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Scheffler v. McDonough

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 23, 2017

MARK McDONOUGH, in his individual capacity acting under color of law as a Coon Rapids Police Officer, JOE PRICE, in his individual capacity acting under color of law as a Coon Rapids Police Officer, and CITY OF COON RAPIDS, MINNESOTA, a government entity and political subdivision of the State of Minnesota, Defendants.

          Peter J. Nickitas, PETER J. NICKITAS LAW OFFICE, L.L.C., and Paul Applebaum, APPLEBAUM LAW FIRM, for plaintiff.

          Ryan M. Zipf, LEAGUE OF MINNESOTA CITIES, for defendants.


          Patrick J. Schiltz, United States District Judge.

         Shortly after midnight on July 10, 2014, plaintiff Troy Scheffler approached defendant Mark McDonough-a police officer who was sitting in a blacked-out squad car surveilling the scene of a possible crime-and accused McDonough of following him. The two men got into an argument, and McDonough handcuffed, arrested, and allegedly assaulted Scheffler. Scheffler contends that McDonough did not have probable cause to arrest him and that McDonough used excessive force against him.

         Scheffler should have brought two claims against McDonough under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: one for unlawful arrest and the other for excessive force. Instead, Scheffler filed a 17-count complaint, including not only claims for unlawful arrest and excessive force, but 15 other claims that seem to have no real purpose. If the jury believes Scheffler's testimony, then his unlawful-arrest and excessive-force claims will allow him to recover every penny to which he is entitled (including attorney's fees and costs); the other 15 claims will result in no additional recovery. And if the jury does not believe Scheffler's testimony, then he is highly unlikely to be awarded damages on any of his claims. Most likely, then, the 15 additional claims will accomplish nothing but to create a great deal of needless work for the parties and the Court.

         “This Court has repeatedly criticized the filing of ‘kitchen-sink' or ‘shotgun' complaints-complaints in which a plaintiff brings every conceivable claim against every conceivable defendant.” Gurman v. Metro Hous. & Redev. Auth., 842 F.Supp.2d 1151, 1153 & n.2 (D. Minn. 2011) (collecting cases). One reason why kitchen-sink complaints are so often criticized is that they “unfairly burden defendants and courts” by “shift[ing] onto the defendant and the court the burden of identifying the plaintiff's genuine claims and determining which of those claims might have legal support.” Id.

         That is true in this case. Both sides have moved for partial summary judgment, and thus the defendants and the Court must now trudge through 17 claims to separate the wheat from the chaff.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. July 10, 2014

         Shortly after midnight on July 10, 2014, police officers employed by defendant City of Coon Rapids (“Coon Rapids”) were dispatched to a car dealership based on a report of a prowler or other disturbance. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 16; McDonough Aff. Ex. 12. Scheffler was biking home when he was passed by one or two of the squad cars that had been dispatched to the scene. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 76:2-20; Scheffler Dep. 80:6-81:10, 82:5-8. The first squad car shined a light on Scheffler as it passed by him heading in the opposite direction. Scheffler Dep. 80:6-18. As Scheffler continued biking home, he came upon a parked squad car that was blacked out and facing against traffic. Scheffler Dep. 81:16-82:12; see also McDonough Aff. Ex. 12. McDonough was alone in the car, surveilling the car dealership in case a suspect tried to escape. Zipf. Aff. Ex. 1 at 16:4-11; McDonough Aff. Ex. 12; Scheffler Dep. 88:22-24.

         On seeing McDonough's squad car, Scheffler called 911, told the dispatcher that a police officer was following him and had stopped in front of him, and asked the dispatcher to tell the police officer to leave. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 29:9-16; Scheffler Dep. 82:16-25. The dispatcher suggested that Scheffler approach the police officer and ask him what he was doing. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 30:9-18; Scheffler Dep. 91:21-92:9. Scheffler followed the dispatcher's advice and approached the passenger side of the squad car to question McDonough through the open window. Scheffler Dep. 96-97. The 911 operator stayed on the line, and thus the encounter between Scheffler and McDonough was recorded.[1]

         As he reached the squad car, Scheffler asked McDonough: “Why are you here?” Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 30:19-23; Scheffler Dep. 97:5-15. McDonough replied by asking Scheffler what he was doing. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 30:20; Scheffler Dep. 97:7-15. Scheffler responded that he was on his way home and minding his own business. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 30:25; Scheffler Dep. 98:2-7.

         McDonough exited his squad car and asked Scheffler for identification. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 31:1-2; Scheffler Dep. 97-98. According to McDonough, Scheffler was intoxicated and acting belligerent. McDonough Aff. Ex. 12; Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 22:11-13, 24:17-23. In fact, Scheffler had taken both Alprazolam (a generic version of Xanax) and a sleeping pill earlier that day. Scheffler Dep. 76:10-77:4, 132:12-20. On the 911 recording, Scheffler sounds intoxicated.

         Scheffler refused to provide any identification or tell McDonough what he wanted. When McDonough asked “do you have an ID on you?, ” Scheffler responded, “doesn't matter.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 2:31-33. Scheffler's response seemed to irritate McDonough, who told Scheffler: “Okay, listen, there's one of two ways this is going to go. Which way do you want it to go? Let me see your ID.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 2:33-39.

