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Spann v. City of Minneapolis: US District Court : 1983 - summary judgment on denial of medical treatment, Monell; not on unlawful arrest, excessive force

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Anthony Ray Spann, aka Ray Dunham, Civil No. 08-41 (DWF/JJK)
Plaintiff,
v. MEMORANDUM
OPINION AND ORDER
City of Minneapolis; Karl Olson; Steven
J. Herron; and Calvin D. Cook,
Defendants.
________________________________________________________________________
Karl E. Robinson, Esq., Winthrop & Weinstine, counsel for Plaintiff.
Darla Jo Boggs, and Timothy S. Skarda, Assistant Minneapolis City Attorneys,
Minneapolis City Attorneys Office, counsel for Defendants.
________________________________________________________________________
INTRODUCTION
This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by
Defendants City of Minneapolis, Karl Olson, Steven J. Herron, and Calvin D. Cook
(collectively, Defendants). In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Anthony Ray Spann
asserts violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 for unlawful arrest, excessive force, and denial of
medical treatment.1 In addition, Spann asserts state-law claims for assault, battery, and
1 In Count Four of his Amended Complaint, Spann asserts a cause of action for false
imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In his opposition, however, Spanns false
imprisonment arguments focus only on a state-law claim of false imprisonment. The
Court therefore treats it as such. In addition, Spann has agreed to the dismissal of his
claims for conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1985 (Count Five), the
(Footnote Continued on Next Page)
2
false arrest. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants motion is granted in part and
denied in part.
BACKGROUND
On January 13, 2006, Plaintiff Anthony Spann was arrested by Minneapolis Police
Officers Steven J. Herron and Calvin D. Cook. Shortly before his arrest, at approximately
12:15 a.m., Spann was standing with a group of people near 11th Street and Currie
Avenue North in Minneapolis. (Aff. of Darla J. Boggs in Supp. of Defs. Mot. for Summ.
J. (Boggs Aff.) 3, Ex. A (Dep. of Calvin Cook (Cook Dep.)) at 36-37.) At the time,
Spann was homeless and planned to sleep at the Salvation Army shelter located at 1010
Currie Avenue North. Spann asserts that he was standing on the public sidewalk next to
the parking lot of Hys Pawn Shop. (Spann Decl. 2; Aff. of Karl E. Robinson
(Robinson Aff.) 2, Ex. A (Dep. of Anthony Spann (Spann Dep.)) at 69-70.)
Defendants assert that Spann was standing with others in the parking lot.2 Defendants
also assert that the parking lot was marked with no trespassing signs and was known to be
an area of high crime and illegal drug transactions. (Boggs Aff. 5, Ex. C (Dep. of
Steven J. Herron (Herron Dep.)) at 10, 14); Cook Dep. at 41.)
(Footnote Continued From Previous Page)
Monell violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (Count Six), and failure to prevent a violation of
constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1986 (Count Seven).
2 Defendants assert that Spann originally testified at his deposition that he was
standing in the parking lot and only asserted that he was standing on a public sidewalk in
his declaration in opposition to summary judgment.
3
While Spann was standing in the group, Spann asserts that Officers Herron and
Cook came speeding from around the corner in a squad car and bolted from their
vehicle. (Spann Decl. 3.) The officers then asked the group what they were doing.
(Spann Dep. at 70.) Spann asked Officers Herron and Cook to stop harassing him and
said something to the effect: Why dont you leave us the fuck alone? (Spann Decl. 4;
Spann Dep. at 70.) Defendants assert that when they drove up, Spann ran away. (Cook
Dep. at 43; Herron Dep. at 10-11.) Both Officers Herron and Cook assert that they ran
after Spann and observed Spann reach into his pocket and throw what appeared to be
baggies onto the roof of the pawn shop. (Herron Dep. at 10-12; Cook Dep. at 44-47.) In
his declaration, Spann claims that he neither fled from the police nor threw anything from
his pockets. (Spann Decl. 11-13.)
