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Jones v. City of Taylor

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 30, 2015



VICTORIA A. ROBERTS, District Judge.


This action arises out of the arrest of Dominick Jones ("Jones") following an altercation with his girlfriend's sister when he intervened in their fight. The sister placed a frantic 911 call alleging Jones broke her arm. The police responded.

Jones sues Corporal Jeffrey Graves ("Graves"), Officers Christopher Cates ("Cates"), Dominick Diggs-Taylor ("Diggs-Taylor"), and Daniel Toth ("Toth"), as well as the City of Taylor ("City"). Count I alleges that Defendants violated Jones' federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; it alleges unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, illegal entry, excessive force, and failure to provide medical attention. Count II alleges that the City's practices, policies, and procedures caused a constitutional violation.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on all allegations. The Court heard oral argument on July 6, 2015.

For the reasons stated, the Court: (1) GRANTS summary judgment on Jones' wrongful entry claim; Defendants Diggs-Taylor and Cates are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate Jones' clearly established constitutional rights as of August 29, 2013 by entering the home he was in without a search warrant; (2) DENIES summary judgment on Jones' excessive force and unlawful arrest claims; questions of fact must be resolved before the Court can consider whether Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (3) DENIES summary judgment on Jones' malicious prosecution claim; Defendants failed to develop their argument on this request; (4) GRANTS summary judgment on Jones' failure to provide medical treatment claim; there was no constitutional violation; and (5) GRANTS summary judgment on Jones' claim against the City of Taylor; there was no constitutional violation.

A. Statement of Facts

On August 29, 2013, Jones, his girlfriend Melanie Nestor ("Melanie") and her sister Hannah Dennis ("Hannah"), visited the home of a third sister, Emilee Dennis ("Emilee"). Melanie and Hannah argued and that escalated into a physical fight. Jones says he intervened. Hannah left the house, called 911, and reported that Jones broke her arm.

Around 11:26 pm, officers Diggs-Taylor, Cates, Graves, and Toth responded to Hannah's call. When they arrived, Hannah was outside holding her arm. Hannah testified they went immediately into the house and had no conversation with her. Diggs-Taylor and Cates went into the house to investigate; Graves and Toth remained outside.

As Diggs-Taylor and Cates approached the front door, they could see Jones, Melanie, and Emilee sitting on the couch. Without knocking or announcing, the officers entered the house and asked for Jones. Jones identified himself. At this point, the account of the facts differs between Jones and the officers.

According to Jones, Diggs-Taylor told him to stand up. Jones says he complied and asked the officers "What's going on?" Diggs-Taylor told Jones to move to the kitchen; Jones says again he complied. Jones continued to question the officers. Once in the kitchen, Diggs-Taylor told Jones to raise his hands in the air. Jones began to comply, but as he raised his hands, Diggs-Taylor shouldered him into a counter. Cates then threw Jones into a table, hit him in the chest knocking him down, and held him. Responding to the sound of a struggle in the house, Graves and Toth entered the house and secured Jones' arms. Jones says Graves and Toth beat him.

Diggs-Taylor kneed Jones in the head several times. Finally, Cates stood up from holding Jones and tasered him twice.

Throughout the incident, Jones claims that he did not resist or move. Emilee and Melanie support Jones' version of events. Hannah remained outside and did not witness what occurred. Jones claims that after initially instructing him to raise his hands, the officers did not give him additional instruction. Jones says he did ask them if he was being arrested.

The officers tell a very different version of events. They claim that Jones only complied with their instruction to stand up, but when Diggs-Taylor told Jones to put his hands behind his back so that he and Cates could pat him down, Jones instead turned around, clenched his fists, and started yelling. The officers say they repeated their instruction for Jones to put his hands behind his back, but Jones ran toward the kitchen. As Jones ran, Cates tried to grab him. The two fell into a table. Diggs-Taylor and Cates say they repeatedly told Jones to stop resisting and put his hands behind his back. Jones refused, continued yelling, and clenched his hands underneath him. Cates tasered Jones twice. Defendants say Jones did not allow the officers to control and handcuff him until after the second taser. Graves and Toth entered the house after hearing the struggle. Graves and Toth say they did not touch Jones, except when Graves handcuffed Jones.


A. Summary Judgment

The Court grants 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. V. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A fact is material for purposes of summary judgment if proof of that fact would have the effect of establishing or refuting an essential element of the cause of action or a defense advanced by the parties. Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984).

III. Analysis

A. Count I: Federal Constitutional Violations

Jones' 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleges unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, wrongful entry, excessive force, and failure to provide medical attention.