         After some more back and forth, McDonough asked Scheffler for his name, and Scheffler answered, “I don't have to respond to that.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 31:8-19; Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 2:39-3:22. McDonough replied, “Well, then get the fuck out of here then.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 31:20; Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 3:23-24. Scheffler refused to leave, but instead asked that McDonough's supervisor be called to the scene. Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 31:21. McDonough responded, “Sure.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 31:22; Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 3:29-32. McDonough continued: “Here's what I am going to do. I am going to put you over here and put your hands behind you. . . .” Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 3:34-37. Scheffler asked if he was being arrested, and McDonough responded by again ordering Scheffler to put his hands behind his back. Zipf Ex. 7 at 3:37-41. Scheffler then asked why he was getting arrested, and, according to Scheffler, McDonough responded: “For being a fuck.” (The 911 recording is not clear.) Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 32:5; Scheffler Dep. 105:20-22; see also Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 3:42-48.

         At this point, the 911 recording captures what sounds like a physical altercation between Scheffler and McDonough, but their words are garbled, and their testimony about what happened conflicts. McDonough can be heard telling Scheffler-over and over again-to give McDonough his “other hand.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 3:50-59. McDonough says that Scheffler was flailing his arms and resisting being handcuffed. McDonough Aff. Ex. 12. Scheffler denies that he resisted handcuffing.

         The parties agree that Scheffler was then taken to the ground, but the parties dispute how. McDonough says that, because Scheffler was resisting handcuffing, McDonough swept Scheffler's legs from under him to bring Scheffler to the ground. McDonough Aff. Ex. 12. McDonough maintains that, even after being taken to the ground, Scheffler continued to resist handcuffing, so McDonough called for assistance. McDonough Aff. Ex. 12; see also Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 33:3-5. Defendant Joe Price-who, like McDonough, was a Coon Rapids police officer-responded to McDonough's call.

         When Price arrived, he observed McDonough and Scheffler struggling on the ground. Price Aff. Ex. 13. Price states that he saw one handcuff on Scheffler's left hand and McDonough attempting to handcuff Scheffler's right hand. Price Aff. Ex. 13. Price then placed his right knee on Scheffler's shoulder in order to assist McDonough in getting a handcuff on Scheffler's right hand. Price Aff. Ex. 13. The officers further allege that, even after being handcuffed, Scheffler continued to resist, so the officers held him down and checked him for weapons. Price Aff. Ex. 13. McDonough testified that he did not strike Scheffler. Zipf. Aff. Ex. 1 at 23:9-13; 24:8-10.

         Scheffler tells a very different story. According to Scheffler, McDonough shoved Scheffler off his bike and onto the ground, knocking the wind out of him. Scheffler Dep. 105:14-25. Scheffler admits that McDonough asked for Scheffler's “other hand.” Scheffler Dep. 106:25-107:3. But, according to Scheffler, McDonough was at that point trying to grab Scheffler's cell phone, which he was holding in that “other hand.” According to Scheffler, he readily complied with McDonough's request, saying “it's right here.” Scheffler Dep. 107:4-8, 107:20-108:7. Scheffler testified that, after getting Scheffler's cell phone, McDonough handcuffed Scheffler, dragged him up against the rear tire of the squad car, and repeatedly banged his head against the tire while interrogating him. Scheffler Dep. 111:24-112:13. McDonough denies Scheffler's allegations, but the 911 recording seems consistent with Scheffler's account:

McDonough: You got an i.d. [on] you? I said do you have an i.d.? You got an i.d.?
Scheffler: Ow!
McDonough: Do you have an i.d.? Do you?
Price: Answer him.
McDonough: Answer me. That's what you do. What's your name?
Scheffler: Ow!
McDonough: Hmm?
Scheffler: Ow!
McDonough: Do you remember your name yet?
Scheffler: Ow!
McDonough: Hmm? Do you remember your name yet? Hmm? . . . .

Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 at 4:40-5:05. Scheffler testified that Price not only watched McDonough assault him, but cheered McDonough on. Scheffler Dep. 109:2-8, 112:14-23.

         Scheffler claims that he was eventually knocked unconscious. Scheffler Dep. 115:18. The officers dispute this, and say that not only was Scheffler conscious at all times, but he continued to be belligerent. McDonough Aff. Ex. 12; Price Aff. Ex. 13.

         A squad video captured a conversation between McDonough and another officer that took place shortly after Scheffler was handcuffed and placed in the squad car. See Nickitas Decl. Ex. C; Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 38:9-22.[2] On the video, McDonough is heard saying that Scheffler is “fucking drunk as shit” and referring to Scheffler as “fuck face” and as an “asshole.” Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 38:12-16; Nickitas Decl. Ex. C.

         McDonough cited Scheffler for obstructing the legal process in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2), Zipf Aff. Ex. 10, and transported Scheffler to the Anoka County Jail at approximately 1:15 am, Zipf Aff. Ex. 1 at 41:8-12; Scheffler Dep. 124:23- 125:1. No medical care was provided to Scheffler at the scene. Scheffler Dep. 129:20- 130:16. Scheffler says that, while he was in jail, he requested a nurse but was not provided one. Scheffler Dep. 240:15-241:5.

         Scheffler was released from jail at about 2:00 pm on July 10, 2014 and went to an urgent care facility at about 6:15 pm complaining of pain and dizziness. Scheffler Dep. 133:1-6, 144:3-13; Nickitas Ex. J. The doctor diagnosed him with a concussion and noted scratches and marks on his head and body. Nickitas Decl. Ex. J. The next day, Scheffler submitted a request to Coon Rapids under the Minnesota ...

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