United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment  of the Defendants Mark Brewer and the City of Laurel, Mississippi. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.
The Plaintiff Samuel Mayfield asserts several claims under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from his arrest for failure to comply with a police command and resisting arrest on February 8, 2013. Defendant Mark Brewer is a Sergeant with the City of Laurel Police Department. Sergeant Brewer is the law enforcement officer that arrested Mayfield.
On February 8, the Laurel Police Department (the "Department") received a 911 call concerning a robbery occurring outside of the Walgreens in the City of Laurel (the "City"). The caller advised that a black male wearing all brown clothing had snatched a woman's medication from her hand and taken off running. The dispatcher was also advised that no one was hurt and that the suspect did not have a weapon. Shortly after this initial call, another individual contacted the Department concerning the incident. This individual stated that she had been listening to the police radio and a black male matching the description of the suspect and carrying a bag of medication recently entered a nearby Waffle House. Information regarding the robbery and the suspect's possible location was dispatched to officers on patrol in the City. Sergeant Brewer received this information while he was on duty in his police car, alone.
At his deposition, Mayfield testified to the following circumstances relating to his arrest by Sergeant Brewer on February 8. At that time, Mayfield was employed by the City as a skilled laborer in its public works department. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 28:17-30:1.) Mayfield reported to work wearing his city uniform, which mostly consisted of brown clothing. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 42:19-25.) Mayfield received permission from his supervisor to go to the MEA Clinic during lunch because he felt sick that day. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 38:2-39:2.) Mayfield was diagnosed with strep throat and prescribed certain medications at the MEA Clinic. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 39:10-23.) After leaving the MEA Clinic, Mayfield went to the Thirteenth Avenue Pharmacy and had his prescriptions filled. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 39:24-40:2.) Mayfield then went to the Waffle House and ordered a bowl of chili to go since he had a few minutes remaining on his lunch break. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 41:4-42:7.) Upon exiting the Waffle House, Mayfield observed Sergeant Brewer pull into the parking lot in his police car. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 43:20-44:8.) Sergeant Brewer exited the car and basically told Mayfield, "[G]et your ass over here to this car." (Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 51:4-7.) Mayfield then began walking toward Sergeant Brewer and "asked him what's the problem; what's going on." (Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 45:22-46:2.) Sergeant Brewer next grabbed Mayfield's arm and took him to the police car. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 47:1-48:6.) Sergeant Brewer told Mayfield that he "had robbed Walgreen's or took something from Walgreen's." (Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 49:2-3.) Upon reaching the police car, Sergeant Brewer slammed Mayfield onto the hood, told Mayfield he was under arrest, and placed his right arm in handcuffs. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 50:8-9, 51:8-52:7.) Mayfield then raised his left arm, questioned why he was being handcuffed, and denied any wrongdoing. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 52:10-53:8.) At that point, Sergeant Brewer had control of Mayfield's right arm. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 54:1-6.) Also, other officers had surrounded Mayfield and were going through his wallet and belongings. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 54:4-55:3.) Sergeant Brewer next grabbed Mayfield's left arm and placed it behind his back. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 58:9-14.) Mayfield did not tense up or offer any resistance upon his left arm being grabbed. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 58:18-59:4.) After both of Mayfield's arms were behind his back, Sergeant Brewer struck Mayfield in the buttocks with his knee three or four times. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 55:4-6, 61:13-19.) Mayfield was then lifted off of his feet and taken to the ground. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 55:7-10.) Approximately ten to fifteen seconds passed between the time Mayfield raised his left hand and he was taken to the ground. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 56:20-25.) Mayfield did not resist being handcuffed before he was taken to the ground. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 115:15-17.) Upon striking the ground, Mayfield was knocked unconscious for approximately fifteen seconds. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 61:24-62:1.) When he came to, Mayfield noticed three or four officers standing over him; also, Sergeant Brewer had his knee or foot on Mayfield's back. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 62:2-12.) Mayfield was in pain; he thought his left foot was broken. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 63:14-19.) At no time did Mayfield resist being arrested or disobey any of Sergeant Brewer's commands. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 117:16-21.) Later that day, after he was booked and released from jail, Mayfield was taken by ambulance to South Central Regional Medical Center, where he was advised that he had three fractures in his left foot. ( See Mayfield Dep. [105-1] 70:16-71:13.)
