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Stevens v. The City of South Bend

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

August 15, 2017

THOMAS STEVENS, and SUZANNE STEVENS, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, AARON KNEPPER, and JEFFREY RANSBERGER, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY, JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. (DE # 21.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The incident in question began on March 25, 2014, when Officer Aaron Knepper, an officer with the South Bend Police Department and a defendant in this case, attempted to pull over plaintiff Thomas Stevens[1] for a traffic infraction. Thomas claims that once he saw the lights, he made a left turn (DE # 23-1 at 1) and continued driving a “short distance” to his home. (DE # 23 at 4.) He exited the vehicle and told Officer Knepper that he lived at the residence and was going inside. (DE # 23-1 at 1.)

         After that, according to Thomas, Officer Knepper began screaming commands at Thomas; first to get back in his vehicle, then to get on the ground, and then to put his hands in the air. (DE # 23-1 at 1-2.) Thomas did not abide by any of the commands. Instead he asked: “[F]or what?” (Id. at 2.) Officer Knepper then threatened Thomas with the use of a taser. (Id.) Thomas “decided to go inside my home.” (Id.) At that point, Officer Knepper employed the taser. (Id.) Afterwards, Thomas stated that he “continued towards the house.” (Id.) As he did so, Officer Knepper began striking him. (Id.) Officer Knepper claims that he and Thomas “struggled, exchanging blows” (DE # 22-1 at 2), though Thomas claims he never struck or attempted to strike Officer Knepper (DE # 23-1 at 2).

         Then, according to Thomas's version of the events, Thomas's mother, Suzanne, came out of the house and told Officer Knepper to stop hitting Thomas. (DE # 23-3 at 2.) Next, Suzanne grabbed Officer Knepper's arm and hit him on the back. (Id. at 1; DE # 23 at 5.) Officer Knepper knocked Suzanne to the ground. (DE # 23-3 at 2.) Officer Knepper then entered the home and continued to repeatedly punch and choke Thomas on the steps leading into the kitchen. (Id. at 2.)

         Officer Jeffrey Ransberger, another defendant in this case, then arrived at the scene. Suzanne maintains that she again “tried to stop” Officer Knepper, and that Officer Ransberger grabbed her and caused her to fall to the ground and strike her head. (Id. at 2.) According to Thomas, Officer Ransberger then pulled Thomas out of the house, and drove Thomas's head down onto the concrete driveway. (DE # 23-1 at 2.)

         Thomas was arrested and transported to a hospital. (Id. at 3.) Thomas suffered brain injuries; doctors induced a coma and placed Thomas on a ventilator, and he spent several days in the hospital. (Id. at 2.) Suzanne claims she suffered bruising and a cut to the head. (DE # 23-3 at 2.)

         Thomas and Suzanne filed the present lawsuit against Officers Knepper and Ransberger, as well as the City of South Bend. (DE ## 2, 10.) The suit alleged the use of excessive force by the officers in violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as other claims, including a claim against the City under Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1987). (DE ## 2, 10.)

         Defendants moved for summary judgment, articulating defenses to all of the claims raised (DE # 21), but plaintiffs responded by arguing the validity of their excessive force claims against the officers, only. (DE # 23.) Thus, the court deems abandoned all of plaintiffs' claims other than their § 1983 claim under the Fourth Amendment. Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 597-98 (7th Cir. 2003) (claim not addressed in response to summary judgment motion is deemed abandoned).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must identify specific facts establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Palmer, 327 F.3d at 595. In doing so, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must present fresh proof in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Donovan v. City of Milwaukee, 17 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 1994). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, then there is no “genuine” dispute. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         The court's role in deciding a summary judgment motion is not to evaluate the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences and resolve all doubts in favor of that party. NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995).

         III. ...


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