In a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force case, a plaintiff alleged two defendant Michigan state troopers struck him with their police cruiser, tased him, and forced him to stand and walk on his injured left leg after he dislocated his hip. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity based on their police cruiser’s dash-cam video of the pursuit and incident. The defendants further argued that the plaintiff ran into their parked vehicle and was therefore responsible for his own injuries.In addition to his excessive force claim, the plaintiff alleged a state law claim of gross negligence against the officers. They argued that his gross negligence claim should be dismissed because the factual allegations pled supported an intentional tort claim only. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied their motion for summary judgment as to the § 1983 claim for excessive force but granted the summary judgment motion as to the gross negligence claim.
The court first analyzed whether the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the excessive force claim brought under § 1983. The defendants argued qualified immunity shielded them from liability. Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The court employs a two-step inquiry in deciding qualified immunity questions. First, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, has the plaintiff shown that a constitutional violation has occurred? Second, was the right clearly established at the time of the violation?
The district court first found that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the individual police officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the officers used excessive force. The defendants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity based on the dash-cam video and the plaintiff’s signed statement, given at the hospital, that he slipped on the mud and ran into the police cruiser himself. But the medical records showed that he suffered a very serious injury involving the dislocation of his hip and a comminuted fracture of the left acetabulum, which required traction, surgery, six days of hospitalization, and a long period of recovery in a rehabilitation center. His treating physician noted that although police first told him that the plaintiff had run into the police car, the patient later told him he had been hit by the police car. In fact, numerous notations were set forth in the medical records stating that the plaintiff reported that he was struck by the police cruiser, which ran over his left leg. Given the severity of his injuries, it appeared plausible that the police cruiser struck him rather than that he merely ran into the vehicle himself.