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Booker v. Lapaglia

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

August 28, 2014

Felix Charles Booker, Plaintiff,
Michael A. LaPaglia, et al., Defendants.


PAMELA L. REEVES, District Judge.

On February 12, 2010, law enforcement officers took Felix Booker to the emergency room at Methodist Medical Center because they suspected he had contraband hidden in his rectum. At the emergency room, without Mr. Booker's consent, a doctor administered drugs to paralyze Mr. Booker and render him unconscious, necessitating the use of an intubation tube to keep Mr. Booker alive. The doctor then used his fingers to probe Mr. Booker's rectum in search of contraband. Mr. Booker brought this suit seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of his constitutional rights. He also asserts a number of state-law claims.

Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Mr. Booker and the remaining defendants. Additionally, before the Court are Mr. Booker's motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of his federal claims against Nurse Jones and Methodist Medical Center, two motions to strike the second affidavit of Peter Alliman, and Methodist Medical Center's motion for leave to supplement its response in opposition to Mr. Booker's motion for summary judgment.

1. Factual Background

The facts have been described by a number of courts in both Mr. Booker's criminal case and the present civil case. The Court adopts the facts from the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Mr. Booker's criminal case as follows:

At approximately 11:50 a.m. on [February] 12, 2010, Daniel Steakley, a K-9 officer with the Oak Ridge Police Department ("ORPD"), pulled over a car with expired tags. William Booker, the defendant's brother, drove the car; Felix Booker rode in the front passenger's seat. While speaking with William Booker, Steakley smelled marijuana. William Booker denied that there were illegal drugs in the car and told Steakley he was free to search the vehicle. Prior to conducting the search, Steakley went to the police cruiser to check William Booker's driver's license status and to ascertain the existence of any outstanding warrants with the police dispatcher. As Steakley did so, he noticed Felix Booker "moving around, as if he was attempting to conceal something." This was not the first encounter between Felix Booker and Steakley. In 2009, Steakley had arrested Booker and recovered thirteen bags of marijuana that Booker hid in his crotch.
After completing the driver's license and outstanding warrants checks, Steakley utilized his trained drug-sniffing dog. The dog alerted near the front passenger- side door of the car where Felix Booker was seated. Steakley asked Booker to exit the car and patted him down. During the search, Steakley noticed that Booker "cl[e]nched his butt[ocks] together" when he patted him in that area, but the pat-down produced no drugs. However, Steakley did feel two large bulges in Booker's pockets which turned out to be large amounts of currency. During the search of the front passenger's seat, Steakley recovered three small plastic bags: one that contained.06 grams of marijuana, another that contained "a green plant-type residue, " and a third covered with a "powder residue." Steakley also noticed marijuana "ground up into the floor" of the passenger-side seat.
Steakley arrested Felix Booker for felony possession of marijuana, despite being unable to recover enough marijuana to justify such an arrest under Tennessee law. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-418(b) (defining marijuana possession below 14.175 grams as a misdemeanor offense); § 40-7-118(b)(1) (authorizing citation, but not arrest, when an officer witnesses a misdemeanor). Steakley handcuffed Booker with his hands behind his back and placed him in the cruiser of another ORPD officer, Lewis Ridenour, so that Booker could be taken to the police station. Ridenour left the scene at approximately 12:19 p.m. The officers allowed William Booker to depart without issuing a citation for his expired plates and without trying to recover the marijuana in the floorboard.
Ridenour and Booker arrived at the police station at 12:21 p.m., followed shortly thereafter by Steakley. Steakley placed Booker in an interview room at the station. After Steakley read Booker his Miranda rights, Booker offered to forfeit the money Steakley found in Booker's pockets in order to be released on citation, while claiming that he earned the cash pouring concrete. Ridenour also noticed that Booker was "fidget[ing] and try[ing] to put his hands in the back of his pants, " prompting Ridenour to move Booker's handcuffs from his back to his front. When Ridenour stepped out of the interview room for a moment, Booker slammed the door shut and leaned against the door to barricade it. Ridenour, Steakley, and a police sergeant forced themselves into the interview room and wrestled Booker to the ground to regain control over him. The officers searched the room for contraband, patted down Booker a second time, and shook his pants by pulling them up until they were loose and jarring them to dislodge any articles jammed "inside of his pants or in [his] boxers." The officers did not find anything.
