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Elliott v. City of Eugene

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 17, 2017

AYISHA ELLIOTT (BROWN), and QUINTON RICHARDSON-BROWN Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF EUGENE, OFFICER TREVOR HART, SERGEANT WILLIAM SOLESBEE, OFFICER MATHEW STROPKO, and OFFICER CLIFFORD SITES, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL MCSHANE UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Ayisha Elliott and Quinton Richardson-Brown bring this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Eugene and various officers of the Eugene Police Department. Their claims include excessive force, false arrest, illegal search and seizure, battery, negligence, and race discrimination. Additionally, Plaintiffs bring Monell and negligence claims against the city. Defendants move for summary judgment on multiple claims, but concede that that there are factual issues in dispute as to the claims of excessive force, battery, and negligence. Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment is GRANTED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 2:43 a.m on the morning of July 16, 2015, Ayisha Elliot called 911 because she was concerned about her son's behavior. Miller Decl. Ex. 1 at 2, ECF No. 33. During this phone call Ms. Elliott expressed that her son was having a psychotic break and that he was behaving aggressively. Miller Decl. Ex. 1 at 3. Her son, Quinton Richardson-Brown, was not able to understand who he was talking to or where he was. Elliott Dep. 88, ECF No. 33-6. Even though Ms. Elliott stated on the phone that she did not think she was in danger, Mr. Richardson-Brown could be heard angrily cursing at Ms. Elliott throughout the phone call. Miller Decl. Ex. 1 at 3-8. At 3:36 A.M., 911 received a second call from Ms. Elliot's ex-husband. He indicated that Ms. Elliot was in danger. Specifically, he reported:

And um, it sounded like he was trying to choke her out. That's why I'm calling you guys. He was-she kept-she was screaming and yelling and saying, "Let go of me. Let go of me." And he's like, "No, you're not my mother. You're not my mother." And then they hung up the phone and she was screaming. She was like, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." (Unintelligible) and then the phone hung up and I've been trying to call back and I can't get through. So I don't know. This-it sounds like it might have got dangerous.

Miller Decl. Ex. 2 at 4, ECF No. 33.

         The Eugene Police Department dispatched Officers Mathew Stropko and Clifford Sites. The officers arrived at the home within approximately ten minutes and knocked on the door. Ms. Elliott answered the door and stepped onto the porch, explaining to the officers her son's history and current psychotic difficulties. At this point, the conversation remained calm and explanatory.

         Mr. Richardson-Brown then came to the doorway. Officer Sites remained closest to Mr. Richardson-Brown during this encounter, while Officer Stropko provided backup from a few feet away. Elliott Dep. 103. The situation deteriorated rapidly when one of the officers requested that the porch light be turned off. This occurred approximately 7 minutes into the encounter. Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 4. After this request, Mr. Richardson-Brown became quite agitated and began cursing at the officers and at his mother. See Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 4-19. As the situation became more heated, Officer Sites told Mr. Richardson-Brown he was "trying to help him." Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 6. Mr. Richardson-Brown responded with "you're lyin' to my fuckin' face." Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 6. From here, Mr. Richardson-Brown became more agitated, repeatedly cursed at the officers, and asserted his belief that the officers were not in fact police officers. Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 6-8.

         With the encounter now quite heated, Officer Stropko repeatedly ordered Mr. Richardson-Brown to get back. He warned Mr. Richardson-Brown that he had a taser. Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 4; Elliott Dep. 104. During this time, Ms. Elliott began shielding her son from the officers, ignoring Officer Stropko's order to get away from Mr. Richardson-Brown. Elliott Dep. 108. Mr. Richardson-Brown's uncle then arrived on the scene.

         While the situation deteriorated, Ms. Elliott ordered the officers to remove themselves from her property. Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 16. Elliott Dep. 107-108. 120-122. Officer Hart and Sergeant Solesbee then arrived on the scene. Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 22; Elliott Dep. 123-124.

         At some point-the record is not entirely clear-Officer Sites handcuffed, or began to handcuff, Mr. Richardson-Brown. It is undisputed that Officer Stropko deployed his taser, and that it either missed Mr. Richardson-Brown or was ineffective. Officer Stropko then punched Mr. Richardson-Brown in the face. The parties disagree on whether Mr. Richardson-Brown was handcuffed when Officer Stropko punched him. The parties also disagree on whether Mr. Richardson-Brown charged Officer Stropko immediately before Officer Stropko deployed his taser.

         The record is also unclear as to where Ms. Elliot was during the deployment of force against her son. At some point she was forcibly removed from the porch by Officer Hart and Sergeant Solesbee and detained. Officer Stropko and Officer Sites detained Mr. Richardson-Brown. Elliott Dep. 127-129; Miller Decl. Ex. 4 at 22-23.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Rivera v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1146 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the case. Id. The court reviews evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Miller v. Glenn Miller Prods., Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 988 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)). When the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         DISCUSSION

         1. Monell Claim

         Plaintiffs essentially allege two theories of liability under Monell v. New York City Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).[1]First, plaintiffs claim that the City has express customs or policies that allow for the use of excessive force. Second, that the City has passively encouraged the use of excessive force by failing to train, supervise, or discipline officers. I address each theory in turn.

         As to the City having express customs or policies allowing for the use of excessive force, this theory of liability fails. Monell established that a municipality can be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries sustained as a result of a municipal custom or policy. Id. at 694. A municipal custom or policy does not have to "receive[] formal approval through a [municipality's] official decision-making channels." Id. at 691. However, a municipality cannot be held liable solely for the actions of its employees or agents. Id. at 694. Rather, "it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the ...


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