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Ingram v. County of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 29, 2019

XAVIER INGRAM and DARREN A. DICKERSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF CAMDEN, et al., Defendants.

          Beth G. Baldinger, Esq. MAZIE SLATER KATZ & FREEMAN, LLC Attorney for Plaintiff Ingram William M. Tambussi, Esq. William F. Cook, Esq. BROWN & CONNERY, LLP Attorneys for County Defendants & Defendant Marchiafava Jay J. Blumberg BLUMBERG & WOLK, LLC Attorney for Defendant Merck Matthew B. Wieliczko ZELLER & WIELICZKO, LLP Attorney for Defendant Gennetta

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE

         On June 14, 2014, Plaintiff Xavier Ingram was allegedly assaulted by several Camden County Police Officers resulting in catastrophic injuries including quadriplegia, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before the Court are four motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants County of Camden, Camden County Police Department, Chief John Scott Thomson, Orlando Cuevas (hereinafter, “County Defendants”), and Nicholas Marchiafava [Docket Item 143], Defendant Jeremy Merck [Docket Item 144], Defendant Antonio Gennetta [Docket Item 145], and Plaintiff Ingram [Docket Item 146]. All of the present motions have been opposed and briefing has been completed. The Court has considered the submissions and held oral argument on March 21, 2019. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment filed by County Defendants and Defendant Marchiafava [Docket Item 143] will be granted in part and denied in part, Defendant Merck's motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 144] will be denied, Defendant Gennetta's motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 145] will be denied, and Plaintiff Ingram's motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 146] will be denied. The Court finds as follows:[1]

         I. Factual and Procedural Background.

         The factual and procedural background of this case was previously detailed in the Court's Memorandum Opinion of January 16, 2019, and shall not be repeated herein, except as necessary for the determination of the present motion. See Ingram v. Cty. of Camden, No. 14-5519, 2019 WL 231759 (D.N.J. Jan. 16, 2019). Discovery extending over several years has been completed and the motions are largely ripe for decision.

         II. Standard of Review.

         At summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating 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); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to examine the evidence in light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 287 (3d Cir. 2014).

         A factual dispute is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non-moving party “need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence proffered by the movant, ” but must present more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         III. Discussion.

         Defendants[2] move for summary judgment as to certain portions of Plaintiff Ingram's Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 64]. Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff Ingram's claim regarding the use of excessive force because the force used by Officer Defendants against Plaintiff Ingram was reasonable and because Officer Defendants are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. (County Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 143-1], 15-27; Merck's Br. [Docket Item 144-1], 5-8; Gennetta's Br. [Docket Item 145-1], 24-34.) Defendants further assert that they are entitled to summary judgment as to all New Jersey state law claims because they are rendered immune from suit by New Jersey's “pursuit immunity” statute. (County Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 143-1], 28 n.13; Merck's Br. [Docket Item 144-1], 5-6; Gennetta's Br. [Docket Item 145-1], 36.) County Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment as to all claims against Defendants County of Camden, Camden County Police Department, John Scott Thomson, and Orlando Cuevas[3] because County Defendants' training, policies, and discipline meet applicable requirements and because they cannot be held liable for claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by way of a theory of respondeat superior. (See County Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 143-1], 28-30.) Defendant Merck seeks summary judgment regarding Plaintiff Ingram's claim against him for supervisory liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Merck's Br. [Docket Item 144-1], 8-11.) Finally, Defendants and Plaintiff Ingram all seek summary judgment in their respective favors regarding Plaintiff Ingram's claim for failure to render medical aid. (See County Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 143-1], 27-28; Gennetta's Br. [Docket Item 145-1], 34-35; Merck's Br. [Docket Item 144-1], 11; Ingram's Br. [Docket Item 148], 19-33.)[4]

         A. Excessive Force.

         Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment in their favor as to Count I of Plaintiff Ingram's Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 64], seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and because Plaintiff Ingram has not established that he has suffered a constitutional violation. (County Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 143-1], 15-27; Merck's Br. [Docket Item 144-1], 5-8; Gennetta's Br. [Docket Item 145-1], 24-34.) Defendants assert that each of the Officer Defendants[5] is entitled to qualified immunity and that the force used against Plaintiff Ingram was not unconstitutionally excessive. (See id.) Plaintiff Ingram opposes this request, asserting that the Officer Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity and that there exist questions of material fact in relation to whether the amount of force used on Plaintiff Ingram was objectively reasonable under the circumstances presented in this case. (See Pl.'s Opp'n [Docket Item 170], 7-16, 18-19.)

