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Clay v. Good

July 1, 2008

PATRICK J. CLAY, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOEL GOOD, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 24.) For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed for purposes of summary judgment. In the early morning of September 24, 2004, Plaintiff Patrick Clay was arrested for drunk driving after Defendant Joel Good, a Corporal with the York Regional Police Department, observed that Clay's driving was noticeably erratic; in the few moments before stopping Clay, Good observed him swerve, make very wide turns, and nearly miss a stop sign.

After pulling Clay over at approximately 1:17 a.m., Good approached and asked for Clay's driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. According to Good's deposition testimony, Clay "started to mumble something, and [he] advised [that] he was very close to his residence." (Good Dep. 5; Def's Ex. C; Doc. No. 27-3, at 6.) Clay provided Good with his driver's license, but required Good to remind him of the other documents. Clay then "opened up his glove box [and] shuffl[ed] through some papers [because] he was having difficulty locating the information." (Id.) After some further fumbling, Clay recovered the other documents. (Id.) In that time, Good observed that Clay's eyes were "bloodshot and watery," his speech was slurred, and a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emanated from Clay's breath. (Good Dep. 6.) Good asked Clay to step out of his vehicle to perform field-sobriety tests. Clay failed these tests, and Good advised him that he was under arrest for DUI, handcuffed him, and placed him in the patrol car in order to take him to the hospital for blood tests.

Clay does not dispute that he was drunk. Nor could he, as blood tests ultimately found that he had a blood-alcohol content of .252. But on September 18, 2006, Clay filed a complaint in this Court alleging that Good used excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when Good applied handcuffs too tightly in the process of arresting Clay that morning.

According to Clay's deposition testimony, after Good applied the handcuffs, Clay complained about them on several occasions. First, while driving to the hospital for blood tests, Clay said that the handcuffs were "a little tight" and asked whether Good could "help [him] out, loosen them up." (Clay Dep. 30:10-12; Doc. No. 32-2, at 8.) Good responded that he could not do so at the moment. Second, after exiting the police car, Clay "may have mentioned [the handcuffs] to [Good] again." (Clay Dep. 31:16-21.) Once in the hospital, Good removed the handcuffs while the nurse drew Clay's blood. According to Clay, "after the hospital, [Good] put [the handcuffs] on even tighter." (Clay Dep. 36.) Upon their arrival at the police station, Clay showed Good his hands, which were "dark red," and asked a third time if Good could do something about the handcuffs. (Id.) At the police station, while Good interviewed Clay, the handcuffs remained on. (Clay Dep. 39.)

Either the next day or soon thereafter, Clay visited his doctor to complain of numbness in his wrist. His doctor found that Clay had "no obvious injury to the wrist area, however, he [did] have decreased sensation over the thenar eminence in the palmar surface of his thumb." (Ex. I; Doc. No. 27-3, at 29.) The doctor diagnosed Clay with "probable thenar neuritis secondary to compression from handcuffs," informed him that "it may take up to 6 weeks for a full recovery of the thumb numbness," and prescribed 400 mg of Ibuprofen every 8-12 hours as needed. (Id.) At some point thereafter, Clay visited Dr. Laurino, who recommended that Clay see a specialist. (Clay Dep. 42.) On December 15, 2004, a nerve-conduction study was performed, with normal results. (Ex. F; Doc. No. 27-3, at 21-22.) Dr. Sicuranza, to whom Clay was referred, diagnosed Clay with "[l]eft thumb pain" and "[s]ensory neuropraxic injury superficial radial nerve resolving," and found that no further treatment was warranted. (Ex. G, Doc. No. 27-3, at 24.) Several months later, after some further tests, Dr. Sicuranza diagnosed Clay with "[c]arpal instability with a secondary arthrosis," and stated that "in all likelihood, [Clay] may have had an aggravation at the time of his arrest, but he does not describe any fallen out stretched hand or forceful twisting of his wrist. He states that it was just the hand cuffs that were placed too tightly around his wrist, and would be doubtful that this is an aggravating factor for this wrist instability." (Ex. H; Doc. No. 27-3, at 26.)

On September 18, 2006, Clay brought this action against Good and three other defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) On January 11, 2007, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, except with respect to the excessive-force claim brought against Good. (Doc. No. 16.) After discovery, Good filed the instant motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 24), which is now fully briefed (Doc. No. 25-27, 32-34).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, it essentially becomes "'put up or shut up' time for the non-moving party: the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the nonmoving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material ...


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