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Colson v. City of Alcoa

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

March 26, 2018

CITY OF ALCOA, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.


          Leon Jordan United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Officer Mandy England's Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 66], Officer England's Brief Supporting the Motion [doc. 67], Plaintiff Annissa Colson's Response [doc. 101], and Officer England's Reply [doc. 102]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant Officer England's motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. Background

         On June 23, 2015, Officer Dustin Cook of the Alcoa Police Department parks his patrol vehicle alongside Springbrook Road-a two-lane road with fields on either side of it-in Blount County, Tennessee. [Video: Officer Cook VieVu, 19:25:56-60 (June 23, 2015) (on file with the Court); Officer Cook Aff., doc. 66-9, at 9]. Ahead, just off the road, a vehicle rests fender-first in a ditch. [Officer Cook VieVu at 19:26:09]. Behind the vehicle, a woman sits in the grass. [Id. at 19:26:07]. A man wearing a police officer's badge around his neck, but not wearing a uniform, stands in the grass not far away from her. [Id. at 19:26:10]. Officer Cook acknowledges him. “What's up?” Office Cook says to him. [Id. at 19:26:24]. “She's drunk, ” the off-duty officer says, pointing to the woman in the grass. [Id. at 19:26:27].

         The off-duty officer tells Officer Cook that he was driving on Springbrook Road earlier in the afternoon, saw the woman driving her vehicle-the same vehicle now lying in the ditch-and witnessed a boy jump from the vehicle and run into the grass adjacent to the road. [Id. at 19:26:30-49]. According to the off-duty officer, the woman “gunned it” after the boy fled the vehicle, traversing off road, nearly hitting the boy, and crashing into the ditch. [Id.]. He describes the boy as the woman's son and informs Officer Cook that he is sitting safely in his sport utility vehicle by the road. [Id. at 19:26:32, 50]. He hands the woman's driver's license to Officer Cook. [Id. at 19:27:05]. Officer Cook radios for backup and approaches the woman sitting in the grass. [Id. at 19:27:07-12; 19:27:28-42].

         “Ms. Colson, ” he says. [Id. at 19:27:42]. “Yes, ” she says. [Id. at 19:27:43]. He asks her how many drinks she consumed during the day. [Id. at 19:29:05]. Her answer is two shots of vodka. [Id. at 19:29:07-10]. After gathering some information about her prescribed medications, Officer Cook ends their conversation and walks to the sport utility vehicle by the road. [Id. at 19:29:10-40]. He finds Ms. Colson's son, Mason, inside and introduces himself. [Id. at 19:29:42-48]. He asks Mason to describe what happened. [Id.]. Mason says that he and his mom spent the day at a public pool and she brought “something that makes her drunk, alcohol, ” but he did not actually see her drink it. [Id. at 19:30:49-56, 19:30:36-40]. He adds that, after they left the pool and got to this point in the road, he pulled the emergency break in his mom's vehicle and ran away because she was driving “very fast” and he was afraid they were going to crash.[1]

         After Officer Cook finishes speaking with Mason, Officer Arik Wilson arrives at the scene. [Id. at 19:33:48]. Officer Cook approaches Ms. Colson again and tells her that he would like her to submit to a field-sobriety test. [Id. at 19:36:21]. She declines to participate in the test. [Id. at 19:36:32]. He asks her to stand up. [Id. at 19:36:38]. She refuses. [Id. at 19:36:39]. He then places her under arrest, charging her with driving under the influence. [Id. at 19:36:39-59].[2] He and Officer Wilson instruct her to stand up and place her hands behind her back, at least half a dozen times before she complies with their orders. [Id. at 19:36:36-19:37:35]. As Officer Cook escorts her to his patrol vehicle, he asks her if she will consent to a blood alcohol test. [Id. at 19:38:16-19]. Her answer is no. [Id.]. Officer Cook advises her that he will attempt to obtain a search warrant for her blood and will bring another charge against her if she does not consent to a blood alcohol test. [Id. at 19:49:02-06]. After he offers to drive her to a local hospital for the test, she relents and assents to the test. [Id. at 19:49:34-49]. Officer Wilson agrees to follow them to the hospital after Officer Cook tells him that Ms. Colson is “screaming and cussing a little.” [Id. at 19:50:32-35].[3]