         1. Qualified Immunity as to Excessive Force.

         “Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). “In resolving questions of qualified immunity at summary judgment, courts engage in a two-pronged inquiry. The first asks whether the facts, ‘[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, . . . show the officer's conduct violated a [federal] right[.]'” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655-56 (2014) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, (2001)). In this case, Plaintiff Ingram has alleged a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force during the course of an arrest and failure to provide medical care.[6] (See Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 64], ¶ 27; see also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393 (1989).) Plaintiff Ingram alleges that as he walked out of a liquor store, nearby police officers started to chase him, he assumed that it was because of an outstanding warrant he had, got scared, and ran. (Ingram Dep. [Docket Item 146-10], 11:16-12:2.) After running for some distance, Plaintiff Ingram alleges he tried to surrender to police on the slippery pavement by going down to the ground. (Id. at 12:5-6.) In the process of getting down, Ingram claims his feet slipped from under him and he landed on his side. (Id. at 12:6-8.) As soon as he hit the ground, an officer jumped on his back and two officers started punching and kicking him. (Id. at 12:9-12.) After the officers started beating him, Plaintiff Ingram asserts that he could feel the blows, was in extreme pain, and was screaming that he could not breathe and that he could not feel his legs. (Id. at 12:12-15.) Then Defendant Merck walked over to Ingram, told him to “shut up, ” stepped on his neck, and Plaintiff Ingram heard it crack. (Id. at 12:15-18.) According to Ingram, the officers tried to sit him up, but when they released him, he collapsed onto his stomach. (Id. at 12:21-23.) Ingram then blacked out. (Id. at 20-24.) As described below, the parties have identified a number of eyewitnesses to these events and there is a video surveillance recording of the events. Taking these into account, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Ingram, show that the Officer Defendants violated a federal right.

         The second prong of the qualified immunity inquiry requires the Court to determine

whether the right in question was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739, [] (2002). . . . “[T]he salient question . . . is whether the state of the law” at the time of an incident provided “fair warning” to the defendants “that their alleged [conduct] was unconstitutional.” Id. at 741.

Tolan, 572 U.S. at 655-56. Regarding claims of excessive force during the process of arrest, the Third Circuit has stated that

we have relied on the factors set forth in Graham and Sharrar in evaluating whether an officer made a reasonable mistake. See Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 430 F.3d 140, 149-150 (3d Cir.2005); Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 497 (3d Cir.2006). We have stated that these factors “are well-recognized, ” Couden, 446 F.3d at 497, and that when an officer applies them in “an unreasonable manner, he is not entitled to qualified immunity.” Estate of Smith, 430 F.3d at 150.

Green v. New Jersey State Police, 246 Fed.Appx. 158, 162-63 (3d Cir. 2007). As the Court shall determine, below, neither the Graham nor the Sharrar factors indicate that, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Ingram, the Officer Defendants' use of allegedly deadly force (especially kneeling on Ingram's neck and kicking or stomping on the neck of a non-resisting suspect) would have been reasonable under the circumstances in this case. Because the Court finds that “it would be unreasonable for [an officer] to believe these actions would not constitute excessive force, we hold that [Plaintiff Ingram's] rights were ‘clearly established.'” Green, 246 Fed.Appx. at 163.

         2. Qualified Immunity as to Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Need of a Detainee

         Plaintiff also alleged a second constitutional violation arising after he was seized and immobile on the ground. He alleges that, after his neck was broken, and he was handcuffed, that he was “seized” for constitutional purposes, and that the officers were aware of the profound seriousness of his injuries. When Officer Defendants nonetheless rolled him over, and then sat him up, despite hearing his complaints that he could not feel his legs and despite seeking that he could not cooperate to support himself, and his body was contorted and he fell face forward on his face, that further injury to his spinal cord was the result. Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Yue, inter alia, opines how these maneuvers probably caused additional damage to Plaintiff's cervical area. Plaintiff alleges that he had a constitutional right, whatever the source of his injuries, once he was seized, to be free from the deliberate indifference of the arresting officers to his serious medical needs as a detainee in violation of the Fourth (or alternatively the Fourteenth) Amendment.

         At step one of the qualified immunity inquiry, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Ingram, he has alleged a violation of his federal right to be free from deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while a pretrial detainee. (Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 64], ¶¶ 36-43.)

         With regard to claims for inadequate medical care by pretrial detainees, the Third Circuit has held that

the Supreme Court has concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment affords pretrial detainees protections “at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a convicted prisoner, ” without deciding whether the Fourteenth Amendment provides greater protections. [City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, (1983).] In previous cases, we have found no reason to apply a different standard than that set forth in Estelle (pertaining to prisoners' claims of inadequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment) when evaluating whether a claim for inadequate ...

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