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Sheffield v. Pieroway

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 22, 2019

Carla Sheffield, Plaintiff,
v.
Mathew Pieroway and Joel Resil, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge

         This suit arises out of the plaintiff's claims that two police officers violated Burrell Ramsey-White's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. Specifically, plaintiff, on behalf of the deceased Ramsey-White, alleges that the officers unreasonably seized him and used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, among other claims. The two officers have since moved for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         In August, 2012, defendants Mathew Pieroway (“Pieroway”) and Joel Resil (“Resil”) were on duty and in plain clothes with the Boston Police Department's Anti-Crime Unit when they responded to a call concerning an African American male with a red t-shirt peering into parked vehicles in Greenwich Park. Burrell Ramsey-White (“Ramsey-White”), an African American male, was driving a Cadillac with tinted windows in the same area. Although Ramsey-White had not committed any traffic infractions and did not match the description of the suspect peering into parked vehicles, Resil ran the Cadillac's license plate against a law enforcement database and the officers followed Ramsey-White. Shortly thereafter, the officers discovered that the owner of the Cadillac, Jurrell Laronal, had an outstanding default warrant and pulled over the Cadillac.

         The officers approached the vehicle from both sides and Pieroway asked Ramsey-White for his license and registration. Ramsey-White asked Pieroway why he had been stopped but Pieroway ignored the question and again asked Ramsey-White for his license and registration. Ramsey-White provided his license to Pieroway and again asked why he had been stopped. Pieroway did not respond or examine Ramsey-White's license. Eventually, Resil looked at the license and realized that it did not match the identification of the vehicle owner but failed to convey that information to Pieroway or Ramsey-White.

         Without making any effort to determine whether Ramsey-White was the individual whose name appeared on the warrant, Pieroway decided to arrest Ramsey-White for “questioning the officers' orders” and ordered him to get out of the car. Ramsey-White turned off the engine but did not get out, again asked what he had done wrong and, at some point, reached behind the center console towards the floorboards of the backseat. Without responding to Ramsey-White's questions, Pieroway pulled on the locked door and then reached into the car through the open driver's side window while Resil, who was on the passenger side of the car, put his hand on his holstered firearm. As Pieroway began to reach into the car, Ramsey-White started the car, closed the window and drove away. The officers returned to their car and pursued Ramsey-White's vehicle.

         Although the Boston Police Department Operations Supervisor instructed Pieroway and Resil to terminate the pursuit, the officers ignored the order. Ramsey-White eventually abandoned the car and fled on foot but he had left his license behind so that the officers could identify him. Pieroway got out of his car and gave chase while Resil checked the Cadillac to ensure that it was parked before joining Pieroway's pursuit of Ramsey-White. As Pieroway chased Ramsey-White, he yelled repeatedly for Ramsey-White to stop running, to put his hands where Pieroway could see them and threatened to shoot Ramsey-White if he failed to do so. Ramsey-White did not respond to Pieroway's commands and continued to flee. Eventually, Pieroway caught up to Ramsey-White with his weapon drawn. When Ramsey-White turned toward Pieroway, he shot Ramsey-White in the chest.

         As Resil approached the scene, he heard the gunshot and Pieroway shout “don't make me shoot you again”. Pieroway informed Resil that Ramsey-White had been shot in the chest and that Ramsey-White's weapon was in a dumpster nearby. Resil used his radio to report the officer-involved shooting but did not report Ramsey-White's injury or request Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Ramsey-White was handcuffed and patted down for weapons. After the pat down, Resil told Ramsey-White to turn over but he was unresponsive.

         Shortly thereafter, three other Boston police officers arrived on the scene, called for EMS and began to administer first aid to Ramsey-White. Ramsey-White was transported to Boston Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

         B. Procedural Background

         In 2015, Carla Sheffield (“Sheffield” or “the plaintiff”), as the personal representative of the estate of Ramsey-White, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“the MCRA”) against the City of Boston, Mathew Pieroway, Joel Resil and several unidentified defendants in Suffolk Superior Court. The City of Boston removed the action to this Court and filed a motion to dismiss. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed an amended complaint which alleges 1) battery against Officer Pieroway (Count I), 2) assault against Officers Pieroway and Resil (Count II), 3) MCRA violations by Officer Pieroway (Count III), 4) MCRA violations by Officer Resil (Count IV), 5) federal civil rights violations by Officer Pieroway (Count V), 6) federal civil rights violations by Officer Resil (Count VI) and 7) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) by all defendants (Count IX).

         In 2017, this Court adopted Magistrate Judge Kelley's Report and Recommendation, which dismissed the claim against the City of Boston (Count VIII). One year later, defendants Pieroway and Resil filed separate motions for summary judgment that are now pending before this Court.

         II. Legal Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         The role of summary judgment is to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial. Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991). The burden is on the moving party to show, through the pleadings, discovery and affidavits, that there is “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). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law”. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the evidence with respect to the material fact in dispute “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party”. Id.

         If the moving party has satisfied its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine, triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The Court must view the entire record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the record in the nonmoving party's favor, the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         B. Resil's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 84)

         Resil moves to dismiss all claims against him, specifically the claims of 1) assault (Count II), 2) MCRA violations (Count IV), 3) federal civil rights violations (Count VI) and 4) intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX).

         1. Federal Constitutional Claims (Count VI)

         In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that Resil violated Ramsey-White's federal constitutional rights by 1) seizing Ramsey-White in violation of the Fourth Amendment, 2) denying Ramsey-White medical treatment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, 3) using excessive force against Ramsey-White in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 4) subjecting him to unequal treatment in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         a. Seizure, Exit Order and Pursuit

         Resil argues that the seizure and pursuit claims should be dismissed because this Court already found the actions of the officers to be constitutional when it dismissed the City of Boston as a party to this suit. See Docket No. 67. This Court agrees with the analysis set forth in the Report and Recommendation issued by Magistrate Judge Kelley, which found that the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment with respect to the initial stop of the car (“the seizure”), the exit order or the pursuit. See Docket No. 62; Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 111 (1977) (holding that officers may order a driver or passenger out of vehicle that has been lawfully stopped for a traffic violation absent reasonable suspicion); Cty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 844 (1998) (holding that the Fourth Amendment only covers “searches” and “seizures” and that a police pursuit in attempting to seize a person does not amount to a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment).

         Accordingly, Resil's motion for summary judgment as to the federal constitutional claims stemming from the initial seizure, exit order and pursuit will be allowed.

         b. Medical Care

         Plaintiff has since conceded her claim that Resil failed to provide medical care to Ramsey-White when he was injured while apprehended by police. Accordingly, summary judgment with respect to the failure to provide medical care in violation of the Due Process Clause will be allowed.

         c. Excessive Force

         Plaintiff alleges that Resil is liable for Pieroway's excessive force under a joint venture theory of liability because Resil 1) remained silent about the officers' misidentification of Ramsey-White throughout the course of the initial stop up until the shooting and 2) encouraged Pieroway to continue following Ramsey-White during the pursuit. In effect, plaintiff argues that but-for ...


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