         Once they reach the hospital, Ms. Colson exits Officer Cook's patrol vehicle and informs the officers that she will not consent to a blood alcohol test after all. [Id. at 19:59:06-11]. “Okay, ” Officer Cook says. [Id.]. He tells Ms. Colson that he will attempt to acquire a search warrant for her blood, and he instructs her to retake her seat in the patrol vehicle in the meantime. [Id. at 19:59:53-20:00:04]. Ms. Colson refuses to get back into the patrol vehicle. “I'm standing here, ” she says. [Id.]. After Ms. Colson does not heed his command for the fifth time, he uses force against her. [Id.]. “I'm standing here, fucker, ” she says in response. [Id.]. A struggle then ensues between Ms. Colson and the officers, with Officer Wilson trying to push her into the backseat from one side of the patrol vehicle and Officer Cook trying to pull her in from the other side. [Id. at 20:00:04- 50]. To the sound of a thud, Ms. Colson-who is now outside the lens of Officer Cook's body camera-screams: “Ow, my fucking knee, motherfucker!” [Id.]. Officer Wilson tells Officer Cook that “her knee just popped.” [Id. at 20:00:58].

         At that point, they release Ms. Colson, [id. at 20:00:55], but continue to order her to get inside the patrol vehicle, [id. at 20:00:56-20:01:55]. And she continues to defy their orders, shouting about her knee, swearing at the officers, and pleading for time to breathe. [Id.].[4] The officers give her some time, but she only continues to ask for more, prompting them to reapply force to her. [Id. at 20:01:56-20:02:09]. She resists them, but they eventually manage to strong-arm her into the patrol vehicle. [Id.]. Officer Cook then radios his supervisor, describing the struggle that had ensued at the hospital and noting that Ms. Colson just “ripped the rubber off the side of [the patrol] car, on the inside of the door.” [Id. at 20:03:36-20:04:32]. He also informs his supervisor of a possible injury to Ms. Colson's knee. [Id.]. His supervisor instructs him to bring her to the local jail. [Id.]. As Officer Cook transports her to the jail, she repeatedly swears at him, cries out for her mother, and wails about her knee. [Id. at 20:04:43-20:06:32].

         They soon arrive at the jail's sally port, and Officer England is there waiting for them. [Id. at 20:06:20-20:07:10]. “Bringing you a combative one, ” Officer Cook says to her. [Id.]. He explains that he had to use force against Ms. Colson at the hospital, though he does not mention her possible injury. [Id.]. Officer England escorts Ms. Colson, who is sobbing but walking upright, from the sally port to a pat down room, where officers are present. [Id. at 20:07:11-48]. Ms. Colson tells Officer England that “my knee is fucked up thanks to your officers.” [Id. at 20:07:49-50]. Officer England acknowledges her, responding, “Okay.” [Id. at 20:07:51]. Seconds later, Ms. Colson falls to the floor, unable to support her own weight as Officer England is frisking her. “Ow, ow, my fucking knee!” she says. [Id. at 20:08:13-20]. Officer England lifts her to her feet and instructs her to stand. [Id. at 20:08:15-18]. Ms. Colson again says, “That's from your officers, ” referring to her knee. [Id. at 20:08:17-20]. Once more, Officer England acknowledges her. [Id.].

         Officer Cook asks for the nurse. [Id. at 20:08:56-20:09:00]. Shortly afterwards, one of the other officers in the pat down room calls for the nurse. “Would you send the nurse over here, please?” the officer says into her walkie-talkie. [Id. at 20:09:28-37]. In response, Ms. Colson echoes her, saying, “Please.” [Id. at 20:09:39]. While the officers remove Ms. Colson's jewelry as part of the pat-down process, Ms. Colson steps forward to place her ring in a plastic bag. [Id. at 20:11:27:31]. She totters and winces, prompting both Officer England and another officer to take her by the arms and steady her. [Id. at 20:11:21-32].

