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Christenson v. Cook

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

September 30, 2019

ZACHERY CHRISTENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUIS COOK and THOMAS PLUMB, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING OFFICER PLUMB'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LINDA V. PARKER, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on October 23, 2017, alleging that Defendants used excessive force against him in violation of federal and state law. Defendants are Flushing Township Police Officer Louis Cook (“Officer Cook”) and City of Flushing Police Officer Thomas Plumb (“Officer Plumb”). Presently pending before the Court is Officer Plumb's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 27.) The motion has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 29, 30.) Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' submissions, the Court is dispensing with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f). For the reasons that follow, the Court is granting Officer Plumb's motion.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment pursuant to 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 generally 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.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff was at his home, which he rented in Flushing Township, Michigan. In the late afternoon or early evening, he was visited by his friends Cody Arwood and Brook Rose, and their friends, Edward and Bryanna Owens. Before they arrived and while they were at Plaintiff's house, Plaintiff consumed three 28-ounce beers.

         At around nine o'clock in the evening, Plaintiff became upset with Cody and Brook because he thought they were injecting heroin while locked in his bathroom. An argument ensued, and Cody and Brook left the home. While leaving, Cody broke the glass window on the front screen door. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 29-30, ECF No. 27-2 at Pg ID 179-180.) Plaintiff testified that Cody also broke Plaintiff's cell phone and then returned and broke every window in his house.[1] (Id. at 29-30, 132, Pg ID 179-80, 205.)

         Bryanna Owens testified that Plaintiff was very upset and, after trying to call Cody, threw his cell phone on the cement floor of the front porch and broke it. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2 at 12, ECF No. 27-3 at Pg ID 224.) Bryanna used her cell phone to call Plaintiff's mom, Teresa Christenson, who said she would come over. (Id.) Bryanna also called 911 at approximately 9:45 p.m. (Id. at 15, Pg ID 225; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4 at 1, ECF No. 27-5 at Pg ID 259.) The 911 operator's dispatch requesting police assistance at Plaintiff's address described an intoxicated individual, a gun, and windows being broken.[2] (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3 at 11, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 250; Id. Ex. 4, ECF No. 27-5 at Pg ID 259.) Mrs. Christenson arrived at Plaintiff's home while Bryanna was talking to the 911 operator. (Id. Ex. 4, ECF No. 27-5 at Pg ID 259.) Defendants responded to the 911 call in separate patrol cars.

         When Defendants arrived at Plaintiff's home, Plaintiff was still very upset, was yelling, and “hard to talk to.” (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 37-38, 103, ECF No. 27-2 at Pg ID 181-82, 198.) Defendants approached Plaintiff in the backyard, near a bonfire. Officer Cook told Plaintiff several times to stop yelling and to sit down, but Plaintiff refused. (Id. at 102, Pg ID 198; Id. Ex. 5 at 35, 38, ECF No. 27-6 at Pg ID 286, 287.) Mrs. Christenson acknowledged during her deposition that Plaintiff was “out of control” when the officers arrived, “was ranting and raving, ” and “would not calm down.” (Id. Ex. 6 at 35, ECF No. 27-7 at Pg ID 286.) Officer Cook told Plaintiff that he needed to go to the hospital to get checked out.[3](Id. Ex 5 at 28, ECF No. 27-5 at Pg ID 269.) According to Defendants and Bryanna, Plaintiff got very upset in response and spit or tried to spit on his mother. (Id. at 30, Pg ID 270; Id. Ex. 2 at 49, ECF No. 27-3 at Pg ID 234; Id. Ex. 3 at 16, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 251.) Officer Cook then attempted to handcuff Plaintiff and told him that [spitting on his mother] was not going to be tolerated and/or that he needed to show more respect to his mom. (Id. Ex. 5 at 31, ECF No. 27-6 at Pg ID 270; Id. Ex. 2 at 52, ECF No. 27-3 at 234; Id. Ex. 3 at 16, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 251.)

         Defendants and Bryanna testified that Plaintiff became aggressive and resisted when Officer Cook attempted to handcuff him. (Id. Ex. 2 at 52, ECF No. 27-3 at Pg ID 234; Ex. 3 at 16, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 251; Ex. 5 at 31, ECF No. 27-6 at Pg ID 270.) Plaintiff, however, testified that he was compliant while being handcuffed and did not resist. (Id. Ex. 1 at 42-43, ECF No. 27-2 at Pg ID 183.) After Plaintiff was handcuffed, Defendants began walking him to the front of the house toward Officer Cook's patrol car, which was parked in the driveway.

         According to Plaintiff, Officer Cook had his arm on Plaintiff's left shoulder as they proceeded down the home's front driveway and Officer Plumb was behind them. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 43, ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 183.) Plaintiff further testified that Officer Plumb was not touching him in any way. (Id. at 44, Pg ID 183.) Defendants testified that only Officer Cook escorted Plaintiff to the front of the house. (Id. Ex. 3 at 18-20, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 252; Id. Ex. 5 at 32, ECF No. 27-6 at Pg ID 270.) Officer Plumb explained that he was not immediately behind Plaintiff and Officer Cook as they walked to the patrol car; instead, he remained in the backyard with Mrs. Christenson. (Id. Ex. 3 at 18-20, ECF No. 27-4 at Pg ID 252.)

         Plaintiff claims that Officer Cook suddenly shoved him to the ground from his left shoulder and then said, “This was for disrespecting your mother.” (Id. Ex. 1 at 44, ECF No. 27-2 at Pg ID 183.) According to Plaintiff, he was then held to the ground so he could not “wiggle around and get back up” for about a minute. (Id. at 47, Pg ID 184.) Plaintiff “assume[d]” both officers were holding him down, but he could not see who was on top of him. (Id.) He felt pressure on the back of his head and in the middle of his spine, but did not know how many hands were on him. (Id. at 47, 128, Pg ID 184, 204.) Plaintiff testified that he was not punched, kicked, or struck. (Id. at 48, Pg ID 184.) When he fell, Plaintiff hit the gravel driveway face first and sustained a broken nose and a cut to his nose and chin. (Id. at 46, Pg ID 184.) The officers then helped Plaintiff off the ground. (Id. at 48, Pg ID 184.) An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and transported Plaintiff to the hospital. (Id.)

         When asked what happened as Plaintiff was being walked to the patrol car, Bryanna testified that Plaintiff was becoming agitated and yelling and was stumbling as he walked. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2 at 55, 57, 63, ECF No. 27-3 at Pg ID 235-237.) Bryanna further testified that Plaintiff attempted to spit on one of the officers. (Id. at 57, Pg ID 236.) Bryanna turned her attention away from Plaintiff and Defendants, but then saw Plaintiff on the ground with Officer Cook and possibly Officer Plumb holding him down.[4] (Id. at 57-58, Pg ID 236.) She did not see how they ended up on the ...


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