United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the court on Defendants Elijah T. Brigham and
Stephen Eason's Motion for Summary Judgment under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. # 18). The Motion is fully
briefed (Docs. # 20, 23, 24) and is ripe for decision. After
careful review, and for the reasons explained below,
Defendant's Motion (Doc. # 18) is due to be granted.
January 15, 2017, Plaintiff Shannon Lea Martin was arrested
by two Gardendale Police Officers, Elijah Brigham and Stephen
Eason (collectively, “Defendants”), for driving
under the influence of alcohol. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶
2-3; Doc. # 5-1). Plaintiff alleges that she was sitting in a
parked vehicle at 3:00 am behind a jewelry store adjusting
her clothing when Brigham approached her car and demanded she
take a breathalyzer test and walk in a straight line.
(Id. at ¶¶ 4-5). As Brigham attempted to
administer a field sobriety test to Plaintiff, Eason arrived
on the scene. (Doc. # 19-3 at 9-10). Plaintiff refused to
submit to the testing. She declined to take a “balance
and field sobriety test, ” claiming that she had
“a problem with balance anyway” and refused the
breathalyzer because she has always been told not to take a
breathalyzer because you don't know when they have been
calibrated.” (Doc. # 19-1 at 8). Upon Plaintiff's
refusal, Brigham placed her under arrest. After some initial
non-compliance, she was placed in handcuffs and put her in
the back of his patrol car. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 6). Plaintiff
alleges that while she was sitting in the back of the patrol
car, the handcuffs came off her right hand. (Id. at
¶¶ 7-8). She asserts that she made no attempt to
resist or escape but raised her right hand to inform
Defendants that the handcuff had come off. (Id. at
¶ 8). According to Plaintiff, Brigham grabbed her by the
arm, pulled her out of the patrol car in a standing position,
and “slammed [her] head into the door frame of the car
severely injuring her left eye.” (Id. at
¶¶ 10-12). Plaintiff further contends that both
Defendants “seized [her] and shoved [her] into the
ground slamming her into the pavement of the parking
lot.” (Id. at ¶ 13). She also contends
that Defendants reapplied the handcuffs while her stomach was
pressed to the pavement. (Id. at ¶ 14).
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that before she was taken to the
Gardendale Jail, the Gardendale Police Department transported
her to UAB Hospital to receive treatment for her injuries.
(Id. at ¶ 17). On April 21, 2017, the
Gardendale Municipal Court found Plaintiff guilty of driving
under the influence. (Doc. # 5-1 at 3). Plaintiff has
appealed that conviction. (Id. at 1-2).
initially raised two claims against Defendants under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. First, she claims that while acting under
color of law, Defendants violated her constitutional right to
be free from the use of excessive or unreasonable force
during an arrest. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-24).
Second, she asserts that Defendants “intentionally
committed acts that violated [her] constitutional right not
to be arrested without probable cause . . . by arresting
[her] without probable cause.” (Id. at
¶¶ 25-29). On February 12, 2019, this court
dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's claim for
unlawful arrest on the basis of Younger abstention.
(Doc. # 14). Consequently, Plaintiff's only remaining
claim, and the one addressed in this Memorandum Opinion, is
her excessive force claim
Standard of Review
Summary Judgment Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary 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
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for
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 which
it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has
met its burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to go
beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on
file --designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
substantive law will identify which facts are material and
which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)
(“Anderson”). All reasonable doubts
about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved
in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub.
Educ. for Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir.
2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112,
1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is
not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
See Id. at 249.
faced with a “properly supported motion for summary
judgment, [the non-moving party] must come forward with
specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere
allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc.,
131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson
teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on
her allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party
bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward
with at least some evidence to support each element essential
to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
“[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for
summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations
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.” Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be
granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely
colorable or is not significantly probative.”
Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262
(D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not
himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the
matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
“Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche
v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla.
1999) (“The law is clear . . . that suspicion,
perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.”).
The Law Related to Use of Excessive Force Claims
Supreme Court has instructed that “all claims
that law enforcement officers have used excessive
force-deadly or not-in the course of an arrest, investigatory
stop, or other ‘seizure' of a free citizen should
be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its
‘reasonableness' standard.” Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). “Determining
whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful
balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the
individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the
countervailing governmental interests at stake.”
Graham, 490 U.S. at 396; Landsman v. City of
Vero Beach, 621 Fed.Appx. 559, 562 (11th Cir. 2015)
(“Whether a specific use of force is excessive turns on
factors such as the severity of the crime, whether the
suspect poses an immediate threat, and whether the suspect is
resisting or fleeing.” (citation omitted));
Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 208 F.3d
919, 926 (11th Cir. 2000) (“To come within the narrow
exception, a plaintiff must show that the official's
conduct ‘was so far beyond the hazy border between
excessive and acceptable force that [the official] had to
know he was violating the Constitution even without caselaw
overarching inquiry is “whether a reasonable officer
would believe that this level of force is necessary in the
situation at hand.” Mercado v. City of
Orlando, 407 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir. 2005). However,
“the use of force against an arrestee who, inter
alia, is not a threat, has not exhibited aggressive
behavior, and has not actively resisted arrest is
excessive.” Perez v. Suszczynski, 809 F.3d
1213, 1222 (11th Cir. 2016).
The Law Related to Qualified Immunity
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
[sued in their individual capacity] ‘from liability for
civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.'”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818
(1982)); Nelson v. Lott, 330 F.Supp.3d 1314, 1327
(N.D. Ala. 2018). “The protection of qualified immunity
applies regardless of whether the government official's
error is ‘a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a
mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.'”
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (quoting Groh v.
Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 567 (2004)). However, the
protections of qualified immunity do not apply to those
officials “who knew or reasonably should have known
that the action he took within his sphere of official
responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the
[plaintiff], or if he took the action with the malicious
intention to cause a deprivation of constitutional rights or
other injury.” Nelson, 330 F.Supp.3d at 1327
(quoting Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 322
order to properly analyze a defense of qualified immunity,
the Supreme Court set out a two-part framework. First, the
court asks if the plaintiff has “sufficiently alleged a
constitutional or statutory violation.” Mann v.
Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1305 (11th Cir.
2009). “Without a . . . violation, there can be no
violation of a clearly established right.”
Mann, 588 F.3d at 1305. Second, the court must
determine “whether the constitutional violation was
‘clearly established' on the date of the event
leading to suit. The focus at this step of the analysis is on
the question of whether the officer had ‘fair
notice' that his conduct was unlawful.”
Nelson, 330 F.Supp.3d at 1330.
“exact factual identity with a previously decided case
is not required, . . . the unlawfulness of the conduct must
be apparent from pre-existing law.” Coffin v.
Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011). “A
court looks only to binding precedent-cases from the United
States Supreme Court, the [pertinent] Circuit, and the
highest court of the state under which the claim arose-to
determine whether the right in question was clearly
established at the time of the violation.” Id.
argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity on
Plaintiff's excessive force claim because (1) they did
not violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights, or
alternatively, (2) the constitutional right Plaintiff claims
was violated was not clearly established at the time of the
events at issue in this case. (Doc. # 20 at 8-9). ...