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Smith v. Ball State Univ.

July 08, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP00-0478-C-B/S--Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Chief Judge.

ARGUED MAY 23, 2002

Plaintiff-Appellant Derek A. Smith filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 alleging that John Rogers, John Foster, Craig Hodson and Rhonda Clark (collectively "Defendants" or "the officers"), all members of the Ball State University Police Department, used excessive force in detaining him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, and Smith appeals. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

I. Background

At the time of the incident, Smith was a student at Ball State University who suffered from juvenile diabetes. On March 19, 1998, Smith had a diabetic shock episode at the Ball State University Student Center. The Student Center's hotel desk clerk contacted the Ball State Police Department, and campus police Officers Rhonda Clark and Craig Hodson responded to the call. When they arrived, Officers Clark and Hodson witnessed Smith acting strangely. They approached Smith and recognized a medical identification bracelet that alerted them to Smith's medical condition. Officers Clark and Hodson contacted emergency medical personnel, who treated and released Smith.

Four days later, Smith again lapsed into diabetic shock. This time, Smith was operating a motor vehicle, which he drove onto a sidewalk on Ball State's campus. A campus shuttle bus driver witnessed the incident and contacted campus police dispatch. The bus driver reported a possible drunk driver and stated that the vehicle nearly struck several pedestrians. Police dispatch contacted Corey Wilkinson, a Ball State student who also worked as a parking attendant, and asked him to investigate the situation. Wilkinson walked to the scene, observed Smith seated in his car and noted that the vehicle was running. Wilkinson tapped the window and attempted to gain Smith's attention, but Smith was unresponsive. Wilkinson contacted police dispatch, stated that the driver was incoherent and that dispatch should send an ambulance. Wilkinson may have mentioned that the driver was drunk or on drugs, although he does not recall specifically whether he provided dispatch with such information.

Several minutes later, Ball State Police Officers John Rogers and John Foster arrived at the scene. *fn1 Officer Foster opened the passenger door and turned off the car's ignition. The officers asked Smith to exit his vehicle, but Smith was unresponsive. Accordingly, the two officers forcibly attempted to extract Smith from his car. Officer Rogers initially tried to remove Smith; however, Officer Foster intervened because Rogers was an intern. Foster used a technique known as a "straight arm bar" and, with Rogers's assistance, extracted Smith from his car.

While Foster and Rogers were removing Smith from his car, Officer Craig Hodson, who had responded to the Student Center clerk's call four days earlier, also arrived at the scene. Because Foster and Rogers were forcibly removing Smith from his vehicle, Officer Hodson believed that the three individuals were engaged in a struggle. As a result, Officer Hodson jumped across the hood of Smith's vehicle and attempted to apply a "knee strike" to Smith's leg. However, Officer Hodson slipped and, rather than apply a knee strike, tackled Rogers, Foster and Smith. The three officers then held Smith's face to the ground and handcuffed him. When they finally brought Smith to a seated position, Officer Hodson recognized him from the March 19 incident. In addition, Smith's roommate, Dale Englehardt, coincidentally happened upon the scene. According to Englehardt, he informed the officers that Smith was a diabetic and pointed out Smith's medical identification bracelet. Despite this information and the fact that Officer Hodson recognized Smith as a diabetic, the officers left Smith handcuffed until an ambulance arrived several minutes later. Ball State University Officer Rhonda Clark also arrived after her colleagues had handcuffed Smith. She remained with Smith until EMS personnel arrived. As a result of the encounter, Smith sustained scratches and bruises on his face, marks on his wrists from the handcuffs and a marble-sized bump on his head.

Smith filed suit alleging that the officers violated his constitutional rights and committed certain state law torts against him. *fn2 After discovery, the Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Smith failed to establish a constitutional violation and that, if he did, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court granted Defendants' motion. The district court first held that Smith's detention was an investigatory detention and not a formal arrest. The court then noted that Smith's detention was reasonable, particularly due to the risks posed by an unresponsive driver in command of a vehicle and the fact that the officers reasonably believed Smith was impaired by either drugs or alcohol. Finally, relying on Tom v. Voida, 963 F.2d 952 (7th Cir. 1992), the district court granted summary judgment on Smith's excessive force claim. The court stated that Smith's unresponsiveness necessitated the use of minimal force to remove Smith from his vehicle. Moreover, the court held that the use of handcuffs "was reasonable given the context of the investigatory stop, Smith's lack of cooperation with officers on the scene, and Defendants' goal of protecting themselves and the public from harm."

II. Discussion

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Summary judgment is proper only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, we view all facts and draw all inferences in favor of the non-movant. Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2002). If the record 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) (internal quotations omitted).

Smith raises two arguments on appeal, although they are significantly related. First, Smith contends that the district court erred in analyzing his detention as a legitimate Terry stop as opposed to a formal arrest requiring probable cause. *fn3 Second, Smith maintains that the district court improperly granted summary judgment on his excessive force claim. We believe that although the issue of whether the officers' detention of Smith evolved into a formal arrest is a close one, the district court properly analyzed the encounter as an investigatory detention. Furthermore, if the stop did evolve into a formal arrest, the Defendants had probable cause to arrest Smith and therefore acted properly under the Fourth Amendment. Finally, we hold that the officers did not use excessive force ...

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