         The nurse enters the pat down room and approaches Ms. Colson, who points out her injured knee and says she “never heard it pop so much in her life.” [Id. at 20:12:02- 25]. The nurse directs her to straighten her leg, to bend it back, and to move it from side to side. [Id. at 20:12:28-41]. “It hurts, it hurts, ” Ms. Colson says. [Id.]. The nurse next instructs her to stand up straight against the wall. “I can't, ” she says. “I can't straighten my legs.” [Id. at 20:12:57-20:13:04]. After bending to examine Ms. Colson's knee, the nurse says, “I don't see no swelling, ” and she leaves the room. [Id. at 20:13:08-14]. In response to this statement, the officers guide Ms. Colson toward a cell located farther inside the jail. [Id. at 20:13:12-20:14:04]. Officer Cook lingers so he can speak with the nurse about drawing Ms. Colson's blood. [Id.]. As they are talking to each other, and as the officers are moving Ms. Colson into the cell, Ms. Colson-who is now outside the lens of Officer Cook's body camera-raises her voice at the officers. [Id. at 20:13:43- 20:14:04]. She continuously yells the word “bitch.” [Id. at 20:13:55-20:14:05].

         “Hang on, ” Officer Cook says, “I'm going to record this.” [Id. at 20:14:04-06]. As the commotion between Ms. Colson and the officers is stirring in the background, he moves toward the cell where the officers have taken her. [Id. at 20:14:06-11]. Inside, at least five officers are pinning her to the floor. [Id. at 20:14:12].[5] “Are you done?” one of them says to her. [Id. at 20:14:13]. “Bitch, ” she says back. [Id. at 20:14:14]. Officer Cook turns off his body camera; all goes black. [Id. at 20:14:15].

         By the time Officer Cook turns his camera on again, Ms. Colson is lying in a restraint chair, strapped down to it. [Video: Officer Cook VieVu 2, 21:31:07 (June 23, 2015) (on file with the Court)]. Officer Cook shows Ms. Colson a search warrant from a magistrate. [Id. at 21:31:17-27; Search Warrant, doc. 66-6]. He informs her that the nurse is now going to draw her blood. [Officer Cook VieVu 2 at 21:31:28]. She complains that no one has let her use the restroom, even though she has requested to use it “for the last hour.” [Id. at 21:31:31-32]. Officer Cook says that he is sure the jail's officers will let her use the restroom if she cooperates with them. [Id. at 21:31:33-36]. “Okay, ” she says, nodding. [Id. at 21:31:40]. Seconds later, she again asks for permission to go to the restroom. [Id. at 21:31:50-52]. “I pissed myself, ” she says. [Id. at 21:21:59-32:00:03]. In the background, a female officer-possibly Officer England-says, “Guys, you don't have to worry about it. She's already peed.” [Id. at 21:32:28-29].

         The nurse enters the room and prepares to take blood from Ms. Colson's left arm, but Ms. Colson intimates that she would prefer to have the nurse draw blood from her right arm instead. [Id. at 21:32:33-21:33:07]. Accommodating her, the nurse moves to the restraint chair's opposite side, where she readies to draw blood from Ms. Colson's right arm. [Id.]. But Ms. Colson appears to resist her efforts, refusing to keep her arm at rest. [Id. at 21:33:22]. “I have no control over my arm staying still. I'm sorry, ” she says to the nurse. [Id. at 21:33:22-25]. She refuses to cooperate because the officers did not let her use the restroom: “I have no control over my arm staying still. I had to pee like an hour ago and nobody let me, ” she says. [Id. at 21:33:36-40]. Several officers enter the room, including Officer England, who says, “We're going to draw that motherfucking blood whether you like it or not.” [Id. at 21:33:56-59]. Ms. Colson says, “I'm just going to move. I'm just going to keep moving and nobody's going to take my blood. Blah, blah, blah.” [Id. at 21:33:59-21:34:03]. Nearly at eye-level with Ms. Colson, Officer England holds down her right arm with one hand and presses into her shoulder with the other hand, while two other officers also help to keep her still. [Id. at 21:34:06-44]. As the nurse is attempting to take Ms. Colson's blood, Ms. Colson lunges at Officer England's bare arm with her mouth. [Id. at 21:34:45].

