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Smith v. Unicoi County, Tennessee

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

March 26, 2015

CHARLES L. SMITH and wife, BERNA SMITH, Plaintiffs,
UNICOI COUNTY, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.


J. RONNIE GREER, District Judge.

The plaintiffs filed this section 1983 action and allege the defendants violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Charles L. Smith ("Smith" or "plaintiff"), by using excessive force during his arrest and then by being deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. The named, individual capacity defendants move for summary judgment, [Doc. 31], based upon qualified immunity. The plaintiffs have responded, [Doc. 40], and the matter is ripe for review.[1] Because there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether a constitutional violation occurred and because there are no issues of fact that the defendants violated a clearly established right, the defendants' motion is GRANTED.


The facts taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff are set forth below.[2] Mike Hensley was the Sheriff for Unicoi County, Tennessee in October of 2012. [Doc. 32, ¶ 2]. Matt McNally was working for the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department as a deputy narcotics officer. [Doc. 33, ¶ 2]. Chad Lewis was also a deputy working for the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department at that time. [Doc. 34, ¶ 2].

On October 18, 2012, the defendants were at Walmart located at 110 Rocky Bottom Drive in Unicoi, Tennessee. They were conducting an undercover drug operation. [Doc. 33, ¶ 3]. That day, the plaintiff, with Ramarco Allen (hereinafter "Allen") in the passenger's seat, drove his vehicle to that Walmart. [Doc. 1, PageID # 3, ¶ 12]. The plaintiff parked his vehicle and Allen went inside Walmart. [Doc. 1, PageID # 3-4, ¶14]. A Unicoi County Sheriff's Department's female informant approached the vehicle and talked with the plaintiff. [Doc. 1, PageID # 4, ¶15]. Allen returned to the vehicle from Walmart, entered the passenger's side of the vehicle, and engaged in a conversation with the informant. [Doc. 1, PageID # 4, ¶16]. The informant purchased drugs from the occupants of the vehicle. [Doc. 33, ¶ 4].

Once the drug deal was complete, Unicoi County Sheriff's Department deputies attempted to arrest the occupants of the vehicle. [Doc. 33, ¶ 5]. The plaintiff drove away from the deputies in an attempt to exit the Walmart parking lot. [Doc. 33, ¶ 5]. Sheriff Hensley and other deputies immediately moved their vehicles from nearby establishment parking lots and blocked the Walmart exit to prevent the plaintiff's vehicle from escaping. [Doc. 33, ¶ 6].

Deputies McNally and Lewis approached the stopped vehicle and ordered the occupants to turn off the vehicle, exit it and get on the ground with arms spread. [Doc. 33, ¶ 7; Doc. 34, ¶ 6]. The plaintiff did not respond promptly to those commands; thus, Deputies McNally and Lewis proceeded to remove him from the vehicle. [Doc. 33, ¶ 7; Doc. 34, ¶ 6]. During removal, Deputy Lewis noticed a fixed blade knife inside the driver's door. [Doc. 34, ¶ 8]. The deputies removed the plaintiff from the vehicle, encountered passive resistance and then took him to the ground to handcuff him. [Doc. 34, ¶ 10]. In that process, Deputy Lewis lost his balance and fell to the ground. [Doc. 34, ¶ 10]. He landed on the plaintiff's right arm. [Doc. 34, ¶ 10]. He handcuffed the plaintiff and assisted him back to his feet. [Doc. 34, ¶ 11]. The plaintiff then complained to Deputy Lewis about arm pain, so Deputy Lewis moved the handcuffs to the front of his body for more comfort. [Doc. 34, ¶ 11].

Deputy Lewis transported the plaintiff from the scene to the Unicoi County Jail. [Doc. 34, ¶ 13]. The plaintiff complained about arm pain while being transported to jail, and Deputy Lewis advised him that the jail could call EMS to evaluate him if it kept bothering him. [Doc. 34, ¶ 13]. The defendants had no further involvement with the plaintiff after he was transported to the jail. [Doc. 34, ¶ 15; Doc. 33, ¶ 11]. After the plaintiff was booked into the jail, MedicOne was called and came to the jail to evaluate his arm. [Doc. 1, PageID # 6, ¶ 30].

Sheriff Hensley was present during the arrest of the plaintiff but did not directly participate in securing the plaintiff. [Doc. 32, ¶ 9]. He did not observe any force that he thought was inappropriate or excessive. [Doc. 32, ¶ 10]. He claims that he was not aware that the plaintiff had suffered any injury until after the plaintiff had been taken to the hospital the next day. [Doc. 32, ¶ 12].

The plaintiff offers further explanation of the facts, but he does not necessarily dispute them.[3] The plaintiff asserts that he was not aware that a drug deal was occurring that day at the Walmart. [Doc. 40-4, ¶ 8]. He further asserts that he did not knowingly flee from the police. [Doc. 40-4, ¶ 9]. He also explains that he was slow to get out of the car when ordered because of his health problems. [Doc. 40-4, ¶ 10]. Finally, he asserts that the deputies broke his arm as they removed him from the vehicle and that no one ever fell on him. [Doc. 40-4, ¶ 10]. This caused him to constantly yell out in pain and for swelling to begin immediately. [Doc. 40-4, ¶ 11].


Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp ., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc ., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To refute such a showing, the non-moving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material factual dispute. Id. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; McClain v. Ontario, Ltd., 244 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). This Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Nat'l Satellite Sports, 253 F.3d at 907. If the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If this Court concludes that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

The party opposing a Rule 56 motion may not simply rest on the mere allegations or denials contained in the party's pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Instead, an opposing party must affirmatively present competent evidence sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact necessitating the trial of that issue. Id. Merely alleging that a factual dispute exists cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id. A genuine issue for trial is not ...

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