The officers claim that they caught up to Spann in an alley and pushed him from
behind, causing him to fall forward onto the ground. Spann denies that he ran, but claims
that he was struck by surprise and that his knee and head hit the pavement. (Spann Dep.
at 31.) Spann asserts that the officers then repeatedly kicked and punched him. (Spann
Decl. 6; Spann Dep. at 31-32.) Spann also asserts that the officers grabbed his thumb
and violently twisted it and that one of the officers said lets break his thumb. (Spann
Decl. 7; Spann Dep. at 28.) Defendants assert that Spann was directed, but refused, to
put his hands behind his back and that they struck Spanns torso to get his hands out from
underneath his body. (Cook Dep. at 51, 55-56, 61; Herron Dep. at 22-23.) Spann
contends that the officers beat him continuously until he was placed in the squad car, and
4
that he was beaten while handcuffed in the squad car. (Spann Dep. at 68.)
After Spann was placed in the squad car, Officer Cook climbed up to the roof of
the pawn shop, but was unable to find the items that he believed Spann threw up there.
(Cook Dep. at 71, 74.) The officers also called Sergeant Karl Olsen who came to the
scene. Spann asserts that he requested that his handcuffs be loosened and that he asked to
see a doctor. (Spann Dep. at 30, 32.) Spann further asserts that Sergeant Karl Olsen,
Officer Cook, and Officer Herron all refused to adjust his handcuffs and failed to provide
medical assistance. (Spann Dep. at 30.)
Spann was arrested and charged with loitering with intent to possess narcotics and
with fleeing an officer on foot. Spann was booked into the Hennepin County Adult
Detention Center. Spann asserts that he requested to be transferred to the Hennepin
County Medical Center due to the injuries he suffered from the alleged assault by the
police officers. (Spann Decl. 17.) Defendants assert that Spann refused medical
treatment at the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center. (Cook Dep. at 79; Boggs Aff.
7, Ex. E.) Spann was released on January 13, 2006, and sought medical attention that
same afternoon. At the hospital, the medical staff observed multiple contusions and
abrasions to Spanns face, back, and hand. (Boggs Aff., Ex. F.) In addition, the medical
examination revealed a possible sprain to his right thumb, but no fractures. (Id.) Spanns
thumb was placed in a splint.
Spann alleges that he has suffered injuries to the back of his head, neck, lower
back, right thumb, left shoulder, left arm and left knee as a result of the encounter with
5
Officers Herron and Cook. (Spann Dep. at 37-38.) Spann asserts that he has received
continuing medical treatment for these injuries. Spann also asserts that he suffers from
emotional injuries and that the alleged assault caused and exacerbated other mental health
issues, for which he continues to obtain treatment.
DISCUSSION
I. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court
must view the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank
of Mo., 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). However, as the Supreme Court has stated,
[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural
shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed
to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1).
The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of
material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Enter. Bank,
92 F.3d at 747. The nonmoving party must demonstrate the existence of specific facts in
the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. County of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953,
957 (8th Cir. 1995). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary
judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set
6
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986).
II. Qualified Immunity and Federal Claims
Spann asserts several federal claims against Defendants, including unlawful arrest,
excessive force, and denial of medical treatment. Defendants contend that they are
protected by qualified immunity against Spanns federal claims. Qualified immunity
shields government officials as well as private individuals from civil liability under
42 U.S.C. 1983. Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999). A defendant is shielded
from civil liability if it is shown that his or her conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
On a motion for summary judgment, the Court employs a three-part test to
determine whether qualified immunity exists. Goff v. Bise, 173 F.3d 1068, 1072 (8th Cir.
1999) (citing Habiger v. City of Fargo, 80 F.3d 289, 295 (8th Cir. 1996)). First, the
plaintiff must assert a violation of a constitutional right. Id. Second, the alleged right
must be clearly established. Id. Third, taking the facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, there must be no genuine issues of material fact as to whether a reasonable
official would have known that the alleged action violated the plaintiffs clearly
established rights. Id. Qualified immunity is available to all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. Avalos v. City of Glenwood, 382
F.3d 792, 798 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986)).
