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Reed v. City of Detroit

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

September 20, 2019

LEDA REED, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Anthony Demone Clark-Reed, Plaintiff,



         This lawsuit arises from a traffic stop on March 31, 2015, which led to the tragic death of Plaintiff’s decedent, Anthony Demone Clark-Reed (“Mr. Clark-Reed”). On August 18, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in state court, which Defendants thereafter removed to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff asserts the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in her Complaint: (I) false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (II) “deliberate indifference excessive force in violation of Due Process” and the Fourth Amendment; (III) Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process violations; and (IV) municipal liability for constitutional violations. In a fifth count, Plaintiff also asserts the same violations under the Michigan Constitution.

         The matter is presently before the Court on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 20.) The motion has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 25, 28.) Finding the facts and legal issues sufficiently presented in the parties’ briefs, the Court is dispensing with oral argument with respect to Defendants’ motion pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f). For the reasons that follow, the Court is granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motion.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment under Rule 56 is appropriate “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). The central inquiry 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The movant has the initial burden of showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the movant meets this burden, the “nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252. The court must accept as true the non-movant’s evidence and draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-movant’s favor. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, “including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Notably, the trial court is not required to construct a party’s argument from the record or search out facts from the record supporting those arguments. See, e.g., Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989) (“the trial court no longer has a duty to search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact”) (citing Frito-Lay, Inc. v. Willoughby, 863 F.2d 1029, 1034 (D.C. Cir. 1988)); see also InterRoyal Corp. v. Sponseller, 889 F.2d 108, 111 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied 494 U.S. 1091 (1990) (“A district court is not required to speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obligated to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party’s claim.”). The parties are required to designate with specificity the portions of the record such that the court can “readily identify the facts upon which the . . . party relies[.]” InterRoyal Corp., 889 F.2d at 111.

         II. Factual Background[1]

         On March 31, 2015, at approximately 9:30 p.m., City of Detroit Police Officers Tracy Moreno, Robin Carver, and Eric Carthan were on patrol in the area of Vernor Avenue and Mullane Street in a partially marked scout car. Officer Moreno was driving the car. Officer Carver was the front passenger and Officer Carthan was the rear passenger. The officers were part of a Special Operations Unit tasked with looking for narcotics, gang activity, and weapon offenses.

         As the officers traveled eastbound on Vernor, they noticed Mr. Clark-Reed’s burgundy Dodge Charger, which was stopped at a traffic light and headed westbound. Concluding that the Charger’s front driver and passenger side windows were tinted in violation of Michigan law, Michigan Compiled Laws § 257.709, Officer Moreno did a U-turn and pulled behind the Charger. After the traffic light turned green, Officer Moreno activated the patrol car’s overhead flashing lights and sirens to initiate a traffic stop.

         The officers’ police reports reflect that Mr. Clark-Reed continued to drive the Charger westbound, during which time the officers observed him leaning, reaching, or lunging (the officers used different descriptions) toward the passenger side of the vehicle. Officer Carthan indicated in his report that his observations of Mr. Clark-Reed’s movements suggested “he was hiding something like drugs or a gun ….” (Defs.’ Mot. Ex. B at 1, ECF No. 20-1 at Pg ID 135.) At their depositions, Officer Carthan and Officer Moreno provided different answers when asked about the number of blocks Mr. Clark-Reed drove before pulling over. (Pl.’s Mot. Ex. 1 at 14, ECF No. 25-2 at Pg ID 223; Ex. 3 at 18, ECF No. 25-4 at Pg ID 297.) Both agree, however, that Mr. Clark-Reed pulled the Charger to the side of the road between Lawndale Street and Cabot Street.

         The officers exited the patrol car and slowly approached the Charger, with Officer Moreno approaching the driver’s side and Officers Carver and Carthan approaching the passenger’s side. Officer Moreno gave loud verbal commands for Mr. Clark-Reed to roll down all the car windows, which Mr. Clark-Reed did. Officer Moreno next instructed Mr. Clark-Reed to turn off the car and then place his hands behind his head and interlock his fingers. Mr. Clark-Reed complied. According to Officer Moreno, as he approached the driver’s door, Mr. Clark-Reed quickly moved his right hand from his head, causing Officer Moreno to instruct him a second time to place his hands behind his head. (Pl.’s Mot. Ex. 3 at 24-25, ECF No. 25-4 at Pg ID 303-04; Defs.’ Mot. Ex. A at 1, ECF No. 20-1 at Pg ID 131.) In his incident report, however, Officer Carthan testified that Officer Moreno instructed Mr. Clark-Reed to put his hands on his head only one time while Mr. Clark-Reed was inside his vehicle.[2] (Defs.’ Mot. Ex. B at 1, ECF No. 20-1 at Pg ID 135.)

