United States District Court, D. Idaho
Lee Arthur Rice II, Plaintiff, Pro se, Nampa, ID.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
B. Lynn Winmill, Chief
United States District Judge.
Before the Court are Motions for Summary Judgment filed by defendant Murakami, defendants Abercrombie and Hill, and defendant Ford. The court heard oral argument on October 1, 2014, and took the motions under advisement. The Court will grant the motions in part, dismissing all claims except the claim for excessive force.
In 2011, during the early morning hours of the day after Christmas, Idaho State Trooper Janet Murakami pulled plaintiff Lee Arthur Rice over for failing to signal a lane change. When she asked him to turn over his driver's license, he refused. When she informed him he was under arrest, he refused to get out of the car. While uncooperative, Rice conveyed no threats, either verbally or physically, and merely protested in a calm voice. As Rice remained seated in his car, Officer Murakami called in a Code 3 alarm, signally that she was exposed to a life or death situation. Immediately, seventeen officers responded. Predictably, they used aggressive force to pull Rice from the car, push him to the ground, and place him in handcuffs. Rice alleges that even though he was not resisting arrest, the officers struck him, kneed him in the back, and wrenched his arms and shoulders, causing permanent injury. The officers dispute that account, and claim Rice was resisting arrest. In this summary judgment proceeding, the Court must assume Rice's account is true.
Rice sued the officers, alleging -- among other charges -- that they used excessive force. Four of the officers -- including Officer Murakami -- seek summary judgment, arguing that their actions were proper. The record raises troubling questions about the justification for the Code 3 alarm, but its result was predictable: Responding officers would understandably be quick to use aggressive force to rescue a fellow officer who they believed was in serious danger. While Officer Murakami will have to explain to a jury why she called in the Code 3 alarm, is it fair to allow this lawsuit to go forward against other officers who were relying on that alarm? An answer to this question is not written on a blank slate -- although the Court might reach a different result, Ninth Circuit precedent is binding, and it directs that the other officers must also proceed to a jury trial on the excessive force charge. While numerous other charges are subject to dismissal --as explained below -- the excessive force charge remains.
On December 26, 2011, at approximately 3:30 a.m., plaintiff Rice was traveling on I-84 with his family. Idaho State Trooper Janet Murakami was following Rice, with her dash-cam recording her travel. The video shows Rice signal to move to the left lane, and then, about two to three seconds later, move into that lane. Officer Murakami changed lanes herself to follow him. Rice traveled in that lane for a few minutes,
and then drifted over to the lane to his right about the same time as he put on his right blinker. Officer Murakami turned on her flashing lights and pulled Rice over -- he complied immediately and both cars stopped on the far right emergency lane.
Murakami approached the vehicle, and asked to see Rice's license several times. Rice replied by asking to speak with Murakami's supervisor, verbally identified himself to Murakami, and showing Murakami his license through the window. Unsatisfied with Rice's response, Murakami contacted dispatch for a Code 3 assistance. A Code 3 response is to be reserved for life and death emergency calls. See Code 3 Police Response Changes (stating that " [a] Code 3 response from police needs to be reserved for life and death emergency calls" ). Officers are informed that a Code 3 dispatch requires an emergency response with lights and sirens utilized from responding officers. Ford Affidavit (Dkt. No. 52-2) at ¶ 5,
Before assistance arrived, Officer Murakami approached Rice's vehicle and informed him that if he did not produce his license or exit his vehicle he would be under arrest for obstruction. Rice remained in his vehicle and continued to ask to speak with Officer Murakami's supervisor. Officer Murakami then placed Rice under verbal arrest and informed Rice that she and the responding officers would remove Rice from the vehicle by force if he did not comply.
Boise police officers Abercrombie and Hill, and Meridian police officer Ford were among the 17 officers that responded to Murakami's call for Code 3 assistance. When officers began to arrive on the scene, Officer Murakami and one other officer approached the front of Rice's vehicle and pulled Rice out of the car. The officers then brought Rice to the back of the vehicle where a third officer grabbed Rice by the arm, and the two assisting officers pulled Rice to the ground. Rice was not asked to put his hands behind his back or onto the back of the vehicle before being taken to the ground.
Officers Abercrombie and Hill arrived at the scene as Rice was being pulled out of his vehicle and observed Rice being taken to the back of the vehicle and thrown to the ground. See Abercrombie Affidavit (Dkt. No. 60-2) at ¶ ¶ 4-8; Hill Affidavit (Dkt. No. 60-3) at ¶ 3-6. After Rice was taken to the ground, Officer Hill approached Rice and stood above his head, holding him down with one hand on Rice's back and one hand on Rice's neck. Officer Abercrombie then approached Rice, and after situating himself at Rice's right shoulder, aided in handcuffing Rice by pulling Rice's right arm behind his back. During the handcuffing, Officer Abercrombie pushed his knee into Rice's back and remained there until Rice had been handcuffed and patted down. Officer Ford arrived on the scene after Rice had already been taken to the ground, immediately approached Rice, and held down Rice's legs as he was being handcuffed. Ford Affidavit, supra at ¶ 7.
Although Rice protested verbally, he claims he did not physically resist arrest. Rice Declaration (Dkt. No. 51-1) at ¶ 14. Additionally, Rice states that although he was not struggling with officers while he was held down, officers struck and kneed him, and wrenched his arms and shoulders, and twisted his fingers. Id. at ¶ 13. After Rice was handcuffed, Abercrombie, Ford and another officer patted Rice down, and Ford placed some of Rice's
personal property in the back of Rice's vehicle. Officers Abercrombie and Ford then escorted Rice to Officer Murakami's patrol car. Rice claims to have suffered long-term physical injuries to his back, hips, knees and emotional and mental distress due to the arrest. Id. at ¶ 24.
Rice brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against officer Murakami and the seventeen responding officers, alleging four constitutional violations: (1) unlawful search and seizure; (2) excessive force; (3) false arrest; and (4) denial of timely assistance of defense counsel. To date, twelve named defendants have been dismissed. See Orders (Dkt. Nos. 38, 42 & 75). Currently six named defendants remain in the action: Officers Murakami, Morehouse, Hill, Ford, Abercrombie and Shaffer. Four of those Officers -- Murakami, Abercrombie, Hill, and Ford -- have moved for summary judgment as to all claims.
Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, " 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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment " is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). It is " not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the " principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. " [T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact -- a fact " that may affect the outcome of the case." Id. at 248.
The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).
The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support ...