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Day v. Young

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

October 6, 2016

LANTZ DAY, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER JOSEPH YOUNG, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This case arises out of Defendant Officer Joseph Young's use of a Taser in the course of apprehending Plaintiff Lantz Day. It is before the Court now on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 41]. Because there remain unresolved material issues of fact, Defendant's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The facts upon which the Court relies are taken primarily from Defendant's Listed Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. 42] at 2-9 (“SOF”). They are undisputed unless otherwise noted. As the Court has already catalogued the circumstances of this case in a prior Order [Dkt. 25], it repeats here only the facts germane to its ruling on Defendant's Motion.

         On November 9, 2013, Plaintiff was involved in a car accident with several other vehicles. SOF ¶¶ 3, 7-8. Defendant was the first police officer to respond, and was the only officer present throughout the events giving rise to this suit. See id. ¶ 19.

         En route, the police dispatch center relayed to Defendant that an individual involved in the accident had fled the scene. Id. ¶ 5. It further reported that the man in question was acting “combative” towards those who attempted to prevent his flight, and had threatened to kill anyone who called the police. Id.

         Upon arriving, Defendant found the road blocked by damaged vehicles and was forced to disembark his police cruiser. Id. ¶ 6. Multiple bystanders then directed Defendant to a nearby intersection, where others pointed Plaintiff out as the man who had fled the scene of the accident. Id. ¶¶ 7, 15. Defendant observed Plaintiff “moving aggressively toward bystanders.” Id. ¶ 15.

         Defendant approached Plaintiff and ordered him to lie down with his hands out to his sides. Id. ¶ 16. Defendant advised Plaintiff that he was not under arrest, only being detained. See Opp. [Dkt. 44] at 1-2; Young Tr. 66-67. Plaintiff refused to comply. SOF ¶ 16. Defendant then drew his Taser and threatened to use it if Plaintiff did not do as he asked. Id.

         Plaintiff lied down with his hands beneath his torso. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Defendant again threatened to use his Taser if Plaintiff did not bring his hands out to his sides, then began to radio for backup. Id. ¶ 17. At that point, Plaintiff pushed himself up and began to flee. Id.

         Defendant immediately “deployed his Taser toward [Plaintiff]'s rear torso.” Id. ¶ 18. The probes struck Plaintiff and he fell. See id. ¶¶ 18-20. One of the probes, however, did not properly attach, becoming lodged in Plaintiff's clothing. Id. ¶ 20.

         The parties dispute what followed. Defendant claims that Plaintiff remained “able to move and speak” because the probe failed to attach, id. ¶ 21, and “actively resist[ed] arrest while being handcuffed.” Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the Taser - while not entirely effective - still delivered enough of an electrical shock to subdue him. See Opp. [Dkt. 44] at 2-3. According to Plaintiff, his movements once struck by Defendant's Taser were involuntary, and he did not actively resist arrest. See id.

         The parties agree, however, that Defendant maintained the Taser's electrical current for 42 seconds during the incident. See Mot. to Dismiss Exh. 60. Defendant continued to depress the trigger of the Taser until a bystander, Robert Schmidt, took handcuffs from Defendant and placed them on Plaintiff's wrists. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

         Defendant took Plaintiff into custody without further incident. See Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Plaintiff was later sentenced to prison for a term of six and one half years in connection with the accident. See Id. ¶ 26.

         On November 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed suit against the City of Fredericksburg, five John Doe defendants, former Fredericksburg Police Chief James Powers, and Defendant Officer Joseph Young. Plaintiff alleged a variety of claims, all of which were either voluntarily dismissed or dismissed by the Court, see Order [Dkt. 25], but for Plaintiff's claims against Defendant for excessive use of force under the Fourth Amendment and battery under Virginia law.

         Defendant now moves for summary judgment, contending that he is entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the claims that remain.[1]

         II. Legal Standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate only if taking the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ‘no material facts are disputed and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ausherman v. Bank of Am. Corp., 352 F.3d 896, 899 (4th Cir. 2003)). An unresolved issue of fact precludes summary judgment only if it is both “genuine” and “material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on that issue. Id. at 248. It is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. “In the end, the question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the evidence ‘is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Lee v. Bevington, 647 F. App'x 275, 277 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         III. Analysis

         In evaluating whether Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must determine “(1) whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.” Raub v. Campbell, 785 F.3d 876, 881 (4th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 503 (2015). The order in which to decide these issues is left to the Court's discretion. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         A. Defendant's Initial ...


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