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Garrison v. Porch

March 9, 2007

MICHAEL GARRISON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM PORCH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims that Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights when Defendant unreasonably seized him and used excessive force in effecting his arrest. Defendant has also moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's conspiracy claims, as well as Plaintiff's state law claims. Also pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's liability on Defendant's counterclaim against Plaintiff for the intentional tort of assault and battery. For the reasons expressed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims against him will be granted, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on his assault and battery counterclaim against Plaintiff will be denied without prejudice, and Defendant's counterclaims against Plaintiff will be stayed.

I. SUMMARY OF THE FACTS

According to the parties' uncontested statement of facts, on the evening of March 29, 2002, Plaintiff Michael Garrison and several friends met each other at a North Wildwood, New Jersey home, and from there they all took a cab to Moore's Bar. Prior to arriving at Moore's Bar, Garrison had consumed one or two beers and had smoked marijuana. At the bar, Garrison consumed two or three mixed drinks and took an ecstasy pill. From Moore's Bar, the group walked to one or two other bars, at which Garrison consumed more alcoholic beverages. After midnight, the group walked to Keenan's Bar, where Garrison, already intoxicated, consumed a beer. At approximately 1:50am, Garrison and the rest of the group exited Keenan's Bar, and Garrison began to urinate outside the bar. Garrison's zipper was down and his pants were unbuttoned while he was urinating. Defendant William Porch, a City of Wildwood police officer who was dressed in plain clothes for a suspicious person/burglary detail, observed Garrison urinating outside of the bar.

At this point, the parties' version of events diverge. According to Garrison's deposition testimony, Porch approached Garrison, grabbed his bicep, turned him around, and held both of Garrison's fists in his hands. When Garrison turned around, he had both fists clenched up near his chin with the knuckles facing away from his body. Garrison next remembers Porch pulling him to the ground, but does not recall how he was forced to the ground, which part of his body hit the ground first, or in what position he landed. Once he was on the ground, Garrison recalls his ear and stomach being on the sidewalk. At this point, Garrison cannot specifically remember what occurred, but he does recall that his face was forced into the ground and that he heard the bones breaking in the back of his neck, he went warm, and then totally limp. Garrison does not recall resisting arrest.

According to Porch, he approached Garrison as he was just walking away from the building after urinating. Porch states that he identified himself as a police officer and illuminated his badge with his flashlight, but Garrison continued to walk away. When Garrison was about eight feet away, Porch told Garrison that he was not free to go and asked him to produce identification. Porch states that Garrison used expletives and refused to comply. Porch told Garrison that he was not free to leave, he must produce identification, grabbed Garrison's left wrist with both hands using a "soft-touch empty-hand" technique, and told him he was under arrest. According to Porch, Garrison's body began to get rigid and he began to pull away and turn around in an attempt to face Porch. Porch states that he repeated several times that Garrison was under arrest and commanded him to stop resisting. At this point, Porch states that he thought Garrison was going to strike him, so he used Garrison's spinning momentum to sidestep him and place him up against the wall. Porch states that Garrison attempted to head-butt Porch "in reverse" and continued to resist arrest. In order to avoid Garrison's head-butt, Porch states that he moved away and Garrison spun around with his fist raised in a motion to hit Porch. Porch then used a pulling technique to Garrison's arm to pull him to the ground. While he was on the ground, Porch states that Garrison continued to thrash his entire body, kick his legs, and pull his arms toward his chest to avoid handcuffing. According to Porch, Garrison's five friends were completely surrounding them and shouting and gesturing in rage toward Porch's attempts to effect Garrison's arrest.

