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Barton v. Vann

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

May 2, 2018

DWAIN DAVID BARTON, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER DEAN VANN, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 28)

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 illegal entry, wrongful arrest, excessive force, and retaliatory arrest suit arises out of Defendant Dean Vann's warrantless arrest of Plaintiff Dwain Barton in his home for animal cruelty after Barton shot his gun in a residential area at his neighbor's cat and refused to cooperate with the police officers and an animal control officer when they arrived at his home to investigate the matter. Barton also brings state law claims of unreasonable search and seizure, assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Now before the court is Officer Vann's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion shall be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         The court construes the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here, Barton. On November 3, 2014, Barton shot his bb gun at a neighbor's cat in his backyard. He claims he missed the cat but hit a pole on his daughter's trampoline. He then went to the home of his neighbor, Jill Porter, who lived a few doors down because he knew that she was in the habit of feeding feral cats in the neighborhood. Her habit was a bone of contention between the two, and he had called the Lincoln Park police on numerous occasions to complain about her feeding of the cats. While holding his gun, he threatened Porter that “the next time I see a cat in my yard attacking my children, it will be a dead one.” Porter then telephoned the Lincoln Park police and reported that Barton had shot her cat in the head.

         Animal control officer Adam Manchester[1] responded to Barton's home to investigate. According to Manchester's deposition testimony, after speaking to one of Barton's relatives, Barton eventually came to the door and admitted to shooting a cat. Barton disputes this claim, and contends that he denied hitting the cat, but told Manchester that he had hit a trampoline pole with his bb gun. Barton refused to show his identification and ordered Manchester off his property. According to Barton's wife, Jennifer Barton, he may have used profanity towards Manchester. Feeling threatened, Manchester returned to his vehicle and requested back up assistance. All Lincoln Park police officers on duty responded to the scene because of the report that an armed individual was refusing to cooperate.

         This was not Barton's first encounter with the Lincoln Park Police. In 2012, Lincoln Park police responded to a complaint by Barton's prior employer, Verizon Wireless, who had recently terminated him, that Barton had threatened to fight everyone working there and to vandalize their cars. In June, 2016, Lincoln Park police responded to a complaint that Barton was shouting profanities at his neighbor. Also, in 2012, Lincoln Park police responded to a report by Porter that Barton had threatened to shoot her.

         Returning now to the date of the incident in question, after police arrived on the scene, one of the officers approached Barton's front door and spoke to his mother-in-law telling her of a report that a man was shooting animals with a gun and refusing to come outside. She denied these allegations. While the officers were on the front porch, there were several family members present, who according to Officer Vann, were shouting profanities at the police. Barton remained behind the screen door, although he would walk back and forth between the front door and the kitchen. The officers asked Barton to come outside and to produce identification but he refused, ordered the officers to leave, and retreated into his house. Barton's wife walked in and out of the house repeatedly. According, to Officer Vann, this conduct made the officers feel threatened that she might be procuring a weapon.

         The officers then told Barton he was under arrest for animal cruelty and asked him to come outside, but he retreated further into the house. According to Officer Vann's deposition testimony, he feared for his own safety and that of his fellow officers that Barton was going to get his firearm and thus, entered Barton's home to arrest him. According to Barton's deposition, Officer Vann then removed the front door screen, entered the home, arrested Barton, and placed him in handcuffs. Barton was taken away in a patrol car and was released on bond several hours later. He was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty, but the charges were later dismissed. Barton claims his handcuffs were too tight, and that he injured his shoulder and elbow during his arrest. Barton has not submitted any medical evidence in support of his claimed injuries, but relies solely on his deposition testimony.

         II. Standard of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) empowers the court to render summary judgment "forthwith 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." See Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has affirmed the court's use of summary judgment as an integral part of the fair and efficient administration of justice. The procedure is not a disfavored procedural shortcut. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986); see also Cox v. Kentucky Dep't of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1995).

         The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is "'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.'" Amway Distributors Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed 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); Redding, 241 F.3d at 532 (6th Cir. 2001). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original); see also National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001).

         If the movant establishes by use of the material specified in Rule 56(c) that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the opposing party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 270 (1968); see also McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Rather, there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         III. Analysis

         Barton alleges four claims under § 1983: (1) illegal entry (2) wrongful arrest, (3) excessive force, and (4) retaliatory arrest. Officer Vann argues he is entitled to qualified immunity on all claims because there were no constitutional violations. Qualified immunity “'protects government officials 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.'” Stanton v. Sims, 571 U.S. 3, 4-5 (2013) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). It protects all officers except “the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229 (1991) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). As the Supreme Court has explained, “[t]his accommodation for reasonable error exists because ‘officials should not err always on the side of caution' because they fear being ...


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