United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
previously ordered (ECF No. 117), the Court
GRANTS summary judgment for the following
reasons in favor of Defendant Zach Sowards and Defendant
County Commission of Lincoln County. ECF Nos. 84, 86.
April 2, 2016, Plaintiff Thomas Napier consumed heroin and
ingested Xanax. Dep. of Thomas Napier, at 41, ECF
No. 90-3. As a result, his family took him to the emergency
room at St. Mary's Medical Center because he appeared to
have overdosed. Am. Compl., ¶¶ 6, 7, ECF
No. 69. Medical records describe Plaintiff “as
‘disoriented', ‘combative', and having an
‘altered mental status[, ]'” and provide that
Plaintiff's ankles and wrists were restrained for safety
by order of a physician. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11.
Plaintiff also was given “an antipsychotic drug to
stabilize his mood.” Id. at ¶ 12. The
treating doctor twice ordered medications to calm Plaintiff,
but these medications failed to abate Plaintiff's
aggressive behavior. Dep. of Julie Vaughn, at 13,
ECF No. 88-2. Plaintiff has no clear recall of the events of
that day, nor does he have any firsthand recollection of the
events that took place when he was at St. Mary's Medical
Center. Napier Dep., at 42-43. Plaintiff's last
memory prior to waking up in the hospital was buying heroin
in Huntington. Id. at 46.
Zach Sowards, who was employed as a Deputy Sheriff by the
Lincoln County Sheriff's Office at the time, was in the
Emergency Room at St. Mary's with an unrelated detainee
and heard a commotion which drew his attention. Dep. of
Zach Sowards, at 8, ECF No. 90-2. As a result, Defendant
Sowards went to Plaintiff's hospital room, where he and
two doctors held Plaintiff down as he attempted to break free
from his four-point restraints. Id. at 11;
Vaughn Dep., at 93. Defendant Sowards and the
surrounding medical staff were unable to physically subdue
Plaintiff long enough to attach an IV with sedatives, as
Plaintiff kept ripping out the needle. Id., at 9.
After a prolonged struggle, Defendant Sowards used his taser
to deliver a stun long enough for medical staff to administer
sedatives. Id. at 11-12. As a result, Plaintiff
sustained bruises and other injuries. Ex. 2, Vaughn
Dep., at 12, ECF No. 90-1.
then filed suit, alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment
rights by Defendant Sowards, along with any associated state
law claims. Am. Compl., ¶¶ 31-33.
Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant County
Commission of Lincoln County (“the Commission”)
“as a matter of policy, practice, and/or custom,
” failed to ensure “appropriate policies”
were in place in regard to the use of tasers, failed to
“adequately train and supervise” deputy
sheriffs, including Defendant Sowards, in the use of tasers,
and failed to “conduct proper, adequate, and meaningful
investigations into the use of force, ” specifically
the use of electronic control devices such as tasers.
Id. at ¶¶ 25-27. Plaintiff asserts these
failures by the Commission deprived him “of his right
to be free from the use of excessive force[, ]” and
proximately caused his injuries, in violation of the Fourth
Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at ¶
STANDARD OF REVIEW
moving for summary judgment must show there is no genuine
issue of any material fact and it is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering summary
judgment, the Court shall not “weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). However,
the Court shall draw any permissible inference from the
underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). The nonmoving party
must offer some “concrete evidence from which a
reasonable juror could return a verdict in his [or her]
favor[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary
judgment is appropriate when the nonmoving party has the
burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case
and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a
showing sufficient to establish that element. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The
nonmoving party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering
more than a mere “scintilla of evidence” in
support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S.
Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Sowards claims he is
entitled to qualified immunity. Sowards' Mem. of Law
in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., at 11, ECF No. 85.
Qualified immunity “shields government officials from
liability for civil damages, provided that their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights within the knowledge of a reasonable person.”
Meyers v. Baltimore Cty., 713 F.3d 723, 731 (4th
Cir. 2013) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)). Qualified immunity protects “all but
the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341
(1986). It shields law enforcement officers from “bad
guesses in gray areas” and ensures they are liable only
“for transgressing bright lines.” Maciariello
v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation
evaluate claims of excessive force on an “objective
reasonableness” standard. Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 399 (1989). It requires “consider[ation
of] the facts at the moment that the challenged force was
employed.” Smith v. Ray, 781 F.3d 95, 101 (4th
Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Courts focus on the totality
of the circumstances of each case, normally looking to the
following factors: “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 (citation
omitted). However, as this case involves a medical emergency,
rather than a crime and arrest, the Graham factors
must be tailored to correspond to this situation.
Estate of Hill v. Miracle, 853 F.3d 306 (6th Cir.
2017), the Sixth Circuit adapted the Graham factors
to test whether an officer used excessive force in a
situation involving a medical emergency. In Miracle,
an officer used a taser on an individual who was disoriented
and combative because his blood-sugar level was dangerously
low. 853 F.3d at 310-11. After the taser was deployed, the
individual calmed down, and emergency medical personnel were
able to restore his blood-sugar level to the normal range.
Id. at 311. The individual then sued the officer for
excessive force, amongst other things. Id.
fashioning the Graham factors to provide guidance in
a medical-emergency context, the Sixth Circuit held, a court
(1) Was the person experiencing a medical emergency that
rendered him incapable of making a rational decision under
circumstances that posed an immediate threat of ...