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Fletcher v. Marquardt

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 27, 2017

WILLIAM FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY MARQUARDT Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 64)

          HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 64). Having carefully considered the record and otherwise being fully advised, the undersigned enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff William Fletcher is a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action. This Court previously reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, and ruled that it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiff was allowed an opportunity to file an amended complaint. See Initial Review Order (Docket No. 7).

         Plaintiff filed his Amended Prisoner Complaint on April 24, 2015, alleging claims of food deprivation, excessive use of force, and retaliation against Defendants Ada County, Deputy Martin Marquardt, and Deputy Mark Losh. See Am. Prisoner Compl. (Docket No. 9). This Court reviewed Plaintiff's Amended Prisoner Complaint and, on August 5, 2015, issued a second Review Order, permitting Plaintiff to proceed only on the food deprivation and excessive use of force claims and only against the individual Defendants. See Order (Docket No. 11).

         On January 19, 2016, this Court granted the individual Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, dismissing the food deprivation claim and dismissing Defendant Losh as a named defendant. Consequently, Plaintiff's claims have been distilled down to the excessive use of force claim against Defendant Marquardt, who now files the at-issue Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. GENERAL FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the undisputed use of force against former inmate William Fletcher by Deputy Marquardt at the Ada County Jail on the evening of August 7, 2013. According to Mr. Fletcher:

Ada County Sheriff Deputy Marquardt harassed, slammed Plaintiff hard on floor face first, as Plaintiff was on ground in handcuffs - Ada County Sheriff Deputy Marquardt punched the Plaintiff in the lower spinal cord area of his back with hard object. Ada County Sheriff Deputy Marquardt choke Plaintiff with his forearm.

Am. Prisoner Compl., p. 2 (Docket No. 9).[1] Deputy Marquardt's account is unsurprisingly different, claiming that:

Mr. Fletcher became argumentative with Deputy Marquardt after the deputy stopped and questioned him about suspicious movement on the tier. After stepping inside a nearby cell, Mr. Fletcher grew more verbally and physically aggressive. He then ignored instructions to face the wall and actively resisted the deputy's efforts to secure him. When Mr. Fletcher attempted to push off the wall towards Deputy Marquardt, the deputy delivered a leg strike to bring the inmate to the ground. Mr. Fletcher attempted to get up and out of the deputy's control. He continued to actively resist on the ground until Deputy Marquardt delivered a single strike with his fist to the inmate's right side. The deputy was then able to secure Mr. Fletcher in handcuffs and escort him out to a holder cell.

Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, p. 2 (Docket No. 64, Att. 1) (internal citations omitted). From this, Deputy Marquardt moves for summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

         III. STANDARDS

         A. Summary Judgment

         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 summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-34 (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 (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. See 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 a material fact. See 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 the nonmoving party's case. See Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9thCir. 2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor. See Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Even if a plaintiff is able to show a violation of a constitutional right under § 1983, a defendant may still be entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity protects state officials from personal liability for on-the-job conduct so long as the conduct is objectively reasonable and does not violate an inmate's clearly-established federal rights. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Conversely, a state official may be held personally liable in a § 1983 action if he knew or should have known that he was violating a plaintiff's clearly-established federal rights. See id. True to its dual purposes of protecting state actors who act in good faith and in allowing for the redress of clear wrongs caused by state actors, the qualified immunity standard “gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (quotation omitted).

         A qualified immunity analysis consists of two prongs: (1) whether, “[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, . . . the facts alleged show the [defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right”; and (2) whether that right was clearly established. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001); C.B. v. City of Sonora, 730 F.3d 816, 825 (9th Cir. 2013).[2] Qualified immunity operates to ensure that a government official is on notice that his conduct is unlawful, before he is subject to suit. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 244 (citing Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)).

         To determine whether the right was clearly established, a court turns to Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit law existing at the time of the alleged act. See Osolinski v. Kane, 92 F.3d 934, 936 (9th Cir. 1996). In the absence of binding precedent, the district courts should look to available decisions of other circuits and district courts to ascertain whether the law is clearly established. See id.

         The inquiry of whether a right was clearly established “must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. For the law to be clearly established, “[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand” that his conduct violates that right. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). It is not necessary that the “very action in question has previously been held unlawful, ” but “in the light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent” to the official. Id. “The relevant, dispositive inquiry is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202 (citing Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 615 (1999)); see also Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (“[E]xisting precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”) (citing Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). “This exacting standard ‘gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments.'” City and Cnty. of San Francisco, Calif. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 1765, 2085 (2011)).

