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James v. City of Detroit

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

December 20, 2019




         Police officers rammed Plaintiff Fanester James's front door into her face during a narcotics raid. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the City of Detroit and City of Detroit Police Officers Samuel Pionessa, Reginald Beasley, Nico Hurd, Alanna Mitchell, Juan Davis, Johnny Fox, Samuel Galloway, Jason Clark, and Lamar Williams, alleging excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, as well as various state law claims. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion and supplemental motion for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 58 & 68.) The motions have been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 58, 61, 63, 68, 69.) Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' briefs, the Court dispensed with oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(f). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants' motions.


         On September 5, 2016, Defendant Beasley observed a controlled narcotics transaction at 7183 Mackenzie-Plaintiff's home address. (ECF No. 58-4 at Pg. ID 907.) The next day, Defendant Beasley obtained a search warrant for Plaintiff's home and its curtilage, (id.), and Defendants executed a narcotics raid, (ECF No. 58-13 at Pg. ID 1129.)

         Outside of Plaintiff's home, Defendants exited the van upon arriving at the location, and shouted a combination of “Detroit, ” “police, ” and “warrant” while running to Plaintiff's front porch. (Id. at Pg. ID 1115.) After Defendants arrived at the front porch, Defendant Pionessa ordered Defendant Hurd to ram open the front door. (Id. at Pg. ID 1126; ECF No. 58-12 at Pg. ID 1090.) Defendant Hurd complied. (ECF No. 58-6 at Pg. ID 926.)

         Inside of Plaintiff's home, Plaintiff's dog became alert at some point during Defendants' approach. (ECF No. 58-7 at Pg. ID 960.) Plaintiff also heard “a noise, ” though she asserts she did not hear Defendants' announce “Detroit, ” “police, ” or “warrant.” (Id.; ECF No. 61 at Pg. ID 1342.) Plaintiff stated that she moved towards the front door and, after placing her hand on the door knob, made “direct eye contact” with Defendant Pionessa through the front door window. (ECF No. 58-10 at Pg. ID 1004, 1006; ECF No. 58-7 at Pg. ID 961.) Then, the door forced open, striking Plaintiff in the face and knocking her into a wall. (ECF No. 58-10 at Pg. ID 1007.)

         Plaintiff testified during her deposition that after Defendants entered her home, Defendant Pionessa first yelled, “I'm going to kill her, ” then yelled, “[g]et your dog out or I'm going to kill her.” (ECF No. 58-7 at Pg. ID 963 (internal quotation marks omitted).) As Defendants searched the home, Plaintiff sat unhandcuffed in a living room chair and held her dog. (Id. at Pg. ID 963, 965.) Plaintiff testified that, at some point, Defendant Pionessa took her into a separate room and said: “I just want to make sure we're on the same page. . . . You fell and hit your head before we got here, right? I just don't want this to go any further . . . You don't need an ambulance. You can take care of that little cut, can't you?” (Id. at Pg. ID 963 (internal quotation marks omitted).) Defendants departed and, later in the day, Plaintiff called 911 and received stiches on her eye at Henry Ford Hospital. (Id. at Pg. ID 959, 968, 972.) Defendant Pionessa denies having the aforementioned conversation, as well as making eye contact with Plaintiff. (ECF No. 58-13 at Pg. ID 1126-27.)

         On February 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed this suit alleging (i) excessive force; (ii) unlawful search and seizure; (iii) municipal liability; (iv) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (v) gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, and assault and battery; and (vi) false imprisonment.[1] (ECF No. 1.) Defendants were served with Plaintiff's complaint and a summons on March 28, 2017. (ECF Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.)

         Shortly thereafter, on April 6, 2017, Officer Alexander Collrin-who is not named in this suit-cited Plaintiff for driving without a valid license, driving an unregistered vehicle, and possessing no insurance. (ECF No. 61-12.) Approximately one year later, on March 26, 2018, Inspector Billy Jones-who also is not named in this suit-issued a “blight violation warning” for issues related to Plaintiff's lawn care and placement of trash containers. (ECF No. 61-14.)

         On August 20, 2019, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which included a claim for First Amendment retaliation against all Defendants. (ECF No. 67.)


         Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 reasonable jury could find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.

         “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). 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.


         Count I: Excessive Force

         A claim of excessive force requires that a plaintiff demonstrate that the force used in effecting the seizure was “objectively unreasonable.” See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). “Whether a constitutional violation based on excessive force occurred depends on the facts and circumstances of each case viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and not with 20/20 hindsight.” Bozung v. Rawson, 439 Fed.Appx. 513, 519 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97. Here, Plaintiff argues that excessive force was used when ...

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