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Low v. Stanton

February 25, 2009

TONY RICHARD LOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY R. STANTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with several civil claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and state law. Before the court is a motion for summary judgment brought on behalf of defendants Garrison and Rodriguez, correctional deputies employed at the Solano County Jail at the time of the incidents involved in this action. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment and defendants have filed a reply. COMPLAINT

In his verified complaint, signed under the penalty of perjury, plaintiff alleges that defendants Garrison and/or Rodriguez were involved in three separate incidents in which he was subjected to the excessive use of force while incarcerated at the Solano County Jail.

I. June 30, 2005 Incident

Plaintiff alleges that on June 30, 2005, he was talking to an Officer Prestridge about the telephone being turned off which was preventing him from making calls to obtain bail.

I attempted to tell Officer Prestridge that I was attempting to bail out when Defendant Garrison came from behind Officer Prestridge and grabbed me by the neck and pushed my head into the wall. Defendant Garrison then turned me around by grabbing my arms and slammed my face and chest area into the wall and began shoving me up the stairs to my cell.

At no time did I attempt to resist defendant Garrison.

As a result of Defendant Garrisons [sic] slamming my head and face into the wall I chipped my front tooth and had dizzy spells for several weeks. (Compl. at 7, ¶¶ 18-21.)

II. July 4, 2005 Incident

Plaintiff alleges that on July 4, 2005, he was in the dayroom area of the jail and pushed the intercom button to request that the telephone in the cell be turned on so he could call a bail bond company. (Id.) Defendant Garrison threatened plaintiff and told him that if he didn't stop pushing the intercom button, he was going to "beat my ass." (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff also alleges that:

At approximately 1150 am [sic] Defendant Garrison and Rodriguez opened the dayroom unit door.

Defendant Garrison immediately rushed towards me with closed fists and said "I told you I'd beat your ass[.]"

At this point defendant Garrison began to strike me with closed fists about the head and upper torso area striking me several times in the face.

I fell to the floor and defendant Rodriguez began kicking me in the rib area and stomped on my neck with his boot.

Defendants Garrison and Rodriguez then dragged me accross [sic] the concrete floor and kicked me inside my cell. (Id., ¶¶ 26-30.)

III. July 19, 2005 Incident

According to plaintiff on July 19, 2005, defendant Garrison and deputy Weary were conducting a search of plaintiff's cell. (Id. at 9.) Defendant Garrison questioned plaintiff about a missing "TV outlet fixture" and plaintiff responded, "What are you talking about?" (Id.) Defendant Garrison then began throwing plaintiff's property out of his cell and continued to demand the TV pieces while threatening plaintiff, saying "I am going to beat your ass again, worse than before, wheres [sic] the TV pieces." (Id.)

Due to my absolute fear of defendant Garrison and having no other recourse in obtaining help I fled out of the unit door to get away from defendant Garrison.

I fled towards an area I knew was observed by video monitoring systems in the hope defendant Garrison would not effectuate his threat due to the video cameras.

Defendant Garrison chased me to the door of the unit control tower where I was screaming for help.

I fell to the floor directly under a video camera and curled into a fetal position behind two carts[.]

Defendant Garrison began punching me repeatedly in the head and back of my neck area.

Defendant Garrison was punching me with his fists in my head so hard that he sustained serious injuries to his hand/wrist area.

The last thing I recall was defendant Garrison holding his hand and kicking me in the head.

As a proximate result of the actions of defendant Garrison, plaintiff suffered a broken tooth, swollen eyes, broken lip, strained ligaments and soft tissue damage, and numerous bruises to his head and face. (Id. at 10, ¶¶ 40-47.) Plaintiff contends that during this incident, he "did not resist or threaten the defendants in any fashion." (Id. at 11.)

IV. Relief Requested

Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that "[t]he physical abuse of the plaintiff by

Defendants Garrison and Rodriguez violated the plaintiff's rights under the Fourth, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution and constituted an assault and battery under state law[.]" (Id. at 40-41.) He also seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages from defendants Garrison and Rodriguez for "physical and emotional injuries sustained as a result of the plaintiffs [sic] beating" and $25,000 in punitive damages from each defendant. (Id. at 44-45.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS UNDER RULE 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id. Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to 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 id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

On December 8, 2006, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).

LEGAL STANDARDS FOR EXCESSIVE FORCE CLAIMS

Plaintiff claims that defendants Garrison and Rodriguez subjected him to the excessive use of force in violation of his rights under the Eighth, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

The appropriate constitutional standard to apply in assessing an excessive use of force claim depends on the juncture in the custodial continuum when the alleged incident occurred. See Pierce v. Multnomah County, Or., 76 F.3d 1032, 1042 (9th Cir. 1996) (acknowledging that the appropriate legal standard for an excessive force claim depends on the particular juncture of the custodial continuum); see also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393 (1989) ("We reject the notion that all excessive force claims brought under § 1983 are governed by a single generic standard."). The custodial continuum runs through the initial arrest or seizure, post-arrest but pre-charge or pre-hearing custody, pretrial detention, and post-conviction incarceration. See Pierce, 76 F.3d at 1042; Leialoha v. MacDonald, Civ. No. 07-00218 ACKKSC, 2008 WL 2736020, at *5 (D. Hawaii, July 11, 2008) (Fourth Amendment standard applies to claims based on excessive force during an arrest, investigatory stop or other pre-arraignment seizure; Fourteenth Amendment Due Process standard governs such claims against post-arraignment detainees and Eighth Amendment protections apply post conviction).

The Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment governs excessive force claims arising during the "course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other 'seizure' of a free citizen[.]" Graham, 490 U.S. at 395. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right "to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable . . . seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. In such cases the court considers whether the use of force was reasonable which "requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." Graham, 490 U.S. at 396 (internal quotation marks omitted). Careful attention is given to the facts and circumstances of the case, "including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Id. The evil intent or motivation of the officer does "not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer's good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional." Id. at 397. A plaintiff may prevail on an excessive force claim arising during the course of an arrest or investigatory stop even where there is no significant injury. See Wilke v. Reyes, 5 F.3d 412, 416 (9th Cir. 1993) (holding that a plaintiff may be entitled to nominal damages for a Fourth Amendment violation based on excessive use of force even though he did not suffer actual damages or significant injury).

The next stage of the continuum is after the arrest but prior to arraignment. The Supreme Court did not resolve the question as to when the Fourth Amendment protection ends and the Due Process Clause protection for pretrial detainees begins. Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.10. The Ninth Circuit, however, has held that the Fourth Amendment continues to afford protection to an "arrestee detained without a warrant up until the time such arrestee is released or found to be legally in custody based upon probable cause for arrest." Pierce, 76 F. 3d at 1043. See also Lolli v. County of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 415-17 (9th Cir. 2003) (applying Fourth Amendment standards for excessive force claim brought by a pre-arraignment detainee); Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1197 (9th Cir. 2002) (applying Fourth Amendment standards to an excessive force claim involving a pre-arraignment detainee); Leialoha, 2008 WL 2736020, at *5 .

Following arraignment, a pretrial detainee is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive Due Process Clause. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.10 (noting that "the Due Process Clause protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excess force that amounts to punishment"); Pierce, 76 F.3d at 1042; Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1441 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (applying the Due Process standard in a case where a pretrial detainee was assaulted); Leialoha, 2008 WL 2736020, at *5; Henderson v. Young, No. C05-0234 VRW/WAF, 2008 WL 564712, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 28, 2008) (analyzing the decisions in Lolli, Gibson and Pierce and concluding that "the Due Process Clause alone applies to the use of force after arraignment and before conviction."); Walck v. Dunkerson, No. CV 04-55-H-DWM, 2007 WL 4179411, *10 (D. Mont. Nov. 16, 2007) ("So far as this Court is aware, the Ninth Circuit has not decided any case by analyzing under the Fourth Amendment a claim brought by a pretrial detainee, here used to mean someone held on a judicial determination of probable cause.").

An analysis of whether a substantive due process violation has been shown in this context requires the balancing of several factors focusing on the reasonableness of the officers' actions under the circumstances. White v. Roper, 901 F.2d 1501, 1507 (9th Cir. 1990); Smith v. City of Fontana, 818 F.2d 1411, 1417 (9th Cir. 1987). Thus, in determining whether there has been egregious government conduct in the form of excessive use of physical force the four factors to be considered are (1) the need for the application of force, (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, (3) the extent of the injury inflicted, and (4) whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline.

White, 901 F.2d at 1507. See also Smith, 818 F.2d at 1417; Gaut v. Sunn, 810 F.2d 923, 924 (9th Cir. 1987). Although the extent of the injury suffered by the plaintiff is a factor to be considered in such cases, it is viewed in relation to the other relevant factors. See Grinage v. Leyba, No. 2:06-CV-0835-RLH-GWF, 2008 WL 199720, at *5 (D. Nev. Jan. 17, 2008) (comparing substantive Due Process and Eighth Amendment cases and concluding that "[u]nder a similar due process analysis, evidence that detention officers engaged in an unprovoked and unjustified beating of a pretrial detainee would be sufficient to violate the Due Process Clause even though the plaintiff's injuries may not be considered significant or serious."); Escareno v. C/o Bangs, No. CV-06-5005-EFS, 2007 WL 4287273 (E.D. Wash. Dec. 4, 2007) (applying White's four factors and finding that there was a need for the use of force due to plaintiff's aggressive behavior, the amount of force used was proportional to the need to use force, the injuries suffered were minor and insufficient to demonstrate that defendant used excessive force, and force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline); Walck, 2007 WL 4179411, at *11 (granting summary judgment in favor of defendants where there was a legitimate need to apply force by using handcuffs during transport when plaintiff was extremely volatile in his interactions with officers and there was no evidence to either suggest that the use of handcuffs was excessive or that plaintiff suffered any lasting or significant injury).

Finally, at the final juncture in the custodial continuum, "[a]fter conviction, the Eighth Amendment serves as the primary source of substantive protection . . . in cases . . . where the deliberate use of force is challenged as excessive and unjustified." Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.10 ...


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