         Application of qualified immunity is appropriate where “the law did not put the [defendant] on notice that his conduct would be clearly unlawful.” Id. However, “[i]f there is a genuine dispute as to the ‘facts and circumstances within an officer's knowledge, ' or ‘what the officer and claimant did or failed to do, ' summary judgment is inappropriate.” Moreno v. Idaho, 2017 WL 1217113, *3 (D. Idaho 2017) (quoting Act Up!/Portland v. Bagley, 988 F.2d 868, 873 (9th Cir. 1993)). When a § 1983 defendant makes a properly supported motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the obligation to produce evidence of his own; the district court cannot simply assume the truth of the challenged factual allegations in the complaint. Butler v. San Diego Dist. Attorney's Office, 370 F.3d 956, 963 (9th Cir. 2004)). That being said, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and resolve all material factual disputes in favor of plaintiff. See Martinez v. Stanford, 323 F.3d 1178, 1184 (9th Cir. 2003).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         To prove an excessive force claim under § 1983, a pretrial detainee must show that the “force purposely used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015). A court (judge or jury) cannot apply this standard mechanically. See id. Rather, “objective reasonableness turns on the ‘facts and circumstances of each particular case.'” Id. (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)). A court must make this determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. See Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473.

         A court “must also account for the ‘legitimate interests that stem from [the government's] need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained, ' appropriately deferring to ‘policies and practices that in th[e] judgment' of jail officials ‘are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.'” Id. (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 530, 540 (1979)) (alterations in original). Indeed, in such settings, the Supreme Court has stated in no uncertain terms:

[T]he use of an objective standard adequately protects an officer who acts in good faith. We recognize that running a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking, and that safety and order at these institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face. Officers facing disturbances are often forced to make split-second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. For these reasons, we have stressed that a court must judge the reasonableness of the force used from the perspective and with the knowledge of the defendant officer. We have also explained that a court must take into account of the legitimate interest in managing a jail, acknowledging as part of the objective reasonableness analysis that deference to policies and practices needed to maintain order and institutional security is appropriate. And we have limited liability for excessive force to situations in which the use of force was the result of an intentional and knowing act (though we leave open the possibility of including a “reckless” act as well). Additionally, an officer enjoys qualified immunity and is not liable for excessive force unless he has violated a clearly established right, such that it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. It is unlikely (though theoretically possible) that a plaintiff could overcome these hurdles where an officer acted in good faith.

Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2474-75 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Factors that may bear on the reasonableness of the force used include “the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.” Id. at 2473.

         It is with these standards in mind that the Court must attempt to understand what took place between Mr. Fletcher and Deputy Marquardt on August 7, 2013; whether excessive force was employed; and whether qualified immunity applies. In that space, the parties' accounts of the incident diverge in nearly every respect.

         To begin, during his deposition, Mr. Fletcher described his interaction with Deputy Marquardt as follows:

Q: Where did he confront you actually on that tier? Where were you at?
A: I was in the middle of the tier walking from 841. After I asked the guy for the cleaning supplies after he was done cleaning his cell.
Q: And that was 841?
A: Yes. As I was walking he stepped in front of my face.
Q: Why did he do that?
A: I don't know. I have no idea.
Q: Did he say why he was stopping you?
A: He stopped me and asked me why I was coming from down there. And I told him.
Q: What did you tell him?
A: I told him I was getting the cleaning supplies when he was done. Apparently he didn't like my attitude.
Q: Why would he not like your attitude?
A: Because we already had an altercation earlier that day.
Q: Is it fair to say you were frustrated with him?
A: No. I wasn't frustrated at all.
Q: Why do you think he thought you had an attitude?
A: I don't know.
Q: How would you describe your demeanor?
A: I was just doing what I was told. I mean, when someone in authority steps in your face like that there has to be a significant reason for them to do it. And from there I felt like something bad was about to happen. And that is when he told me to step into someone else's cell.
Q: Did you raise your voice to him at that time?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did you raise your arms or hands or anything like that?
A: No. I had clothes in my hand.
Q: You had clothes in your hand?
A: Yes, I did.
. . . .
Q: How was Deputy Marquardt's demeanor when he stopped you?
A: He was angry.
Q: Was he raising his voice at you?
A: Yes.
Q: Did he touch you in the tier way there?
A: Yeah. He grabbed my arm with his right hand. My left shoulder with his right hand telling me to go into 844. And that is with everybody on the tier just stepped back and just watched. There was no movement on the tier.
Q: Why was he moving you into that cell?
A: I have no idea. Away from the cameras, ...

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