United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Cookeville Division
FREDDIE E. JUDD, Plaintiff,
CITY OF BAXTER, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
76-year-old Freddie Judd attempted to save his store from
burning to the ground, seven-months-pregnant City of Baxter
Police Department Officer Maggie Bennett pulled him to the
ground and attempted to handcuff him while Putnam County
paramedic Robert Haney put his knee on Judd's back to
attempt to subdue him. That incident led to Judd filing this
action under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against Bennett and Haney,
alleging false arrest and excessive force. Before the Court
are Bennett's and Haney's Motions for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. Nos. 38, 41.) For the following reasons,
Haney's Motion is granted and Bennett's Motion is
bought the L & J Market in Baxter, Tennessee, about forty
years ago, and owned it until 2014, when he transferred the
store's ownership to his girlfriend Sheila Scott. (Doc.
No. 48-1 at 7.) He continued to work in the meat department.
(Id. at 7.) On August 29, 2015, while Judd and Scott
were having dinner, a neighbor informed them that the store
was on fire. (Id. at 15; Doc. No. 50 at 1.) Judd
grabbed the store's keys and they drove to the fire.
(Doc. No. 50 at 1-2.)
Judd arrived, at least two fire engines, two Putnam County
ambulances, one of which was maintained by Haney, and Bennett
were on the scene, along with a number of civilian onlookers.
(Id. at 2.) Judd was intently focused on saving the
burning store. (Doc. No. 48-1 at 41.) He did not pay
attention to anyone else, and did not notice if anyone else
tried to talk to him. (Id.) He remembers attempting
to give his keys to Bennett to give to the firefighters so
that they could open the door, but she would not take the
keys. (Doc. No. 41-1 at 15.) Instead, she “grabbed
[him] and [threw him] in [the] gravel.” (Id.)
At least one eye witness account confirmed Judd's
version, that he walked up to Bennett, screamed that he had
the keys, and then Bennett threw him to the ground without
warning. (Doc. No. 48-6 at 16-17, 20-25.) Once on the ground,
Haney put his knee in Judd's back to assist Bennett's
efforts to put handcuffs on Judd. (Id. at 18; Doc.
No. 48-2 at 8.) The police chief ultimately decided not to
press charges against Judd. He was released and taken to the
hospital to examine his injured elbow. (Doc. No. 49 at 1-2.)
and Haney move for summary judgment on the basis of qualified
immunity. The Supreme Court set forth the standard for
analyzing whether a government official is entitled to
In [Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151
(2001)], this Court mandated a two-step sequence for
resolving government officials' qualified immunity
claims. First, a court must decide whether the facts that a
plaintiff has alleged (see Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6),
(c)) or shown (see Rules 50, 56) make out a violation of a
constitutional right. 533 U.S., at 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151.
Second, if the plaintiff has satisfied this first step, the
court must decide whether the right at issue was
“clearly established” at the time of
defendant's alleged misconduct. Ibid. Qualified
immunity is applicable unless the official's conduct
violated a clearly established constitutional right.
Anderson, at 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034.
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). In
evaluating if a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity,
the Court must adopt “the plaintiff's version of
the facts . . . unless the plaintiff's version is
‘blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no
reasonable jury could believe it.'” Soudemire
v. Mich. Dept. of Corr., 705 F.3d 560, 565 (6th Cir.
2013) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380
(2007)). The plaintiff “has the burden to prove that a
right is clearly established.” Everson v.
Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 494 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing
Barrett v. Steubenville City Sch., 388 F.3d 967, 970
(6th Cir. 2004)). When, on summary judgment, “the legal
question of immunity is completely dependent on which view of
the disputed facts is accepted by the jury, ” then
summary judgment must be denied. Humphrey v. Mabry,
482 F.3d 840, 846 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Brandenburg v.
Cureton, 882 F.2d 211, 216 (6th Cir. 1989)).
brings an excessive force claim against Bennett for forcing
him to the ground and against Haney for jabbing his knee in
Judd's back. To determine whether the use of force was
excessive, courts “apply an objective reasonableness
test, looking to the reasonableness of the force in light of
the totality of the circumstances confronting the defendants,
and not to the underlying intent or motivation of the
defendants.” Brown v. Lewis, 779 F.3d 401, 418
(6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Burgess v. Fischer, 735
F.3d 462, 472 (6th Cir. 2013)). Courts evaluate three factors
to determine the objective reasonableness of the use of
force, evaluating the factors from the perspective of a
reasonable officer at the scene: (1) “the severity of
the crime at issue, ” (2) “whether the suspect
poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or
others, ” and (3) “whether he is actively
resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight.” Martin v. City of Broadview Heights,
712 F.3d 951, 958 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)).
Bennett, the legal question of immunity is completely
dependent on which view of the disputed facts is accepted by
the jury, thereby making summary judgment inappropriate. The
jury may agree with Bennett's version of the facts that
she believed Judd was trying to punch her and she therefore
used the “force continuum” (Doc. No. 38-2), which
may make the takedown of Judd not excessive. However, based
on the cited portions of the record in the two Statements of
Undisputed Facts (Doc. No. 49 at 3-5; Doc. No. 50 at 7-10),
it does not appear any eyewitnesses agreed with Bennett's
recollection of the facts. If the jury believes Judd that he
walked (or ran) to Bennett, tried to hand her the keys to the
store, and Bennett grabbed his arm and threw him to the
ground, a jury may find that excessive. See Brown,
779 F.3d at 419 (denying qualified immunity to an officer who
threw a compliant detainee out of her car to the ground and
kneeled on her back in an effort to handcuff her). There is
no question that the “‘right to be free from
physical force when one is not resisting the police' was
clearly established” when the incident occurred.
Crawford v. Geiger, 656 Fed.Appx. 190, 204 (6th Cir.
2016) (quoting Wysong v. City of Health, 260
Fed.Appx. 848, 856 (6th Cir. 2008)). Based on these disputed
material facts, Bennett is not entitled to qualified immunity
on Judd's excessive force claim.
same is true for Haney. In evaluating whether Haney violated
Judd's “right to be free from physical force when
one is not resisting the police, ” Judd alleges that
after Bennett forced Judd to the ground, Haney “pounced
on [Judd], driving [Haney's] knee into Judd's
back” in order to assist Bennett with handcuffing Judd.
(Doc. No. 48 at 8 (citing Doc. No. 48-6 at 18; Doc. No. 48-3
at 19)). This is supported by Scott's testimony, that the
“EMS worker jumped on [Judd's] back and [Haney and
Bennett] handcuffed him.” (Doc. No. 48-2 at 8.) Judd
alleges that Haney's actions broke his arm. (Doc. No.
48-1 at 18.) In evaluating the three City of Broadview
Heights factors, there was no crime at issue, Judd was
on the ground with Bennett on top of him, so ...