         Almost in one motion, Officer England recoils from Ms. Colson and slaps her in the face. [Id. at 21:34:46]. “Don't you fucking bite me!” Officer England says, her eyes ballooning. [Id. at 21:34:49-50]. She leaves the room, while a male officer places a headlock around Ms. Colson. [Id. at 21:34:51-52]. “You're hurting my neck!” she says to him. [Id. at 21:34:53]. “Good, you shouldn't have just bit my officer, ” he says back to her. [Id. at 21:34:54-57]. “I didn't bite her. I tried to. I didn't bite the bitch, though, ” she replies. [Id. at 21:34:57-21:35:00]. Officer England says, “You fucking bit me, I've got the marks.” [Id. at 21:34:58-21:35:00]. Carrying a motorcycle helmet, she returns to the room. [Id. at 21:35:11]. She fastens the helmet to Ms. Colson's head, with the officers' help. [Id. at 21:35:12-21:35:30]. The helmet has a convex guard covering the jaw and mouth area. [Id.]. While the officers hold Ms. Colson, the nurse finishes drawing her blood without further incident. [Id. at 21:35:31-21:38:48].

         Following her release from the jail, Ms. Colson went to the hospital, where she learned that she had a fractured tibial plateau, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and a torn lateral collateral ligament. [Colson Aff., doc. 101-3, ¶ 43]. She required surgery to repair the damage. [Id. ¶ 44]. Officer Cook later filed several affidavits against her, for charges that included felony reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, assault on a police officer, [6] and resisting arrest. [Officer Cook Aff. at 5-12]. Her blood sample from the night of June 23, 2015, revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .151%, [Alcohol Report, doc. 66-2, at 1], which is approximately twice the legal limit under Tennessee law, Tenn. Code. Ann. § 55-10-401.[7]

         Ms. Colson has now filed suit in this Court against the City of Alcoa, Tennessee; Blount County, Tennessee; and officers of these local governments in their official and individual capacities. She brings several claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that these parties violated her rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. [Compl., doc. 1-1, 32-53]. As to Officer England, Ms. Colson maintains that these violations consist of the use of excessive force (Count Four) and the failure to provide adequate medical care (Count Nine). [Id. ¶¶ 116-18, 165-72].[8] Ms. Colson also brings three claims against Officer England under Tennessee law, including assault and battery (Count Eleven), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count Twelve), and negligence (Count Thirteen). [Id. ¶¶ 178-82, 183-89, 190-94]. Officer England, in her individual capacity, now moves for summary judgment on most of these claims, arguing that she is entitled to qualified immunity. [Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1-2].[9]

         When Officer England moved for summary judgment, discovery had yet to begin in this case, and discovery is now ongoing. [See Scheduling Order, doc. 90, at 3 (allowing the parties to conduct discovery until ninety days before trial)]. By agreement of the parties, the Court permitted Ms. Colson to carry out limited discovery so that she could properly respond to Officer England's motion. [Order, doc. 83, 2-3]. The parties elected to limit discovery to the depositions of Officer England and Corporal Michelle Bishop, her supervisor. [Id.]. To date, the parties have reported no problems with their agreed-upon discovery process. Ms. Colson has now filed a response, with excerpts from the testimonies of Officer England and Corporal Bishop, and Officer England has filed a reply. The Court therefore deems Officer England's motion for summary judgment to be ripe for its consideration.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party shows, or “point[s] out to the district court, ” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), that the record-the admissions, affidavits, answers to interrogatories, declarations, depositions, or other materials-is without a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The moving party has the initial burden of identifying the basis for summary judgment and the portions of the record that lack genuine issues of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party discharges that burden by showing “an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's” claim or defense, id. at 325, at which point the nonmoving party, to survive summary judgment, must identify facts in the record that create a genuine issue of material fact, id. at 324.

         Not just any factual dispute will defeat a motion for summary judgment-the requirement is “that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if it may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law, id., and an issue is “genuine” if the evidence is “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In short, the inquiry is whether the record contains evidence that “presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). “[T]he judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A court may also resolve pure questions of law on a motion for summary judgment. See Hill v. Homeward Residential, Inc., 799 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir. 2015).

         III. Analysis

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Officer England, in supporting her motion, has filed numerous video recordings-from the point of view of the officers' body cameras and dash cameras-for the Court's consideration. These videos bring illumination to many of the events and circumstances that the parties have disputed through the pleading stage and up to this point. Because the Court does not ordinarily receive video evidence when resolving motions for summary judgment, it will explain how it intends to view-not weigh, but view-this evidence through the prism of the legal standard governing summary judgment.

