A. G. v. Fattaleh, Civil Action 5:20-CV-00165-KDB-DCK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtKenneth D. Bell United States District Judge.
PartiesA. G., Plaintiff, v. Michael Fattaleh; William Manners; The City of Statesville; Colleen Guerin, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action 5:20-CV-00165-KDB-DCK
Decision Date14 July 2022

A. G., Plaintiff,
v.

Michael Fattaleh; William Manners; The City of Statesville; Colleen Guerin, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 5:20-CV-00165-KDB-DCK

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

July 14, 2022


ORDER

Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Colleen Guerin and William Manners' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 66), Michael Fattaleh's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 67) and the City of Statesville's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 73). Plaintiff opposes all three motions. (Doc. Nos. 78, 79, 80). The Court has carefully reviewed the motions and considered the parties' briefs and exhibits. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will DENY Guerin and Manners' Motion. The Court will also GRANT in part and DENY in part Fattaleh's Motion and the City of Statesville's Motion.[1]

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

This lawsuit arises out of an incident involving L.G., a seven-year-old child with disabilities, and a School Resource Officer, Michael Fattaleh (“Fattaleh”) at the Pressly Alternative School (“Pressly”) in Iredell County, North Carolina. At the time of the incident, L.G. was a student at Pressly. L.G.'s disabilities include autism, sensory processing disorders, mental

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disabilities, learning disabilities, and behavioral disabilities, and he also has difficulty with selfregulation and transitions. Consistent with his disabilities, L.G. was enrolled in a day treatment program at Pressly which included behavioral and mental health components along with educational instruction, and he had an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). Michael Fattaleh was a Statesville Police Department officer and city employee assigned to Pressly. Collen Guerin was L.G.'s special education teacher and William Manners was a teaching assistant at Pressly.

On the day of the incident, L.G. became overstimulated due to “a number of incidents in L.G.'s classroom involving other students, resulting in multiple transitions in and out of the classroom.” L.G. was moved to the school's “quiet room,” accompanied by Colleen Guerin and William Manners, to allow him to calm down. Bobbie Samuels, a behavioral specialist assisting Guerin's classroom, was also present in the quiet room.

After arriving at the quiet room, Guerin, Manners, and Samuels subdued L.G. by standing on either side of him and holding him down in a chair (what is known as a “two-man restraint”), which complied with the requirements of their Crisis Prevention Intervention (“CPI”) training. Guerin and Manners both believed they had the situation under control and that L.G. would soon calm down. Neither feared for the safety of anyone present, and neither requested any assistance from school staff or anyone else. A few minutes later, Officer Elliot Turner - another school resource officer employed by the Statesville Police Department and assigned to Pressly - stopped by the room to check on everyone. Manners indicated that the school staff did not require Turner's assistance. Officer Turner therefore did not intervene and continued with his duties.

Shortly after Officer Turner checked in, Officer Fattaleh entered the room. Fattaleh asked who was being restrained but sought no other information about L.G. or the situation. Then

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Fattaleh allegedly witnessed L.G. spit in the direction of one of the staff members. He immediately informed the staff that “he's mine now,” took L.G. into “custody” and handcuffed him. Fattaleh alleges that Manners had previously told him that spitting was a serious offense that required his intervention, but Manners denied telling Fattaleh anything about spitting. At the time of the incident, Fattaleh's training included basic law enforcement training, use of force training, specific SRO training, and service training shadowing another SRO at Pressly. However, it is at best unclear if Fattaleh received training on the use of force with disabled students in a school setting.

The handcuffing of a student who was in a controlled restraint was not normal practice at Pressly. Colleen Guerin testified that she “had never been in a position where a resource officer took a child out of a safe, controlled restraint and placed them in handcuffs.” After taking control of the situation, Fattaleh placed L.G. face down on the floor with a pillow on the ground to protect his face. Then, over the course of the next 38 minutes, Fattaleh placed his knee in L.G.'s back, twisted his arms behind him, caused him to call out in pain, and made statements such as: “Are you acquainted with the juvenile justice system?”; “Have you ever heard the term babysitter? I take that term literally, my friend.”; and, when L.G. cried out that his knee hurt, Fattaleh responded “yeah, this sucks, doesn't it?” (Doc. No. 68-15, 16 at 3:00:50).

During L.G.'s detention, Guerin and Manners did not tell Fattaleh to stop or express any concern. They did not ask if it was necessary or ask Fattaleh to remove the handcuffs. Nor did they provide Fattaleh with more information about L.G. and whether he was acting consistent with his disabilities. Fattaleh testified that if anyone had told him that his conduct was hurting L.G. that he would have altered his behavior.

Following an investigation, the Statesville Police Department concluded that Fattaleh used excessive force. (See Doc. No. 82-2 “Use of Force Report”). The Statesville PD found that the

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amount of force used by Officer Fattaleh on L.G. was unnecessary, unreasonable, and “determined to be excessive ....” Id. at p. 2. A formal Internal Affairs Investigation also investigated Officer Fattaleh's conduct. (Doc. No. 82-3 (“IA Investigation Report”)). Ultimately, the IA Investigation reached two conclusions: (1) that Fattaleh used excessive force; and (2) that he engaged in conduct unbecoming of an officer. Id. at p. 23.

L.G. attempted, unsuccessfully, to return to school the next day; and he has not returned to a school setting since. (Doc. No. 81-8, 94:18-94:21); (Doc. No. 81-3 p. 176:9-177:9). Plaintiff's expert, Dr. David Husted, has expressed his “opinion, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that [L.G.] was clearly traumatized” by this experience. (Doc. No. 82-4, p. 28). L.G. has been diagnosed with PTSD, has been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward twice, and his aggression and violence towards his mother and others increased substantially after the incident. (Doc. No. 81-8, 140:17-141:4, 156:8-156:18). In sum, Plaintiff alleges that L.G.'s prognosis and life trajectory have been forever altered, and “as a direct result of this trauma [L.G.] has experienced a dramatic deviation in his developmental trajectory with marked worsening of his emotional condition, decline in adaptive potential, and heightened medical needs.” (Doc. No. 82-4, pp. 2829).

In October 2020, Plaintiff filed an initial complaint asserting claims against the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education (“School Board”), the City of Statesville, and Michael Fattaleh. (Doc. No. 1). A.G. later filed her First Amended Complaint, which, among other things, added Guerin and Manners as named defendants. (Doc. No. 24). The School Board was dismissed from the case as a defendant in June 2021 (Doc. No. 50).

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II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d 651, 659 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)); see United States, f/u/b Modern Mosaic, LTD v. Turner Construction Co., et al., 946 F.3d 201, 206 (4th Cir. 2019).

A factual dispute is considered genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Vannoy v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 827 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013)).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact through citations to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions or affidavits in the record. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). “The burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' ... an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial,” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in his pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324.

In determining if summary judgment is appropriate, “courts must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and refrain from weigh[ing] the evidence or mak[ing]

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credibility determinations.” Variety Stores, 888 F.3d at 659 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Lee v. Town of Seaboard, 863 F.3d 323, 327 (4th Cir. 2017)); see Modern Mosaic at *2. “Summary judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2728 (3d ed.1998)).

However, “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009)...

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