7
A. Unlawful Arrest under 42 U.S.C. 1983
Spann asserts that he was unlawfully arrested in violation of his Fourth
Amendment rights. There is no dispute that Spanns arrest occurred without a warrant. A
warrantless arrest violates the Fourth Amendment unless it is supported by probable
cause. Smithson v. Aldrich, 235 F.3d 1058, 1062 (8th Cir. 2000) (citing Hannah v. City of
Overland, Mo., 795 F.2d 1385, 1389 (8th Cir. 1986)). Probable cause exists if the totality
of facts, based on reasonably trustworthy information, would justify a prudent person in
believing the individual arrested had committed an offense at the time of the arrest. Id.
Officers are entitled to qualified immunity if they arrest a suspect under the mistaken
belief that they have probable cause, so long as the mistake is objectively reasonable. Id.
(explaining that the issue for immunity purposes is whether there is arguable probable
cause).
Defendants assert that Officers Herron and Cook reasonably believed that Spann
was engaged in unlawful conduct. Specifically, Defendants contend that the officers
relied on their own observation that numerous individuals were standing together in a no
trespassing area, that Spann fled and threw something onto the roof of Hys Pawn Shop,
and that Spann resisted arrest. Spann, however, has a different version of the facts;
specifically, that he did not flee, he did not remove and throw anything from his pockets,
and he did not resist arrest. Even accepting Spanns facts as true, Defendants assert that a
reasonable officer would have concluded that Spann committed an unlawful act because
he was loitering in a no trespassing area in an area known for high crime and drug
8
transactions. Spann, however, counters that he was standing on a public sidewalk.
Finally, Defendants maintain that even if the Court concludes that Officers Herron and
Cook lacked probable cause, the officers are still entitled to qualified immunity because
they reasonably, though mistakenly, believed that probable cause existed.
For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts that Spann was simply standing on
a public sidewalk in an area known for high crime and drug transactions, did not flee, and
did not throw anything from his pockets. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to
Spann, the Court finds that an officer of reasonable competence would have known that
there was no arguable probable cause to arrest Spann. Accordingly, Defendants motion
for summary judgment is denied with respect to Spanns claim for unlawful arrest.
B. Excessive Force Under 42 U.S.C. 1983
Spann asserts excessive force claims against Officers Herron and Cook.3
Specifically, Spann asserts that Officers Herron and Cook used force when no force was
necessary. Defendants, on the other hand, assert that they are entitled to qualified
immunity on Spanns claim of excessive force. Defendants acknowledge that the facts as
recited by Spann (that he was doing nothing other than standing on a public sidewalk
when officers approached him and began to beat him without provocation) would
demonstrate inappropriate use of force. (Defs. Reply Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ.
3 Originally, Spann asserted his excessive force claim against all defendants.
However, because Spann has agreed to dismiss his Monell claim, Spanns excessive force
claim is against Officers Herron and Cook only.
9
J. at 4.) However, Defendants contend that Spanns recitation of the facts is supported
entirely by self-serving declarations and testimony and that objective evidence in the
record is not consistent with the facts as described by Spann. Defendants further contend
that, even accepting Spanns factual recitation, Spanns excessive force claim fails
because Spanns injuries were de minimus in nature.
The right to be free from excessive force is clearly established under the Fourth
Amendments prohibition of unreasonable seizures of the person. Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 394-95 (1989). The Court evaluates excessive force claims under an
objective-reasonableness test. Id. at 397. In determining whether the use of force is
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a court must balance the nature and quality
of the intrusion on the individuals Fourth Amendment interests against the
governments interests at stake. Id. at 396 (citation omitted). The reasonableness of the
use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,
rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. See id. The reasonableness determination
also must make allowances for the fact that police officers make split-second judgments
in oftentimes tense situations. Id. at 396-97. Therefore, the United States Supreme Court
has set out the reasonableness inquiry as one that requires courts to determine whether
the officers actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances
confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. Id. at 397
(citing Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 137-39 (1978)). An officers evil intentions
will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of
10
force; nor will an officers good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force
constitutional. Id. at 396 (citations omitted).
