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Moore-Jones v. Bryant

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

August 30, 2016

JERICA MOORE-JONES, Individually and as Parent and Next Friend of DEL MOORE PLAINTIFF
v.
COLONEL BILL BRYANT, Director, Arkansas State Police; and ANTHONY TODD QUICK, Trooper, Arkansas State Police DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jerica Moore-Jones commenced this action on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor daughter against Colonel Bill Bryant, in his official capacity as Director of the Arkansas State Police, and Anthony Todd Quick, individually and in his official capacity as a trooper for the Arkansas State Police. Moore-Jones alleges that Bryant inadequately supervised and trained troopers and that Quick used excessive force in violation of the United States and Arkansas constitutions. The amended complaint alleges a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for use of excessive force in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment; a claim under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act[1] and Article 2, § 9 of the Arkansas Constitution for use of excessive force; and a common-law claim for assault and battery. Moore-Jones seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         The defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint arguing that: (1) sovereign immunity shields Bryant and Quick in their official capacity; (2) the section 1983 claim fails because Quick, in his individual capacity, is entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) the state-law claims fail because Quick, in his individual capacity, did not lose his statutory immunity by acting maliciously. For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. Document #10.

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although detailed factual allegations are not required, the complaint must set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). The court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Gorog v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 760 F.3d 787, 792 (8th Cir. 2014). The complaint must contain more than labels, conclusions, or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, which means that the court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

         The amended complaint alleges:

13. On November 7, 2015, at 8:24pm, Jerica Moore-Jones was the subject of a traffic stop for expired tags and while attempting to find a safe place with adequate lighting to stop her vehicle in response to the lights flashing on the ASP cruiser, that as she reduced her speed, the defendant Trooper Quick rammed his police cruiser (in a “pit” maneuver)[2] into her vehicle and caused it to crash causing property damage and personal injury as herein after [sic] alleged.
14. At all times before the crash caused by Trooper Quick, Trooper Quick was aware that plaintiff, Jerica Moore-Jones, was attempting to find a safe lighted place to stop and despite that knowledge and within 52 seconds of initiating the traffic stop, chose to ram her vehicle and cause it to crash demonstrating extreme indifference for the health and safety of Jerica Moore-Jones and her daughter, Dela.

Document #8 at 5-6.

         As noted, Moore-Jones sued Bryant in his official capacity for inadequately training and supervising Arkansas State Troopers and Quick in his official and individual capacities for violating her rights under the United States and Arkansas constitutions. Moore-Jones now concedes that her official-capacity claim against Bryant should be dismissed. Document #11. She does not agree, however, that her claims against Quick in his official and individual capacities should be dismissed.

         Monetary claims against a state employee in his official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Andrus ex rel. Andrus v. Arkansas, 197 F.3d 953, 955 (8th Cir. 1999). Moore-Jones seeks only monetary relief. Her claims against Bryant and Quick in their official capacity, therefore, must be dismissed.

         Whether Quick is immune from suit in his individual capacity, however, presents a different issue. With respect to the federal claims, Quick claims qualified immunity. “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). Qualified immunity provides immunity from suit, not just immunity from liability. Hayek v. City of St. Paul, 488 F.3d 1049, 1054 (8th Cir. 2007). A government official is entitled to qualified immunity if (1) the facts alleged do not amount to violation of a constitutional right, or (2) the constitutional right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232, 129 S.Ct. at 815-16. This Court has discretion to address either of these inquiries first. Id. at 236, 129 S.Ct. at 818.

         Moore-Jones alleges that Quick violated section 1983 by using excessive force to effectuate the traffic stop. Quick's decision to ram Moore-Jones's vehicle off the road constituted a “seizure” under the fourth amendment. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); Brower v. Cty. of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 596-97, 109 S.Ct. 1378, 1381, 103 L.Ed.2d 628 (1989) (“[A] Fourth Amendment seizure [occurs] . . . when there is a governmental termination of freedom of movement through means intentionally applied.”). A claim that excessive force was used in seizing a person is analyzed under the fourth amendment's objective reasonableness requirement. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1871, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). Although it is clear that an unreasonable use of force is unconstitutional, it is not always apparent what constitutes an unreasonable use of force. That determination demands a “careful balancing” of the individual's liberty interests against the government's countervailing interests. Id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. at 1871 (citation omitted). This balancing “requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id., 109 S.Ct. at 1872. Additionally, an officer's use of force is not assessed based on hindsight but must be reasonable as judged from the vantage of a reasonable officer on the scene. Id.

         Quick argues that his decision to use the PIT maneuver was objectively reasonable. Document #10 at 9. In addressing uses of force, courts routinely begin the analysis with the factors set forth in Graham: the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee. See, e.g., Montoya v. City of Flandreau, 669 F.3d 867, 871 (8th Cir. 2012); Cook v. City of Bella Villa, 582 F.3d 840, 849 (8th Cir. 2009); Brown v. City of Golden Valley, 574 F.3d 491, 496 (8th Cir. 2009). Application of these factors produces the following principle: the use of force is least justified against nonviolent misdemeanants who pose little or no threat to the safety of officers or others and who do not actively resist arrest or flee. Montoya, 669 F.3d at 871. Notwithstanding, courts are mindful that the totality of the circumstances must be considered. Id.

         Here, Quick initiated a traffic stop because Moore-Jones was driving with expired tags, a nonviolent misdemeanor offense. See Ark. Code Ann. § 27-14-304. Moore-Jones was not operating her vehicle in a reckless or dangerous manner, nor was she threatening the safety of Quick or others. She slowed her vehicle and began searching for a safe place to pull over. After less than one minute of pursuit, Quick decided to use the PIT maneuver to stop her vehicle forcibly. Assuming as true the facts alleged in the complaint, a reasonable officer in Quick's position would not interpret Moore-Jones's conduct as actively resisting arrest or fleeing. Cf. Wertish v. Krueger, 433 F.3d 1062, 1066 (8th Cir. 2006) (concluding that officer could ...


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