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Ruemenapp v. Oscoda Township

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

June 29, 2017

EDWARD OTTO RUEMENAPP, Plaintiff,
v.
OSCODA TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Edward Ruemenapp filed a complaint on June 1, 2016, alleging that Defendants Township of Oscoda, Officer Greg Alexander, and Officer Gerald Sobolewski violated his constitutional rights while arresting him. Compl., ECF No. 1. The Complaint contains the following claims: excessive force, unreasonable seizure, false arrest, malicious prosecution, and failure to train. On March 28, 2017, the parties submitted a stipulated dismissal of Counts II, III, IV, and V of the Complaint. ECF No. 20. Accordingly, the only remaining claims are the allegations that the officer Defendants used excessive force and the allegation that the City of Oscoda failed to train and/or supervise its officers so as to prevent violations of constitutional rights. On April 6, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts. ECF No. 21. For the following reasons, that motion will be granted.

         I.

         The following facts are undisputed. Ruemenapp is the owner and operator of the Oscoda Resort and Motel. Ruemenapp Dep. at 6, ECF No. 21, Ex. C. Residents at the Motel often stay for extended periods of time. See Id. at 68-69; Sobolewski Dep. at 13, ECF No. 21, Ex. B. Oscoda Township Officers Greg Alexander and Gerald Sobolewski received a report of a landlord/tenant dispute at the Motel during the evening of February 2, 2015. Alexander Dep. at 29, ECF No. 21, Ex. A. When the officers arrived, they met Kristina Reker and her grandfather. Id. at 30-31. Ms. Reker explained that she was a current tenant of the Motel, but that her landlord had changed the locks to her apartment and was refusing to allow her access to her personal property within the unit. Id. at 31-32. Ms. Reker told the officers that she had paid rent through March 1st. Id. at 32.

         The officers attempted to enter the apartment and found it locked. Id. at 36. They then started looking for the landlord, Mr. Ruemenapp. Id. at 34. They eventually made contact with Ruemenapp outside his house. Id. at 35. When the conversation began, Ruemenapp was calm and collected. At this point, the stories begin to diverge.

         A.

         1.

         According to Alexander, he and his partner began questioning Ruemenapp about the dispute with Ms. Reker. During the conversation, Ruemenapp was standing several feet away from the two officers. Id. at 43-44. But Ruemenapp “became belligerent quickly, starts screaming obscenities that she was not going back into that apartment.” Id. at 38. Ruemenapp admitted to the officers that Ms. Reker's rent was current. Id. at 41. However, Ruemenapp asserted that, because Ms. Reker had been gone for three days, she had abandoned the apartment. Id. Alexander testified at his deposition to his belief that, based on his training and experience, leaving your apartment for three days does not constitute abandonment. Id. at 41-42. When the officers indicated that Ruemenapp was required to let Ms. Reker into her apartment, the confrontation escalated further. Ruemenapp continued shouting obscenities at the top of his lungs. Id. at 43. He then took a step forward and pointed his finger (or fingers) in Officer Sobolewski's face. Id. at 44. As Alexander described it, Ruemenapp “extends his arm and is extremely close to Officer Soboleski's [sic] face, more or less pointing at him, jabbing towards his face as he explains himself.” Id. At this point, Ruemenapp's hand was approximately six inches from Sobolewski's face. Id. at 45. Both officers began instructing Ruemenapp to remove his hand from Sobolewski's face. Id. at 46, 48-49. Instead of complying, Ruemenapp pointed his fingers at Sobolewski several more times. Id. at 47. At one point, Ruemenapp's hand got close enough to Sobolowski that he flinched. Id. at 46.