Courts also consider the result of the force in analyzing a claim for excessive
force. Crumley v. City of St. Paul, 324 F.3d 1003, 1007 (8th Cir. 2003.) Assuming
without deciding that a plaintiff must demonstrate some minimum level of injury, the
Eighth Circuit has ruled that the necessary level of injury required for a Fourth
Amendment excessive force claim is actual injury. Lambert v. City of Dumas, 187 F.3d
931, 936 (8th Cir. 1999); Dawkins v. Graham, 50 F.3d 532, 535 (8th Cir. 1995). The
Eighth Circuit has held that the following examples constitute actual injury:
(1) bruises and a facial laceration; (2) bruised knees and elevated blood pressure;
(3) posttraumatic stress disorder; or (4) a single small cut of the lateral right eyelid and
small scrapes of the right posterior knee and upper calf. Lambert, 187 F.3d at 936
(citations omitted). However, the Eighth Circuit has ruled that a de minimus . . . injury
is insufficient to support a finding of a constitutional violation. Crumley, 324 F.3d at
1007. Thus, not every push or shove violates the Fourth Amendment. Id.
The evidence before the Court demonstrates that Spann suffered, at minimum,
multiple contusions and abrasions to his face, back, and hand. In addition, Spann has
pointed to evidence that he suffered a sprain to his right thumb, as well as injuries to the
back of his head, neck, lower back, left shoulder, left arm, and left knee as a result of the
encounter with Officers Herron and Cook. Spann receives continuing medical treatment
for his injuries and for mental health issues that he asserts were caused or exacerbated by
11
the alleged assault. Consequently, the Court determines that Spann has presented
sufficient evidence of actual injury to overcome Defendants assertions of qualified
immunity and thus to survive summary judgment. The Court notes that in so holding, the
Court is not concluding that, as a matter of law, excessive force was used by Officers
Herron and Cook. Rather, the Court simply concludes that a reasonable jury could find,
on the facts at issue here, that excessive force was used by the officers in their treatment
of Spann.
C. Denial of Medical Assistance
Spann also asserts that Officers Herron and Cook and Sergeant Olson violated his
right to medical assistance.4 The law recognizes deliberate indifference to a prisoners
serious medical needs under the Eighth Amendment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104
(1976). To establish a constitutional violation based on deliberate indifference to medical
needs, Spann must demonstrate that (1) he suffered from an objectively serious medical
need; and (2) that the defendants knew of the need and deliberately disregarded it. Id. at
106. Deliberate indifference requires proof of a reckless disregard of a known risk.
Coleman v. Parkman, 349 F.3d 534, 539 (8th Cir. 2003). A serious medical need is one
that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious
that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctors attention.
4 In his Amended Complaint, Spann asserts his denial of medical assistance claim
under both the Fourth and Eight Amendments. However, Spann only addresses the
Eighth Amendment in his opposition to the present motion. Therefore, the Court will
(Footnote Continued on Next Page)
12
Coleman v. Rahija, 114 F.3d 778, 784 (8th Cir. 1997). In addition, when considering a
claim for the denial of medical assistance under the Eighth Amendment, the Court also
looks at the effect of a delay in medical treatment. Id. at 784.
Spann argues that he suffered from a serious medical need and that the defendants
knew of his medical need but deliberately disregarded it. In particular, Spann asserts that
he complained to defendants that he was in pain and that they laughed and refused
treatment. Spann further asserts that he asked for medical treatment when he was booked,
but again he was refused.
Here, Spann has not submitted evidence that he was suffering from an objectively
serious medical need when he was detained and booked, or that that need was deliberately
disregarded. Although Spann was injured during the incident with Officers Herron and
Cook, the record does not demonstrate that his injuries were serious enough to establish
an Eighth Amendment violation. In addition, Spann has not pointed to record evidence to
show a detrimental effect of a delay in his medical treatment. Therefore, even viewing
the facts in the light most favorable to Spann, the Court finds that no reasonable juror
could conclude that Spann was denied medical care in violation of his Eighth Amendment
rights. Accordingly, Spanns claim for denial of medical treatment is dismissed.
