380 F.3d 893 (6th Cir. 2004), 03-5068, Champion v. Outlook Nashville, Inc.

Docket Nº:03-5068.
Citation:380 F.3d 893
Party Name:Calvin B. CHAMPION, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. OUTLOOK NASHVILLE, INC., et al., Defendants, Debbie Miller, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:August 19, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 893

380 F.3d 893 (6th Cir. 2004)

Calvin B. CHAMPION, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,


OUTLOOK NASHVILLE, INC., et al., Defendants, Debbie Miller, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 03-5068.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 19, 2004

Argued: April 21, 2004.

Page 894

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 895

G. Thomas Nebel, Law Offices of Tom Nevel, Nashville, TN, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., Thomas C. Marszewski (briefed), Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery, Chicago, IL, James D. Montgomery (briefed), Trent A. McCain (argued and briefed), Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Francis H. Young (argued and briefed), Metropolitan Department of Law, Nashville, TN, for Defendant-Appellant.

Before: BATCHELDER and MOORE, Circuit Judges; CALDWELL, District Judge.[*]



The death of Calvin D. Champion ("Champion") shortly after being detained, restrained, and subdued by Nashville Police Officers presents us with a difficult issue of whether the Officers are entitled to qualified immunity such that we should reverse a jury verdict rendered against them. On April 30, 1999, Champion overwhelmed the facilities of his caregiver, promoting a response by the Nashville Police. Three Nashville Police Officers, Defendants-Appellants Debbie Miller ("Miller"), Richard Woodside ("Woodside"), and Craig Dickhaus ("Dickhaus") (collectively "Defendants" or "Officers"), subdued Champion with pepper spray and physical restraints. At trial, five different witnesses testified that after Champion was handcuffed and his feet were bound, the Officers continued to pepper spray Champion and to apply pressure to Champion's back as he lay on his stomach. Champion

Page 896

died en route to the hospital shortly after this incident. Champion's father, Calvin B. Champion, and Champion's sister, Jetonne Champion-Collins, (together "Plaintiffs"),1 brought an action against the Officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A jury awarded the Plaintiffs $900,000 in damages for Champion's physical and mental pain and suffering. Following the return of the verdict, the district court denied the Officers' motion for a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial or remittitur, in which they argued that they were entitled to qualified immunity and that the verdict was excessive.

While the Officers undoubtedly faced unenviable choices in their interactions with Champion, they are not entitled to qualified immunity. Based upon the testimony presented at trial, the Officers' actions in this particular situation violated Champion's clearly established rights. Consequently, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court, which upheld the jury's verdict.


A. Factual Background

The parties mostly agree on the anguishing series of events that culminated in Champion's death, but they differ with regards to the most crucial moments of the incident. Champion, who was 32 years old at the time of his death, completely lacked the ability to care for himself on account of his autism. He was nonresponsive and unable to speak. Outlook Nashville, Inc. ("Outlook"), which provided care for developmentally disabled individuals, was responsible for his well-being. On April 30, 2000, Jolene Delelys ("Delelys"), an Outlook employee, watched over Champion. Upon departing from a Nashville Babies 'R' Us store, where Delelys had taken Champion and her three-year-old son Devin, Champion began to have a "behavior." Delelys had neglected to seatbelt Champion, and Champion began to move around Delelys's minivan, hitting himself in the face and biting his hand, which was a type of "behavior" Champion frequently exhibited. Delelys stated that Champion was very agitated, "slapping his own head harder than usual, biting his own hand harder than usual, slapping the top of [Devin]'s head, shaking [Devin]'s hand." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 165.

Delelys stopped the van, fearing that Champion's behavior would further escalate. Delelys and Champion both exited the van. Champion grabbed Delelys's right hand and started to rub her hand all over his head, a response which, unbeknownst to Delelys, had helped Champion to calm down in the past. Delelys became frightened. She broke away from Champion and locked herself in the van, realizing she had lost control. Delelys tried to get help. She failed in her repeated attempts to call the Outlook emergency number. Finally, Delelys called 911. Right after she finished her phone call, Officer Debbie Miller appeared at the driver-side window, having been alerted to the developing problem by other Babies 'R' Us customers who had phoned 911. Delelys informed Miller that Champion was mentally ill, but Delelys did not tell Miller that Champion was nonverbal and nonresponsive.

