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Newman v. Show Low Police Department

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 20, 2015

Joe Newman, Plaintiff,
Show Low Police Department, et al., Defendants.


JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 76). The Court now rules on the motion.

I. Background[1]

On January 27, 2011, Show Low Police Department Officer Steven Williams pulled over Plaintiff Joe Newman because Plaintiff's van had a cracked windshield. (Doc. 77 ΒΆ 1). After Plaintiff pulled over and while Officer Williams was reporting the traffic stop to police dispatch, Plaintiff opened the driver's door of his van and got out of the vehicle. (Doc. 77 Exs. 1A, 1B). Officer Williams immediately told Plaintiff to return to his van, but Plaintiff instead shouted at Officer Williams, demanding to know the answers to a number of questions concerning the stop. Plaintiff appeared belligerent and aggressively walked toward Officer Williams, eventually stopping between the back of Plaintiff's van and the front of Officer Williams' car. Officer Williams repeatedly told Plaintiff to return to his van, but Plaintiff initially did not comply. Instead, Plaintiff continued shouting and gesturing at Officer Williams until Officer Williams drew his Taser and pointed it at Plaintiff. At this point, Plaintiff returned to his van and sat inside. ( Id. )

Officer Williams called for backup. Officer Cory Fechtelkotter arrived, and the two approached Plaintiff's van, with Officer Williams on the driver's side and Officer Fechtelkotter on the passenger's side. As soon as Officer Williams began speaking with Plaintiff, Plaintiff resumed shouting and began to argue with Officer Williams. Plaintiff handed Officer Williams his insurance information, and Officer Williams asked Plaintiff for his driver's license. Plaintiff continued arguing and shouting during this entire period of time. Officer Williams then told Plaintiff that he was under arrest and ordered Plaintiff to leave his van. Plaintiff refused. Officer Williams again ordered Plaintiff to step out of his van. ( Id. )

A struggle between the officers and Plaintiff ensued, during which Officer Fechtelkotter threatened to use his Taser on Plaintiff if Plaintiff would not comply. Officer Fechtelkotter fired his Taser but the probes never contacted Plaintiff's body. Officers Williams and Fechtelkotter, along with Sergeant Spear, brought Plaintiff to the ground using a control hold. The officers placed their knees on Plaintiff's legs and back to hold Plaintiff still while they handcuffed him. Once Plaintiff was handcuffed, the officers did not use any force against Plaintiff. The officers then helped Plaintiff to his feet, placed him in a patrol car, and took him to the station. ( Id. )

Plaintiff was ultimately convicted of resisting arrest. (Doc. 77-1 at 25).

II. Legal Standard

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by... citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " or by "showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Id. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). Thus, summary judgment is mandated "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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

Initially, the movant bears the burden of pointing out to the Court the basis for the motion and the elements of the causes of action upon which the non-movant will be unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material fact. Id. The non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" by "com[ing] forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (1963) (amended 2010)). A dispute about a fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The non-movant's bare assertions, standing alone, are insufficient to create a material issue of fact and defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 247-48. However, in the summary judgment context, the Court construes all disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2004).

B. Qualified Immunity

"The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). This protection "applies regardless of whether the government official's error is a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.'" Id. (quoting Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 567 (2004)). There is a two-step test for resolving a qualified immunity claim: the "constitutional inquiry" and the "qualified immunity inquiry." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The "constitutional inquiry" asks whether, when taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the facts alleged show that the official's conduct violated a constitutional right. Id. If so, a court turns to the "qualified immunity inquiry" and asks if the right was clearly established at the relevant time. Id. at 201-02. This second inquiry "must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Id. at 201.

Courts are "permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the ...

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