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Calvin v. City of Eastpointe

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

June 5, 2019

CITY OF EASTPOINTE, et. al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Damontae Calvin filed this civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Eastpointe and three Eastpointe police officers: Officer Joseph Piro, Officer Alec Mikulec, and Officer David Fortunato. Plaintiff alleges the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights through their use of force during his arrest. He also alleges the officers conspired to violate his Fourth Amendment rights. As to the City, Plaintiff alleges the City has permitted customs, practices and policies which led to the alleged violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19.) Defendants contend they are entitled to summary judgment because: (1) the officers' use of force was objectively reasonable and they are entitled to qualified immunity; (2) Plaintiff fails to present any evidence of a conspiracy; and (3) Plaintiff fails to present any evidence to support a claim for municipal liability against the City under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiff opposes the motion and argues that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment. On May 29, 2019, the Court held a hearing in connection with Defendants' motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. Background

         On July 9, 2017, Plaintiff was driving at night in the City of Eastpointe, Michigan when he slammed into a parked car. Accident scene photos show that after striking the parked car, Plaintiff's vehicle landed on the opposite side of the road with significant front-end damage. The parked car, which also sustained significant front-end damage, was propelled into a neighborhood resident's front lawn. According to Plaintiff, the accident occurred when he took his eyes off the road to look for his cell phone. According to Defendants, Plaintiff was very intoxicated and was driving on the wrong side of the road at the time of the accident.[1]

         Although there were no witnesses of the actual collision, several witnesses observed the events leading up to Plaintiff's arrest. Immediately after the accident, Plaintiff, who was shirtless, got out of his vehicle. He was approached by some of the local residents who heard the crash and ran out of their homes. After unsuccessfully attempting to drive off in his vehicle, Plaintiff fled from the scene on foot. Plaintiff states he got out of his vehicle after the crash to search for his phone, and then fled from the scene because a man-the alleged owner of the vehicle he struck-approached him in a menacing manner causing him to fear for his safety. The resident-witnesses tell a different story. The owner of the struck vehicle, Katherine Feuquay, testified that she ran out of her house after hearing the crash. She stated that Plaintiff first tried to pretend he was not involved in the accident by telling her his vehicle was stolen and he was not sure what had happened; then he got back in his vehicle and tried to drive away; and when his car would not move, he took off from the scene on foot. Another resident, Katie Usndek, testified she saw Plaintiff stumble out of his vehicle, unsuccessfully attempt to get back into his vehicle to drive away, and then take off on foot as people gathered to try to prevent his flight from the scene. Other witnesses observed this sequence of events and that several of the residents attempted to prevent Plaintiff from fleeing the accident. Plaintiff claims that these witnesses, including the police officers, are not telling the truth.

         The summary judgment evidence reflects that Plaintiff took off on foot from the accident scene and traversed the neighborhood through backyards and by hopping fences. Eastpointe Police were called to the scene with reports of a vehicle accident where the subject was fighting with neighbors and residents that exited their homes. Five officers, including Defendants Piro, Mikulec, and Fortunato responded. The suspect was reported as a shirtless black male with dreadlocks, wearing sweatpants. The officers pursued Plaintiff in their vehicles and on foot in and throughout the neighborhood. They chased him through backyards and over fences.

         None of the officers were wearing body cameras, but their attempts to arrest Plaintiff were recorded in part by their dash cam videos. The audio and video recordings capture the officers' repeated commands to Plaintiff to get on the ground and to stop running. Eventually, Officer Piro's video shows Plaintiff emerging from behind a house on Lambrecht Street after having led the officers through the back of the neighborhood and houses for about five minutes. Plaintiff stumbles from behind the house and continues to jog for a few steps into the front lawn and away from the police. He looks out of breath and his jog turns into a slow walk for a few steps. He starts to run again after he looks back and sees police lights flashing and Officer Piro closing in on him on foot. Officer Piro sprints towards Plaintiff and can be heard shouting commands at Plaintiff, but Plaintiff continues to run. Plaintiff runs a few more steps, and as Officer Piro is about to reach him, Plaintiff turns around with his hands up. As soon as Plaintiff turns, Officer Piro catches up to Plaintiff and knocks him onto a grass lawn to effect the arrest.

         With Plaintiff on the ground, the officers attempt to place Plaintiff in handcuffs. It takes almost a minute, and three officers, to finally secure Plaintiff in handcuffs. The officers testified that Plaintiff disobeyed their commands to give up his hands and struggled with the officers while on the ground. According to the officers, Plaintiff tucked his arms under his body and they had to pull his arms out from under him. The officers can be heard on the video giving repeated instructions to Plaintiff to stop resisting and to give up his hands. Plaintiff claims that he was not resisting and that one of the officers punched him in the face. However, he is not sure who punched him or whether he was hit by someone's fist, elbow, or shoulder.[2] It is also not clear what injuries, if any, Plaintiff suffered as a result of being pushed to the ground and allegedly struck in the face. While Plaintiff states that he lost a tooth during this incident, there is no evidence in the record that this was caused by the officers' use of force in attempting to subdue Plaintiff as opposed to the serious car accident occurring a few minutes prior. Ultimately, Plaintiff was arrested, found guilty by a Macomb County jury for resisting arrest (among other charges), and sentenced to a prison term of two to fifteen years.

         Following his arrest, Plaintiff sued the arresting officers and the City of Eastpointe under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking redress for the allegedly unreasonable and excessive use of force during his arrest. Plaintiff claims that Officer Piro's takedown, the alleged punch to his face by an unknown officer during his arrest, and the pulling of his hair while being placed in the police car constitutes excessive and unreasonable force in violation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff further alleges that the officers conspired to use excessive force and then conspired to cover up their use of excessive force. Finally, Plaintiff claims the City of Eastpointe is liable for failing to properly train and/or supervise the officers.

         Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims. The officers argue that the force used was reasonable under the circumstances, and alternatively, that they are entitled to the protections of qualified immunity. Defendants also contend that Plaintiff has failed to present any evidence to support his conspiracy and municipal liability claims. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Plaintiff argues genuine issues of material fact exist that preclude summary judgment.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party shows that the record does not reveal a ‘genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Benison v. Ross, 765 F.3d 649, 658 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A genuine issue of material fact exists when there are “disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). But “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Servs. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In addition, once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must 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.” See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Bormuth v. Cty. of Jackson, 870 F.3d 494, 503 (6th Cir. 2017). The non-moving party must present some evidence in support of its complaint to defeat a motion for summary judgment, and show that a genuine issue for trial exists-i.e., that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         III. ...

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