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Curtis v. Hinds County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 24, 2014

JAMES EDWIN CURTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
HINDS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, and RICHARD BROWN, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

This matter came before the Court on the Defendant Richard Brown's Motion for Summary Judgment Premised on Immunity, by which he seeks dismissal of the claims against him in his individual capacity. The Plaintiff, James Edwin Curtis, claims that Sgt. Richard Brown, a Hinds County Deputy, violated his constitutional rights by unreasonably and recklessly causing him injury during an arrest. Curtis also complains that Brown failed to provide him with proper medical care for his injury, thereby causing him to suffer permanent wrist damage. Finally, Curtis claims that Brown's conduct toward him intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

FACTS

The following facts are undisputed: Curtis cut his right forearm on some glass on or about May 9, 2011. On May 13, he was arrested by Sgt. Brown at the Petro Shopping Center. Sgt. Brown, who was providing security for Petro, had observed Curtis walking in a part of the parking lot that was reserved for truck drivers and employees. There had been reports that vehicles parked in that area had been burglarized. Sgt. Brown drove close to Curtis and began to question him. He noticed that Curtis had something in his hand that he concealed under his shirt when Sgt. Brown approached him. Sgt. Brown asked Curtis what he had, and Curtis told him it was a camera. He asked Curtis to show it to him, and, when Curtis raised his shirt, Sgt. Brown saw that he did not have a camera, but something that looked like a CD case. Sgt. Brown also saw the handle of a Glock handgun sticking out of his pants pocket.

When this took place, Sgt. Brown was sitting in his car, and Curtis was walking around behind the vehicle. After he saw the handle of the Glock, Sgt. Brown realized that he was at a disadvantage if he confronted Curtis, because his position was exposed, and he could not readily reach his weapon. He told Curtis that he was not interested in the camera and he could leave. Sgt. Brown took that opportunity to drive back into the Petro parking lot and retrieve his shotgun from his trunk. Then he drove back to where Curtis was walking and confronted him again. This time, Sgt. Brown ordered Curtis to lie down on the ground, and he handcuffed him.

At this point, the stories diverge. Curtis says that the initial injury on May 9 was relatively minor, and on his forearm. He contends that Sgt. Brown put the handcuffs on too tight, then lifted him off the ground by those handcuffs. Curtis says this act caused the initial injury to become a "complex laceration" and resulted in permanent neurological damage.

Sgt. Brown says that, after he handcuffed Curtis and removed the gun from his pocket, he asked Curtis to roll over and sit by the car. At that point, he noticed that Curtis had something that looked like masking tape wrapped around his wrist. There was what appeared to be dried blood on the tape. Knowing that the Hinds County Detention Center would not accept Curtis into custody if he appeared to be injured, Sgt. Brown called American Medical Response, or AMR, which is an ambulance service.

The parties do not dispute that AMR arrived at the scene and examined Curtis's arm. Brown says that they washed the cut off and re-bandaged it. AMR's records reflect that the injury was a "U-shaped lac above the right wrist lac about 2" long bleeding controlled...." AMR's report described Curtis as "very upset yelling fighting with EMS and SO pt not following commands very hostile pt refused all care." According to the record, "Risks explained up to and including death. Transportation clearly offered." The actual "Refusal of Service" form does not appear to contain Curtis's signature; however, in the space marked "Patient's Signature:" is a handwritten notation, "on paper."

When Curtis arrived at the Hinds County Detention Center on May 13, he initiated a Health Services Request Form stating that his injury was "Risk [sic] got cut from hand cuff." Medical records from the facility show that he came to the Medical Unit on May 16, "with an open wound on the anterior area of the ® wrist, 35 mm × 15mm. No active bleeding at this time." He was given Motrin for pain and placed on the doctor's list for the next day. On May 17, Curtis was taken to the Central Mississippi Medical Center for examination and treatment, and from there he was transported to the emergency room at the University Medical Center. The doctor's notes related to that visit state Curtis's history as follows: "The patient reports he cut his right wrist on a piece of glass' on 5-9-11. He was then arrested on 5-12-11 and reports that the handcuffs tore the cut open and made it worse.'" The doctor examined the cut and noted that it extended to the subcutaneous tissues. It was not actively bleeding, but the skin margins were jagged. The neurovascular examination was intact, and the remainder of the skin examination was unremarkable. There was no swelling or deformity to the hand, although Curtis was unable to flex his ring and little fingers or to make a fist. The medical staff talked to the Hinds County Detention Center nurse, who advised that they wanted Curtis to see a specific contracted doctor for treatment. His laceration was cleaned and dressed, and he was released. He was re-examined at UMC on June 16, where the radiologist noted no soft tissue swelling.

