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Arndt v. Borough

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 21, 2017



          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge

         Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 23 - Granted in part

          I. Introduction

         Defendants Slatington Borough, Police Officer William Borst, Sergeant David Alercia, and Detective Timothy Wagner have filed a motion for summary judgment against Plaintiff Larry Arndt. For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment is awarded in favor of Defendants on Arndt's failure to train claims, but denied in all other respects due to genuine disputes of material fact, which a jury will be required to determine.

         II. Factual Background[1]

         The undisputed facts show that on the afternoon of March 10, 2015, after drinking at a neighborhood bar, Arndt returned to his home and began to argue with his mother and daughter about his drinking habit. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1, Arndt Dep. 54:19-58:25, ECF No. 23-3.[2] At approximately 3:00 p.m., Arndt called 911 and asked them to send four police officers to take him to jail because no one wanted him around and it would make his mother and daughter happy. See Defs.' Mot. Ex. 2, Arndt 911 call.

         Shortly thereafter, Police Officer William Borst, Sergeant David Alercia, and Detective Timothy Wagner arrived at Arndt's residence and found Arndt sitting on the steps of his front stoop. Arndt Dep. 69:7-9. According to Sergeant Alercia, as the officers approached Arndt and began to question him, Arndt exhibited signs of intoxication; in particular, Sergeant Alercia noted Arndt's speech, demeanor, bloodshot eyes, and the scent of alcohol on his person. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 3, Alercia Dep. 52:9-22, ECF No. 23-5. When the officers asked Arndt what was wrong, Arndt replied that he was arguing with his mother and daughter and was “not doing good.” Arndt Dep. 71:2-5. Arndt asked the officers to “take [him] away and arrest [him].” Arndt Dep.71:13-14. The officers replied that they had no reason to do so. Arndt Dep. 71:22-23.

         Arndt then stated that he would give the officers a reason to arrest him, and he asked Detective Wagner if he had a lighter. Arndt Dep. 71:25- 72:6. Detective Wagner handed his cigarette lighter to Arndt, who then reached in his pocket, retrieved a pipe filled with marijuana, brought the pipe to his mouth, and began to light the marijuana. Arndt Dep. 73:1-2.

         The parties dispute what happened next. According to Arndt, as he began to light the marijuana, Detective Wagner smacked his hand, “grabbed [his] wrist and twisted it up and pulled it up [his] back.” Pl.'s Br. Opp'n Ex. B., Arndt Dep. 74:22-75:2, ECF No. 25-3. The other two officers then grabbed Arndt's left arm and “[p]ulled it and twisted it and shoved it up [his] back.” Arndt Dep. 78:8-10. Arndt testified that as this occurred, he did not offer any resistance to the officers' movements, although he “was tensed-normal reaction, tensing up. . . . My body was tensed.” Arndt Dep. 79:20-80:1.

         The officers present a different account. According to Detective Wagner, after Arndt began to light the marijuana, Detective Wagner tried to grab the lighter from Arndt's left hand; Arndt then pulled his left hand to the center of his chest to prevent Detective Wagner from controlling his arm. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 4, Wagner Dep. 27:11-16, ECF No. 23-6. Detective Wagner then “got ahold of [Arndt's] wrist.” Wagner Dep. 27:17. According to Sergeant Alercia, after Detective Wagner grabbed Arndt's left arm, Sergeant Alercia “grabbed [Arndt's] right arm by his elbow and in front of his bicep.” Alercia Dep. 72:22-73:6. In response, Arndt “gave the straight arm” to Sergeant Alercia, pushing him into a retaining wall. Alercia Dep. 73:18-22. Officer William Borst then approached Arndt from the front and pushed Arndt's head down to shift Arndt's center of gravity, which allowed Detective Wagner and Sergeant Alercia to move Arndt's hands behind his back. Alercia Dep. 76:5-9.

         It is undisputed that after getting his hands behind his back, the officers handcuffed Arndt, who remained seated throughout the encounter. Alercia Dep. 79:3-80:12. After several requests from the officers, Arndt stood up under his own power and was escorted to the back of the police car. Alercia Dep. 81:1-3. Once in custody, Arndt was moved from the police station to central booking where he was charged with resisting arrest and various drug offenses; he was released that evening. See Defs.' Mot. 5, ECF No. 23-2. According to an incident report prepared by Detective Wagner, he offered medical services to Arndt at the station after he observed that Arndt's left wrist had red marks from the handcuffs; in response, Arndt laughed, asked if Detective Wagner was kidding, and said he was fine. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6, Wagner Incident Report 3, ECF No. 23-8. In an interview with police a few days after the incident, Arndt stated that he began to feel pain in his arms shortly before his release from the station. See Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5, Arndt Interview Video.

         Arndt testified that on June 14, 2016, he underwent spinal surgery to address pinched nerves and compressed and bulging vertebrae that, his medical staff informed him, stemmed from the March 10, 2015 incident. Arndt Dep. 31:6-32:21. Arndt also testified that he requires pain medication and physical therapy for injuries to his elbows that he sustained as a result of the incident. Arndt Dep. 38:23-40:10.

         Arndt advances the following claims: (1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a claim that the officers used excessive force against him and failed to intervene to prevent such force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) pursuant to § 1983, a claim that Defendant Slatington Borough was deliberately indifferent to a need to train and supervise their officers to avoid the constitutional harm Arndt alleges he suffered; (3) tort claims against the officers for assault and battery.

         Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Arndt's claims, contending that judgment is warranted in their favor because the force used to restrain and arrest ...

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