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Nelkin v. Knox County

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

May 20, 2015

MUELLY SAM NELKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
KNOX COUNTY, TENNESSEE, ANTHONY RATHBONE, Officer with the Knox County Sheriff's Department, and JOHN DOE, Officer with the Knox County Sheriff's Department, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS A. VARLAN, Chief District Judge.

This civil action for alleged excessive force by law enforcement is before the Court on multiple motions: Motion of Defendant Anthony Rathbone in his Individual Capacity for Summary Judgment [Doc. 16], Motion of Knox County and All Defendants in their Official Capacity for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 21], and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Violation of the Court's Scheduling Order and for Failure to Prosecute [Doc. 24].

Defendant Rathbone filed his motion for summary judgment on January 23, 2015, and almost two months later, plaintiff asked for an extension of time to respond [Doc. 22]. Plaintiff's counsel asserted that he is a solo practitioner with a busy practice and that he was unable to come into his office for a period of time due to many weather-related problems [ Id. ]. Defendants opposed an extension in light of plaintiff's pattern of non-response in this case, and noted that the weather-related problems did not begin until after plaintiff's response deadline had passed [Doc. 23]. Plaintiff replied, asking for a thirty-day extension to respond to all pending motions [Doc. 25]. On that same day, defendants filed their motion to dismiss for violation of the Court's scheduling order and for failure to prosecute [Doc. 24]. Soon after, plaintiff responded to Officer Rathbone's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 26], to which defendant replied [Doc. 27]. Defendants later filed another motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, noting plaintiff's failure to abide by other pre-trial deadlines [Doc. 28].

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant defendants' motions for summary judgment and for judgment on the pleadings, and will dismiss this case.

I. Background

This § 1983 action alleges violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution [Doc. 1 ¶ 6]. Plaintiff claims that he was handcuffed by Officer John Doe "so tightly that he was in pain, " that he complained to Officer Anthony Rathbone that the handcuffs were "too tight and cutting into his wrists, " and that Officer Rathbone "disregarded the excessively tight handcuffs" [ Id. ¶¶ 11-13]. Plaintiff believes that the officers' actions have caused him serious and permanent injury [ see id. ] and represents that his current wrist condition will require surgery [Doc. 26-1 ¶ 14].

At the time of the alleged incident, defendant Rathbone had been a patrol officer for the Knox County Sheriff's Office for over one year [ See Doc. 16-1 ¶¶ 1-2]. On February 3, 2013, Officer Rathbone served as the backup officer to Officer Kenneth Aken, who arrested plaintiff for driving under the influence and for possession of a firearm while intoxicated [ Id. ¶ 2]. According to Officer Rathbone, he saw Officer Aken follow proper procedures to ensure the handcuffs were not too tight and saw him double lock the handcuffs to prevent them from tightening down on plaintiff's wrists [ Id. ¶ 4]. Because Officer Aken had some equipment in the back seat of his vehicle, he brought plaintiff to Officer Rathbone's police cruiser [ Id. ¶ 5].

According to plaintiff, almost immediately upon being left in the police car, his wrists began to hurt [Doc. 26-1 ¶ 7]. Plaintiff claims that "[t]he pain became so intense that [he] could not focus on anything else" and that he was left in the police car for about twenty minutes before Officer Rathbone came to check on him [ Id. ].

At this time, 3:55 a.m. according to the police cruiser video, plaintiff complained, for the first time, that the handcuffs were too tight [Doc. 16-1 ¶ 9; Doc. 18 (cruiser video)]. Plaintiff claims he informed Officer Rathbone that he was in "excruciating pain due to the handcuffs" [Doc. 26-1 ¶ 8]. From the cruiser video, however, it appears Officer Rathbone asked plaintiff if he was "good" and plaintiff stated, "No, they're not. Do they make the cuffs so tight?" Officer Rathbone responded, referring to Officer Aken, "he left one finger, buddy, it's where you're so big, man" [Doc. 18]. Plaintiff then stated, "they feel like they're cutting up my wrists" [ Id. ].[1] Officer Rathbone then responded, "the wagon will be here in a minute, buddy, and they'll take them off of ya and put you on another set" [ Id. ].

