United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
BRANDON T. CARDEN, individually and as next of kin of the Decedent, Ronald E. Carden, Plaintiff,
DAVID GERLACH, individually and in his official capacity as an officer of the Knoxville City Police Department, Defendant.
A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
civil matter is before the Court on defendant's second
renewed and supplemental motion for summary judgment [Doc.
114]. Plaintiff did not respond and the time for doing so has
now passed. E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1. In his motion, defendant
asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity as a matter
of law. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.
early hours of July 27, 2014, Ronald Carden (“the
decedent”) and Nicholas Thomas (“Mr.
Thomas”) were traveling on Interstate 40
(“I-40”) when the decedent's car experienced
a flat tire, and they pulled over to change it [Doc. 1 ¶
16, Doc. 7 ¶ 16].
Officer David Gerlach (“defendant”), while on
patrol, observed the two men standing on the shoulder of I-40
[Doc. 14-1 ¶ 3]. Defendant pulled behind the vehicle and
saw that the men were changing a flat tire [Id.]. He
offered them assistance, which they declined, and returned to
his police cruiser [Id. ¶ 4]. After beginning
to back out, defendant ran the license plate of the vehicle
and realized that the plates did not match the vehicle
registration [Id.]. Defendant then pulled his
cruiser back behind the two men in order to further
defendant exited his vehicle, the decedent walked over to his
car's driver-side door and leaned down inside the vehicle
[Id. ¶ 5; Doc. 14-6, D. Gerlach
Video].Defendant, fearing that the decedent was
reaching for a weapon, asked the decedent to walk toward him
[Doc. 14-1 ¶ 5]. The decedent did not appear to have a
weapon in his hands as he rose from the car [Doc. 14-6, D.
Gerlach Video]. He approached defendant, and defendant placed
a hand on the decedent's chest [Doc. 14-1 ¶ 6].
Defendant then called in the traffic stop, holstered his
radio, and placed a hand on the decedent's sleeve
[Id.]. The decedent proceeded to swing two punches
at defendant's mid-torso and run in the opposite
direction of I-40 [Id.; Doc. 14-6, D. Gerlach
Video]. Defendant chased after the decedent and ordered that
he stop and get down on the ground [Doc. 14-1 ¶¶ 6,
8]. The decedent ignored these commands, and defendant
tackled him to the ground [Id. ¶ 8; Doc. 14-6,
D. Gerlach Video]. A struggle ensued during which the
decedent attempted to grab defendant's gun [Doc. 103].
Ultimately, defendant fired five shots, killing the decedent
Carden, the son of the decedent, now brings suit against the
City of Knoxville and defendant, both individually and in his
official capacity [Doc. 1]. He asserts claims against
defendant pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive
force, deprivation of liberty without due process of law,
summary punishment, arbitrary governmental activity, and
deliberate indifference in violation of the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments [Id. at 7, 15]. In addition,
plaintiff claims that defendants deprived him of the right of
familial association with his father [Id. at 7].
Plaintiff also brings claims against defendant for assault,
battery, and deliberate indifference under Tennessee law
[Id. at 12].
Court previously granted in part and denied in part
defendant's initial motion for summary judgment [Doc.
27]. Part of the Court's reasoning for denying summary
judgment on defendant's qualified immunity defense was
that Mr. Thomas, who was present when defendant shot the
decedent, provided statements about his version of events
[Id.]. Because his version of events conflicted with
defendant's version of events, this Court held that a
genuine dispute of material fact existed as to whether
defendant was authorized to use deadly force, and thus
summary judgment was denied. Defendant appealed this
Court's decision to the Sixth Circuit, claiming that he
was entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's
excessive force claim as well as his claims under state law
for assault, battery, and deliberate indifference. The Sixth
Circuit affirmed this Court's decision [Doc. 30].
Defendant then filed a renewed motion for summary judgment on
the same claims [Doc. 44], which this Court denied again on
the grounds that Mr. Thomas and defendant had conflicting
stories about the incident in question [Doc. 66].
trial, plaintiff filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude
the testimony and statements of Mr. Thomas [Doc. 85].
Plaintiff asserted that Mr. Thomas's statements were
inconsistent and unreliable [Id.]. At the final
pretrial conference held on April 16, 2018, both parties
stipulated that Mr. Thomas's testimony and previous
statements would be excluded at trial [Doc. 106]. Defendant
stated his intent to file a renewed motion for summary
judgment in light of this stipulation, and plaintiff did not
object nor did plaintiff attempt to call Mr. Thomas as a
witness at trial. In addition, in the agreed upon pretrial
order, plaintiff stipulated to certain facts, including the
fact that the decedent made efforts to gain control of
defendant's handgun [Doc. 103 p. 5]. Based on these
developments, defendant filed a second renewed motion for
summary judgment [Doc. 114]. While plaintiff did not file a
renewed response to the present motion, given the extensive
briefing on this issue prior to trial, the Court will
consider plaintiff's arguments previously raised in
opposition to defendant's motions [Docs. 25, 53].
Standard of Review
judgment is proper where there is “no genuine issue as
to any material fact and . . . the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2).
The Court may consider the pleadings, discovery, affidavits,
and other evidence on the record. Id. In the Sixth
Circuit, there is a genuine issue of fact “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party.” Hedrick v. W.
Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444, 451 (6th Cir.
2004). “A fact is material only if its resolution will
affect the outcome of the lawsuit.” Id. at
451-52. The Court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-movant, and draw all reasonable
inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Sutherland
v. Mich. Dep't of Treasury, 344 F.3d 603, 613 (6th
Cir. 2003). Thus, “the moving party has the initial
burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Hedrick, 355 F.3d at 451 (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).
On a motion for summary judgment by a defendant asserting a
sovereign immunity defense, the Court must adopt the
plaintiff's version of the facts. Campbell v. City of
Springboro, 700 F.3d 779, 786 (6th Cir. 2012).
officials are shielded from liability under the doctrine of
qualified immunity so long as their “conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff must plead
facts showing “(1) that the official violated a
statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was
‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged
conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731,
735 (2011) (citation omitted). Qualified immunity is an
affirmative defense,  and once raised, the plaintiff must show
that the official violated a right so clearly established
that a “reasonable official would have understood that
what he [was] doing violate[d] that right.”
Id. at 741 (internal citation and quotation marks
omitted). The plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proof,
Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789,
798 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted), and if the plaintiff
fails to carry his burden as to either element of the
qualified-immunity analysis, then the official is immune from
suit, Cockrell v. City of Cincinnati, 468 Fed.Appx.
491, 494 (6th Cir. 2012).
Court will first examine whether defendant violated the
decedent's constitutional right to be free from excessive
force. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 735. While the Fourth
Amendment prohibits unreasonable seizures to protect citizens
from the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers,
Godawa v. Byrd, 798 F.3d 457, 463 (6th Cir. 2015),
the government does have a “right to use some degree of
physical coercion[, ] or threat thereof, ” ...