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Fleck v. Langan

July 12, 2010

JOHN D. FLECK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
J. ZEID LANGAN AND R. IRWIN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before this Court on Defendant Springfield Police Officers J. Zeid Langan and R. Irwin's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 50) (Motion). The Plaintiff John D. Fleck alleges that the Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force when they assisted in Fleck's arrest on September 2, 2006. The evidence presented shows that issues of fact exist regarding whether Langan and Irwin used excessive force. The Motion is therefore denied.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The parties dispute many material facts in this case. For purposes of the Motion, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to Fleck. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The Court does so only for purposes of this Motion and acknowledges that the Defendants dispute many of the facts recited below.

On September 2, 2006, between 8:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., Sangamon County, Illinois, Deputy Sheriff James P. McNamara was patrolling in his squad car on Sangamon Avenue in the Springfield, Illinois, area.*fn1 Fleck and two of his friends, Kim Peterman and Steve Smith, were riding motorcycles on Sangamon Avenue. Deputy McNamara's radar unit clocked Fleck going 49 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. speed zone. McNamara activated his lights to make a traffic stop. Fleck pulled into a parking lot on the south side of Sangamon Avenue and stopped. McNamara pulled in after Fleck. Fleck's friends stopped in the parking lot on the north side of Sangamon Avenue. Motion, Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶ 5-9, 13.*fn2

McNamara determined that Fleck had been drinking. McNamara asked Fleck to submit to a field sobriety test. Fleck initially agreed, but then refused to complete the test. McNamara then placed Fleck under arrest.

Fleck resisted. McNamara sprayed Fleck with mace and called for assistance. McNamara sprayed Fleck with mace a second time, and Fleck then stopped resisting. McNamara placed Fleck across the hood of his car and handcuffed Fleck. Fleck was compliant with McNamara at this time. Motion, Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶ 18-29, 32-38, 42-46; Motion, Exhibit A, Deposition of John Fleck, at 42, 94.

Shortly thereafter, eight or nine law enforcement officers, including the Defendants, arrived at the scene. Motion, Exhibit D, Deposition of Steven Smith, at 8. The officers, including the Defendants, threw Fleck to the ground more than once. Fleck Deposition, at 42, 44. While on the ground, the officers placed their knees on Fleck's neck, head, and left leg. Fleck did nothing to provoke these actions. Id., at 43-44.

The officers let Fleck get off the ground. The officers then took him to McNamara's squad car. The officers beat Fleck's head against the top of the squad car twice. Id., at 48-49. Fleck could not bend down to get into the squad car because the officers, including the Defendants, were all over him. He also could not see clearly because the mace had irritated his eyes. Fleck asked for some room so that he could bend down and get into the car. Id., at 49. In response the officers kicked Fleck's left leg ten to fifteen times and hit him repeatedly with night sticks and billy clubs. Fleck Deposition, at 49-50; Smith Deposition, at 9, 16-17, 20; Motion, Exhibit C, Deposition of Kimberly Peterman, at 19, 29, 33. Fleck fell to the ground as a result of the beating and kicking. Smith Deposition, at 19. Fleck told the officers that he could not stand or walk. The officers told Fleck to shut up and that he would be beaten more if he opened his mouth. Fleck Deposition, at 51. Fleck was transported in a paddy wagon to the Sangamon County, Illinois, jail. Id., at 50-51.

As a result of the beating, Fleck was diagnosed with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left leg, bone bruises, internal bleeding, a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and a complex tear of the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus in his left knee. One of Fleck's treating physicians stated that the damage to Fleck's left knee was permanent. Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 51), Exhibit A, Deposition of Rodney Herrin, M.D., at 12-13, 65-66, 67, 68, 73, 80.

ANALYSIS

Defendants Langan and Irwin now move for summary judgment. At summary judgment, the Defendants must present evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The Court must consider the evidence presented in the light most favorable to Fleck. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial must be resolved against the Defendants. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Once the Defendants have met their burden, Fleck must present evidence to show that issues of fact remain with respect to an issue essential to his case, and on which he will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In this case, the factual disputes preclude summary judgment.

Excessive force claims in the context of an arrest are analyzed under a standard of objective reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). The Supreme Court stated that the finder of fact must evaluate the particular circumstances to determine the reasonableness of the force:

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'" ...


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