Chaney v. City of Orlando, Fla., 06-12647.

Citation483 F.3d 1221
Decision Date11 April 2007
Docket NumberNo. 06-12647.,06-12647.
PartiesDontray CHANEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF ORLANDO, FLORIDA, a municipal corporation, and Jonathan Cute, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
483 F.3d 1221
Dontray CHANEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CITY OF ORLANDO, FLORIDA, a municipal corporation, and Jonathan Cute, Defendants-Appellees.
No. 06-12647.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
April 11, 2007.

[483 F.3d 1222]

Jack Britt Nichols, Jack B. Nichols, P.A., Orlando, FL, for Chaney.

Robert E. Bonner, Meier, Bonner, Muszynski, Doyle, O'Dell & Harvey, P.A., Orlando, FL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before BIRCH and PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and NANGLE,* District Judge.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Dontray Chaney brought an action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the City of Orlando, Florida, and Officer Jonathan Cute, an Orlando police officer, alleging claims for wrongful arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution. After the jury returned a special verdict in Chaney's favor, Officer Cute made a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which the district court granted. Because we conclude that the district court erred in granting Officer Cute's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, we REVERSE the district court's judgment as to Officer Cute and REMAND this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


The evidence adduced at trial, which we must view in a light most favorable to Chaney as the party against whom judgment

483 F.3d 1223

was entered as a matter of law, is as follows. In the early evening of 5 June 2003, Chaney was en route to Mercy Market, a convenience store located at 1430 Mercy Drive in Orlando, to pick up a few items. Chaney was driving a 1996 Pontiac Grand Am that belonged to his cousin, Antawain Green. The Grand Am had a plastic cover over the vehicle's rear license tags. After Chaney made a right turn onto Mercy Drive from the Palms Apartment complex, Officer Cute stopped him. Officer Cute illuminated his police cruiser's blue lights, and Chaney pulled the Grand Am into the parking lot of the Mercy Market and placed it in park.

After stopping the vehicle, Chaney opened his car door and began to exit the vehicle in an attempt to ascertain the reason for the traffic stop. At that time Chaney was holding his license in his hand. As Chaney was stepping out of the car, Officer Cute, who was approximately four to five feet away and was fast approaching, told Chaney to "get back in the fucking car." R14 at 8; R3-65, Exh. 1 at 13. Chaney then sat back down in the driver's seat, placed his feet back inside the vehicle with the driver side door still "cracked," and placed his hands in his lap with his driver's license in his hand. Chaney asked Officer Cute the reason for the stop, but instead of answering him, Officer Cute reached into the vehicle to pull the keys out of the car's ignition. Chaney attempted to stop Officer Cute by placing his hand over the ignition, and asked the officer what he was doing. Officer Cute then grabbed Chaney's arm and twisted it behind his back, grabbed Chaney by the neck in a "choke hold," and pulled Chaney out of the car. R14 at 9; R3-65, Exh. 1 at 15.

After pulling Chaney out of the vehicle, Officer Cute dropped Chaney to the ground and placed his knee between Chaney's shoulder blades in an attempt to pin Chaney on his stomach. Officer Cute placed one of Chaney's hands in handcuffs. Officer Cute then held a "Taser"1 to Chaney's head and asked Chaney: "do [you] want some?" R14 at 10. Chaney testified that he did not attempt to resist arrest or struggle with Officer Cute while he was pinned to the ground, but that he again asked Officer Cute what he was doing. At this time, only one of Chaney's hands had been placed in handcuffs; Chaney's other hand was still loose. Officer Cute then stood up and, with Chaney still pinned on the ground, tased him. Chaney testified that being tased caused him to lose control over his body, and that he "felt like [he] was going to die." R3-65, Exh.1 at 17-18.

After being tased, Chaney rolled over onto his back and attempted to sit up, but Officer Cute tased Chaney a second time and rolled him back onto his stomach. Officer Cute then placed his foot on Chaney's head and "squish[ed]" it on the pavement "like he put out a cigarette," R14 at 13, which caused an abrasion on Chaney's cheek. Officer Cute placed the other handcuff on Chaney's loose hand. Chaney remained on the ground while other officers

483 F.3d 1224

arrived at the scene. Chaney claims that he recalls an officer, apparently one of Officer Cute's superiors, arriving at the scene and telling Officer Cute that "[Chaney] didn't need to be [t]ased any more." R3-65, Exh.1 at 19. Chaney was helped up from the ground and was led to a police cruiser.