Porch was able to secure one handcuff, but he had to move from Garrison's left side to his right side because Garrison kicked him several times. Porch then radioed for back-up. When another officer arrived, Porch sat down below Garrison's knees to stop him from kicking. During this encounter, Porch states that Garrison kicked him repeatedly, trashed his head back and forth, "continuously trying to spin out of control," and continued to yell obscenities. At this point, Garrison began to complain of neck and back pain and his body became limp and stationary. Garrison told Porch that Porch broke his neck. Porch was then able to secure Garrison's right arm and complete handcuffing. An ambulance was called and Garrison was transported to the hospital.*fn1

Garrison was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, disorderly persons conduct, and urinating in public. The grand jury indicted Garrison on the aggravated assault and resisting arrest charges. On May 30, 2003, Garrison pled guilty to an amended charge of simple assault in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:12-1A, and purposefully resisting arrest, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:29-2A.*fn2

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Garrison filed a Complaint against numerous parties alleging numerous claims. Porch filed a counterclaim against Garrison. Through Orders of the Court and stipulation of the parties, the only claims that remain pending are: 1) Garrison's claims against Porch for unreasonable seizure and the use of excessive force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights; 2) Garrison's claims against Porch for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and assault and battery; 3) Garrison's claim against Porch for conspiracy; 4) Garrison's claim against the City of North Wildwood to the extent that the City is vicariously responsible for the negligent acts or omissions of Porch; and 5) Porch's claims against Garrison for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Porch has moved for summary judgment on all of Garrison's claims against him. Porch has also moved for summary judgment as to Garrison's liability on Porch's assault and battery counterclaim.

III. DISCUSSION

Porch argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on all of Garrison's claims because of Garrison's guilty pleas to the disorderly persons offenses of simple assault and resisting arrest. Porch also argues that Garrison's convictions for these offenses establishes his liability as a matter of law on Porch's assault and battery counterclaim.*fn3 The effect of Garrison's convictions on his and Porch's claims will be discussed in turn.

A. Whether Garrison's Guilty Pleas to the Disorderly Persons Offenses of Simple Assault and Resisting Arrest Precludes his Constitutional Violation Claims for Unreasonable Seizure and Excessive Force

Porch argues that Garrison's claims for "freedom from unreasonable physical seizure" and "freedom from the use of excessive and unreasonable force" are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Under Heck, if a favorable judgment on a § 1983 damages claim would "necessarily imply the invalidity" of the plaintiff's conviction or sentence, the claim must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. Thus, the question before the Court is whether a finding in favor of Garrison on his unreasonable seizure claim and/or excessive force claim necessarily implies the invalidity of his guilty pleas for the disorderly persons offenses of simple assault and resisting arrest.*fn4 In order to answer that question, the elements of Garrison's § 1983 claims and the elements of the crimes to which Garrison pled guilty must be compared.

1. Whether Garrison's Claim for Unreasonable Seizure under the Fourth Amendment is Barred by Heck

A "person is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes only if he is detained by means intentionally applied to terminate his freedom of movement." Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 269 (3d Cir. 2000). Garrison admits that he was seized, but claims that Porch's seizure of him was unreasonable. It is unclear whether Garrison is arguing that Porch did not have probable cause to detain and/or arrest him, or that he was falsely arrested, or that Porch's physical contact with him was unreasonable. If Garrison is only contending that Porch's physical contact with Garrison was unreasonable, that claim is subsumed by his claim of "excessive and unreasonable force," and the standard for that violation will be discussed below. To the extent that Garrison is claiming that Porch lacked probable cause to detain him, and, as a result, his arrest was false, it is clearly established under the Fourth Amendment that the police may not make an arrest except upon probable cause. "Probable cause to arrest requires more than mere suspicion; however, it does not require that the officer have evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, probable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested." Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482-83 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). For a § 1983 claim based on false arrest, the inquiry is "not whether the person arrested in fact committed the offense but whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense." Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988).

If judgment were to be entered in favor of Garrison on this claim, it would mean that Porch did not have probable cause to detain and subsequently arrest Garrison. Thus, it must be determined whether this finding would invalidate Garrison's convictions for simple assault and/or resisting arrest. By his guilty plea to the offense of resisting arrest, Garrison admitted that he purposely prevented or attempted to prevent a law enforcement officer from effecting his arrest. As explained by the Supreme Court, pleading guilty to the crime of resisting arrest means that Garrison intentionally prevented "a peace officer from effecting a lawful arrest," and that in order for Garrison to prevail on his false arrest/unreasonable seizure claim, "he would have to negate an element of the offense of which he has been convicted." Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.6 (emphasis in original); see also Nelson v. Jashurek, 1 ...


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