         First, the Court may properly consider the videos as evidence at this stage in the litigation, and neither party argues otherwise. See Griffin v. Hardrick, 604 F.3d 949, 954 (6th Cir. 2010) (recognizing that “a court may properly consider videotape evidence at the summary-judgment stage”); see, e.g., Lewis v. Charter Twp., 660 F. App'x 339, 340- 47 (6th Cir. 2016) (relying on video evidence in a § 1983 case). Second, when viewing the videos, the Court has to construe them “in the light most favorable to [the nonmoving party].” Dunn v. Matatall, 549 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2008).

         But the Court also has to “view[] the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.” Scotty v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007). In other words, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the [video], so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 380. In short, the Court, under the guise of construing the videos in the light most favorable to Ms. Colson, will not peddle a version of events that is tantamount to “visible fiction.” Id. at 381.

         A. Section 1983

         Section 1983 permits a claim for damages against “[e]very person who, under color of [state law], subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because § 1983 has “a ‘color of law' requirement, ” a defendant can be liable “only if state law, whether provided by statute or judicially implied, empowers him with some legal obligation to act.” Doe v. Claiborne County, 103 F.3d 495, 512 (6th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). A claim under § 1983 therefore consists of two elements: the defendant (1) must deprive the plaintiff of either a constitutional or a federal statutory right[10] and (2) must deprive the plaintiff of one of these rights while acting under color of state law (i.e., state action). Id. at 511. “Absent either element, a section 1983 claim will not lie.” Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         “Qualified immunity is a personal defense that applies only to government officials in their individual capacities.” Benison v. Ross, 765 F.3d 649, 665 (6th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). It insulates government officials “from undue interference with their duties, ” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 806 (1982), affording them “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments” and protecting “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law, ” Stanton v. Sims, 571 U.S. 3, 5 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011)). To obtain qualified immunity, the defendant shoulders the initial burden to present evidence showing that his acts were within his discretionary authority. Gravely v. Madden, 142 F.3d 345, 347 (6th Cir. 1998); Wegener v. City of Covington, 933 F.2d 390, 392 (6th Cir. 1991). If the defendant dispatches this burden, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who must identify evidence satisfying a two-party inquiry. Gravely, 142 F.3d at 348; Wegener, 933 F.2d at 392.

         Under this two-party inquiry, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless the evidence, “viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, would permit a reasonable juror to find that: (1) the defendant violated a constitutional right; and (2) the right was clearly established.” Morrison v. Bd. of Trs., 583 F.3d 394, 400 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation and footnote omitted). “An answer of ‘yes' to both questions defeats qualified immunity, while an answer of ‘no' to either question results in a grant of qualified immunity.” Haley v. Elsmere Police Dep't, 452 F. App'x 623, 626 (6th Cir. 2011). In performing an analysis under the two-party inquiry, a court does not have to address the prongs sequentially; neither one is an antecedent to the other. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009); see al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 735 (instructing courts to “think carefully before expending ‘scare judicial resources' to resolve difficult and novel questions” under the two-party inquiry, particularly when those questions “will ‘have no effect on the outcome of the case'” (quotation omitted)).

         Before the Court begins its analysis, it notes that record contains no dispute regarding whether Officer England was acting within her discretionary authority during the events in question. First, Ms. Colson maintains that Officer England “used her position of authority” when violating her constitutional rights, and second, she accedes that “it is [her] burden to show that [Officer England] is not entitled to qualified immunity.” [Pl.'s Resp. at 12, 25]. The Court therefore considers Ms. Colson to be the party carrying the burden. To discharge her burden, she must offer evidence satisfying both prongs of the two-part inquiry-with the Court viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to her. Morrison, 583 F.3d at 400.

         1. Ms. Colson's Claim for Excessive Force

         Under the Constitution, four provisions proscribe the use of excessive force- the Fourth, Eighth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments-and whether one applies over the other depends on the circumstances. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2477 (2015) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Any excessive force claim under § 1983 therefore cannot be “governed by a single generic standard.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393 (1989). Instead, ÔÇťanalysis begins by identifying the ...

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