submitted either in support of or opposition to a motion must begin with a statement of allegedly undisputed relevant material facts set out in separately numbered paragraphs. Counsel must state facts in clear, unambiguous, simple, declarative sentences. All statements of fact must be supported by specific reference to evidentiary submissions.

(Doc. 3 at 16) (footnote omitted). Omitted from the paragraph above is a footnote that explains that “[a] specific reference must include the exhibit number, page, and when appropriate the line number.” (Doc. 3 at 16, n. 3). The Order also states:

The moving party shall list in separately numbered paragraphs each material fact the movant contends is true and not in genuine dispute, and upon which the moving party relies to demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment. Each such statement must be followed by a specific reference to those portions of the evidentiary record that the movant claims supports it.

(Doc. 3 at 16) (footnote omitted and underlining added).

         The Defendants initial brief contains a “Narrative Statement of Facts” consisting of only 4 sentences, which reads exactly as follows:

The plaintiff alleges that on February 26, 2014, he was notified that a warrant had been issued for his arrest by the City of Springville. (Amended Complaint attached as Exhibit A). The next morning, February 27, 2014, the plaintiff traveled to the Springville Police Department to turn himself in. (Exhibit A). At the Springville Police Department, Mr. Belvin was met by Officer Christopher Kelley, and ultimately placed in handcuffs. (Exhibit A). The plaintiff claims that due to a recent shoulder surgery, the handcuffing procedure re-injured his shoulder, which required a second surgical procedure. (Exhibit A).

(Doc. 8 at 2). This statement runs afoul of this Court's Uniform Initial Order in a number of ways. First, it is not properly identified as a “Statement of Allegedly Undisputed Relevant Material Facts, ” and does not have facts set out in separately numbered paragraphs. Next, the statement contains no “facts” at all, only allegations from the First Amended Complaint. Furthermore, at least as to their fourth sentence, the Defendants get those allegations wrong. As pointed out by the Plaintiff, and independently verified by the Court, while the Plaintiff alleges that Officer Kelley's actions caused him injury, the First Amended Complaint does not mention a recent shoulder surgery, or state that Officer Kelley exacerbated or re-injured the Plaintiff. (See doc. 11; see also, doc. 1-1). The Plaintiff alleges that Officer Kelley caused his injury by the way Officer Belvin handled the Plaintiff's arm “prior to placing . . . handcuffs [on him], ” not by “the handcuffing procedure.” (Doc. 11 at 4) (citing doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 20, 34-39). Finally, the only evidentiary citation offered by the Defendants is to “Exhibit A, ” which is the eleven-page First Amended Complaint. Notably, the Plaintiff pointed out all of these issues, and more, in the response brief he filed on April 26, 2019. (See doc. 11 at 3-6). Still, the Defendants did not seek leave to correct any of their mistakes, nor did they file a reply brief.

         This Court's Uniform Initial Order states that “[t]he court reserves the right sua sponte to STRIKE any statements of fact or responsive statements that fail to comply with these requirements.” (Doc. 3 at 18) (bold in original). However, given the Plaintiff's agreement with the first three sentences of the Defendants' statement of facts, instead of striking it, the Court will consider those sentences as proffered by the Defendants. Additionally, the Court will consider the Defendants' forth sentence, but, as the Court has itself read the Amended Complaint, it will not accept the Defendants' misstatement of that document.

         The Court could also limit the Defendants to only those facts they have set out in those four sentences. (See doc. 3 at 16) (requiring the moving party to “list . . . each material fact . . . upon which the moving party relies to demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment”). Furthermore, because Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), this Court could refuse to consider anything in the record other that what the Defendants cited. Instead, as noted above, the Court has read and considered all of the parties' arguments and all of the evidence submitted to the Court. Officer Kelley's version of events.

         B. Officer Kelley's Testimony

         Officer Kelley states under oath that he met the Plaintiff in the parking lot, did not physically grab him, said “let's go into the police department, and walked [the Plaintiff] to the back door, opened it, and let him inside.” (Doc. 12-3, at 15(54)). Officer Kelley agrees that the Plaintiff “was voluntarily going in, ” and “was [not] resisting.” (Doc. 12-3 at 16(59)). Officer Kelley agrees that the Plaintiff's wife was present and that Officer Kelley told her not to follow them inside because “she didn't need to see this.” (Doc. 12-3 at 15(54)). Officer Kelley testified that, after entering the station,

I tell him to put his hands behind his back, and he does, and I do grab --I'm left handed, so it would have been his right arm. I do not jerk his arm behind his back. I just hold it and put a handcuff on, switch hands and then put the handcuffs on. And then I double lock them so that they don't tighten up.

(Doc. 12-3, at 16(60)-17(61)). Officer Kelley also testified that he believes that, after he handcuffed the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff “said his shoulder was bothering him.” (Doc. 12-3, at 17(62); 20(72)). Officer Kelley agrees that the Plaintiff acted “relatively calm” during his interactions with Officer ...

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