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Paul Fry v. Officer W. Clay Smoker and Manor Township

May 9, 2012

PAUL FRY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER W. CLAY SMOKER AND MANOR TOWNSHIP,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Paul Fry brought this action against Manor Township Police Officer W. Clay Smoker, individually and in his official capacity, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming Officer Smoker used excessive force, and against Manor Township for municipal liability under Monell. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion on Count II, will deny Plaintiff's motion on Count II, and will deny both motions on Count I.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 8, 2009, Fry was driving his motorcycle when he was stopped by Officer Smoker for failing to use his turn signal. (Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. [Pl.'s SOF] ¶ 12.) Officer Smoker observed that Fry's eyes were glassy and bloodshot, and he smelled alcohol on Fry's breath. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts in Supp. of Summ. J. of Defs. [Defs.' SOF] ¶ 11.) After a backup officer arrived, Officer Smoker conducted field sobriety tests on Fry, which he failed. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 12, 13.) Suspecting that Fry was driving under the influence, Officer Smoker decided to transport Fry to Lancaster Regional Hospital for a blood test. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 16.) Officer Smoker advised Fry that he was under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, handcuffed him, and placed him in the back of the police car to transport him to the hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 17.) As directed by a Manor Township Police Department policy, Officer Smoker handcuffed Fry. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 17; Defs.' SOF Ex. D [Manor Twp. Police Dep't Handcuffing Procedure].) Also pursuant to a department policy, Officer Smoker would customarily double lock handcuffs to prevent them from getting any tighter. (Manor Twp. Police Dep't Handcuffing Procedure; Defs.' SOF ¶ 19; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 37, Pl.'s SOF Ex. 3 [Officer Smoker Dep.] at 58-60.) Officer Smoker typically would visually inspect the handcuffs for tightness, sometimes sticking a finger in them, before double locking them. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 19' Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 35, 37; Officer Smoker Dep. at 58-60.) However, Officer Smoker could not recall whether during this incident he checked the tightness in Fry's handcuffs or whether he double locked them. (Officer Smoker Dep. at 60.)

Within thirty seconds of being handcuffed, Fry was placed into Officer Smoker's patrol car. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 23.) The trip from the site of the arrest to the hospital lasted from between five and six minutes. (Id. ¶ 24.) After arriving at the hospital, Officer Smoker helped Fry out of the car and removed the handcuffs before they entered the hospital, and Fry was not re-handcuffed while in the hospital. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 42; Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 27-28; Defs.' SOF Ex. A [Fry Dep.] at 37-38.) Fry was cooperative and compliant at all times during his arrest and transportation to the hospital. (Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 20-21.) Fry never complained to Officer Smoker about the tightness of the handcuffs. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 22.) Fry later testified that the handcuffs felt tight, but that he "assumed that that's how they were supposed to be." (Defs.' SOF ¶ 21; Fry Dep. at 35.) He also testified that he did not recall feeling any pain in his wrists, arms, or hands while he was handcuffed. (Fry Dep. at 39.)

At the hospital, Officer Smoker read Fry his Miranda warnings and filled out a form requiring him to ask Fry whether any pressure or force of any kind had been used against him, to which Fry answered yes. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 46.) Officer Smoker said he customarily follows up with arrestees who answer yes to that question, though he could not recall whether he did so with Fry. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 47; Officer Smoker Dep. at 66.) After the blood test, Fry was no longer in custody, but Officer Smoker believed that he was still intoxicated and gave Fry a ride home. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 50; Defs.' SOF ¶ 29; Officer Smoker Dep. at 71-72.) Because Fry was no longer an arrestee, he was not handcuffed during the drive. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 49; Defs.' SOF ¶ 30.) Officer Smoker did not discuss anything with Fry during the ride, including whether the handcuffs had been too tight, because Fry had refused to answer Officer Smoker's questions after being read his Miranda rights. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 51; Officer Smoker Dep. at 72.)

The following day, on May 9, 2009, Fry went to the emergency room at Lancaster Regional Medical Center, complaining of pain in his right wrist and right thumb. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 80; Pl.'s SOF Ex. 10 [Medical Records].) Fry's medical records indicate some numbness and tenderness, and he was treated with a splint to immobilize his right wrist, which his physician recommended Fry wear for at least three to five days. (Medical Records.) Fry went to Lancaster Orthopedic Group on May 11, complaining of tenderness and weakness in his right hand, which he said began after spending an hour in tight handcuffs. (Id.) Dr. Raymond Pearl recommended Fry's continued use of the splint and aspirin. (Id.) Dr. Pearl suspected that Fry had developed a radial sensory neuropraxia due to the compression from the handcuffs, which would resolve on its own over weeks or months, or possibly, a radial artery aneurysm or pseudoaneurysm. (Id.) Dr. Pearl recommended an ultrasound to rule out any possibility of an aneurysm. Dr. Pearl later discussed the results of the ultrasound with Fry, and advised him of a hematoma, with the possibility of a thombosis or surrounding aneurysm, but recommended continued observation. (Id.) Throughout the summer, Fry returned for monthly follow-up visits with Dr. Pearl, during which he reported intermittent discomfort, swelling, and tenderness. (Id.) The office visit notes describe the symptoms as classic carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id.) Dr. Pearl ultimately recommended surgery, which was performed on September 29, during which a ganglion cyst was removed and Fry's carpal tunnel was released. In the follow-up notes, Fry indicated he was feeling better, and on November 11, Fry stated that he felt 100 percent improved. (Id.) In February 2012, Dr. Pearl provided an expert medical report after reviewing all of his treatment notes. (Pl.'s SOF Ex. 8 [Expert Medical Report of Dr. Pearl].) The report opined that the ganglion cyst could occur following trauma and that the compression of the nerve was directly related to the handcuffs. (Id.) However, Dr. Pearl also stated that, in his expert opinion, the carpal tunnel syndrom was likely a pre-existing condition not related to the handcuff application. (Id.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002). A court must apply the same standards to cross-motions for summary judgment. Appelmans v. City of Phila., 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987); see also St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Primavera Software, Inc., Civ. A. No. 09-3908, 2011 WL 3438077, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 5, 2011).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Claims Against Manor Township

Count II of Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Manor Township deprived Fry of his constitutional rights by its failure to train and supervise its police officers on when to handcuff a detainee and on the safe application of handcuffs, by policies and customs of failing to properly investigate or sanction police misconduct, and by policies or customs that exhibit deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of individuals. In his motion for summary judgment, Fry also argues that Manor Township's blanket handcuffing policy violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.

In order to establish liability under Section 1983 against a local government unit or a supervisory official, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the deprivation of a constitutional right; (2) that the action was taken pursuant to a custom or policy of the local government unit; and (3) that the action was the cause of the deprivation. Monell v. Dep't. of Social Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Identifying a "'policy' ensures that a municipality is held liable only for those deprivations resulting from the decisions of its duly constituted legislative body or of those officials whose acts may fairly be said to be those of the municipality." Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997). An "act performed pursuant to a 'custom' that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the ...


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