207 F.3d 1253 (11th Cir. 2000), 99-10040, Nolin v Isbell

Docket Nº:99-10040.
Citation:207 F.3d 1253
Party Name:Nathan NOLIN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Christopher ISBELL, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 28, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1253

207 F.3d 1253 (11th Cir. 2000)

Nathan NOLIN, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Christopher ISBELL, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 99-10040.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 28, 2000

Page 1254

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before BLACK, Circuit Judge, and GODBOLD and FAY, Senior Circuit Judges.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

Appellee Nathan Nolin filed a complaint against Appellant Officer Christopher Isbell and other defendants not involved in this appeal. The complaint alleged that Appellant violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama law because he unlawfully arrested and detained Appellee and used excessive force in effectuating Appellee's arrest. Appellant contends the district court erred in denying his request for summary judgment based on qualified and discretionary immunity or the failure to establish a constitutional violation. We agree the district court erred and reverse in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 10, 1997, Appellee, then 17 years old, assisted his friends in erecting and disassembling band equipment during the May Day festival in Springville, Alabama. During the disassembly, Appellee began wrestling with a friend, Shawn Pedee. At one point, Appellee landed on top of Pedee on a friend's car and dragged Pedee by the leg to the ground. A bystander instructed them to stop roughhousing and they did so, apparently to return to work.

Meanwhile, Appellant Officer Isbell and Chief Black were dining in the Springville Café. A waitress in the restaurant saw the commotion and shouted "fight." Appellant and Chief Black saw Appellee and Pedee struggling in the parking lot. They

Page 1255

witnessed the two fall onto the hood of a car and observed Appellee drag Pedee to the ground. Appellant and Chief Black ran out to the parking lot where Appellant arrested Appellee.

The crux of the dispute centers around Appellant's use of force in arresting Appellee. Appellee claims Appellant grabbed him from behind by the shoulder and wrist, threw him against a van three or four feet away, kneed him in the back and pushed his head into the side of the van, searched his groin area in an uncomfortable manner, and handcuffed him. Appellee maintains he suffered bruising to his forehead, chest, and wrists, although he admits the bruises disappeared quickly and he did not seek medical treatment.

II. DISCUSSION

Appellant argues the district court erred in denying his motion for summary judgment. Appellant based his motion on the premise that the application of de minimis force during an arrest does not, as a matter of law, constitute excessive force and on the related theories of qualified and discretionary immunity. We may exercise jurisdiction over all of these arguments. See Sheth v. Webster, 145 F.3d 1231, 1235-36 (11th Cir.1998). In Sheth, this Court explained that it has jurisdiction to consider an appeal from a denial of qualified immunity because the "issues appealed ... concern 'not which facts the parties might be able to prove, but, rather, whether or not certain given facts show[ ] a violation of "clearly established" law.' " Id. at 1236 (quoting Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 311, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 2155, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995)). In this case, like Sheth, Appellant accepts Appellee's version of the events and argues those facts do not demonstrate a violation of clearly established law.1 This Court conducts a de novo review of qualified immunity rulings and resolves all issues of material fact in favor of the plaintiff. See Sheth, 145 F.3d at 1236.

A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983-Excessive Force

Appellant argues the district court erred in denying his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects from civil liability government officials who perform discretionary functions if the conduct of the officials does not violate "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). This Court has explained that when applied in excessive force cases, "qualified immunity applies unless application of the standard would inevitably lead every reasonable officer in [the position of the defendant officer] to conclude the force was unlawful." Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1559 (11th Cir.1993), modified 14 F.3d 583 (11th Cir.1994).

Appellant contends he used an amount of force insufficient as a matter of law to support an excessive force claim even under Appellee's version of the events. This Court routinely applied the principle of de minimis force before the Supreme Court's decision in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989).2 See...

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