Miller approached Champion, asking him for his name and to explain the reason for his agitation. Champion was hitting and biting himself as he began to approach Miller. Miller told Champion to stop, but Champion kept advancing towards Miller. Miller had walked backwards about fifty feet through the parking lot, retreating from Champion, when Champion grabbed

Page 897

Miller's shirt. Miller pushed Champion's hand away and delivered a short burst of pepper spray to Champion's face.

Champion walked dazedly into the Babies 'R' Us. Miller followed him into the store, and after a few minutes she touched him on the arm and ordered him to leave. Champion responded to this command, giving Miller the false impression that Champion actually understood her. Just as the two exited the store, Officer Richard Woodside arrived. Miller informed Woodside that Champion was "10-35"--police code for "mentally ill individual"--and that she had previously sprayed Champion with pepper spray. Miller and Woodside attempted to arrest Champion outside the store, but the Officers struggled with Champion until Officer Craig Dickhaus arrived. The Officers decided to take Champion to the ground in the entrance foyer of the store, an area with carpeting. As Miller described it, "Woodside bends or squats down to where he has his arms wrapped around, a bear hug position if you will, of Champion's lower legs. And as Officer Dickhaus and myself step forward, we bring Champion down to his knees, and then from his knees we gently lay him from his knees, his knees to his stomach, and down on his chest to the ground." J.A. at 248.

Once on the ground Champion struggled. The Officers handcuffed Champion using two sets of handcuffs so as to allow Champion more movement. Champion continued to squirm and move around. Because Woodside had difficulty controlling Champion's feet, which were kicking high into the air, Miller and Dickhaus decided to restrain Champion further through the use of a "hobble device," which essentially binds an individual's ankles together. The Officers had difficulty putting on the hobble device because Champion was still kicking violently, but they eventually "hobbled" him.

The parties' divergent recounting of what occurred in the seventeen minutes between the application of the hobbling device and the arrival of the emergency medical technicians ("EMT") was one of the most significant factual issues at trial and is the axis around which this appeal revolves. The Plaintiffs have not suggested that the Officers acted improperly before Champion was handcuffed and hobbled. Indeed, the Plaintiffs' entire § 1983 claim is premised on the Officers' alleged use of pepper spray and application of asphyxiating pressure after Champion's incapacitation. The parties disagreed during trial, and continue to diverge, in their respective understandings of how much force the Officers used after Champion was incapacitated on the ground.

After several minutes of being on the ground, Champion began to vomit. Woodside immediately called for an ambulance. Between Champion's first regurgitation and the arrival of the EMTs, Champion vomited two more times. Each time, according to the officers, Dickhaus and Miller pulled Champion back by the arms so that he would not be lying in his own vomit. They also checked Champion's mouth and nose to ensure that he was still breathing. The Officers reported that after vomiting, Champion was alert, blinking, breathing, and moving his head from side-to-side.

The EMTs entered the store shortly after Champion vomited for a third time. The first EMT to view Champion was Douglas Baggett ("Baggett"). Baggett testified that as he stepped over Champion, he noticed that Champion's legs moved a couple of inches, which gave Baggett the impression that Champion was alive. Then, Champion's "belly rose, his back rose up, and then he vomited," J.A. at 153 (Baggett Test.), such that Baggett thought he was watching Champion "take his last

Page 898

breath." J.A. at 154. Baggett failed to find a pulse on Champion and asked the Officers to remove the handcuffs, which they promptly did. Champion went into cardiac arrest; despite effort to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

All three Officers claim that none of them put pressure on Champion's back or pressed Champion's face into the floor such that he could not breathe during this entire time period. See J.A. at 181, 185 (Dickhaus Test.); J.A. at 255-56 (Miller Test.) ("Not only did I not [lie across Champion's back, lie across his legs, or kick him], I took extra care myself to make sure that Champion did not receive any injuries from the ground.... [W]e knew he had a mental problem."); J.A. at 298 (Woodside Test.). Additionally, the Officers claimed that Champion was not sprayed again with chemicals after he was on the ground. J.A. at 185 (Dickhaus Test.); J.A. at 298 (Woodside Test.). Paramedic Douglas Sleighter...

To continue reading