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Hammitt v. Stump

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

September 25, 2019

SHERRY HAMMITT, Plaintiff,
v.
BOBBY STUMP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed Defendant Bobby Stump’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 48), Defendant Bobby Stump’s Memorandum of Law in Support of His Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 49), the Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 51), and Defendant Bobby Stump’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 52). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment should be granted in part and denied in part.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging violations of her constitutional rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on August 8, 2018.[1] The events giving rise to the Plaintiff’s complaint occurred on April 11, 2016, when the Plaintiff attended Raleigh County Family Court to secure a domestic violence protective order (DVP) against her then husband. The Plaintiff was awarded a DVP. After the hearing, the Plaintiff exited the building and began walking to her car. The Defendant, who is friends with the Plaintiff’s ex-husband and who has a history of using his authority as county deputy to harass the Plaintiff, followed her to the parking lot. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant approached her and asked, “why in the hell was I cussing my husband out.” (Pl.’s Dep. at 52.)

         The Plaintiff then explained that she had not seen her ex-husband at all during that time and did not know what the Defendant was talking about, to which the Defendant replied, “Get your ass to your car now.” (Id. at 53.) The Plaintiff’s husband and cousin were sitting in a nearby car, making taunting faces toward her, and she asked the Defendant to make them stop. She raised her hand to point toward the men, at which time the Defendant knocked her hand down to her side.

         The Plaintiff turned and walked toward her car. As the Plaintiff was preparing to get into her car, she set her stuff down on the hood and was then slammed down onto the hood of her car by the Defendant. The Defendant said, “I’m placing you under arrest.” (Id. at 56.) The Defendant grabbed the Plaintiff’s right arm and pulled it up behind her over the top of her shoulder, which caused it to “pop” while handcuffing her. (Id.) The Defendant then escorted the Plaintiff to a holding cell at the Raleigh County Circuit Court, while squeezing her arm in a manner that hurt.

         As a result of this incident, the Plaintiff alleges that she sustained “serious and permanent bodily injury, including but not limited to, a shoulder injury and nerve damage, which has required medically reasonable and necessary treatment by various physicians.” (Compl. at ¶ 31.) The complaint alleges that at no point during the Plaintiff’s detainment and arrest was she armed or suspected of being armed, at no point did she attack or assault the Defendant, at no point did she resist arrest, and at no point would an objectively reasonable officer believe that the Plaintiff posed a safety threat to the Defendant.

         The complaint further alleges that the Defendant violated the constitutional rights guaranteed to the Plaintiff under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. As such, the Plaintiff seeks to recover compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees and cost of litigation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiff also seeks an award of punitive damages, alleging that the Defendant’s actions were “reprehensible, willful and wanton, malicious, and in blatant and intentional disregard for the rights owed to Plaintiff.” (Compl. at ¶¶ 39, 49.)

         In addition, the Plaintiff alleges that the actions of the Defendant violated the constitutional rights guaranteed to Plaintiff under Article III, Sections 6 and 10 of the West Virginia Constitution, the Defendant committed battery upon the Plaintiff, proximately causing severe and debilitating bodily injuries, and that the Defendant “while acting within the scope of his employment, breached his duty of care to Plaintiff and was negligent in the performance of his duties.” (Id. at ¶ 56.) The complaint alleges that the Defendant “acted with intent to inflict emotional distress or acted recklessly when it was certain or substantially certain that emotional distress would result from his outrageous conduct.” (Id. at ¶ 62.) Lastly, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant is liable for abuse of process.

         On August 9, 2019, the Defendant submitted a motion for summary judgment and a memorandum of law in support. On August 22, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. On August 29, 2019, the Defendant submitted a reply.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The well-established standard for consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that summary judgment should be granted if the record, including the pleadings and other filings, discovery material, depositions, and affidavits, “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)– (c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar, 739 at 169. A “material fact” is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ’g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A “genuine issue” concerning a material fact exists when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party’s favor. FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 180 (4th Cir. 2013).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322–23. When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view all of the factual evidence, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 169. However, the nonmoving party must satisfy its burden of showing a genuine factual dispute by offering more than “[m]ere speculation” or a “scintilla of evidence” in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). If disputes over a material fact exist that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party, ” summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. On the other hand, if the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, ” then summary judgment should be granted because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element . . . necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322–23.

         DISCUSSION

         With respect to the claims for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and abuse of process, summary judgment is granted in favor of the Defendant. However, the Defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to all other claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense intended to shield public officials from civil suits arising out of their performance of job-related duties. See, e.g., Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231–32 (2009). Defendants asserting a qualified immunity defense first bear the burden of “demonstrating that the conduct of which the plaintiff complains falls within the scope of the defendant’s duties.” In re Allen, 106 F.3d 582, 594 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted.) The defense of qualified immunity is available unless the official “knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the plaintiff….” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815 (1982) (internal emphases omitted). Officials are protected even if they make reasonable mistakes of fact or law, so long as they do not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231–32. “A constitutional ...


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