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Nattress v. Lancaster County

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 13, 2015

RONALD NATTRESS, Plaintiff,
v.
LANCASTER COUNTY, NEBRASKA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN M. GERRARD, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the plaintiff, Ronald Nattress and the defendants, Lancaster County and several Lancaster County employees. The plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (filing 20) will be denied in its entirety. The defendants' motion for summary judgment (filing 22) will be granted in part, and in part denied. Specifically, the plaintiff's first and third claims for relief will be dismissed pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). And the plaintiff's second claim for relief will be dismissed as to Lancaster County and as to the individual defendants in their official capacities. But, the plaintiff may proceed on his second claim for relief against the remaining defendants in their individual capacities.

I. BACKGROUND

The events underlying this case were set in motion by an unrelated criminal prosecution: the plaintiff was charged with first degree sexual assault and was being held by the Lancaster County Department of Corrections at the Lancaster County Intake and Detention Facility (the IDF) pending trial. Filing 23 at 2.[1] Defendants Adam Powers, Robert Holbrook, and Scott Eisenmann were all employed by the Department of Corrections. Filing 23 at 2.

The IDF was connected by a skywalk to the Lancaster County Hall of Justice, where the trial was being held.[2] Filing 23 at 3. When the jury reached a verdict, the plaintiff was brought from the IDF to the Hall of Justice to receive it, accompanied by Corrections Officer Cheryl Slade (who is not a defendant) and Powers. Filing 23 at 2; filing 21-5 at 4. The plaintiff was found not guilty. Filing 23 at 2. The trial court accepted the verdict and ordered the plaintiff released from custody, but told the plaintiff that "it will take them a while to get you out." Filing 23 at 3. This was, apparently, a reference to the fact that instead of being released from the courtroom, the plaintiff would be taken back to the IDF for outprocessing. The plaintiff expected that he would have to go back to the IDF to get his personal effects, and for removal of a leg brace placed on him for trial. Filing 21-5 at 6.

The plaintiff, pleased with the outcome of the trial, made a taunting gesture toward the prosecuting attorney, with whom he had some history. Filing 24-4 at 18-20. The sequence of events that follows is disputed in some details - important details, to be sure - but the broad contours are consistent. Slade testified that she saw the plaintiff and prosecutor staring at each other, and that the plaintiff looked angry, so she stepped in and took the plaintiff by the arm because she did not want the situation to escalate. Filing 21-12 at 2. The plaintiff said that Slade grabbed his arm, so he pulled it away, telling her that she didn't have to grab him. Filing 21-5 at 6. The plaintiff's defense attorney echoed that account. Filing 21-7 at 4. Then Powers stepped in. Filing 21-5 at 7. According to defense counsel, Powers grabbed the plaintiff with both hands and dragged him from the room. Filing 21-7 at 4.

The plaintiff said that instead of going through what he called the "go to jail" door, he was taken to the hallway outside the courtroom. Filing 21-5 at 7. Powers, the plaintiff said, slammed him into the wall and then on to the ground and jumped on him, shouting "stop resisting, stop resisting." Filing 21-5 at 7. The plaintiff's defense counsel said that she could hear the officers in the hallway directing the plaintiff to "stop resisting." Filing 21-7 at 6. The plaintiff says that he was not resisting, and had been given no commands to disobey. Filing 21-5 at 8. Powers, on the other hand, testified that the plaintiff was told to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed, but did not comply. Filing 21-8 at 2. Slade said the same thing. Filing 21-12 at 2. Powers said he took the plaintiff to the ground, but according to both Slade and Powers, the plaintiff kept pulling his arms underneath him, preventing the officers from handcuffing him. Filing 21-8 at 3; filing 21-12 at 2. Defense counsel said that when she exited the courtroom into the hallway, to see if she could calm the situation, "there were so many people on top" of the plaintiff that "there was nothing that could be said or done." Filing 21-7 at 6.

Eventually the plaintiff was handcuffed and Powers and a sheriff's deputy got the plaintiff up and walked him toward the IDF. Filing 21-5 at 10; filing 21-12 at 2. Holbrook and Eisenmann came up from the IDF and met them at the door to the skywalk. Filing 21-5 at 10. The plaintiff said that he couldn't walk because his leg was locked up, so Holbrook, Eisenmann, and perhaps Powers lifted him and carried him to the elevator to ride back to the IDF. Filing 21-5 at 11. (The plaintiff wasn't sure if Powers was in the elevator; Powers testified that he took a different elevator. Filing 21-8 at 4.) Slade said the plaintiff was continuing to resist by refusing to walk. Filing 21-12 at 3. According to the plaintiff, the officers on the elevator ran him into the back wall, again telling him to stop resisting. Filing 21-5 at 12. The plaintiff denies resisting. Filing 21-5 at 12. Eisenmann testified that the plaintiff was resisting by twisting his upper body, but denies slamming the plaintiff's head into the elevator wall. Filing 21-10 at 5-6.

The plaintiff and escorting officers were met off the elevator by a restraint chair, which the plaintiff was strapped into. Filing 21-5 at 12. The plaintiff says that an electronic restraint device (ERD) was displayed. Filing 21-5 at 12. (Such a device is much like a "Taser" gun, but it uses electrodes instead of wires to shock the target.) The plaintiff testified that Holbrook and Powers used their devices to shock the plaintiff repeatedly, while Eisenmann stood to the plaintiff's side. Filing 21-5 at 13-15. Powers, on the other hand, said that the plaintiff was resisting being strapped into the restraint chair and his ERD was applied once to the plaintiff's abdomen to secure his compliance. Filing 21-8 at 6. After that, the plaintiff complied and he was secured into the chair. Filing 21-8 at 8.

The plaintiff was charged with third degree assault on an officer (Slade), but that charge was reduced to simple third degree assault. Filing 21-15; filing 21-17. The defendant was convicted of third degree assault pursuant to a no contest plea, and was sentenced to 365 days' imprisonment. Filing 24-12 at 61, 69.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could conceivably find for the nonmovant. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2011). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.

III. DISCUSSION

Rather than address the parties' motions separately, it will be easier to break the parties' arguments down separately for each of the plaintiff's claims for relief. The plaintiff's complaint alleges three claims for relief:

1. The plaintiff was deprived of his right to be free from unlawful arrest contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Filing 1-1 at 7.
2. The plaintiff was subjected to excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[3] Filing 1-1 at 8.
3. The plaintiff was denied his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment - specifically, his right to a fair court proceeding - by the defendants' failure to retain any copies of the video surveillance of the plaintiff's detention. Filing 1-1 at 9.

The Court will discuss each claim in turn.[4]

1. UNLAWFUL ARREST

The plaintiff's first claim is that he was unlawfully arrested after his acquittal. The defendants argue that this claim is barred by Heck, 512 ...


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