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Zeis v. Springfield Township

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

March 27, 2018

Haydn Zeis, Administrator of The Estate of Jordn Miller Plaintiff,
Springfield Township, Ohio, et al. Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Springfield Township, Ohio, John Smith, Robert Scherer, Joe Holsopple, and Denise More (“Defendants”). Doc. 16. Also pending before the Court is a partial motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Haydn Zeis. For the reasons that follow, both motions are DENIED.[1]

         I. Facts & Procedure

         Shortly after 3 p.m. on September 8, 2015, the Springfield Township Police Department received a call regarding a “mental health case.” The call reported that an individual later identified as Jordn Miller was “in the throes of a mental health crisis.” Officer Robert Scherer and Officer Joseph Holsopple were the first to respond. Both officers arrived on scene at roughly 3:21 p.m. Upon arriving, the officers learned that Miller had entered the Jeep of another neighborhood resident and was refusing to leave it. The officers approached the Jeep and ordered Miller to exit. Miller did not voluntarily exit the Jeep.

         The parties' views of what transpired next are decidedly different. The officers contend that they attempted to remove Miller from the Jeep and Miller forcibly resisted. The officers contend that both were required to exert force on Miller to get him to the ground and to get a single handcuff on him. Officer Scherer asserts that despite both officers attempting to subdue Miller, Miller raised up, turned his head, and bit Scherer's calf during the altercation. With Holsopple's assistance, Scherer then used his taser on Miller's back to attempt to finish placing Miller in handcuffs. The use of the taser was effective in that allowed Miller to be handcuffed. At 3:24 p.m., three minutes after arriving on scene, Scherer called for an ambulance and advised that he had deployed his taser.

         According to the officers, despite being handcuffed, Miller continue to flail and kick his legs. Sergeant Denise Moore arrived on scene at 3:25:28 and claims to have observed Moore still flailing and attempting to bite the officers. Moore also observed Scherer deploy his taser a second time in the hopes of protecting Miller from harming himself. Scherer claims that this second use of the taser had no effect on Miller. Observing this, Moore approached Miller and put her foot on Miller's shoulder to help keep him controlled. Shortly thereafter, Miller became compliant.

         According to Moore, she then began asking Miller if he was “okay.” When Miller did not respond, Moore claims that officers rolled Miller onto his side. Moore also requested that EMS “step it up” at 3:26:54, roughly 90 seconds after her arrival on scene. Scherer asserts that he check Miller's pulse once he was rolled onto his side and that it was fast and strong. Scherer asserts that he did not begin to lose Miller's pulse until EMS paramedics had started up the driveway to Miller's location. Unfortunately, Miller never regained consciousness and passed away following the interaction with the officers.

         Zeis presents a markedly different view of the events that transpired once officers encountered Miller. According to a neighbor that alleges to have witnessed the encounter, “the officers threw Jordn face first onto the gravel driveway” when they removed him from the Jeep. Doc. 36-16 at 4. This neighbor, Rachel Portman, asserts that “one of the officers simultaneously landed on top of Jordn's body as Jordn's face and stomach hit the ground.” Doc. 37-16 at 4. Portman also asserts that Miller remained on his stomach in a face-down position for the entirety of the incident until EMS rolled him onto his back. Portman also contends that while Miller was face down, both officers pressed their hands and knees into his back. Portman also asserts that Miller's “head and shoulders were not rising off the ground” and that his “legs were not kicking up and down.” Doc. 37-16 at 5. Ostensibly, Portman asserts that Miller became compliant almost immediately after being forcibly removed from the Jeep.

         As noted above, both parties have sought summary judgment on Zeis' excessive force claim. Defendants have also sought summary judgment on the remaining claims in the complaint. The Court now reviews the parties' arguments.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The moving party must demonstrate to the court through reference to pleadings and discovery responses the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 323. This is so that summary judgment can be used to dispose of claims and defenses which are factually unsupported. Id. at 324. The burden on the nonmoving party is to show, through the use of evidentiary materials, the existence of a material fact which must be tried. Id. The court's inquiry at the summary judgment stage is “the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial - whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 250.

         The court's treatment of facts and inferences in a light favorable to the nonmoving party does not relieve that party of its obligation “to go beyond the pleadings” to oppose an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(e). See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 324. The nonmoving party must oppose a proper summary judgment motion “by any kinds of evidentiary material listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves ...” Id. Rule 56(c) states, “... [t]he judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” A scintilla of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party is not sufficient.

         III. Law and Analysis

         A review of the facts set forth above reveals the parties' divergent views on the facts. In an attempt to evade the inevitable denial of their motion for summary judgment based upon that divergent evidence, Defendants urge this Court to ignore Portman's declaration because it is “blatantly contradicted by the evidence in the record.” Doc. 43 at 2. In support of that position, Defendants detail all of the witnesses that give a different account of the interaction between Miller and the officers. Defendants also assert that the medical examiner found “no ...

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