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Darrell Williams and Cymonne Williams v. Sergeant David Voss

September 15, 2011

DARRELL WILLIAMS AND CYMONNE WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SERGEANT DAVID VOSS, SERGEANT MARK SLETTA, OFFICER BRANDON KITZEROW, OFFICER MARK DURAND, OFFICER SHAWN WILLIAMS, OFFICER JEFF KADING, OFFICER LONNIE HOFFBECK, OFFICER PETER RUD, OFFICER KEVIN ANGERHOFFER, SERGEANT BRIAN ANDERSON, IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND THE CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ann D. Montgomery U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 21, 2011, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 17] (the "Motion"). Plaintiffs Darrell Williams and Cymonne Williams (collectively, "the Williams") assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state common law claims of battery and assault stemming from the alleged use of excessive force in the execution of a search warrant by Defendants. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

Darrell Williams and Cymonne Williams are a married couple residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. See Am. Compl. [Docket No. 12] ¶¶ 5-6. Tierre Caldwell ("Caldwell") is Cymonne Williams' son. Paul Applebaum Aff. [Docket No. 24] Ex. 1 ("C. Williams Dep.") 5:19-22. In May 2009, Caldwell was a suspect in a gang-related shooting in Minneapolis. Sara J. Lathrop Aff. [Docket No. 20] Ex. 1. The Minneapolis Police Department (the "MPD") assigned Defendant Sergeant David Voss ("Sgt. Voss") to investigate the case. See id. On May 19, 2009, Caldwell was detained and released during a vehicle stop by MPD officers. Id. Caldwell's driver's license listed his mother's address as his residence. See Applebaum Aff. Ex. 19 (Supplemental Report of Sgt. Voss). Based on Caldwell's driver's license address, Sgt. Voss obtained a search warrant for the Williams' home. Id.

Sgt. Voss's investigation had also revealed that Caldwell was listed as a customer by the electric company at a different address, ten blocks away also on 12th Avenue South in South Minneapolis. Id. Sgt. Voss obtained a search warrant for that address as well. Id. On July 9, 2009, at about 1:00 p.m., that warrant was executed by an MPD SWAT team. Id. A firearm and ammunition were discovered in the first search. Id.

The MPD SWAT team next proceeded to the Williams' home to execute the warrant for their home at about 1:45 p.m. Id. The parties strongly dispute what next occurred. Construing the facts in favor of the Williams, the SWAT team then entered the Williams' home without knocking and announcing their presence. Applebaum Aff. Ex. 3 ("J. Hedemark Dep.") 16:16-25. At the time, both of the Williams were upstairs with their family dog. C. Williams Dep. 17:16-24. Hearing a commotion downstairs, Cymonne Williams followed the dog down the stairs to investigate. C. Williams Dep. 18:3-13. Darrell Williams followed shortly behind. Applebaum Aff. Ex. 2 ("D. Williams Dep.") 27:12-18.

The dog reached the bottom of the stairs first. C. Williams Dep. 18:21-25. As Cymonne Williams was heading down the stairs, she saw a flash. C. Williams Dep. 18:25-19:1. The flash was SWAT team gunfire aimed at the family dog. Brandon Kitzerow Aff. [Docket No. 22] ¶ 4. Four rounds were fired at the dog, all four were recovered. Id. ¶ 5. The dog died at the scene. Am. Compl. ¶ 9.

Cymonne Williams then retreated up the stairs and past her husband, who was headed down the stairs. C. Williams Dep. 20:12-13. At the time, Darrell Williams was dressed only in his underwear. D. Williams Dep. 28:8-9. At the bottom of the stairs, he met the officers, who had their guns drawn and pointed at him. D. Williams Dep. 28:8-10, 32:24-25. Upon meeting the officers, Darrell Williams raised his hands above his head and said, "What the hell are you all doing in my house? What are you all here for?" D. Williams Dep. 30:20-24. The officers then told him, "Get down." D. Williams Dep. 30:24-25. Williams, however, did not comply. Instead, he repeated, with his hands still raised, "What are you here for?" D. Williams Dep. 30:25. An officer then struck Darrell Williams in the head with the butt of a rifle. See D. Williams Dep. 31:1-2; Appluebaum Aff. Ex. 17 ("D. Williams Aff.") ¶ 2. Around the time Williams fell to the ground, he was also kicked in the torso by an officer. D. Williams Dep. 34:16-35:60. An officer then placed his foot on Darrell Williams' head while other SWAT team members bound his hands. D. Williams Dep. 34:20-22. The SWAT team then proceeded upstairs and bound Cymonne Williams and her mother and brother who were also present, and searched the house. See C. Williams Dep. 23:14-24:23. No evidence was found. Applebaum Aff. Ex. 19.