Ridenour next took Booker to the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton, Tennessee, arriving at approximately 1:20 p.m. According to Ridenour, Booker fidgeted throughout the drive. Upon arrival, Ridenour discussed Booker's situation with Jerry Shelton, a sheriff's deputy. The detention facility did not have a policy of strip searching all new detainees, and there is no indication whether Booker was going to be placed in the general population of the facility. However, based on suspicion, Shelton agreed to strip search Booker to determine if he was concealing contraband in his buttocks. Shelton and another officer took Booker into a small room where newly booked inmates typically showered, asked him to remove his clothing, and performed a visual inspection of his body. Shelton asked Booker to bend over and spread his buttocks; when Booker complied, Shelton claimed he could see "a small string protruding from [Booker's] anus." Id. at 109. After Shelton asked Booker about the object, Booker moved his hand to cover the area and tried to push the object further into his rectum. This led to another altercation during which Booker had to be restrained by officers. Shelton's supervisor ordered him to take Booker to a hospital immediately.
At 2:28 p.m., sheriff's deputies transported Booker to Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge. Booker was shackled and covered only in a blanket because the officers did not believe there was sufficient time to get him dressed. Shelton rode in the backseat alongside Booker, and said Booker was "squirmish" and "trying to go to the rear end of his body and force something further up into" his rectum. In the meantime, Officer Steakley had traveled separately to the hospital. Before Booker arrived, Steakley told Dr. Michael LaPaglia, the attending physician in the emergency room, that Steakley strongly suspected that Booker had drugs in his rectum.
This was not the first time that officers had brought a suspect to LaPaglia so that he could perform a digital rectal examination, that is, a procedure in which a physician inserts a finger into the patient's anus to probe the rectum. This was the third time that officers with the Anderson County Sheriff's Department had sought LaPaglia's assistance with this type of procedure within three years.
At 2:50 p.m., the cruiser arrived at the hospital. Although Booker denied having anything in his rectum, had no physical symptoms, and had normal vital signs, LaPaglia proceeded without waiting. According to LaPaglia, the possibility of an individual hiding drugs in his rectum raised "a number of concerns" because "[t]he rectum is a part of the body that absorbs drugs very readily, " and at a high dosage, such absorption may be fatal. LaPaglia asserts that this is true even when a person does not initially manifest symptoms of drug absorption, since "the drug could possibly not be absorbed enough at that time for [a physician] to see any signs of the drug." In the presence of Steakley, Ridenour, Shelton, and an unnamed officer, LaPaglia "explained to [Booker] what my position was as an emergency physician and that there was suspicion that he had some sort of drug in his rectum and that as an emergency physician I had to assure that he did not, and if he did, that I had to remove it because his life could be in danger."
Booker-still naked and handcuffed-denied hiding drugs in his rectum and refused to submit to a digital rectal examination. LaPaglia replied that Booker "really did not have a choice because if my suspicion was high enough to think that he had some sort of dangerous substance in his rectum, then it was my duty to get it out." LaPaglia recalled that the officers did not direct him to do anything to Booker. During the suppression motion hearing, LaPaglia reiterated that his "duty" was medical in nature:
Q In a situation where you suspect somebody to have narcotics inside them, can you in such a life-threatening situation take any lack of consent at face value?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. As an emergency physician, if someone's life is in danger and... I feel that the person is not aware of the danger, then I have to take control of the situation and do what I need to do to save their life or prevent any harm to them.
LaPaglia warned Booker that if he did not cooperate, LaPaglia would administer muscle relaxants or, if necessary, paralyze Booker in order to perform the rectal examination.
At this point, LaPaglia claims that Booker gave oral consent to a rectal examination. There is nothing in the medical record indicating consent, and none of the other witnesses present (Registered Nurse Tammy Jones, Officer Steakley, Deputy Shelton, and Booker) testified that any consent was given. Not even LaPaglia contended that Booker consented to the paralyzation procedure.
LaPaglia first performed the rectal examination on Booker without medication. But Booker contracted his anal and rectal muscles while LaPaglia was attempting to examine him, preventing LaPaglia from inserting a finger in Booker's anus. As LaPaglia said, "If an individual does not want you to enter their rectum, you are not going to." Id. at 140. LaPaglia ordered a nurse to inject muscle relaxants into Booker's left buttock. On the second attempt, Booker remained uncooperative and LaPaglia could not complete the examination, but he could feel a foreign object inside Booker's rectum, convincing LaPaglia that completion of the rectal examination was imperative. Finally, LaPaglia directed an emergency room nurse, Tammy Jones, to administer a sedative and a paralytic agent to Booker intravenously, and had him intubated to control his breathing. At 4:12 p.m., Booker was intubated. He remained intubated for about an hour, unconscious for twenty to thirty minutes, and paralyzed for seven to eight minutes. While Booker was paralyzed, LaPaglia removed a rock of crack cocaine, greater than five grams, from Booker's rectum. LaPaglia then turned over the crack rock to Officer Steakley, who took it for evidence.

United States v. Booker, 728 F.3d 535, 537-40 (6th Cir. 2013).

