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Smith v. Harness

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

January 19, 2017




         Courtney Smith brings this action against the Jacksonville Police Department and two of its officers, Kenneth R. Harness and Juan Matus, [1] alleging claims for false arrest, wrongful detention, due process violations, false imprisonment, defamation, and outrage. He seeks damages and release from prison. The defendants have moved for summary judgment and Smith has responded. For reasons that will be explained, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.


         A court should grant summary judgment if the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party meets that burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts that establish a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). A genuine dispute of material fact exists only if the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record. Pedersen v. Bio-Med. Applications of Minn., 775 F.3d 1049, 1053 (8th Cir. 2015). If the nonmoving party fails to present evidence sufficient to establish an essential element of a claim on which that party bears the burden of proof, then the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

         Local Rule 56.1 provides that a party moving for summary judgment must annex to the motion a separate, short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends that there is no genuine issue to be tried. The rule adds that a nonmoving party who opposes the motion must file a separate, short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends a genuine issue exists to be tried. Any material facts stated by the moving party are deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the nonmoving party. Here, Smith has failed to controvert most of the facts stated in the defendants' statement of material facts as to which there is no genuine issue to be tried. The facts that he has not controverted are deemed admitted.


         Smith was arrested by Harness and Matus on the evening of June 9, 2014. He was charged with refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, driving on a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident, driving while intoxicated, disorderly conduct, and careless or prohibited driving. He pled no contest to each of these misdemeanor charges in the District Court of Jacksonville, Arkansas, and was found guilty on each charge. Document #78-1. He appealed to the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, where the State dismissed all of the charges. Document #71-10. A docket entry indicates that the State informed the court and the defense that Brady v. Maryland issues surrounding a different case undermined the principal charge of DWI. Id.

         Smith was on parole at the time of his arrest. His parole was revoked, apparently due to his arrest. Document #2 at 5. He alleges that Harness and Matus submitted false police reports and testified against him falsely in his parole revocation hearing. Id. at 6. He has not, however, provided any evidence as to what testimony was presented against him in the parole revocation hearing.

         While no evidence of the parole proceedings has been provided, the police reports are part of the record, as are the dash-cam video and audio recordings by the police on the evening of the arrest.

         Smith's arrest stemmed from a report of a hit-and-run accident in Jacksonville, Arkansas, at approximately 9:40 p.m., on June 9, 2014. The report indicated that the perpetrator was a black male driving a Cadillac or DeVille style automobile. Document #71-2 at 2; Document #71-3. Moments later, Harness saw a Cadillac similar to the one reported by the victim of the hit-and-run accident and initiated a traffic stop. The video from Harness's dash camera shows the Cadillac making a right turn with the taillights visible; they were not illuminated. After Harness turned on his blue lights, the driver of the Cadillac, who later was identified as Smith, drove to a nearby Sonic drive-in and stopped. Harness approached and informed Smith that his brake lights were not working. Harness's statement that the brake lights were not working was a misstatement. His report correctly states that the taillights were not working. Document #71-4 at 1. Matus came to the scene while Harness was conducting the traffic stop. During the course of the conversation between Smith and Harness, Smith volunteered that his driver's license was suspended. Smith's vehicle showed evidence of having been in a collision. Document #71-5. Smith explained that he had been the victim of a hit-and-run accident. When asked why he left the scene of the accident, Smith said that he was trying to drive to a gas station. When an officer responded that he had driven past two gas stations, Smith replied that he had driven past only one gas station.

         Smith complained that he had been injured in the accident, so EMTs came to the scene, and Smith was transported to a local hospital. At the hospital, Smith was diagnosed with a muscle strain and released with after-care instructions, which he refused to sign. Document #71-6.[2] Audio recordings of events at the hospital show that Smith was loud, belligerent and uncooperative toward the officers and the medical personnel, yelling and shouting profanities at them repeatedly over an extended period of time.

         Harness attempted to perform a breathalyzer test. To ensure that consent was knowingly given, he attempted to read to Smith the rights form that Smith was to sign. The audio recording indicates that the officers repeatedly told Smith that he needed to open his eyes so that they could make sure that he was awake, but he repeatedly closed his eyes. Eventually, they ceased trying to read the form to him and asked him to sign it, but he refused. While refusing to sign the form agreeing to a breathalyzer test, Smith repeatedly shouted that he was not intoxicated and that they should have to prove that he was by giving him a breathalyzer test before they could arrest him. At one point on the audio recording, a man approached Smith and attempted to draw blood, stating that he was a lab technician. Smith refused and insisted on seeing a doctor. Another man came and identified himself as a doctor, but Smith still refused to allow blood to be drawn.

         After Smith was released from the hospital, he was transported to the Jacksonville Police Department. As mentioned above, he was charged with several misdemeanor offenses. Those charges eventually were dismissed. Smith's parole, however, was ...

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