Thom D. Howell, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Shawn Smith, Defendant-Appellant.
September 29, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No.
2:13-cv-00045-JTM-PRC - James T. Moody, Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Ripple and Williams, Circuit Judges.
RIPPLE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
15, 2011, Officer Shawn Smith of the Highland, Indiana Police
Department received a call from his dispatcher, alerting him
to a road rage incident involving the discharge of a firearm.
He later came upon a car matching the description and
conducted a "high-risk traffic stop." Officer Smith
placed Mr. Howell, the occupant of the car, in handcuffs and
detained him until other officers brought the alleged victim
to the scene. The victim positively identified Mr.
Howell and his vehicle as involved in the road rage incident.
Nonetheless, the officers found no weapon and decided to
release Mr. Howell. The whole episode lasted approximately
Howell initially brought this action in state court, alleging
that the officers' treatment had aggravated a preexisting
shoulder condition, which became worse with time and required
multiple surgeries. Following the transfer of the proceedings
from state to federal district court,  Officer Smith
moved for summary judgment on the ground of qualified
immunity. The district court denied the motion, and Officer
Smith filed this interlocutory appeal.
respectfully disagree with the district court's decision
to deny Officer Smith's immunity claim. In our view,
Officer Smith's decision to place Mr. Howell, then
implicated in a serious crime involving the discharge of a
weapon, in handcuffs and to keep him in handcuffs until
satisfied that he was not a threat did not violate the Fourth
Amendment. Therefore, under the doctrine of qualified
immunity, the federal count in the complaint must be
dismissed. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the
district court and remand the case for further proceedings.
Howell, a Navy veteran and high school teacher in his early
sixties, has had multiple shoulder surgeries, including a
complete replacement of his right shoulder. Prior to the
encounter at issue in this appeal, he was able to stretch his
right arm, to write on a blackboard, and to lift up to five
or six pounds with his right arm. His left shoulder was in
better condition; he usually was able to place his left arm
behind his back.
stop at issue here took place on May 15, 2011. While Officer
Smith was on routine patrol in the Town of Highland, Indiana,
his dispatcher advised him of a reported road rage incident.
According to the dispatcher, the victim had reported that the
driver of a tan Trailblazer ahead of him on the road had
fired at him while the two vehicles were traveling northbound
on Kennedy Avenue in Griffith, Indiana. The dispatcher
described the suspect driver, alone in the vehicle, as a
white male with facial hair and stated that the vehicle had
an older Indiana blue license plate. Officer Smith later
encountered a vehicle and driver matching this description.
He activated his patrol car's overhead lights and stopped
Smith treated this stop as a "high-risk traffic
stop": He ordered Mr. Howell to step out of his vehicle,
to place his hands on his head, to walk backwards toward him,
and then to kneel on the ground. Mr. Howell complied with all
orders. While Mr. Howell was kneeling, Officer Smith
handcuffed his hands behind his back. He then asked Mr.
Howell whether he had been involved in a road rage incident;
Mr. Howell denied any involvement. Officer Smith placed Mr.
Howell in the back of the squad car.
is some disagreement as to what, if anything, Mr. Howell said
as he was placed in handcuffs. According to Officer Smith,
Mr. Howell "did not complain of any pain in his
shoulders or arms nor did he complain of any pain, soreness
or injuries to his shoulders at any time." Mr. Howell, on
the other hand, maintains that he told the officer that
"I can't stretch my arm behind my back that
way" and that he "had just had surgery
with [his] shoulder." He additionally contends that he later
told an officer, other than Officer Smith, that he was
"sore" or in "pain, " although he
is inconsistent on the exact language that he used and
unclear as to when this conversation took place, other than
stating that it was with a Griffith police
Smith radioed Sergeant Banasiak, who was with the victim at a
nearby shopping center or strip mall. He asked whether the
stopped vehicle was the one from which a shot had been fired.
The victim "replied that it sounded like
it."When Sergeant Banasiak and the victim
arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, the latter confirmed
Smith searched Mr. Howell and did not find a weapon. Mr.
Howell also provided consent to search his vehicle, but a
search failed to locate a firearm. Throughout this time, the
victim remained adamant about his identification and advised
both Sergeant Banasiak and Officer Smith that Mr. Howell was
the individual who had shot at him in Griffith. Attempting to
explain the absence of a firearm, the victim suggested that
Mr. Howell must have thrown his weapon out of his vehicle.
once the officers ascertained all of these facts, which
involved removing Mr. Howell from the car several times,
Sargent Dawes of the Griffith Police Department, in whose
jurisdiction the offense would have taken place, decided to
release Mr. Howell.
entire detention lasted approximately thirty minutes. At no
point did Officer Smith feel threatened in any way. Mr.
Howell maintains that, since his detention, he has suffered
mental anguish and has undergone multiple shoulder-related
Howell brought this action, alleging a "violation of his
State and Federal Constitutional Rights, as provided by the
Indiana and Federal Constitutions, Statutes and case
law."Relying on state law causes of action,
Mr. Howell also sought damages for battery, false arrest,
false imprisonment, intentional infliction of ...