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Winfield v. Keefe

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 20, 2019

MARIE WINFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK KEEFE, and CHAD COOPER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM G. YOUNG, D.J.

         "Qualified immunity attaches when an official's conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known," City of Escondido, Cal. v. Emmons, 139 S.Ct. 500, 503 (2019) (quoting Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (per curiam)); Alfano v. Lynch, 847 F.3d 71, 75 (1st Cir. 2017). "The doctrine's prophylactic sweep is broad: it leaves unprotected only those officials who, 'from an objective standpoint, should have known that their conduct was unlawful.'" Alfano, 847 F.3d at 75 (quoting MacDonald v. Town of Eastham, 745 F.3d 8, 11 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Haley v. City of Bos., 657 F.3d 39, 47 (1st Cir. 2011)). "Put another way, the doctrine protects 'all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Alfano, 847 F.3d at 75 (quoting Mailey v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341(1986)).

         "The qualified immunity analysis entails a two-step pavane." Alfano, 847 F.3d at 75. "The first step requires an inquiring court to determine whether the plaintiff's version of the facts makes out a violation of a protected right." Id. "The second step requires the court to determine 'whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.'" Id. (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). "These steps, though framed sequentially, need not be taken in order." Id. "The 'clearly established' analysis has two sub-parts." Id. "The first sub-part requires the plaintiff to identify either 'controlling authority' or a 'consensus of cases of persuasive authority' sufficient to send a clear signal to a reasonable official that certain conduct falls short of the constitutional norm." Id. (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 617 (1999)).

         "The first sub-part of this analysis 'must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.'" Alfano, 847 F.3d at 76 (citing Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198, 125 S.Ct. 596, 160 L.Ed.2d 583 (2004) (per curiam)). The Supreme Court, in City of Escondido, Cal. v. Emmons, 139 S.Ct. 500, 503 (2019), recently emphasized the heightened level of specificity required:

"This Court has repeatedly told courts ... not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality." Kisela, 584 U.S., at ---, 138 S.Ct., at 1152 (internal quotation marks omitted), That is particularly important in excessive force cases, as we have explained: "Specificity is especially important in the Fourth Amendment context, where the Court has recognized that it is sometimes difficult for an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine, here excessive force, will apply to the factual situation the officer confronts. Use of excessive force is an area of the law in which the result depends very much on the facts of each case, and thus police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless existing precedent squarely governs the specific facts at issue....
“[I]t does not suffice for a court simply to state that an officer may not use unreasonable and excessive force, deny qualified immunity, and then remit the case for a trial on the question of reasonableness. An officer cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right's contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant's shoes would have understood that he was violating it." Kisela, 584 U.S., at ----, 138 S.Ct., at 1152 (internal quotation marks omitted).

City of Escondido, Cal. v. Emmons, 139 S.Ct. 500, 503 (2019) (emphasis added).

         "The second sub-part asks whether an objectively reasonable official in the defendant's position would have known that his conduct violated that rule of law." Alfano v. Lynch, 847 F.3d 71, 75 (1st Cir. 2017) (citing Wilson v. City of Bos., 421 F.3d 45, 57-58 (1st Cir. 2005)). "The question is not whether the official actually abridged the plaintiff's constitutional rights but, rather, whether the official's conduct was unreasonable, given the state of the law when he acted." Id. at 75-6 (citing Amsden v. Moran, 904 F.2d 748, 751-52 (1st Cir. 1990)).

         Here, Marie Winfield ("Winfield") and her husband Robert originally commenced a multi-count complaint against a number of Andover police officers. Only Winfield's claim that Andover Police Chief Patrick Keefe ("Keefe") and Andover Police Lieutenant Chad Cooper ("Cooper") used excessive force when escorting her from the police station survived the motion to dismiss Winfield v. Town of Andover, 305 F.Supp.3d 286, 300 (D. Mass. 2018) .

         Now Keefe and Cooper, armed with affidavits and a video recording of the encounter at the police station, move for summary judgment on the remaining counts. The video may be divided into two segments[1] - a lengthy bright depiction of the encounter from multiple security cameras within the police station and a shorter, much darker and blurry segment from a single more distant security camera outside. Winfield and her husband counter with affidavits of their own.

         "[W]hether an objectively reasonable official in the defendant's position would have known that his conduct violated [a clearly established constitutional right]," Alfano, 847 F.3d at 75, is a mixed question of fact and law. It is the Court that establishes the legal standard defining the "objectively reasonable official." Here, in light of the irrefutable evidence provided by the video inside the police station, this Court has no hesitancy in ruling as matter of law that no reasonable police officer would have understood their conduct to have violated constitutional norms.

         The blurry video outside the police station presents a different situation. One cannot tell specifically what is going on, and Robert Winfield's affidavit alleges that Keefe and Cooper pushed Marie Winfield "using as much force as possible" and "pushed [her] as hard as they could." Robert Winfield Aff'd ¶¶ 21-22.

         True, there are various non-material inconsistencies in the Winfields' affidavits and parts of them are nonsense in non-material ways in light of what accurately can be discerned from the video. Moreover, it would have been utterly out of character and counter productive for Keefe and Cooper to have spent hours entreating, cajoling, and gently guiding Winfield out of the police station to then, having achieved their goal, roughly to have shoved her into the family car. Yet none of these observations makes a whit of difference.

         This is a jury case, triable as of right to a duly qualified jury under the Seventh Amendment. It is the jury's conclusions, not mine, that matter. See generally Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman & Donald Braman, Whose Eyes Are You Going to Believe? Scott v. ...


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