After the search, Darrell Williams was taken to the hospital. See Applebaum Aff. Ex. 9 (medical record). He was diagnosed with a contusion of the eyelid and periocular area (i.e. the area of the eye socket), a rib contusion, and a headache. Applebaum Aff. Ex. 9 at MPLS 85. He was prescribed pain medication and instructed to apply ice or heat to the affected areas. Id. Following the incident, he missed a total of eight days of work. Lathrop Aff. Ex. 10. In November 2010, Caldwell was convicted of several state criminal offenses and sentenced to 110 months' imprisonment. Lathrop Aff. Ex. 11 at 1.

The Williams brought suit in state court in April 2010. In May 2010, Defendants removed this case to federal court. Defendants now move for summary judgment arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact that unreasonable force was used, and regardless that Defendants are entitled to official immunity. In response to the Motion, the Williams voluntarily dismissed Sergeant Voss, Sergeant Anderson, Officer Williams, Officer Kading, Officer Hoffbeck, Officer Rud, and Officer Angerhoffer, leaving only Sergeant Sletta, Officer Kitzerow, Officer Durand, and the City of Minneapolis as Defendants.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall issue "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986) (same); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (same). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ludwig, 54 F.3d at 470. The nonmoving party may not "rest on mere allegations or denials, but must demonstrate on the record the existence of specific facts which create a genuine issue for trial." Krenik v. County of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995).

B. Section 1983 Standard

The essential elements of a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are (1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under the color of state law and (2) whether that conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. DuBose v. Kelly, 187 F.3d 999, 1002 (8th Cir. 1999) (quoting Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981)). The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend IV. The use of force by police officers on a person is a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, and thus excessive force claims are properly analyzed under an "objective reasonableness" standard. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). "Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is 'reasonable' under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of 'the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests' against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." Id. at 396 (quoting Tennesee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8 (1985)) (internal quotations omitted). "The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Graham, 490 U.S. at 396 (citations omitted).

In addition, even if a defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right, the defendant may be entitled to "qualified immunity." A defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless the right he is alleged to have violated is "clearly established" at the time of the violation. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001) (quotation omitted). "The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Id. (citation omitted).

C. State Law Claims

In addition to asserting claims under § 1983, the Williams assert state law claims for assault and battery. Under Minnesota law, a battery is "an intentional unpermitted offensive contact with another." Paradise v. City of Minneapolis, 297 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. 1980) (citation omitted). Under Minnesota law, an assault is "an unlawful threat to do bodily harm to another with the present ability to carry the threat into effect." Dahlin v. Fraser, 288 N.W. 851, 852 (Minn. 1939).

Similar to § 1983, police officers may be entitled to immunity on state law claims. In Minnesota, "official immunity" provides a public official with a defense to state law claims. Mumm v. Mornson, 708 N.W.2d 475, 490 (Minn. 2006). Official immunity protects discretionary conduct unless an official commits a "willful or malicious wrong." Elwood v. Rice County, 423 N.W.2d 671, 679 (Minn. 1988). A willful or malicious wrong is an act that an official "has reason to believe is prohibited." Rico v. State, 472 N.W.2d 100, 107 (Minn. 1991).

Several factual theories of recovery under both § 1983 and Minnesota state law have been argued, and each is considered below.

D. Claims Related to the Shooting of the Family Dog

The Williams assert § 1983 claims premised on the shooting of the family dog, and the same shooting forms the basis of Cymonne Williams' assault claim. The precise § 1983 theory pursued by the Williams is disputed by the parties. The Williams appear to argue that the killing of a dog was both (1) an unreasonable seizure of the dog itself due to the failure to knock and announce by the police officers, and (2) an unreasonable seizure of Cymonne Williams. Defendants argue that the first theory was not properly pled and cannot ...


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