         Once Officer Moreno reached the driver’s door, he opened it, put his hands over Mr. Clark-Reed’s hands, and asked Mr. Clark-Reed to slowly exit the vehicle. In his police report, Officer Moreno indicates that he instructed Mr. Clark-Reed to lay on the ground due to his size (376 pounds). (Defs.’ Mot. Ex. A at 1, ECF No. 20-1 at Pg ID 131.) When Mr. Clark-Reed complied, Officer Moreno began to place handcuffs on him. Officer Moreno testified during his deposition that “[f]or a brief moment” he may have sat on the small of Mr. Clark-Reed’s back area, right above his buttocks, to handcuff him. (Pl.’s Resp. Ex. 3 at 33, ECF No. 25-4 at Pg ID 312.) The video of the incident reflects that before Mr. Clark-Reed exited the vehicle, Officer Carthan had walked over to the driver’s side and was standing close to Officer Moreno. During his deposition, Officer Carthan also stated that he assisted Officer Moreno in handcuffing Mr. Clark-Reed. (Pl.’s Resp. Ex. 1 at 17, ECF No. 25-2 at Pg ID 226.)

         Officer Moreno testified that he asked Mr. Clark-Reed to exit the vehicle due to his failure to pull over immediately, the movements he made before stopping the Charger, and his inability to comply with the officer’s verbal commands to keep his hands on his head. (Id. at 28, Pg ID 307.) Officer Carthan surmised that Officer Moreno ordered Mr. Clark-Reed to the ground and handcuffed him for safety because the “movements in that car from the time we activated the lights until the time he finally pulled over later was drawing our suspicion …” (Id. Ex. 1 at 17, ECF No. 25-2 at Pg ID 226). Officer Carthan acknowledged at his deposition, however, that after the traffic stop was initiated, Mr. Clark-Reed did not speed or appear to be attempting to elude the officers, did not try to flee after pulling over, and did not resist when asked to exit his vehicle. (Id. at 14, 18, ECF No. 25-2 at Pg ID 223, 228.)

         As Officer Moreno was handcuffing Mr. Clark-Reed, Mr. Clark-Reed asked the officers to “do [him] a favor” and get his inhaler because he thought he was having an asthma attack. The video reflects that Officer Moreno and Officer Carthan helped Mr. Clark-Reed to his feet and then Mr. Clark-Reed walked with the officers back toward the passenger side of the patrol car. According to Officer Moreno, Mr. Clark-Reed was on the ground for less than five to eight seconds. (Id. Ex. 3 at 34, ECF No. 25-4 at Pg ID 313.) Officer Carthan recalled the length of time as being less than a minute. (Id., Ex. 2 at 2, ECF No. 25-3 at Pg ID 235.) As they stood on the side of the officers’ car, Mr. Clark-Reed began to have labored breathing and again asked for his inhaler.

         Officer Carver retrieved a small gray asthma inhaler from the Charger and handed or tossed it to Officer Moreno. Officer Moreno then showed the inhaler to Mr. Clark-Reed and asked if it was his to which Mr. Clark-Reed nodded “yes”. Officer Morena then asked Mr. Clark-Reed if he wanted it, to which Mr. Clark-Reed again nodded “yes.” Officer Moreno then held up the inhaler so Mr. Clark-Reed could place his mouth around it and activated it. After Mr. Clark-Reed took one or two puffs from the inhaler, he stated: “I’m gonna piss on myself” and then said “ambulance.”

         In response, Officer Carver got on the radio and requested an ambulance for a man having an asthma attack. Seconds later, Mr. Clark-Reed began to lose his balance and leaned against the scout car. Moments later, he fell back on the hood and began sliding off. Officers Moreno and Carthan tried, but were unable, to hold Mr. Clark-Reed up and he slumped to the ground. At this point, Officer Moreno removed Mr. Clark-Reed’s handcuffs and the officers rolled him onto his left side with his arms out-stretched in a “rescue breathing recovery position.” (See Pl.’s Resp. Ex. 3 at 42, ECF No. 25-4 at Pg ID 321.)

         Mr. Clark-Reed’s breathing was labored and then began to slow significantly. He then began to gurgle and foam at the mouth. After about thirty seconds, it appeared to the officers that Mr. Clark-Reed had stopped breathing and they checked and found no pulse. Officer Carver advised dispatch of Mr. Clark-Reed’s condition and asked for an estimated arrival time for the ambulance. The officers then began performing CPR, continuing until the ambulance arrived, and transported Mr. Clark-Reed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

         Plaintiff’s expert, Werner U.Spitz, M.D., FCAP, opined that Mr. Clark-Reed “died as a result of asphyxiation due to his inability to breathe brought on by asthma, triggered by stress, agitation and fear during his arrest.” (Pl.’s Resp. Ex. 6 at 3, ECF No. 25-7 at Pg ID 343.) Dr. Spitz provides that Mr. Clark-Reed’s use of the inhaler did not relieve his asthma attack because it was not properly administered by the officers. (Id. at 2, Pg ID 342.) According ...

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