411 F.3d 762 (6th Cir. 2005), 04-3388, St. John v. Hickey

Docket Nº:04-3388.
Citation:411 F.3d 762
Party Name:Allen ST. JOHN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. David HICKEY, Sheriff, Vinton County, Ohio, in his individual and official capacities; Charles Boyer, Corporal, Vinton County Sheriff's Department, in his individual and official capacities; Greg Wolfe, Officer, Vinton County Sheriff's Department, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellee
Case Date:June 20, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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411 F.3d 762 (6th Cir. 2005)

Allen ST. JOHN, Plaintiff-Appellant,


David HICKEY, Sheriff, Vinton County, Ohio, in his individual and official capacities; Charles Boyer, Corporal, Vinton County Sheriff's Department, in his individual and official capacities; Greg Wolfe, Officer, Vinton County Sheriff's Department, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-3388.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

June 20, 2005

Argued: March 16, 2005.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Zach Zunshine, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

Randall Lee Lambert, Lambert, McWhorter & Bowling, Ironton, Ohio, for Appellees.


Zach Zunshine, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

Randall Lee Lambert, Lambert, McWhorter & Bowling, Ironton, Ohio, for Appellees.

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Before: DAUGHTREY and CLAY, Circuit Judges; SCHWARZER, District Judge. [*]


CLAY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Allen St. John appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Defendants David Hickey, the Sheriff of Vinton County, Ohio, and two of his deputies, Corporal Charles Boyer and Officer Greg Wolfe with respect to St. John's excessive force and wrongful arrest claims, which he brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their individual and official capacities. We conclude that St. John, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair-bound, has produced evidence sufficient to create genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendants had probable cause to arrest him and as to whether they used excessive force in attempting to place him in the back seat of a police cruiser after he explained that his legs could not bend. We further conclude that the facts as alleged by St. John suggest the violation of a clearly established right such that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, we conclude that, as to his official capacity claim, St. John has failed to produce any evidence tending to show that Sheriff Hickey and Vinton County failed to train their officers in a manner that constitutes deliberate indifference to citizens' constitutional rights. Accordingly, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part.


This case arises out of an acrimonious dispute between neighbors in the small town of Hamden, Ohio, which is located in Vinton County. Because the case comes to this Court following entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, we consider the facts in the light most favorable to St. John. Between the spring and fall of 2000, St. John, confined to a wheelchair by his muscular dystrophy, frequently complained to the Vinton County Sheriff's Department that members of the McManus family were parking on his grass and hitting his trash cans with their cars. The McManuses, who lived across the street from St. John and his family, had refused St. John's requests to cease these practices. St. John alleges that members of the McManus family, including six adult children, had begun to threaten him. These threats peaked when St. John took his grievance to the city council, who ruled that the McManuses were to park only on their side of the street and St. John only on his. When Jesse McManus died in June 2000, several of his sons and relatives surrounded St. John's car, preventing him from exiting. Keith McManus, Jesse's son, threatened to "put a bullet between [St. John's] eyes."

In the wake of these threats, St. John became concerned for his safety and decided to install security lights on his garage. During June 2000, the McManuses complained about the lights to Sheriff David Hickey, a defendant herein. Hickey came to St. John's house, informed him of the complaints and, at St. John's suggestion, adjusted the lights. On October 27, 2000, St. John was charged by Corporal Boyer of the sheriff's department, also a defendant herein, with disorderly conduct on the grounds that the lights were bothering several neighbors, including the McManuses. On November 2, 2000, St. John was again charged with disorderly conduct,

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this time for blocking Dale McManus's car while in his wheelchair.

On November 9, 2000, Mrs. McManus complained to Sheriff Hickey that St. John's lights were again shining on her house. Hickey instructed Boyer to assess whether the lights were pointed in the same direction as when Boyer had cited St. John for disorderly conduct on October 27, 2000; Boyer confirmed that they were. In addition, Hickey spoke with Mrs. McManus who alleged that St. John had added another light on his garage such that two lights were now focused at the McManus residence. At his deposition, Hickey testified that "[t]he front of the McManus' house was brightly lit due to the lights. I asked Ms. McManus to turn her inside lights in the living room off. The flood lights [from St. John's garage] illuminated the living room."