Sergeant Brewer testified by deposition to the following particulars relating to this dispute. The Department dispatcher advised that the witness to the robbery at Walgreen's stated that she did not see a weapon. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 16:4-12.) Sergeant Michael Reaves and Sergeant Brewer arrived at the Waffle House at approximately the same time. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 18:3-9.) Upon his arrival at the Waffle House, Sergeant Brewer observed Mayfield exit the door, wearing all brown and carrying a bag of medicine. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 23:7-18.) Sergeant Brewer told Mayfield to come over and place his hands on the police car. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 24:1-20.) Mayfield kept walking away from Sergeant Brewer and said something to the effect of, "What do you want? I haven't done anything." (Brewer Dep. [105-2] 25:3-26:1.) Sergeant Brewer then seized Mayfield's hand and pulled him over to the police car. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 29:4-30:6.) As Sergeant Brewer took Mayfield to the police car, he told Mayfield to place his hands on the car. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 30:18-25.) Mayfield initially complied, but then started pushing off the car and removing his hands while steadily asking what he had done and denying any wrongdoing. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 31:4-18.) Sergeant Brewer was able to place one of Mayfield's arms in handcuffs, but Mayfield kept flailing his other arm and moving his body such that Sergeant Brewer was unable to secure his other arm. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 33:5-34:9.) Sergeant Brewer repeatedly instructed Mayfield to place his hands behind his back and stop resisting. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 34:17-35:16.) Mayfield did not comply with these instructions. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 34:17-35:16.) After struggling with Mayfield for several seconds, Sergeant Brewer attempted to place a knee strike to Mayfield's common peroneal, a nerve running down his thigh. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 39:13-40:21.) Sergeant Brewer missed and struck Mayfield's buttocks. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 41:7-9.) Sergeant Brewer then took Mayfield to the ground so that he could have more control and finish the arrest. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 41:10-20.) Sergeant Reaves did not assist Sergeant Brewer in his efforts to place Mayfield in handcuffs. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 44:1-9.) Other police officers arrived on the scene after Sergeant Brewer had Mayfield on the ground. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 38:21-24.) Once Mayfield was handcuffed, Sergeant Brewer determined that he was not the suspect as to the Walgreen's robbery because the medication Mayfield was carrying belonged to Mayfield. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 44:10-45:2.) Nonetheless, Mayfield was arrested for failing to comply with a police command and resisting arrest. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 38:2-20.) Mayfield never displayed a weapon or threatened anyone before Sergeant Mayfield used force against him. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 29:16-20, 36:16-22.)
The parties have placed into the record two videos of Mayfield's arrest. Both videos were obtained from security cameras at the Waffle House. One video shows a wide view of the scene (the "Wide Video"), and captures Sergeant Brewer and Mayfield's initial interactions outside the Waffle House. The second video has a narrower focus (the "Narrow Video"), and better shows Sergeant Brewer and Mayfield's interactions at Sergeant Brewer's police car. Neither the Wide Video nor the Narrow Video contains an audio track. Furthermore, in the Court's view, neither video conclusively establishes whether Mayfield actively resisted Sergeant Brewer's efforts to detain and arrest him. The Narrow Video does appear to show Mayfield raising one of his arms and attempting to turn and interact with Sergeant Brewer. However, Mayfield is quickly turned around, and several seconds pass with both of Mayfield's arms seeming to be either behind his back or down at his sides before Sergeant Brewer knees Mayfield and throws him down on the pavement. Sergeant Reaves and a drug court representative are standing within a few feet of Sergeant Brewer and Mayfield when Mayfield is taken to the ground. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 36:10-15, 45:25-46:8.)
Mayfield has also submitted the deposition testimony of Brittany Arrington in opposition to summary judgment. Arrington was working as a waitress at the Waffle House on February 8. ( See Arrington Dep. [105-9] 19:20-20:2.) Arrington provided the following statements relevant to this litigation: she observed Mayfield walk toward a police officer after he was told to come here; "[h]e didn't resist or anything"; Mayfield did not curse or threaten the officer; the officer pushed Mayfield against a police car and kicked him; and, Mayfield and the officer subsequently fell to the ground and several additional officers jumped on top of them. ( See Arrington Dep. [105-9] 11:14-22, 13:2-14:13, 29:8-14.)
On April 10, 2013, Mayfield filed his Complaint  against Sergeant Brewer, in his official and individual capacities, in this Court. The Complaint asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the allegation that excessive force was used against Mayfield during his arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Subject matter jurisdiction is asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1343 (civil rights). On May 6, 2013, Mayfield filed his Amended Complaint , adding a cause of action against the City for failing to train police officers, failing to supervise officers, or permitting officers to use excessive force. On May 22, 2013, Mayfield filed his Second Amended Complaint , adding a cause of action for First Amendment and Fourth Amendment retaliation. Mayfield alleges that he was terminated from his position with the City on or about May 20, 2013, because of his decision to file this action. On November 21, 2013, Mayfield filed his Third Amended Complaint , including a Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest claim against Sergeant Brewer. The Defendants seek a grant of summary judgment on all of Mayfield's claims.
A. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). Initially, the movant has "the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Cannata v. Catholic Diocese of Austin, 700 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). If the movant meets this burden, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and point out specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Id. "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001)). "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Summary Judgment is mandatory "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." Brown v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, Inc., 663 F.3d 759, 766 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322).
