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Manuel v. City of Elkhart

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

October 10, 2019




         Defendants City of Elkhart, Officer Scott Haigh, and Corporal Andy Rucker move for summary judgment against Plaintiff Wendell Manuel on his Fourth Amendment excessive force and Indiana battery complaint. For the reasons below, this Court denies Defendants' motion.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff suffers from a disability in which his right arm is visibly shorter than his left arm. (DE 33-1.) This inhibits Plaintiff's ability to bend or stretch his right arm. (DE 32-1 at 16.) A few weeks prior to the events at issue, Plaintiff suffered a fractured arm when a police officer bent his right arm to handcuff him. (Id. at 17.) In response, he started wearing a brace and a sling for his right arm. (DE 33-2 ¶ 9.) On December 14, 2013, Plaintiff encountered an acquaintance at a gas station, and the two started fighting. (DE 32-1 at 19.) Although Plaintiff's arm remained in the sling throughout the fight, he managed to throw a punch with his left hand. (Id. at 20.) Officer Haigh then arrived at the scene, spoke to Plaintiff and the acquaintance, spoke to some of the gas station employees, reviewed the security footage, and determined that Plaintiff should be placed under arrest. (DE 32-2 ¶¶ 6-9.) Officer Haigh observed that Plaintiff “was wearing a splint.” (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         At this point, the parties' stories greatly diverge. The evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, indicates that Plaintiff told Officer Haigh that his right arm was fractured, that his arm was frail due to a disability, and that handcuffing him behind his back would cause extreme pain. (DE 33-2 ¶¶ 11-16.) Disbelieving him, Officer Haigh ordered Plaintiff to put his hands behind his back and threatened to use a taser if he failed to do so. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Officer Haigh then removed Plaintiff's sling and brace. (Id. at ¶ 20.) He handcuffed Plaintiff, causing extreme pain. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Corporal Rucker, who arrived at the scene after Officer Haigh, observed the arrest but did not intervene. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         B. Standard of Review

         To succeed on summary judgment, Defendants must “show[] that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and that they are “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). They can meet this burden by “identify[ing] those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the issues underlying the complaint, “he must then go beyond the pleadings and affirmatively demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial” by “demonstrat[ing] that the record, taken as a whole, could permit a rational finder of fact to rule in favor of” Plaintiff. Id. As the non-moving party, Plaintiff is entitled to “the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and any reasonable inferences in [his] favor.” Perez v. Thorntons, Inc., 731 F.3d 699, 700 (7th Cir. 2013).

         C. Analysis

         Defendants argue that no reasonable jury could find them liable on any of Plaintiff's claims. However, Defendants' position holds water only if this Court accepts their version of the events over Plaintiff's story. Thus, summary judgment must be denied.

         (1) Officer Haigh May Have Used Excessive Force

         Plaintiff alleges that Officer Haigh used excessive force by bending his visibly fractured arm behind his back to handcuff him. Such claims are “analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its ‘reasonableness' standard.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). Whether an officer made an arrest in a reasonable manner depends on “the totality of the circumstances.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1985). Specifically, courts should be mindful of “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.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. “[T]he question is whether the officers' actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Id. at 397.

         (a) An Officer Cannot Use Excessive Force in Handcuffing a Suspect

         The mere act of handcuffing a suspect can be unreasonable if done with excessive force. For instance, in Herzog v. Winnetka, 309 F.3d 1041, 1043 (7th Cir. 2002), the officer arrested the plaintiff for driving under the influence, even though she passed every sobriety test the officer gave her. The officer then applied the handcuffs too tightly, and nobody loosened them until an hour later. Id. The Seventh Circuit found this to be excessive force. Id. In another case, three officers assembled around the plaintiff and then “grappled over [her] arm . . . not because she was resisting the arrest, but because the[y] were arguing over who would handcuff her.” Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 774-75 (7th Cir. 2003). Eventually, one of the officers “grabbed [the plaintiff's] left arm, jerked it into handcuffing position, forced her arm behind her back, slammed the handcuff down on her wrist, jerked her wrist, and tightened the handcuffs until [she] could not feel her hands.” Id. The Seventh Circuit found this force unreasonable in the face of a suspect that neither threatened anyone, resisted arrest, nor attempted to flee. Id. at 779.

         A pre-existing injury on the suspect's part could render an otherwise reasonable use of force unreasonable. See e.g. Walton v. Southfield, 995 F.2d 1331, 1342 (6th Cir. 1993) (“An excessive use of force claim could be premised on Officer Birberick's handcuffing Walton if he knew that she had an injured arm and if he believed that she posed no threat to him.”). Officers must “consider [pre-existing injuries] in determining whether it [is] appropriate to handcuff” a suspect, if they knew of the injury. Stainback v. Dixon, 569 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2009). On the other ...

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