Prior to this dialogue with plaintiff, Officer Rathbone had radioed for transportation and was told that the transport van was on its way to his location [Doc. 16-1 ¶ 9]. Officer Rathbone claims he knew the transport officer would be arriving very soon and would replace Officer Aken's handcuffs with his own handcuffs [ Id. ]. In addition, Officer Rathbone claims that, from seeing Officer Aken apply the handcuffs, he believed that the handcuffs were not too tight and that, if plaintiff was experiencing pain, it was because his body type was causing strain on the handcuffs [ Id. ¶ 8].[2] It appears undisputed that, after the parties' dialogue about the handcuffs, plaintiff did not complain again about his handcuffs [ See id. ¶ 10; Doc. 26-1].

About three minutes after their dialogue, at 3:58 a.m., the transport van arrived and plaintiff was removed from Officer Rathbone's vehicle [ Id. ¶ 11; Doc. 26-1 ¶ 9]. According to the transportation officer, he removed plaintiff from the back seat of Officer Rathbone's cruiser and replaced plaintiff's handcuffs with transportation handcuffs [Doc. 16-2 ¶ 3]. The transportation officer claims that the handcuffs were not excessively tight and that he did not observe any injury to plaintiff's wrists [ Id. ¶¶ 4-5]. Plaintiff disputes that his handcuffs were exchanged but does not appear to dispute that he did not complain to the transportation officer about any injury to his wrists or request medical care [ See Doc. 16-2 ¶¶ 6-7; Doc. 26-1].

Plaintiff then was taken to the detention facility. According to the intake officer who medically screened plaintiff that day, plaintiff did not mention any injury to his wrists or request medical attention [Doc. 16-3 ¶ 2]. The intake officer also states that he did not observe any injury to plaintiff's wrists, that plaintiff answered "no" when asked whether he had any bleeding, bruises, or obvious pain or injury, and that plaintiff signed a form indicating that he had answered all questions truthfully [ Id. ¶¶ 2-3]. Plaintiff claims that, due to head injuries he suffered during transport to the detention facility, "this period of time is a blur" and he does not remember signing any documents [Doc. 26-1 ¶¶ 10-11].

Plaintiff was released from jail on the day of his arrest [ See Doc. 19 ¶ 8; Doc. 26-1 ¶ 12]. Upon release, plaintiff visited LeConte Medical Center, complaining of nausea, dizziness, vomiting, blurry vision, and right knee pain, but not of any injury to his wrists [Doc. 19 ¶ 8; Doc. 26-1 ¶ 12]. Plaintiff made a complaint to the Sheriff's Office of Professional Standards for his head injury [Doc. 19 ¶ 5]. On February 6, 2013, he was interviewed twice about his complaint but did not mention any injury to his wrists [ id. ]; submitted photographs of alleged injuries to his face and head but no photographs of his wrists [ id. ¶ 6]; and saw his primary care physician but did not relate any of his symptoms to handcuffing [ id. ¶ 10].

Similarly, despite complaints involving his hands at later doctor visits, plaintiff did not mention any wrist injury or relate any of his symptoms to being handcuffed [ See id. ¶ 11 (March 8, 2013, complaint about a motor vehicle accident that occurred the month before); id. ¶ 12 (April 30, 2013, complaint of numbness in right hand); id. ¶ 13 (May 13, 2013, complaint of constant tingling and pain in hand and fingers)]. Plaintiff eventually complained of a wrist injury on July 16, 2013, but attributed the injury to a motor vehicle accident that occurred in February 2013, not to being handcuffed [ Id. ¶ 14]. But as defendants state, a July 25, 2013, medical record arguably relates symptoms of right hand numbness and pain to the handcuffing [ Id. ¶ 15; Doc. 17 p. 7; Doc. 19-12 (July 25, 2013, medical record stating that plaintiff's chief complaint is right hand numbness and pain and noting plaintiff's belief that the condition "has been present since about 02/03/2013, " when plaintiff "apparently had a head injury and had some handcuffs on")]. Accordingly, based on a review of plaintiff's ...


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