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Benton v. Legacy Health

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

December 12, 2017



          Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge

         Defendant Portland Police Officer Christopher McDonald (“McDonald”) moves for summary judgment (ECF #126) against plaintiff Gregory Benton's (“Benton”) second claim for relief, a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim in which Benton contends that McDonald used excessive force. All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28 USC § 636(c). ECF #138. For the reasons that follow, McDonald's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         A party is entitled to summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “When judging the evidence at the summary judgment stage, the district court is not to make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, and is required to draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Musick v. Burke, 913 F.2d 1390, 1394 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (“The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient . . . .” Id. at 252, 255. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         II. Excessive Force Claim

         McDonald contends that Benton has failed to establish a claim of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, specifically that he has failed to establish, as a matter of law, that McDonald's actions were objectively unreasonable.

         A. Law Regarding Excessive Force

         Under the Fourth Amendment, “the ‘reasonableness' inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). “Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is ‘reasonable' under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ‘‘the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests'' against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Id. at 396. “Stated another way, [the court] must ‘balance the amount of force applied against the need for that force.” Bryan v. MacPherson, 630 F.3d 805, 823-24 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Meredith v. Erath, 342 F.3d 1057, 1061 (9th Cir.2003)).

         “[P]roper application” of this standard “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.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Of those three factors, the “most important single element” is whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others. Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1441 (9th Cir. 1994).

         These three factors are not exclusive. Bryan, 630 F.3d at 826. Rather, the court examines the totality of the circumstances and considers “whatever specific factors may be appropriate in a particular case[.]” Franklin v. Foxworth, 31 F.3d 873, 876 (9th Cir. 1994). Other factors the court considers include the availability of alternative methods of capturing or detaining the suspect and the plaintiff's mental and emotional state. Luchtel v. Hagemann, 623 F.3d 975, 980 (9th Cir. 2010)). If “it is or should be apparent to the officers that the individual involved is emotionally disturbed, that is a factor that must be considered in determining . . . the reasonableness of the force employed.” Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1283 (9th Cir. 2003). However, officers “need not avail themselves of the least intrusive means of responding to an exigent situation; they need only act within that range of conduct [the court] identif[ies] as reasonable.” Glenn v. Washington Cty., 673 F.3d 864, 876 (9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d 912, 915 (9th Cir. 1994)).

         “The ‘reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Courts must allow “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Id. at 397. “Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, ” violates the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 396 (quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d, at 1033).

         “Because the excessive force inquiry nearly always requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions, and to draw inferences therefrom, [the Ninth Circuit has] held on many occasions that summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.” Avina v. United States, 681 F.3d 1127, 1130 (9th Cir.2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also Santos v. Gates, 287 F.3d 846, 853 (9th Cir. 2002)(“police misconduct cases almost always turn on a jury's credibility determinations”). “But, even though reasonableness traditionally is a question of fact for the jury, . . . defendants can still win on summary judgment if the district court concludes, after resolving all factual disputes in favor of the plaintiff, that the officer's use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.” Scott, 39 F.3d at 915 (citations omitted).

         B. Background Facts

         Here, the undisputed evidence shows that on August 5, 2012, at approximately 2 am, McDonald was dispatched to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in response to a call regarding an unwanted person who was handcuffed by hospital security officers. Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts (“Joint Statement”)(ECF #135), ¶¶ 2, 9, 17. When McDonald arrived at the hospital, Benton was in handcuffs and either sitting or standing. Id., ¶ 18. McDonald spoke with the Legacy security officers (“LSO”), Christopher Gordon (“Gordon”) and Dave Davies (“Davies”), and one of them told McDonald that Benton was unwanted, had become ...

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