III. Official Immunity and State-Law Claims
Under Minnesota law, public officials are automatically entitled to official
(Footnote Continued From Previous Page)
analyze the viability of Spanns claim under the Eighth Amendment only.
13
immunity from state law claims when their duties require the exercise of discretion, so
long as the officer is not guilty of a willful or malicious wrong. Johnson v. Morris,
453 N.W.2d 31, 41-42 (Minn. 1990); Elwood v. Rice County, 423 N.W.2d 671, 677
(Minn. 1988). Malice, in the official immunity context, means intentionally committing
an act that the official has reason to believe is legally prohibited. This is an objective
inquiry that examines the legal reasonableness of an officials actions. State by Beaulieu
v. City of Mounds View, 518 N.W.2d 567, 571-72 (Minn.1994).
Spann asserts state law causes of action for assault and battery against
Defendants.5 Defendants contend that they are entitled to official immunity on the assault
and battery claims. An assault is an unlawful threat to do bodily harm to another with the
present ability to carry out the threat. Johnson, 453 N.W. 2d at 41. Battery is an
intentional, unpermitted offensive contact with another. Id. at 40. As discussed above
with respect to Spanns 1983 claim for unlawful arrest and excessive force, there is
sufficient record evidence to allow a reasonable juror to conclude both that Spanns arrest
occurred without legal justification and that the force used in arresting Spann was
excessive. For the reasons that the Court denied summary judgment on Spanns claims
5 Spann asserts that the City of Minneapolis is liable on each of the state law tort
claims because the claims occurred within the scope of the officers employment. Under
the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of an
employee committed within the course and scope of his or her employment. Fahrendorff
v. N. Homes, Inc., 597 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1999). There is sufficient record
evidence that the alleged torts of Officers Herron and Cook occurred within the course
and scope of employment so as to survive summary judgment.
14
for unlawful arrest and excessive force under 1983, the Court similarly concludes that
summary judgment is inappropriate on his state law claims of assault and battery.
Spann also asserts a cause of action for false arrest against Defendants. The
elements of a claim for false arrest are: (1) an arrest performed by the defendant, and
(2) the unlawfulness of such arrest. Lundeen v. Renteria, 224 N.W.2d 132, 135 (Minn.
1974). For the reasons discussed above with respect to Spanns federal claim for
unlawful arrest, there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment
on this claim.
Finally, Spann asserts a claim of false imprisonment against all Defendants. The
common law regarding false imprisonment states that an individual may not, without
legal justification, be confined against her or his will. Gleason v. Metro. Council Transit
Operations, 563 N.W.2d 309, 319 (Minn. Ct. App. 1997) (citing Kleidon v. Glascock, 10
N.W.2d 394, 397 (1943) (false imprisonment is any imprisonment that is not legally
justifiable)). Spann claims that because there was no probable cause supporting
Defendants arrest of Spann, Spanns imprisonment was likewise legally unjustifiable.
Again, because there are factual issues with respect to the legality of Spanns arrest, fact
issues remain with respect to Spanns claim for false imprisonment. Accordingly,
summary judgment on Spanns false imprisonment claim is denied.
CONCLUSION
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 21) is GRANTED
15
IN PART and DENIED IN PART as follows:
a. Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff
Anthony Spanns claims of unlawful arrest, excessive force, assault,
battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment (Counts One, Two, Four, Eight,
Nine, and Ten of the Amended Complaint, Doc. No. 14) is DENIED;
b. Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff
Anthony Spanns claims of denial of medical treatment, conspiracy to
violate civil rights, Monell claim, and failure to prevent a violation of
constitutional rights (Counts Three, Five, Six, and Seven of the Amended
Complaint, Doc. No. 14) is GRANTED. These claims are DISMISSED
WITH PREJUDICE.
Dated: March 25, 2009 s/Donovan W. Frank
DONOVAN W. FRANK
Judge of United States District Court
 

 
 
 

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