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Morrison v. City of Minneapolis

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 26, 2018

Alan Morrison, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Minneapolis, and Christopher Steward, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PAUL A. MAGNUSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In June 2014, an unidentified person reported to Hennepin County Child Protection that a 14-year-old girl, identified in the briefing as “Jane Doe, ” was being sexually abused by her father, Plaintiff Alan Morrison. (Henry Decl. (Docket No. 28) Ex. 1 (Storm Dep.) at 26-27.) It turned out that the report was false, but at the time neither Child Protection nor the police knew that it was false. As such, Sarah Storm, a child protection worker, forwarded the report to the Minneapolis Police Department (“MPD”), which recommended that she interview the alleged victim. (Id. at 27.)

         Storm called Jane Doe's mother, Katina Flaherty, who shares custody with Morrison. (Id. at 29.) Storm also called Morrison to tell him of the allegations and to request time to interview Jane Doe. (Id. at 31-34; Henry Decl. Ex. 5 (Morrison Dep.) at 19.) Morrison was understandably upset by the phone call; he told Storm that she would remove Doe from his home “over my dead body.” (Morrison Dep. at 28; see also Storm Dep. at 30.) Morrison ultimately hung up on Storm. (Storm Dep. at 30.)

         Storm contacted the MPD again, and they recommended that she go to Morrison's house and ask for a squad car to meet her there. (Id. at 34-35.) Meanwhile, Ms. Flaherty also drove to Morrison's house, but Morrison would not allow her to take Doe out of the house. (Morrison Dep. at 34.) Storm and two MPD officers arrived at the house approximately ten minutes later. (Id. at 35-36.) Morrison was extremely upset, and repeatedly stated that the officers would have to shoot him before he would allow them to take Doe out of the house. (Storm Dep. at 38.) He did, however, allow Storm to enter the home to talk to Doe. (Storm Dep. at 40.) Morrison remained outside in his front yard. (Morrison Dep. at 47.)

         Morrison continued to speak to the officers in an “elevated” voice (Morrison Dep. at 53), telling them that they could not take his daughter, and accusing the officers of violating his and his daughter's civil rights. (Id. at 57.) When Morrison did not calm down, the two responding officers requested additional assistance, and two additional squad cars responded. Defendant Officer Christopher Steward was in one of these squad cars. (Henry Decl. Ex. 4 (Steward Dep.) at 3.) The officers made a loose circle around Morrison. (Id. at 13.) By this time, a crowd had gathered and was observing the events.

         Morrison was pacing in his front yard, clearly agitated, and repeatedly flexing his hands into fists. (Morrison Dep. at 49-50, 57.) Morrison suffers from degenerative joint disease and must flex his hands to alleviate the symptoms of that disease. (Id. at 50.) Finally, one of the first officers on the scene, Officer McCarthy, drew his taser and told Morrison that he was under arrest. (Henry Decl. Ex. 6 (Police Report) at 5; see also Steward Dep. at 16, 18.) Steward, who had been standing behind Morrison, came up behind Morrison and put his arm around Morrison's neck, using a hold called a neck restraint. (Steward Dep. at 17.) Steward took Morrison to the ground, and Morrison lost consciousness for a few moments. (Morrison Dep. at 73.) When he came to, his hands had been handcuffed behind his back, and Officer McCarthy then took Morrison to the squad car. (Id. at 84, 88.) Morrison was charged with obstructing legal process, but those charges were ultimately dismissed. (Henry Aff. Ex. 11.)

         The Complaint (Docket No. 1-2) raises six counts against Steward and two counts against the City of Minneapolis. Counts I, II, III, and VI are § 1983 claims against Steward for, respectively, false arrest, excessive force, First Amendment retaliation, and unreasonable seizure. Counts IV and V are state-law claims for false imprisonment and battery against Steward. Finally, Counts VIII and IX raise claims under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act against the City for its alleged failure to provide him with a complete copy of the dash cam video and Steward's use of force report. Morrison also brought a Monell claim against the City in Count VII, but has stipulated to the dismissal of that claim. (Docket No. 48.) Morrison contends that Steward's actions caused him to dislocate a finger, exacerbated a hernia and Morrison's degenerative joint disease, and bruised his face. He claims damages in excess of $50, 000, and also seeks punitive damages.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the evidence and inferences that “may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank of Mo., 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity protects police officers from suit unless “their conduct . . . violate[s] clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). To evaluate whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must determine whether the facts alleged “make out a violation of a constitutional right.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). The Court must also determine whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged misconduct. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Thus, a police officer “is entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity unless (1) the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the ...


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