Danks v. Grayson

Decision Date08 September 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 21-1806
PartiesJACINTA DANKS v. PHILLIP GRAYSON, ET AL.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana

SECTION “J” (1)

ORDER & REASONS

CARL J. BARBIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the court are two motions filed by Defendants: the City of Kenner, former Police Chief Michael J. Glaser, Phillip Grayson, Daniel Grayson and Chase Lawler. The first is a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(6) (Rec Doc. 50) to which Plaintiff has filed an opposition (Rec. Doc. 72) and Defendants have filed a reply (Rec. Doc 75). The second is a Motion to for Protective Order (Rec. Doc. 51) to which Plaintiff has filed an opposition (Rec. Doc. 70). Having considered the motion legal memoranda, record, and appliable law, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss should be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion for protective order should be denied as moot.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case arises from a traffic stop on October 11, 2020 around 12:30a.m. Plaintiff, Jacinta Danks, was the front seat passenger in a vehicle operated by her brother. The vehicle was stopped for an expired temporary paper license plate by Defendant, Officer Phillip Grayson (P. Grayson), with the City of Kenner Police Department. When the vehicle was pulled over, it initially stopped, and then, as P. Grayson began to exit his patrol unit, the vehicle accelerated away. After a brief pursuit, the vehicle came to a stop and the driver, Plaintiff's brother, fled form the car. P. Grayson pursued and ultimately apprehended him.

P. Grayson then returned to the stopped vehicle where Plaintiff and a passenger remained in the backseat. Defendants, Officer Daniel Grayson (D. Grayson) and Officer Chase Lawler (“Lawler”) joined P. Grayson (collectively, “Kenner Officers”). Plaintiff alleges that the Kenner Officers rushed to the passenger side of the car where she was seated, and at least one had their gun pointed at her. She claims that they began yelling at her while she sat with her hands in the air, but she could not make out what they were saying. Plaintiff alleges that she was disoriented and frightened by the Kenner Officers' aggressive shouting and the manner in which they approached the car. This fear, she claims, momentarily paralyzed her, and she found herself unable to immediately speak or open the door. Eventually able to unlock and open the door, Plaintiff alleges that the Kenner Officers reached in and violently grabbed her. According to P Grayson, as he was attempting to unbuckle Plaintiff's seatbelt and remove her from the vehicle, she struggled with him and bit his hand. Once P. Grayson unbuckled her seatbelt, Plaintiff claims the Kenner Officers violently pulled her from the car. As she was being removed from the car, Plaintiff alleges that her foot got caught between the cabin of the car and the car door.

Once removed from the vehicle, Plaintiff claims that the Kenner Officers threw her forcefully face-first to the ground and removed her phone and wallet from her hands. Once her phone and wallet were out of her hands, Plaintiff alleges that her hands were handcuffed behind her back. While handcuffed and lying face down on the ground, Plaintiff claims that Lawler stepped on her back, pressing her further towards the ground so hard that she could not move. Additionally, after she was removed from the vehicle, Plaintiff alleges that her pants came down, exposing her underwear and menstruation. Because she was handcuffed, Plaintiff claims that she was unable to pull her pants back up, and she remained face down on the ground with Lawler's foot on her back and her pants pulled down for approximately five minutes or more. Plaintiff alleges that she begged the Kenner Officers to pull her pants up, and she squirmed in an attempt to do it herself until someone else pulled them up.

Eventually, Plaintiff claims that she was yanked up, patted down, and read her Miranda rights. She was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Plaintiff alleges she was put in the back of a police car, barefoot and handcuffed, before her shoes were thrown to her in the back seat. The charge against Plaintiff for resisting arrest was subsequently dismissed, and she was convicted of assaulting P. Grayson on April 21, 2022. Finally, Plaintiff claims that her phone and wallet were never returned to her. As a result of this incident, Plaintiff alleges that she has experienced physical pain, a bruised handprint on her arm that lasted multiple weeks, back pain, and serious emotional trauma.

Plaintiff filed the instant suit against the above-named Kenner Officers; City of Kenner; former Police Chief Michael J. Glaser; and seven “bystander” officers for violations of her federal and state civil rights. The “bystander” officers were subsequently dismissed by Plaintiff without prejudice. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 50), and, in response, Plaintiff filed a Rule 56(d) Motion to Stay Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 64) asking the Court to deny the summary judgment portion of Defendants' motion and/or stay it pending the close of discovery. The Court granted Plaintiff's motion and denied the summary judgment portion of Defendants' motion as premature (Rec. Doc. 68). Before the Court now is the 12(b)(6) portion of Defendants' motion and their motion for protective order to stay all pre-trial discovery until resolution of the motion to dismiss.

LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. [D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, but the pleading must present “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009). However, ‘conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.' Beavers v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 436, 439 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION
I. Excessive Force Claim

“To establish a claim of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, plaintiffs must demonstrate: (1) injury, (2) which resulted directly and only from a use of force that was clearly excessive, and (3) the excessiveness of which was clearly unreasonable.' Trammell v. Fruge, 868 F.3d 332, 340 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 167 (5th Cir. 2009)). Fundamentally, “the touchstone of our inquiry is simply the reasonableness of the force employed.” Buehler v. Dear, 27 F.4th 969, 981 (5th Cir. 2022). “Excessive force claims are necessarily fact-intensive; whether the force used is ‘excessive' or ‘unreasonable' depends on ‘the facts and circumstances of each particular case.' Deville, 567 F.3d at 167 (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)).

The Court will first consider Plaintiffs injury. Generally, to maintain a claim for excessive force, a plaintiff need not demonstrate a significant injury, but the injury must be more than de minimis. See Tarver v. City of Edna, 410 F.3d 745, 752 (5th Cir. 2005). Recently, the Fifth Circuit has characterized the injury requirement as “a sliding scale, not a hard cutoff.” Buehler, 27 F.4th at 982. This approach treats the degree of injury-even if minor-as interrelated to the reasonableness and excessiveness of the officer's force. [A]lthough a de minimis injury is not cognizable, the extent of injury necessary to satisfy the injury requirement is ‘directly related to the amount of force that is constitutionally permissible under the circumstances.' Alexander v. City of Round Rock, 854 F.3d 298, 309 (5th Cir. 2017) (alternation in original) (quoting Brown v. Lynch, 524 Fed.Appx. 69, 79 (5th Cir. 2013)). Accordingly, [a]ny force found to be objectively unreasonable necessarily exceeds the de minimis threshold, and, conversely, objectively reasonable force will result in de minimis injuries only.” Id. (quoting Brown, 524 Fed.Appx. at 79). In other words, “as long as a plaintiff has suffered ‘some injury,' even relatively insignificant injuries and purely psychological injuries will prove cognizable when resulting from an officer's unreasonably excessive force.” Id. (quoting Brown, 524 Fed.Appx. at 79). This means that if the officer's force was unreasonably excessive, Here, Danks need only show “some injury”-a bar which she clears here when she alleges in her Complaint:

For weeks after the incident and as a result of her treatment, Ms. Danks experienced physical pain, including a bruised handprint on her arm that lasted multiple weeks. Ms. Danks' back pain caused by being thrown to the ground and stepped on is ongoing. Whether sitting or standing, she feels pain in her back. That pain often shoots up from the middle of her back to the top of her shoulders. Ms. Danks also suffered serious emotional trauma and continues to experience mental anguish over her treatment at the hands of the police.

(Rec. Doc. 46, at ¶¶ 58-59).

The Court next considers the amount of force used and the reasonableness of resorting to such...

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