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Gaines v. City of Minneapolis

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 26, 2019

Brittni A. Gaines, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Minneapolis, and Officer Nathan Bauer, 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 denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 24, 2017, Plaintiff Brittni Gaines was out with a friend in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. By her own admission, she had a lot to drink. In fact, she has no memory of any of the events described below. At about 9:30 pm, Gaines crossed against the light at Lagoon and Hennepin, a busy intersection. (Carter Decl. (Docket No. 37) Ex. 3 (squad video) at 21:39:36.) Unfortunately for her, one of the cars she walked in front of was a Minneapolis squad car containing Defendant Officer Nathan Bauer.

         Although the squad was in the left westbound lane of Lagoon, it turned across the right lane and came to a stop on the curb cut-out for the busy intersection. (Id. at 21:39:44.) There were many people milling about on the sidewalk. Bauer exited the car and began walking down the sidewalk. (Id. at 21:39:50.) When his body-cam audio kicks in, he can be heard saying, “Stop! You're under arrest!” to a woman walking ahead of him, Plaintiff Gaines. (Id. Ex. 4 (Bauer body-cam video) at 02:39:51.) At the same time, Bauer grabs Gaines's arms from behind. (Id.) She turns her head toward him, saying, “Huh?” (Id. at 02:39:54.) Bauer then states, “You play stupid games, you get stupid prizes, ” as he brings Gaines's hands behind her back. (Id. at 02:39:56.) She asks, “What do you mean?” while continuing to turn toward him. (Id. at 02:39:56-:57.) Bauer screams “Stop!” and nearly simultaneously throws Gaines to the sidewalk. (Id. at 02:39:58.)

         Defendants contend that Bauer was trying to use an arm-bar takedown of Gaines, which would have allowed him to control her as she went to the ground. But they acknowledge that he did not perform the takedown correctly, resulting in Gaines's face slamming against the curb.

         The police ultimately transported Gaines to the hospital. She was not charged with any crime arising out of the incident, and she suffered no long-term injury. Her two-Count Complaint claims excessive force[1] under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Bauer and state-law battery against both the City and Bauer.

         DISCUSSION

         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). And when there is video evidence that does not “demonstrably contradict[]” the parties' differing version of the events, the Court must view that evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 827 (8th Cir. 2007).

         A. 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 nonmoving party, establishes a violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right, and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the violation.” Capps v. Olson, 780 F.3d 879, 884 (8th Cir. 2015).

         The Supreme Court has recently emphasized that the qualified-immunity inquiry should focus on whether there are any cases “where an officer acting under similar circumstances as [the defendant officer] was held to have violated the [Constitution.]” White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017). In other words, while there does not have to be a case “‘directly on point' for a right to be clearly established, ‘existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.'” Id. at 551 (quoting Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015)). The legal question for the Court to answer is “whether the facts alleged by the plaintiff are a violation of clearly established law.” Franklin for Estate of Franklin v. Peterson, 878 F.3d 631, 635 (8th Cir. 2017).

         B. Excessive Force

         “Since this case presents an issue of whether an officer used excessive force, the case must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's objective reasonableness ...


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