Because it addressed Mr. Booker's case on appeal from his criminal conviction, the Sixth Circuit did not consider some facts necessary to resolving the present civil action.[1] Those relevant facts are as follows:

Though the defendants emphasize the exigent nature of the situation, Mr. Booker contends (and the defendants do not appear to deny) that the officers did not immediately take him to the hospital after Deputy Shelton allegedly saw a string protruding from Mr. Booker's anus.[2] Instead, after the strip search, Mr. Booker was placed naked in a strap chair for 15-20 minutes while Deputy Shelton's supervisor made a phone call to an assistant district attorney general. It was only after he made the phone call that Deputy Shelton's supervisor ordered him to take Mr. Booker to the hospital.[3]

Officer Ridenour contends he left the hospital to go back on duty immediately after Dr. LaPaglia told Mr. Booker about his options and unsuccessfully attempted the first DRE. In support of his contention, Officer Ridenour submitted copies of dispatch records indicating he left Methodist around 14:59, and did not return. While Mr. Booker does not appear to dispute that Officer Ridenour was not at the hospital when Dr. LaPaglia paralyzed Mr. Booker and conducted the final search, he does contend Officer Ridenour helped the other officers hold him down while Nurse Jones gave him a shot of muscle relaxer.

2. Procedural History

After a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Booker for possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of crack cocaine, he moved to suppress the crack, arguing it was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Mr. Booker claimed Officer Steakley lacked probable cause to arrest him for marijuana possession, and his post-arrest treatment was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation finding the traffic stop and arrest complied with the Fourth Amendment. He also held the DRE was lawful because it was not a "search" for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Finally, he concluded even if the DRE was a "search, " Dr. LaPaglia and the officers' actions were reasonable under the circumstances. The district court adopted the magistrate's recommendation in full. United States v. Booker, 2010 WL 4884675, at *5-8 (E.D. Tenn. Nov. 24, 2010).

Mr. Booker appealed the district court's ruling to the Sixth Circuit, which held the search at the hospital violated Mr. Booker's Fourth Amendment rights, and vacated Mr. Booker's conviction and sentence. United States v. Booker, 728 F.3d at 548. The Sixth Circuit did not address Mr. Booker's other suppression arguments-that the arrest was not supported by probable cause and that the police did not have a clear indication that contraband would be found in his rectum. Id. at 548 n.2. On remand, the district court dismissed the case against Mr. Booker.

Mr. Booker filed this civil action in the Circuit Court for Anderson County, Tennessee on February 11, 2011, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Tennessee state law. In March 2011, the case was removed to this Court. The Court dismissed Mr. Booker's § 1983 claims against Sheriff Paul White and Police Chief David Beams in their official capacities because they were redundant to the claims asserted against Anderson County and Oak Ridge. The Court also dismissed the § 1983 claims against Methodist Medical Center, Southeastern Emergency Physicians, and Team Health, finding those entities were not state actors, and an employer cannot be held vicariously liable under § 1983. Finally, the Court dismissed the § 1983 claim against Nurse Jones because the Court found she was not a "state actor" for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Court reached this conclusion because "[a]ll of Nurse Jones's actions of which Mr. Booker complains were performed at the request of Dr. LaPaglia and not at the request of the police.... Given Nurse Jones's position and the facts of the case, the connection between Nurse Jones and the police is too attenuated to find that she was a state actor." [R. 97, p. 6].

The Court also dismissed Mr. Booker's claims based on violations of the Tennessee Constitution because Tennessee does not recognize a private right of action for violations of its constitution. Id. at p. 6. Mr. Booker asked the Court to decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, however, the Court found his argument premature because many of the claims are closely intertwined with issues that were currently before the Sixth Circuit. For the same reason, the Court stayed the rest of the case pending the Sixth Circuit's ruling. [R. 97, p. 5].

After the Sixth Circuit ruled in Mr. Booker's criminal case, the Court lifted the stay, [R. 134], and all the remaining parties, including Mr. Booker, filed new or renewed motions for summary judgment or partial summary judgment. [R. 135, 136, 144, 153, 164, and 172]. Mr. Booker also filed a motion urging the Court to reconsider its dismissal of the § 1983 claims against Nurse Jones and Methodist Medical Center. [R. 156].

The Court held a hearing on February 11, 2014, where the parties presented arguments on the pending summary judgment motions. [R. 262, 280]. During the hearing, the Court instructed the parties to file supplemental briefs regarding the preclusive effect of Mr. Booker's criminal case and the effect granting qualified immunity to the individual defendants would have on Mr. Booker's § 1983 claims against the government defendants. The parties filed their supplemental briefs, and the summary judgment motions are ripe for consideration.[4]

3. Preliminary Matters

A. Motion to Strike

Dr. LaPaglia, Nurse Jones, and Methodist Medical Center have moved to strike the Second Affidavit of Peter Alliman. [R. 250, 251]. Mr. Alliman's Second Affidavit attaches portions of Susan Harris' deposition transcript from a different lawsuit that the defendants contend are irrelevant and inadmissible. [R. 247]. The Court has reviewed the motions to strike and found Mr. Alliman's Second Affidavit is not necessary to reaching a decision on the pending motions. Accordingly, the Court need not render an opinion on the affidavits' admissibility. The motions to strike will be denied as moot.

B. Motion for Leave to Supplement Response

Methodist Medical Center has moved for leave to supplement its response in opposition to Mr. Booker's motion for summary judgment under Local Rule 7.1 to address a dispute over Dr. LaPaglia's employment status with Methodist. [R. 252]. Methodist's motion will be granted. The Court will consider their ...

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