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 motion
for a directed verdict on liability, damages, and qualified
immunity. The motion was argued by both plaintiff and
defendant at trial on April 23, 2014. On April 24, 2014, the
Court orally granted defendant's motion and stated that a
written order would follow [Doc. 112]. The Court has
separately granted defendant's renewed supplemental
motion for summary judgment on the question of qualified
immunity, so the Court will only address the issues of
liability and damages in this opinion.
Standard of Review
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), the Court should
grant a motion for directed verdict when “a reasonable
jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to
find for the [plaintiff] on that issue.” The Court
looks to whether “the nonmoving party has failed to
make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [his]
case with respect to which [he] has the burden of
proof.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986). The Court looks at the evidence in “a
light most favorable to the nonmoving party” to
determine whether “reasonable people could come to but
one conclusion from the evidence.” Zamlen v. City
of Cleveland, 906 F.2d 209, 214 (6th Cir. 1990).
purpose of a directed verdict motion is to enable the Court
“to determine whether there is any question of fact to
be submitted to the jury and whether any verdict in favor of
plaintiff would be erroneous as a matter of law.”
Jones v. Associated Univer., Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1180,
1192 (E.D.N.Y. 1994). While the role of the jury is important
in our judicial system, it is also limited-the jury serves as
the finder of facts. The Court's role, however, is to
settle issues of law. When there are no facts for the jury to
assess, the Court must, as a matter of law, direct the
verdict in favor of the moving party.
Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Court will first turn to the question of compensatory and
punitive damages. For the jury to consider damages, plaintiff
must establish “with reasonable certainty” that
such damages exist. Stone v. Erhart, 1:14-cv-272,
2015 WL 5315719, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 11, 2015). Where
plaintiff provides “no proof of actual damages, the
plaintiff will be limited to ‘recovering nominal
damages not to exceed one dollar.'” Id.
Speculative damages are not recoverable because the
factfinder must be able to draw reasonable inferences and
make a reasonable assessment of damages. In other words, the
“abstract value of a constitutional right may not form
the basis for § 1983 damages.” Memphis
Cmty School Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299,
308 (1986). Thus, for compensatory damages, plaintiff must
point to actual injury. Id.
case, plaintiff has only been able to point to the fact that
the decedent's life was cut short and that he
“deserved to live, ” arguing that this fact alone
is enough evidence to reach the jury on the question of
damages. However, the claim that the decedent lost his life,
absent any evidence of pain or suffering, lost income or
wages, or other evidence tending to show the pecuniary value
of the decedant's life, is insufficient to reach the
jury. Plaintiff has not provided any evidence of damages,
including pain and suffering. In fact, the medical examiner
testified that there were no wounds on the decedent's
body consistent with the theory that the decedent suffered or
experienced pain while the taser was being deployed.
Certainly, a loss of life, however accomplished, is a
significant and impactful event; however, without any
evidence of actual injury, as a matter of law, plaintiff
cannot recover compensatory damages. Thus, with respect to a
federal § 1983 claim, plaintiff has failed to meet his
burden in showing actual injury such that plaintiff is
entitled to compensatory damages.
punitive damages, the Supreme Court has held that the
plaintiff must show that the defendant acted
“maliciously, or wantonly, or oppressively.”
Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 49 (1983). In Tennessee,
a court may “award punitive damages only if it finds a
defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2)
fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.”
Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901
(Tenn. 1992). Here, plaintiff has failed to provide any
evidence whatsoever that defendant's conduct satisfied
any of these standards. Thus, plaintiff has failed to meet
his burden as to the claim for punitive damages as well.
Excessive Force Liability
evaluating a claim of excessive force, courts utilize the
Fourth Amendment's “objective reasonableness”
standard, whereby a court analyzes whether “the
officers' actions [were] ‘objectively
reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances
confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent
or motivation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
386, 397, 399 (1989). Reasonableness is determined by
“balanc[ing] the nature and quality of the intrusion on
the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the
importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify
the intrusion.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S.
1, 8 (1985) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
non-exclusive factors should be examined in making this
determination: (1) the severity of the crime at issue, (2)
whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety
of the officers or others, and (3) whether the suspect is
actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight (“the Graham factors”). Graham,
490 U.S. at 396. These factors are evaluated from the
perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,
“rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
Id. Additionally, these three factors are not an
exhaustive list, and a court's ultimate inquiry should be
“whether the totality of the circumstances justifies a
particular sort of seizure.” Id. The
circumstances should be evaluated at the moment force is
employed. See Bouggess v. Mattingly, 482 F.3d 886,
889 (6th Cir. 2007) (stating that the reasonableness of the
use of force at a particular time is based on an
“objective assessment of the danger a suspect poses at
should account for “the fact that police officers are
often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances
that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the
amount of force that is necessary in a particular
situation.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 397.
“[T]he fact that a situation unfolds relatively
quickly, ” however, “does not, by itself, permit
[officers] to use deadly force.” Estate of Kirby v.
Duva, 530 F.3d 475, 483 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Smith v. Cupp, 430 F.3d 766, 775 (6th Cir. 2005)).
the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect
poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the
officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable
to prevent escape by using deadly force.”
Garner, 471 U.S. at 11; see Untalan v. City of
Lorain, 430 F.3d 312, 314 (6th Cir. 2005) (asserting
that deadly force “may be used only if the officer has
probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of
severe physical harm”). “Given the extreme
intrusion caused by use of deadly force, ” however,
“the countervailing governmental interests must be
weighty indeed.” Rivers v. Bowers, No.
2:06-CV-712, 2008 WL 2079406, at *6 (S.D. Ohio July 8, 2010).
Thus, deadly force, in particular, may only be used by
officers “in rare instances.” Whitlow v. City
of Louisville, 39 Fed.Appx. 297, 302-03 (6th Cir. 2002).
“The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all
felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is
constitutionally unreasonable.” Garner, 471
U.S. at 11. “Where the suspect poses no immediate
threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm
resulting from failing to apprehend him ...