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Winter v. City of Westlake

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 13, 2018

WILLIAM WINTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WESTLAKE, OHIO, et al., Defendants. BETHANY CAPASSO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF WESTLAKE, OHIO, et al., Defendants. EDMUND LEECE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WESTLAKE, OHIO, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court's consolidated Opinion and Order first addresses the Motions (ECF DKT #26 in No. 1:16CV957; ECF DKT #25 in No. 1:16CV1753; and ECF DKT #18 in No. 1:16CV2588) of Defendants City of Westlake, Kevin Bielozer, Mark Arcuri, Nathan Fox and William Eschenfelder, for Summary Judgment on Qualified Immunity. For the following reasons, the Motions are granted.

         PART ONE

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On October 23, 2014, at approximately 8:51 p.m., City of Avon Police Officer Patrick Neuhoff radioed that a white pick-up truck had been stolen from a golf course in Avon Lake. The truck, driven by Brandon Pawlak, refused to stop. Defendant Officers Andy Kehl and Neuhoff pursued the vehicle. The vehicle traveled south on Jaycox Road and ran a red light. The truck continued south until it reached Detroit Road, where it pulled into a parking lot. Neuhoff attempted to follow the truck into the parking lot. The truck then drove over a flower bed and back onto Detroit Road. Kehl then became the lead officer in the pursuit. At 8:52, Neuhoff requested that the Avon dispatcher radio ahead to the Westlake Police Department to inform them of the fleeing vehicle. The dispatcher announced to Westlake Police the direction and speed of the truck.

         At the time the dispatch was issued, Defendants, Westlake Police Officers Mark Arcuri and Nathan Fox, were writing reports at the Westlake Police Department. Initially, Arcuri and Fox anticipated that the suspect would enter I-90 at Crocker Road based upon incorrect information on the whereabouts of the vehicle. However, by the time they left in their cruisers, they learned that the pursuit was entering Westlake on Detroit Road. Arcuri and Fox were not directed by supervising or coordinating officers in relation to the pursuit, nor did they coordinate with other officers or with each other. They had no information that the driver was armed and dangerous or that the driver had committed any violent acts before or during the pursuit.

         Arcuri and Fox stopped on a stretch of Detroit Road where the road is three lanes across with the middle lane being a shared turn lane. On the night in question, the eastbound lane was under construction and the middle lane was being used for eastbound traffic. That lane was cordoned off with large orange traffic barrels. Detroit Road curves slightly to the north just before this location. The speed limit in this area is 35 miles per hour. The area is mostly commercial with parking lots and a sidewalk on either side. On one side is an apartment complex separated from the street by a few yards. On the other side is the Dover Gardens Tavern directly adjacent to the sidewalk.

         Upon reaching the area, approximately two minutes and forty-five seconds after the initial call from dispatch, Arcuri parked in the middle lane with only his headlights on but not his overhead lights. He deployed his StopStick, Ltd. tire deflation devices in the eastbound lane in the path of the speeding pick-up truck. Farther down the road to the east, Fox also parked his cruiser, with its overhead flashing lights operating and partially blocking the eastbound lane.

         The pick-up truck came around the slight bend in the road at approximately 74 to 77 miles per hour. The driver swerved to avoid Arcuri's cruiser, struck the stop sticks (though the truck's tires did not deflate) and the south curb of Detroit Road, and began to fishtail at high speed. Having lost control, the vehicle crashed into the front of the Dover Gardens Tavern structure, injuring Plaintiffs William Winter, Bethany Capasso, Jon Masterson, Daniel Bush, Kelly Deutschendorf, John Comer and Edmund Leece, who were patrons and employees of the bar.

         In their Complaints, Plaintiffs claim they suffered severe, permanent injuries when Defendants engaged in a police pursuit and attempted to terminate that pursuit by setting up roadblocks and deploying stop sticks in a manner substantially certain to cause the fleeing vehicle to crash through an occupied restaurant at a high rate of speed. Plaintiffs' First Claim for Relief against Defendants Arcuri and Fox sets out a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiffs' substantive Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The Second Claim for Relief sets forth a § 1983 claim for supervisory liability against Defendants Eschenfelder and Bielozer. In the Third Claim for Relief, Plaintiffs allege that the City of Westlake and Chief Bielozer, in his official capacity, are liable under § 1983 for failure to train. The Fourth Claim for Relief sets out a § 1983 claim against the City of Westlake and Chief Bielozer, in his official capacity, for ratification of unconstitutional conduct. Plaintiffs have asserted an Ohio state law claim for Recklessness in their Fifth Claim for Relief.

         In their Motions for Summary Judgment, the Westlake Defendants assert the defense of qualified immunity and seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims. Plaintiffs filed their Memorandum in Opposition but presented no arguments with respect to the Motions on behalf of Defendants Eschenfelder, Bielozer or the City.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment shall be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lansing Dairy. Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994). The moving party must either point to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view the facts and all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Once the movant presents evidence to meet its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Lansing Dairy, 39 F.3d at 1347.

         This Court does not have the responsibility to search the record sua sponte for genuine issues of material fact. Betkerur v. Aultman Hospital Ass 'n., 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996); Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 404-06 (6th Cir. 1992). The burden falls upon the nonmoving party to “designate specific facts or evidence in dispute, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); and if the nonmoving party fails to make the necessary showing on an element upon which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Whether summary judgment is appropriate depends upon “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Amway Distributors Benefits Ass 'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Qualified Immunity

         For any action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 the two essential inquiries are: “(1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981) overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986). These inquiries may be addressed in any order and a court may address whether a constitutional violation occurred before it looks at whether a right is clearly established. Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2020 (2014) citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 233 (2009).

         Officials who perform discretionary functions, such as police officers acting in the line of duty, are generally entitled to qualified immunity from individual liability for civil damages unless they violate clearly established rights. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 812 (1982). The Sixth Circuit, in determining whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, applies a three-part test: 1) whether the plaintiff's constitutional right was violated; 2) whether that right was clearly established at the time such that a reasonable official would have understood that he was violating that right; and 3) whether the official's action was objectively unreasonable in light of the clearly established rights. Sample v. Bailey, 409 F.3d 689, 696-97 (6th Cir. 2005). A court does not have to consider these prongs sequentially. Jones v. Byrnes, 585 F.3d 971, 975 (6th Cir. 2009). Should any one portion of the test go unfulfilled, then qualified immunity is appropriate as a defense. “When properly applied, [qualified immunity] protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2085 (2011) quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). Once the defense of qualified immunity has been raised, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. Rodriguez v. Passinault, 637 F.3d 675, 689 (6th Cir. 2011).

         “The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Ciminillo v. Streicher, 434 F.3d 461, 468 (6th Cir. 2006). The legal right cannot be framed in general terms to encompass an expansive area of law. Bills v. Aseltine, 52 F.3d 596. 602 (6th Cir. 1995). The exact circumstances of the particular case need not have been previously held illegal for the right to be “clearly established, ” but the right must be clear in a particularized way to put the official on notice that his conduct is illegal. See Scicluna v. Wells, 345 F.3d 441, 446 (6th Cir. 2003); Bell v. Johnson, 308 F.3d 594, 602 (6th Cir. 2002).

         In the within matter, the parties do not dispute that the Westlake Defendants were acting under color of state law at the time of this incident. Plaintiffs allege that their Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights were violated when Arcuri and Fox deployed their stop sticks, forcing Pawlak off the road and into the tavern.

         Fourteenth Amendment Due Process

         The Court's next inquiry is whether Arcuri and Fox breached Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. A pillar of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee is protection against arbitrary action by the ...


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