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Timothy J. Miller v. Ryan Woodhead

March 2, 2011

TIMOTHY J. MILLER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RYAN WOODHEAD, PETER GREHAN, TARA STEFANO, JASON ASTBURY, BRIAN SUSCHKE, AND NELSON CARTAGENA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, U.S.D.J.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter has come before the Court upon Defendants Brian Suschke, Ryan Woodhead, Jason Astbury, Nelson Cartagena, Peter Grehan and Tara Stefano's respective Motions for Summary Judgment [docket # 45, 46, 47, 48, 50]. The Court has decided the motions upon the submissions of the parties and without oral argument, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons stated below, Defendants Suschke, Woodhead, Astbury, and Stefano's motions are denied, and Defendants Cartagena and Grehan's motions are granted.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of Plaintiff's arrest, which Plaintiff alleges was effectuated using excessive force; the Defendants are six police officers employed by the Trenton Police Department. On the night of June 23, 2006, the Trenton Police were informed that a black male wearing a black shirt and blue jeans was carrying a weapon at the Jet Wine & Liquors in Trenton. (John Morelli, Esq., Certification Ex. G, Affidavit of Probable Cause 1) [45-10]. Upon entering the bar, Defendant Jason Astbury saw that the Plaintiff matched the caller's description and thus approached Plaintiff from the front of the bar. (Id.) Because Plaintiff appeared to be reaching for his waistband, Astbury grabbed Plaintiff's shoulder. (Id. at 1--2.) Plaintiff pulled away from Astbury and ran to the rear of the bar and collided with Defendant Ryan Woodhead, who shoved him backwards. (Id. at 2.)Plaintiff then turned and ran back toward the front of the bar. (Id.) Astbury grabbed Plaintiff by the back of his shirt and, with the help of Defendant Suschke, brought him to the ground. (Id.) The facts thereafter are in dispute. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint,

During the take down, I was aware that Jason Asterbury [sic] . . . punched me numerous times in the face and head. Tara Stefano . . . kicked me several times in my stomach and legs. The remaining officers all began to kick and beat me about the face and body so much that I lost count of the number of officers throwing the kicks and punches. At one point the bottom of a boot was pressed up against the side of my face and neck. The officers named above along with their fellow officers continued the beating and then they maced me several times in the eyes and mouth before they cuffed and dragged me out of the bar. (Compl. 10) [1]. Although Plaintiff's Complaint states that force was used on him prior to his being handcuffed, Plaintiff later testified at his deposition that he was punched, kicked, and maced after he was handcuffed. (Morelli Certification Ex. A, Miller Dep. 114:15--16; 115:23--24) [45-4]. As a result of the alleged use of force, Plaintiff sustained a cut on his face that required ten stitches. (Id. at 145:11--12.) Plaintiff's medical records from that night indicate that he suffered a "head injury," a "contusion (deep bruise) around the face or scalp," and a "subconjunctival hemorrhage, [i.e.] a harmless collection of blood under the lining of the eye." (Morelli Certification Ex. F, Capital Health System--Helene Fuld Campus Aftercare Instructions) [45-9]. Defendant Suschke asserts that Plaintiff could have struck his face during the take-down on a bar stool or a step beneath the bar. (Suschke Br. in Supp. 7) [45].

Plaintiff filed the Complaint [1] on June 23, 2008, alleging two claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (2) that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. On April 6, 2009, we granted partial summary judgment for the Defendants with respect to the deliberate indifference claim. (See Mem. & Order, April 6, 2009, at 5) [8]. The Defendants now move for summary judgment as to the excessive force claim [45, 46, 47, 48, 50].

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding whether summary judgment should be granted, a district court considers the facts drawn from "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials, and any affidavits" and must "view the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276--77 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted). In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 251--52 (1986). Specifically, summary judgment should be granted if the evidence available would not support a jury verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. at 248--49.

B.Weight Accorded to Video Footage

The Defendants argue that the Court must view the facts not in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff as the nonmoving party, but instead in the light depicted by the video footage submitted to the Court, (see Morelli Certification Ex. D.) The Defendants support this proposition with the Supreme Court's pronouncement in Scott v. Harris: "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." 550 U.S. 372, 380--81 (2007). Instead, where a non-movant's "version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could [] believe[] him," a court should "view[] the facts in the light depicted by the videotape."

Id. at 380--81. Scott involved a high-speed chase in which the respondent's factual assertions- that he had remained in control and had not endangered motorists and pedestrians-were directly contradicted by a video depicting his car racing down a narrow road, swerving, and nearly hitting other cars. Id. ...


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