United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Applebaum, Applebaum Law Firm, St. Paul, MN, for plaintiff.
Gregory P. Sautter, Office of the City Attorney, Minneapolis,
MN, for defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Tostrud United States District Judge
Meghan Christina Johnson (“Johnson”) commenced
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking to recover
damages stemming from what she alleges were an
unconstitutional arrest and use of force perpetrated upon her
by Minneapolis Police Officer Stephane Courtois
(“Courtois”). From start to finish, the material
events giving rise to Johnson's claims occurred outside a
Minneapolis bar and within about a forty-minute window in the
early morning of May 18, 2014. Several undisputed facts
provide a very general summary of what happened. While
waiting outside to enter the bar, Johnson observed
Courtois's partner, Officer Efrem Hamilton
(“Hamilton”), arresting one of her friends.
Johnson approached Hamilton and asked why her friend was
being arrested. After a time (during which the parties
dispute precisely what happened), Courtois shoved Johnson.
Johnson responded to the shove with a two-sentence statement.
The second sentence was two words long and began with a
profanity. Very quickly after Johnson completed her
statement, Courtois arrested Johnson, and he used physical
force to complete the arrest. Johnson was charged with
obstructing legal process under Minn. Stat. § 609.50.
seeks summary judgment based on qualified immunity, and he
asserts essentially two grounds to support this outcome.
First, Courtois argues that Johnson admitted a dispositive
fact by serving untimely answers to requests for admission
and then failing to seek a court order permitting withdrawal
of her admissions. Second, Courtois argues that, even if
Johnson is permitted to withdraw her admissions, the
undisputed facts still establish the reasonableness of his
actions as a matter of law. As to the first argument, Eighth
Circuit law tilts in favor of construing some of
Johnson's filings as a motion to withdraw her admissions,
and then granting that motion. As to the second argument, the
evidence viewed in a light most favorable to Johnson would
permit a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that
Courtois's arrest and use of force were not objectively
reasonable, precluding summary judgment in his favor on the
basis of qualified immunity.
and Hamilton, both Minneapolis police officers, were working
the bar beat shortly after midnight on May 18, 2014. Sautter
Decl. Ex. 2 (“Hamilton Dep.”) at 9 [ECF No.
20-2]. They were in uniform working for Bar Louie in the
Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, where at least part of
their duties entailed monitoring patrons as they waited in
line to enter the bar. See Id. at 10, 16. Johnson
was also outside Bar Louie that night, waiting in line with
three companions, when she ran into an old friend whose first
name is Duncan. Sautter Decl. Ex. 1 (“Johnson
Dep.”) at 33-34, 36, 38 [ECF No. 20-1]. Johnson and
Duncan chatted briefly before Hamilton and Courtois
approached. Id. at 36, 38.
time, Johnson was unaware of the reason the officers
approached. See Id. at 33. Apparently, shortly
before Johnson arrived at Bar Louie, Hamilton had observed
Duncan in line, pouring a substance Hamilton suspected was
alcohol from a flask into a cup. Hamilton Dep. at 11. When
Duncan saw Hamilton watching him, he set the cup down on a
nearby bench and returned to the line. Id. at 12-13.
Hamilton said something to get Duncan's attention, but
Duncan ignored him. Id. at 13-14. At some point,
Duncan sneaked back to the bench, took another drink, and
again returned to the line. Id. at 14. Hamilton
again tried to get Duncan's attention, this time shining
his flashlight on the back of Duncan's head and calling
out to him. Id. at 15. Eventually the two spoke,
with Duncan saying everyone was doing it (“it”
apparently meaning surreptitiously drinking while in line)
and Hamilton telling Duncan to leave. Id. at 16.
Duncan pretended he was leaving, but instead walked only to
the end of the line. Id. at 16-18. Hamilton told him
to come back, at which point Duncan walked away, toward the
parking lot, “a little bit” intoxicated.
Id. at 16, 19. Hamilton followed, and placed Duncan
under arrest. Id. at 19. Duncan put his hands behind
his back, and Hamilton grabbed them. Id.
point, Johnson walked toward Hamilton and Duncan, with
Courtois following behind Johnson. Id. at 18;
Sautter Decl. Ex. 3 (“Courtois Dep.”) at 19 [ECF
No. 20-3]. From there, participant and witness accounts
diverge. Hamilton testified that Johnson somehow-and he is
not exactly sure how-disconnected his hands from his grasp on
Duncan, whom he had not yet handcuffed. Hamilton Dep. at
19-21. Hamilton says he told Johnson she needed to leave and
that she could be arrested for obstruction, but that she
continued standing where she was and telling Hamilton to
wait. Id. at 21; Courtois Dep. at 20. Hamilton
proceeded to escort Duncan to the squad car and to handcuff
him. Hamilton Dep. at 22. Courtois observed that at this
point Johnson was “[w]ithin a few feet” of
Hamilton, Duncan, and himself, though he could not specify
whether that meant a distance of one foot or somewhere short
of six feet. Courtois Dep. at 22-23. Hamilton placed Duncan
in the back of the squad car. Hamilton Dep. at 22. Because
his attention was focused on Duncan, Hamilton did not see or
hear anything more concerning Johnson or her interactions
with Courtois until Johnson herself was being placed in the
squad car following her own arrest a short time later.
Id. at 23.
denies she ever touched Hamilton. Johnson Dep. at 44-45. She
testified that, as she watched his interaction with Duncan
from her spot in line, she was concerned about why officers
were arresting her friend because, based on what she knew at
the time, “it seemed like it was completely out of the
blue.” Id. at 33. She says by the time she
reached Hamilton, he was already putting Duncan in handcuffs.
Id. at 44. She asked Hamilton, “Why are you
arresting my friend?” and when Hamilton ignored her,
she repeated her question. Id. at 44-45.
Johnson's deposition testimony reflects that it is at
this point her encounter with Courtois began:
Q: Did he [Courtois] tell you anything?1
A: It's on the video. I don't remember verbatim what
Q: What do you remember?
A: I remember him saying something on the lines of, “Do
you want to be next, ” and then approaching me in a
violent manner and shoving me.
Q: Did he tell you to walk away and leave them alone?
Q: Did he tell you to leave?
A: He might have said something along those lines. And I
think I may have said something like, “I have every
right to stand right here, ” because I was nowhere near
him, he started approaching me. And I was like, “Why
are you approaching me? I have every right to stand right
here.” So he was basically intimidating me to move for
no apparent reason.
Q: Where was he and where was [Duncan] when he told you all
A: Well, I didn't know at the time, but he was handcuffed
and he was on the police car. I didn't know that until
after I had been arrested though.
Q: The officer who pushed you, was he between you and the
other officer and [Duncan] --
Q -- or was he somewhere else?
A: No. I had already started backing away from the situation,
and he's the one who started aggressing me and pursuing
me to the extent where he decided to come up and shove me.
Q: So [Duncan] was not --
A: No, he was not --
Q: -- behind him?
A: -- in my eyesight. He was not in the area in which this