ANALYSIS

In his Amended Complaint, Curtis states that, after putting him in handcuffs, "Deputy Brown then unreasonably and recklessly pulled Mr. Curtis up from the ground by his handcuffs, immediately ripping Mr. Curtis' [sic] right wrist, causing a complex laceration and permanent neurological damage." According to Curtis, this action constituted excessive force, thereby violating his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Curtis also alleges that Sgt. Brown violated his constitutional rights by failing to provide him with timely and proper medical care and violated state law by intentionally inflicting emotion distress on Curtis. He has also asserted claims against Hinds County (which has not moved for summary judgment), contending that it is also liable for failing to provide medical care and for promoting the use of excessive force by failing to address it in its written policies.

Sgt. Brown, who has been sued in both his individual and his official capacities, asserts that he is entitled to summary judgment in his individual capacity. In support of that contention, Brown argues that he is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Brown argues that Curtis has not established that the use of handcuffs was excessive to restrain a suspect found to be carrying a concealed weapon. He further argues that Curtis's injuries were incidental to the use of handcuffs, which the Fifth Circuit has said do not amount to excessive force. With regard to the medical claims, Brown argues that he satisfied any duty he had to Curtis by summoning AMR to the scene of the arrest to examine Curtis, and he had no further involvement with or responsibility to Curtis after he was delivered to the Detention Center. Finally, with regard to the state law claims against him, Brown argues that he is immune from suit under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

Curtis, in response, argues that the wound was more severe than Brown admitted and in a different place than Brown identified, that he was not resisting arrest, that he did not refuse the services of AMR, and that some of the evidence offered by the Defendants should not be considered by the Court. He never identified, in his Response, the specific act that he believes violated his constitutional rights, and he never demonstrated how that act was objectively unreasonable. He concluded, "[T]he record shows that when AMR arrived to the scene Plaintiff was bleeding' with a potentially deadly U shaped laceration above his wrist about 2 inches long.' [Reference to AMR record omitted.] Clearly excessive force had been utilized against the Plaintiff by the arresting officer, Defendant Brown. Said force was objectively unreasonable." In support of that conclusion, Curtis cites to the portion of Sgt. Brown's deposition where he said that Curtis was not resisting arrest.

When a government official moves for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, the court must conduct a two-pronged analysis: first, whether a constitutional right has been violated; and, second, whether the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right that a reasonable person would have known. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). Curtis's argument is, essentially, that because he suffered a serious injury to his wrist, Sgt. Brown must have used excessive force in restraining and arresting him. His claims are, essentially, a res ipsa loquitur argument that has no place in a case based on § 1983. The fact that an injury occurred while a plaintiff was in police custody does not establish a § 1983 claim; the plaintiff must specifically identify the act that caused his injury. See Clark-Murphy v. Foreback, 439 F.3d 280, 286 (6th Cir. 2006); Estate of Phillips v. City of Milwaukee, 123 F.3d 586, 594 (7th Cir. 1997); Brownell v. Figel, 950 F.2d 1285, 1292 (7th Cir. 1991); Howe v. Town of North Andover, 854 F.Supp.2d 131, 145 (D. Mass. 2012); Brown v. City and Cnty. of San Francisco, No. C 11-02162 LB, 2011 WL 5025138 at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 20, 2011) ("[T]he deputies applied some unknown quantum of force to restrain Decedent... sadly, Decedent died as the deputies applied this force. But these allegations, which fail to connect the type or amount of force to the injury, ... do not cross the line from possible to plausible as required by Iqbal. "); Ash v. Boone Cnty., Ky, No. 09-190-DLB, 2011 WL 4431820 at *6 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 22, 2011); Hunt v. Dart, 754 F.Supp.2d 962, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (rejecting ...


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