To prevail on these claims, Jones "must establish that a person acting under color of state law deprived [him] of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Smoak v. Hall, 460 F.3d 768, 777 (6th Cir.2006) (citing Waters v. City of Morristown, 242 F.3d 353, 358-59 (6th Cir.2001)). However, a defendant may assert the defense of qualified immunity, which shields government officials from "suit under § 1983 for their discretionary actions.'" Gradisher v. City of Akron, No. 14-3973, 2015 WL 4503208 at *6 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cummings v. City of Akron, 418 F.3d 676, 685 (6th Cir. 2005)). "To overcome that defense, a plaintiff must show that, when the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to him, (1) the defendant deprived him of a constitutionally protected right, and (2) the right was clearly established' at the time of the violation." Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208 at *6 (quoting Morrison v. Bd. Of Trustees of Green Twp., 583 F.3d 394, 400 (6th Cir. 2009)). "Courts may [ ] address these prongs in either order; indeed one may be dispositive.'" Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208, at *6 (quoting Austin v. Redford Twp. Police Dep't, 690 F.3d 490, 496 (6th Cir.2012)). "If either one is not satisfied, qualified immunity will shield the officer from civil damages.'" Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208, at *6, (quoting Martin v. City of Broadview Heights, 712 F.3d 951, 957 (6th Cir.2013)).

"With regard to the second prong, [a] Government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'" Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208, at *6 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). "Whether a right has been clearly established should not be determined at a high level of generality.'" Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208, at *6 (quoting Ashcroft, 131 S.Ct. at 2084). Courts "do not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Ashcroft, 131 S.Ct. at 2083.

Thus, "officials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). "The essence of qualified immunity [ ] is to give government officials cover when they resolve close calls in reasonable (even if ultimately incorrect) ways." Hagans v. Franklin Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 695 F.3d 505, 511 (6th Cir.2012). "[S]ince the legal question of immunity is completely dependent upon which view of the facts is accepted by the jury, " Brandenburg v. Cureton, 882 F.2d 211, 216 (6th Cir.1989), "summary judgment is inappropriate where there are contentious factual disputes, " Sova v. City of Mt. Pleasant, 142 F.3d 898, 903 (6th Cir.1998).

i. Wrongful entry

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials. U.S. Const. amend. IV. "Searches of the home must be reasonable." Johnson v. City of Memphis, 617 F.3d 864, 867 (6th Cir. 2010). "This reasonableness requirement generally requires that police obtain a warrant based upon a judicial determination of probable cause prior to entering a home." Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244, 252 (6th Cir. 2003). Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable. Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559 (2004).

Jones concedes his claim for wrongful entry against Graves and Toth.

Diggs-Taylor and Cates claim Hannah did not tell them not to enter; this is their entire "consent" argument and it fails; the government bears the burden to prove that consent was freely and voluntarily given. U.S. v. Ivy, 165 F.3d 397, 401 (6th Cir. 1998) (quoting Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 548, 88 S.Ct. 1788, 20 L.E.2d 797 (1968).

Instead, Diggs-Taylor and Cates rely upon exigent circumstances as an exception to the warrant requirement. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390 (1978). They claim that given their observations of Hannah and their reliance on the 911 dispatch, they believed there was a risk of danger to innocent people in the house and a need to prevent Jones' escape. See United States v. Johnson, 106 Fed.Appx. 363, 366 (6th Cir. 2004) (exigent circumstances where the need to prevent a suspect's escape and a risk of danger to the police and others); see also Feathers v. Aey, 319 F.3d 843, 851 (6th Cir. 2003) ("efficient law enforcement requires - at least for the purpose of determining civil liability of individual officers - that police be permitted to rely on information provided by the dispatcher.").

Diggs-Taylor and Cates cite Ewolski v. City of Brunswick, 287 F.3d 292, 510 (6th Cir. 2002):

The importance of the potential danger to innocent people in the house is apparent from the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Dickerson v. McClellan, 101 F.3d 1151, 1160 (6th Cir. 1996), which held that even the articulation of the exception requires only a "justified belief" and does not require knowledge or certainty of the presence of someone in danger. In finding that exigent circumstances existed as a matter of law in Dickerson, the Sixth Circuit emphasized that the reasonable belief that a hostage could be present in the house - even though this turned out not to be the case - would suffice.

The Sixth Circuit held in Gradisher, "[w]hether there was an objectively reasonable basis for the officers to enter [the plaintiff's] residence without a warrant due to exigent circumstances is a close question." Gradisher, 2015 WL 4503208, at *7. The court stated "we need not decide whether the officers unlawfully entered the residence because [w]e opt to answer the easier [ ] question[]' of whether the officers violated some constitutional right belonging ...

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