At this point a crowd of onlookers had gathered at the Mercy Market. As the officers led Chaney to a police car, he asked a member of the crowd if she would call his mother and tell her what had happened to him. The bystander asked Chaney for his phone number. As Chaney began to answer, Officer Cute "grabbed . . . a pressure point in [Chaney's] throat by [his] Adam's apple," and told him "don't say a fucking word." R14 at 14. Officer Cute then slammed Chaney's head onto the trunk of the police cruiser.

Chaney was subsequently taken to a location near the incident, for further questioning. Chaney testified that, en route, an officer in the cruiser asked him: "how did the fucking Taser feel?" R3-165, Exh. 1 at 23. After sitting in the cruiser for a short time, Chaney was taken to a warehouse area, where he met with a Sergeant in the Orlando Police Department and was asked a series of questions about the tasing incident. The officers took pictures of Chaney's wounds; they removed the Taser hooks out of Chaney's back (they had been lodged in his back for approximately 15 minutes); and took detailed notes on Chaney's version of events. At that time, Chaney was informed that Officer Cute had stated that he had stopped Chaney because the rear license tag cover on the Grand Am had been obscured. Chaney disputed this allegation, telling the Sergeant that the license tag was not obscured. When Chaney was told that he was going to be taken to jail, he asked the Sergeant if he would personally transport him to the station, because he was uncomfortable riding in the same car with Officer Cute. Chaney was informed, however, that, as the arresting officer, Officer Cute was required to take him to the station.

Officer Cute transported Chaney to the Orange County Correctional Facility without incident. Chaney was given a traffic citation for operating a vehicle with an obscured license plate, in violation of Fla. Stat. § 316.605.2 He was also charged with the misdemeanor offense of resisting an officer without violence, in violation of Fla. Stat. § 843.02.3 A traffic court later found Chaney not guilty of driving with an obscured license. The charge for resisting an officer without violence was nolle prossed.

In March 2004, Chaney brought the present § 1983 action in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Orange County, Florida against Officer Cute and the City of Orlando. Chaney's amended complaint alleged claims against Officer Cute for wrongful arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution in pursuing the traffic violation, all in violation of Chaney's Fourth Amendment

483 F.3d 1225

rights. He also lodged three counts against the City of Orlando, alleging that the excessive use of Tasers by Orlando police officers was an official custom or policy of the Department; that the Department failed to properly train its officers in the use of Tasers; and that the Department failed to monitor officers who used Tasers in an excessive manner. The defendants removed the action to the Middle District of Florida.

A four-day jury trial was held in March 2006. At the close of Chaney's case-in-chief, Officer Cute moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). The court denied that motion. Officer Cute renewed this motion at the close of all of the evidence. The court reserved a ruling on that motion, and submitted the case to the jury.

After reading the jury its instructions, the court directed the jury to make findings on a special verdict form. The special verdict form contained a number of specific issues for the jury to decide. The jury made the following pertinent findings. First, the jury found that Officer Cute "reasonably believed that the tag of the vehicle driven by [Chaney] was obstructed in violation of Florida law when he stopped [Chaney]." R9-152 at 1. Second, the jury found that Officer Cute "reasonably believed that [Chaney] resisted his lawful directives or attempted arrest." Id. Third, the jury found that Officer Cute "intentionally committed acts that violated [Chaney]'s federal constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive force," and that Officer Cute "used unreasonable force" both in effecting the arrest of Chaney and in tasing him. Id. at 2. Fourth, the jury found that Officer Cute "acted with malice in pursuing the traffic citation against [Chaney]." Id. Separately, the jury found that the City of Orlando did not have any "custom or policy that resulted in the constitutional violations" that Chaney suffered at the hands of Officer Cute. Id.

The jury then imposed nominal damages ($972.15) to compensate for the cost of Chaney's post-incident medical treatment; for his bond; and for his having to defend against the...

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