Hickey and Boyer then proceeded to St. John's house, knocked on the door, and were permitted to enter by St. John's wife. St. John insisted that he had not adjusted the lights in any way since the day in June when Hickey adjusted them. According to Hickey, St. John used profanities and refused to shut off the lights without written assurance from the Sheriff that he and his family would be safe. Hickey said he could not make such a promise and threatened to arrest St. John if he refused to shut off the lights. Hickey then prepared to issue a citation to St. John but St. John refused to provide the necessary information; however, St. John's wife offered the information and St. John himself cooperated after Hickey explained that he could be charged with obstruction of justice. St. John instructed his wife to turn the lights off but when another officer arrived, officer Greg Wolfe, St. John instructed his wife to turn them back on. The officers then arrested St. John. Hickey asked St. John's wife for St. John's medication, which she provided. Boyer and Officer Wolfe carried St. John, while in his wheelchair, out of the house through the front door. Because there was a step to negotiate on the way out, the officers turned the wheelchair around and proceeded backwards. As they did this, St. John fell out of the wheelchair. The officers picked St. John up, placed him back in his wheelchair, and proceeded to a waiting police cruiser.

When they arrived at the cruiser, St. John explained that he could not fit in the back seat because he was unable to bend his legs. Officer Wolfe replied that he had successfully placed much bigger men in the back seat of the cruiser. The officers then attempted to put St. John into the back seat but were not able to do so because St. John's leg became caught between the rear door and the body of the cruiser. This caused injury to St. John's leg. As the officers attempted to remove St. John from the cruiser and return him to the wheelchair they twice dropped him. By now St. John was having difficulty breathing and the officers called paramedics to transport him to a hospital.

At his deposition, Sheriff Hickey admitted that he knew there was a wheelchair ramp attached to the back of St. John's house but did not explain why the officers nevertheless elected to exit through the front door. In addition, Hickey acknowledged that as of November 9, 2000, St. John's October disorderly conduct charge relating to his lights was still pending before a county court. Further, Hickey acknowledged that with the assistance of St. John's wife, he had been provided all the necessary information to issue a citation for disorderly conduct. Consequently, Hickey admitted that an arrest was not strictly necessary; the matter could have been left to the county court. However, each of the officers confirmed that the

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conversation between Hickey and St. John that preceded St. John's arrest quickly escalated into a loud and argumentative confrontation, with St. John using obscenities. Hickey testified that St. John's conduct justified an elevated charge of disorderly conduct in the fourth degree and that it was clear to him that St. John was intent on disobeying Hickey's request to turn the lights off. Hickey, therefore, determined that an arrest was justified. The parties agree that when St. John was taken to the hospital, he was no longer under arrest. Finally, on March 15, 2001, the state of Ohio dismissed Hickey's disorderly conduct charges from October 27, 2000 and November 9, 2000.

St. John brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the Southern District of Ohio, naming Sheriff Hickey, Corporal Boyer, and Officer Wolfe as defendants in their official and individual capacities. In his first amended complaint, dated January 6, 2003, St. John alleged the officers "recklessly disregarded" his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. St. John also generally alleged violations of state law. St. John alleged that Defendants' conduct caused him "humiliation, indignity, pain and suffering, incurred medical bills, attorney's fees as well as severe emotional distress and emotional trauma." After discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The district court construed St. John's claim as alleging lack of probable cause and excessive force. The court held that St. John had failed to establish either the existence of a Vinton County custom or policy that resulted in his allegedly unreasonable arrest or that the county failed to adequately train the Sheriff's department's officers and consequently was deliberately indifferent to St. John's Fourth Amendment rights. The district court accordingly granted summary judgment to Defendants in their official capacities.

As for the individual capacity claims, the district court held that Defendants did not use...

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