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Ellington v. Carroll

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 10, 2018

Christopher M. Ellington, Plaintiff,
City of Mesa Police Officer P. Carroll; Officer K. Kennedy; Officer T. Dangerfield; Sgt. Redwing; Chief John Meza; and City of Mesa, a municipal entity, Defendants.


          Neil V. Wake Senior United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 61), the Response, and the Reply. Plaintiff Christopher M. Ellington brings this damage action against the defendant City of Mesa police officers and the City of Mesa for unconstitutional arrest and excessive force in the arrest. The remaining defendants are Officers Carroll, Kennedy, Dangerfield and Redwing, and the Police Chief.

         No evidence is presented against the Police Chief, Lieutenant Redwing, or Sergeant Dangerfield, who were not present and did not participate in the arrest, so summary judgment will be granted in their favor. Nor is there any evidence of a City policy or practice, so summary judgment will be granted in the City's favor as well. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (“[T]he language of § 1983, read against the background of the [ ] legislative history, compels the conclusion that Congress did not intend municipalities to be held liable unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort.”).


         A. Summary Judgment

         A motion for summary judgment tests whether the opposing party has sufficient evidence to merit a trial. Summary judgment should be granted if the evidence reveals no genuine dispute about any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         It is the moving party's burden to show there are no genuine disputes of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Upon such a showing, however, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial” without simply resting on the pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. To carry this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than simply show there is “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). 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. Id. at 587. “A court must view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the [non-moving] party.'” Tolan v. Cotton, __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). “A ‘judge's function' at summary judgment is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).

         B. Unlawful Arrest

         Although the plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proof on the issue of unlawful arrest, Defendants bear the burden of producing evidence that the arresting officers had probable cause for a warrantless arrest. Dubner v. City & Cty. of S.F., 266 F.3d 959, 965 (9th Cir. 2001). “Probable cause exists when, under the totality of the circumstances known to the arresting officers (or within the knowledge of the other officers at the scene), a prudent person would believe the suspect had committed a crime.” Id. at 966. Thus, the subjective beliefs of the plaintiff and the arresting officer are not relevant to the probable cause inquiry. Moreover, “probable cause is a fluid concept-turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts-not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983). The evidence must be viewed as it would be by a trained law enforcement officer, “not in terms of library analysis by scholars.” Id.


         A. The Arrest

         Ellington's neighbors obtained an ex parte Order Against Harassment against him on July 20, 2015. A.R.S. § 12-1809. Mesa police responded to the neighbor's call that Ellington had violated that order by mailing to him copies of court papers he had filed that were not expressly permitted by the statute. Ellington's “Demand for Contempt” accused the neighbor of using drugs, selling drugs, and threatening him, along with other misconduct including perjury, false reporting, and harassment. The “Demand for Contempt” was generally a response to the neighbor's complaint. It contained his extensive account of the long-standing conflicts between the neighbors and challenged the truthfulness of the neighbors' allegations.[1] The coversheet of the motion states, “I would like the court to: Dismiss the false IAH.” (Doc. 62-1 at 19.) The relief it sought included to “[s]et a hearing” and “[d]ismiss and find illegitimacy in the IAH.” (Doc. 62-1 at 29.) The acrimonious history included an earlier Order Against Harassment obtained by Ellington against the neighbors on October 16, 2014. (Doc. 62-1 at 22.)

         The officers determined that Ellington violated the Order against him by mailing to the neighbors the copies of court papers he had filed. They believed, and their counsel argues, that the court filings were not authorized and therefore prohibited by the Order Against Harassment. Building on that, they argue that Ellington harassed the neighbors by mailing them copies of the court filings he had made.

         When they knocked on Ellington's door late at night, he responded dressed only in boxer shorts. He stepped outside and closed the door behind himself. As Officer Carroll explained that they were responding to the complaint, he believed Ellington was an immediate threat because of his aggressive tone, physical posture, defiant demeanor, and agitation as he told the officer he had no right to be there. Officer Carrol told him he was under arrest and reached to grab his wrist to attempt to turn him around. They say Ellington turned to try to face the officer and showed some ...

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