         After the second or third time that Ruemenapp pointed directly into Sobolewski's face (and ignored orders to put his hands down), Alexander believed that Ruemenapp was going to strike Sobolewski. Id. at 49. To prevent that, Alexander “grabbed his arm and pulled it behind his back and informed him that he was being placed under arrest.” Id. Ruemenapp immediately began struggling against Alexander. Id. at 68. Because Ruemenapp refused to go willingly into handcuffs, Sobolewski grabbed his other arm and Alexander used a “transport wristlock, ” which is a “joint lock of the wrist” used to control unruly individuals. Id. at 50. Using the leverage obtained by the wristlock, Alexander pushed Ruemenapp's upper body against the exterior wall of the apartment complex in order to handcuff him. Id. at 50-51.

         The wall was made of a rough wood and, after he finished cuffing Ruemenapp, Alexander noticed that Ruemenapp had sustained an abrasion to his face. Alexander believes that the abrasion was sustained because Ruemenapp was “moving his head back and forth, attempting to negotiate with myself and Officer Sobolewski [sic] about going to jail.” Id. at 52.

         At this point, Ruemenapp was placed in the patrol car. Id. at 56. After being handcuffed, Ruemenapp was no longer belligerent. Id. Before leaving the Motel, the officers directed Ruemenapp's daughter to unlock Ms. Reker's apartment. Id. at 58. Inside, Alexander spotted “items on the floor, ” including clothing. Id. The transport to the police station and booking proceeded without incident. Ruemenapp was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting and obstructing arrest.[1]

         2.

         In his deposition, Ruemenapp confirmed certain key details of the officers' account. He admitted that Ms. Reker had paid her rent through March 1st, that he had changed the locks, and that he was refusing to allow her to enter the apartment. Ruemenapp Dep. at 74, 81-82. He further confirmed that Ms. Reker still had some personal belongings in the apartment. Id. at 70- 72. Ruemenapp also acknowledged that he refused to allow the officers to enter the apartment. Id. at 81. Although, as discussed below, Ruemenapp denied using certain obscenities, he did admit that he called Ms. Reker by at least one obscenity. See Id. at 82 (“At one point I said, ‘that bitch has no business even being here.'”).

         In his deposition, Ruemenapp repeated his belief that Ms. Reker had abandoned the apartment. Id. at 66-67, 80-81. He explained that Ms. Reker had told Ruemenapp's daughter that she was moving out of the apartment approximately a week before the incident occurred. Id. at 66-67. Ruemenapp also stated that, when he changed the locks, he noted that the interior of the apartment had sustained significant damage, including holes in the wall. Id. at 70-71.

         Ruemenapp denied several details of the officers' account. First, he accused Alexander of blocking Ruemenapp from returning to his home after Ruemenapp initially refused to allow the officers to enter Ms. Reker's apartment. Id. at 84-85. After attempting to enter his home and being denied access, Ruemenapp turned around, pointed at Ms. Reker's apartment, and said that Ms. Reker had no business there. Id. at 85. Alexander then told Ruemenapp: “‘Don't put your finger in my partner's face.'” Id. Ruemenapp replied: “‘I didn't stick my finger in your partner's face.'” Id. At this point, Alexander moved closer to Ruemenapp and reached for his hands. Id. at 85-86. Ruemenapp moved away from Alexander. Id. at 86. Sobolewski then informed Ruemenapp that he was under arrest and instructed him to put his hands behind his back. Id. Ruemenapp attempted to ask why he was being arrested, but only managed to say two words: “‘What are'--.” Id. at 87, 113.

         At that point, Ruemenapp blacked out. Id. at 87. When he regained consciousness, he was “pinned against the wall, with my cheek against the wall.” Id. The officers told him to stop resisting, and Ruemenapp replied: “‘I am not resisting.'” Id. at 88.

         3.

         The only other account of the event comes via the written declaration of James Merrit, a resident at the Motel. Merrit Decl. at 2, ECF No. 25, Ex. D. Merrit was not deposed. According to Mr. Merrit's declaration, he was in his apartment when the incident occurred. Id. Mr. Merrit did not “hear any yelling or talking coming from outside.” Id. He saw Ruemenapp point in Ms. Reker's direction, and then saw an officer grab Ruemenapp and push him into a building. Id. In his declaration, Mr. Merrit asserts that ...


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