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Townsend v. McWilliams

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 30, 2019

KIM TOWNSEND, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN MCWILLIAMS Deputy, WATERMAN Deputy, TUNNEY Deputy, ROSTER P.O, COOPER P.O., JOHN DOE OFFICERS Individually, MARION COUNTY, CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS a Municipal Corporation, JUSTIN LEE GOUGH P.O., DEREK MATTHEW JACKSON, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          James Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge.

         Kim Townsend was driving to the Julian Center when a police officer signaled for her to pull over. Instead of stopping, she drove the rest of the way to the Julian Center and got out of her car. As she quickly walked to the Julian Center's entrance, several Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and Marion County Sheriff's Office deputies took her to the ground and arrested her. Ms. Townsend alleges that they used excessive force. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Dkt. [77]. For the reasons that follow, that motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I.

         Facts and Background

         Because Defendants have moved for summary judgment under Rule 56(a), the Court views and recites the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The Court notes some factual disputes.

         After work on January 6, 2016, Ms. Townsend stopped at a gas station before driving back to the Julian Center where she lived. Dkt. 78-6 at 18 (Townsend Dep. at 71-72). The parties' accounts of what happened during that drive are completely different. Defendants claim that Ms. Townsend led seven officers-in marked police vehicles-on a miles-long chase, speeding down streets and through construction zones, darting between cars, running stoplights and stop signs, striking a construction-zone barrel, and driving on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus. Dkt. 79 at 3-4, 14-15. Ms. Townsend claims she realized that at least one police car was following her, but she did not speed, run a red light, or drive on a sidewalk. Dkt. 93 at 2.

         Whatever happened on the drive, Ms. Townsend parked at the Julian center and got out of her car. Dkt. 78-6 at 24 (Townsend Dep. at 93). She noticed a police car behind her and was “scared to death” so she walked quickly to the door to get help from an advocate at the Julian Center. Dkt. 78-6 at 25, 32 (Townsend Dep. at 97, 99-100, 128).

         The parties also dispute what happened at the Julian Center's door, even though it was captured on video. See dkt. 78-9. According to Ms. Townsend, Officer Christopher Cooper grabbed her hair, pushed her face into the door, hurled her into the ground by her hair, and tackled her. Dkt. 93 at 3. Then, officers kicked, punched, stepped on, and beat her before she was handcuffed. Id. And after she was handcuffed, officers kicked her in the head, dragged her by the handcuffs, and hoisted her up by lifting her arms and shoulders past their limits, causing shoulder injuries. Id. Defendants argue that the video of the incident contradicts Ms. Townsend's allegations and instead shows that Officer Cooper “ran into” Ms. Townsend, who struck the door and stumbled to the ground. Dkt. 77 at 6. Then, they used only reasonable force to place Ms. Townsend in handcuffs. Dkt. 101 at 12-14.[1]

         Ms. Townsend suffered serious injuries from this encounter, including shoulder injuries requiring surgery. Dkt. 78-6 at 46 (Townsend Dep. at 181- 83).

         Ms. Townsend brought this action on August 28, 2017, alleging that “John Doe officers” and five named Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and Marion County Sheriff's Office deputies used excessive force against her. Dkt. 1. She also sued the City of Indianapolis, alleging that it is required to indemnify the officers for any damages. Id. Ms. Townsend amended her complaint on March 26, 2018, adding Officers Derek Jackson and Justin Gough as defendants. Dkt. 38. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 77.

         II. Applicable Law

         A. Summary judgment

         Summary judgment shall be granted “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 moving party must inform the court “of the basis for its motion” and specify evidence demonstrating “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and identify “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324.

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at 584 (citation omitted).

         B. Qualified immunity

         “[Q]ualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). This “clearly established” standard ensures “that officials can ‘reasonably . . . anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages.'” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 646 (1987)). Qualified immunity thus “balances two important interests- the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officers from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.'' Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231.

         The “difficult part” of the qualified-immunity test is “identifying the level of generality at which the constitutional right must be clearly established.” Volkman v. Ryker, 736 F.3d 1084, 1090 (7th Cir. 2013). A “high level of generality” is not appropriate; instead, the question is “whether the law was clear in relation to the specific facts confronting the public official when he acted.” Id.“Such specificity is especially important in the Fourth Amendment context, ” because “it is sometimes difficult for an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine, here excessive force, will apply to the factual situation the officer confronts.'' Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 308 (quotation and citation omitted).

         In excessive force cases, “the result depends very much on the facts of each case, '' so officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless precedent ‘‘squarely governs” the case at hand. Id. at 309 (quoting Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 201 (2004)). While a case directly on point is not required, “existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Id. at 308.

         III. Analysis

         A. Qualified immunity on the excessive force allegations

         Ms. Townsend contends that officers used excessive force several times as they arrested her outside the Julian Center. To overcome qualified immunity, she “must show both (1) that the facts make out a constitutional violation, and (2) that the constitutional right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the official's alleged misconduct.” Abbott v. Sangamon Cty., 705 F.3d 706, 713 (7th Cir. 2013). Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity under the second prong because they did not violate Ms. Townsend's clearly established rights. Dkt. 79 at 13-24. The Court thus exercises its discretion to begin with that prong of the test. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236.

         The Court “carve[s] up the incident into segments and judge[s] each on its own terms, ” evaluating whether each officer is entitled to qualified immunity on each use of force. Deering v. Reich, 183 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 1999); see Dockery v. Blackburn, 911 F.3d 458, 465 (7th Cir. 2018); Estate of Williams by Rose v. Cline, 902 F.3d 643, 651 (7th Cir. 2018).

         1. Officer Cooper taking Ms. ...


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