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Eric Taylor v. the City of Manchester

November 20, 2012

ERIC TAYLOR
v.
THE CITY OF MANCHESTER, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 193

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The claims in this case arise out of an incident that began as Eric Taylor led his intoxicated girlfriend through a crowded festival in Manchester. The incident culminated in Taylor's arrest and criminal prosecution for assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Taylor alleges that the police officers involved in his arrest violated his civil rights and caused him serious injury when they unlawfully seized, arrested, detained, and confined him. He asserts federal claims for false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and a violation of his due process rights against the City of Manchester, the Manchester Police Department, and the four officers involved in his arrest and subsequent transport to the police station: Todd Leshney, Chad Tennis, Robert Gravelle, and George Mallios. He also presents state claims against the same defendants for false imprisonment, malicious criminal prosecution, assault and battery, and negligence. The defendants move for summary judgment. Taylor objects. For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On the evening of May 25, 2008, Taylor and his girlfriend, Kaela Silvia, attended an open air concert and fireworks display in Manchester, New Hampshire called the Rock 101 Sky Show. At approximately 9:00 p.m., Taylor found Silvia walking around the festival alone and intoxicated. On finding her, Taylor decided it was time to leave and guided Silvia through the crowd toward the car by her hand. Silvia wanted to stay at the Sky Show, but agreed to leave and did not resist. As they were exiting, Taylor and Silvia stopped underneath a bridge by the entrance to the park and had what he describes as "a little argument." Taylor testimony, Doc. No. 11-4.

Around the same time, James Marron, who was also attending the Sky Show, was standing about 15 yards up the hill from the entrance to the park with two of his friends. Marron was watching the crowd and talking to Officer Leshney. Josh Eaton, one of Marron's friends, was the first to notice Taylor and Silvia. He said something to the effect of "Hey guys look at this." Marron deposition, Doc. No. 11-7. In response to Eaton's comment, Marron looked to his left and observed a man (Taylor) pulling a woman (Silvia) by the arm.*fn1 Marron then said to Officer Leshney, "Hey, Todd, you might want to take care of this."*fn2

At this point, the facts begin to diverge. Taylor and Silvia claim that Taylor did not have any physical contact with Silvia during the course of their argument. Taylor testimony, Doc. No. 11-4; Silvia testimony, Doc. No. 11-2. Taylor did not assault Silvia, hit her, yank on her, or do anything physically inappropriate to her at all. Taylor testimony, Doc. No. 11-4; Silvia testimony, Doc. No. 11-2. Nevertheless, while they were arguing under the bridge, Taylor felt a hand grab his throat and he was thrown to the ground. He did not know that he was being taken to the ground by a police officer because he was approached from behind. Taylor hit the ground on his upper back and suffered a fractured vertebra and collapsed disk.

Officer Leshney claims that he turned around and saw Taylor pulling Silvia by the wrist. He saw her slap Taylor's hand and heard her yell, "No, let me go!" as she attempted to pull her wrist away. Officer Leshney signaled to Officer Chad Tennis to assist him and approached Taylor and Silvia. As he was approaching, Officer Leshney observed Taylor pull Silvia in his direction causing her to lose her balance and almost fall. Officer Leshney claims he made eye contact with Taylor and said, "Let her go." Officer Leshney then grabbed Taylor's wrist, separated him from Silvia, rolled his wrist outward, put his hand in the area of Taylor's neck, stepped behind him, planted Taylor's back on the pavement, and identified himself as a police officer.

Taylor claims that after Officer Leshney slammed him into the pavement, Leshney turned Taylor onto his stomach, trapping his hands beneath his body. At some point, Officer Tennis arrived to assist Officer Leshney with the arrest. While Taylor was on his stomach with his hands under his body, someone yelled, "Give me your hands." Taylor was unable to move his hands because "two or three people" had their knees on his back and neck. Officers Tennis and Leshney dragged Taylor's hands out from underneath him, scraping the tops of Taylor's hands, and put handcuffs on him. While pinned to the ground, Taylor felt afraid, did not know what was going to happen to him or why he was being seized, and did not realize that the people seizing him were police officers. Taylor was upset and yelling. Taylor deposition, 11-6.

The officers handcuffed Taylor and brought him to his feet. Taylor noticed the Manchester police uniform when he was lifted up off the ground. Without conducting any additional investigation, Officer Leshney yelled loud enough for those nearby to hear that Taylor had hit his girlfriend. Although Taylor denied Officer Leshney's claim, he was dragged over to the police cruiser by the handcuffs.

At the time of the incident, Officer Tennis was standing near Officer Leshney. Officers Tennis and Leshney were assigned to patrol together that night. Officer Tennis saw Officer Leshney get into a "scuffle" with Taylor and take him to the ground.*fn3 Officer Tennis noticed that Taylor was resisting arrest and went to assist Officer Leshney put handcuffs on Taylor. Tennis affidavit, Doc. No. 7-3.

Officers Gravelle and Mallios were driving the transport wagon on May 25, 2008 and did not arrive on the scene until after Taylor had been handcuffed and brought over to the police cruiser. Officer Gravelle was driving the transport wagon, and has no recollection of Taylor from that night. Gravelle deposition, Doc. No. 7-5. Officer Mallios states that Taylor was handcuffed and on his feet when they arrived at the scene. Mallios deposition, Doc. No. 7-4. He states that Taylor was kicking, banging, and screaming in the transport wagon as they drove him to the police station. Id. When they arrived at the station, Officer Mallios remembers Taylor banging his head against the cinder block wall. Id.

After Officers Gravelle and Mallios drove Taylor to the police station in the transport wagon, Officer Leshney met Taylor there and booked him. At station, Taylor asked Officer Leshney why he had been arrested and Officer Leshney told Taylor that a bystander claimed that he had hit Silvia.

Officer Leshney filled out an incident report identifying the following charges: (1) one count of assault on a police officer; (2) one count of domestic assault; (3) disorderly conduct; and (4) resisting arrest. Doc. No. 11-9.

Taylor was acquitted at a trial in Manchester District Court on October 16, 2008.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The evidence submitted in support of the motion must be considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in its favor. See Navarro v. Pfizer Corp., 261 F.3d 90, 94 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting Griggs- Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir. 1990)).

A party seeking summary judgment must first identify the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A material fact "is one 'that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" United States v. One Parcel of Real Property with Bldgs., 960 F.2d 200, 204 (1st Cir. 1992) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "produce evidence on which a reasonable finder of fact, under the appropriate proof burden, could base a verdict for it; if that party cannot produce such evidence, the motion must be granted." Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 94 (1st Cir. 1996); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

III. ANALYSIS

Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts. I first address Taylor's federal constitutional claims against Officer Leshney. Next, I consider Taylor's claims against the other individual defendants. I then turn to Taylor's federal ...


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