Mayfield's constitutional claims must be viewed through the framework of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 does not provide a general remedy for state law torts or allow access to federal courts for all individuals suffering injuries at the hands of state actors. White v. Thomas, 660 F.2d 680, 683 (5th Cir. 1981). The statute "affords a remedy only to those who suffer, as a result of state action, deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). To state a cognizable § 1983 claim, "a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Doe ex rel. Magee v. Covington County Sch. Dist., 675 F.3d 849, 854 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting James v. Tex. Collin County, 535 F.3d 365, 373 (5th Cir. 2008)). Official conduct by a governmental actor in connection with a purported constitutional violation, i.e., the "color of law" requirement,  is not in dispute in this case.
Section 1983 claims may be brought against government employees "in their individual or official capacity, or against a governmental entity." Goodman v. Harris County, 571 F.3d 388, 395 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Individual defendants, but not governmental entities, may rely on the defense of qualified immunity. Gates v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 537 F.3d 404, 436 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 657, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980)). "Qualified immunity protects public officers from suit if their conduct does not violate any clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Prison Legal News v. Livingston, 683 F.3d 201, 224 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). "Although nominally an affirmative defense, the plaintiff has the burden to negate the defense once properly raised." Poole v. City of Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008)). In order to overcome the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiff must show: "(1) the official violated a statutory or constitutional right; and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Khan v. Normand, 683 F.3d 192, 194 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011)). Courts have discretion to address the second inquiry first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).
1. Excessive Force
Sergeant Brewer has asserted the defense of qualified immunity. The Court will first consider whether Mayfield has adduced facts supporting the existence of a constitutional violation. "When a plaintiff alleges excessive force during an investigation or arrest, the federal right at issue is the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1865, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). In order to establish a Fourth Amendment violation, Mayfield must show that he suffered "(1) an injury (2) which resulted from the use of force that was clearly excessive to the need and (3) the excessiveness of which was objectively unreasonable." Ramirez v. Martinez, 716 F.3d 369, 377 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Rockwell v. Brown, 664 F.3d 985, 991 (5th Cir. 2011)). The Defendants do not argue that the fractures to Mayfield's foot were constitutionally insignificant. Consequently, the Court will focus on whether the force producing that injury was clearly excessive and objectively unreasonable. In Graham, the Supreme Court instructed that a court conducting this inquiry should consider "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." 490 U.S. at 396 (citation omitted). A court must conduct an objective analysis: the use of force is to be considered from the viewpoint of a reasonable officer at the scene, rather than through 20/20 hindsight, and the subject officer's intent or motivations are not determinative. See id. at 396-97 (citations omitted).
None of the Graham factors can be resolved in Sergeant Brewer's favor at this stage of the litigation. As to the crime Mayfield was suspected of committing, a robbery, the Department dispatcher advised that the witness did not see the suspect with a weapon. Cf. Chacon v. Copeland, No. 13-50521, 2014 WL 3894270, at *1, 6 (5th Cir. Aug. 11, 2014) (finding that a fact issue existed as to the severity of the crime where there were reports of an individual using a gun in a threatening manner, but the plaintiff was never accused of having a weapon). The crimes Mayfield was actually arrested for (disobeying a police command and resisting arrest) cannot be considered severe for purposes of summary judgment since Mayfield denies refusing to comply with any of Sergeant Brewer's commands or offering resistance during the course of his arrest. See, e.g., Newman v. Guedry, 703 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2012) (although the plaintiff was charged with resisting arrest, the undisputed facts did not show that the plaintiff actually resisted arrest), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 162 (2013); Ramirez, 716 F.3d at 373, 378 (accepting the plaintiff's version of his arrest for disorderly conduct in resolving the first Graham factor against the defendant officer); Massey v. Wharton, 477 Fed.Appx. 256, 263 (5th Cir. 2012) (same where the plaintiff was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest); Adams v. May, 903 F.Supp.2d 433, 441-42, 444-45 (S.D.Miss. 2012) ("[T]he crime for which Adams was being arrested, disorderly conduct [which encompasses an individual failing to obey an officer's command], is not a severe crime...."); Upchurch v. Harcharik, No. 3:11cv252, 2012 WL 3913350, at *4, 5 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 7, 2012) ("[T]he crime at issue [failure to comply with an order] was a misdemeanor and not severe.")
Portions of the summary judgment record militate against the conclusion that Mayfield posed an immediate threat to the safety of Sergeant Brewer or others at the time of his arrest. Sergeant Brewer testified that he had no recollection of Mayfield threatening him or any of the other officers at the scene. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 36:16-22, 42:22-24.) Brittany Arrington testified that Mayfield did not do anything to threaten the officers. ( See Arrington Dep. [105-9] 13:19-20, 14:6-13, 17:11-13.) Further, both the Wide Video and Narrow Video show Sergeant Reeves and a drug court representative standing within a few feet of Sergeant Brewer and Mayfield at the time Sergeant Brewer takes Mayfield to the ground. ( See Brewer Dep. [105-2] 36:10-15, 45:25-46:8.) Thus, it is not beyond reason to presume that Mayfield would have been quickly apprehended had he somehow been able to break away from Sergeant Brewer. The Court also notes that Sergeant Brewer appears considerably taller and larger than Mayfield in the videos, and Sergeant Brewer testified at Mayfield's criminal trial that he ...