Weigle v. Pifer

Citation139 F.Supp.3d 760
Decision Date14 October 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:14-cv-15087
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
Parties James P. Weigle, Plaintiff, v. R.L. Pifer, individually and in his capacity as an officer with the City of Vienna Police Department, and Brian Ingraham, individually and in his capacity as an officer with the City of Vienna Police Department, and City of Vienna Police Department, a political subdivision of the State of West Virginia, and the City of Vienna, a political subdivision in the State of West Virginia, Defendants.

Kelly Elswick-Hall, Kimberly K. Parmer, Marvin W. Masters, The Masters Law Firm, Jennifer Narog Taylor, Charleston, WV, for Plaintiff.

Cy A. Hill, Jr., Jennifer Anne Lynch, Michael P. Markins, Mannion & Gray, Charleston, WV, for Defendant.


John T. Copenhaver, Jr., United States District Judge

Pending is the defendants' motion for summary judgment, filed April 24, 2015.

I. Background

Plaintiff James P. Weigle ("Weigle") is a West Virginia citizen who lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The City of Vienna ("the City") is a municipality geographically adjacent to Parkersburg. The City, its police department, and Vienna police officers R.L. Pifer ("Pifer") and Brian Ingraham ("Ingraham") (collectively "the officers"), are each named defendants in this action.1

This suit arises from an incident that occurred on April 21, 2012. That morning, at around 8 a.m., Weigle was driving southbound on Grand Central Avenue in Vienna. As he approached the intersection of Grand Central Avenue and 34th Street he became mired in traffic. Frustrated by the delay, Weigle sounded his car's horn.

The traffic delaying Weigle was the byproduct of a 5K footrace that was producing an intermittent stream of pedestrians on several of Vienna's thoroughfares, including 34th Street. To ensure the safety of these runners, members of both the Vienna Police Department and the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department were directing traffic at various locations along the course of the race. Pifer and Ingraham were two of the police officers engaged in traffic control for the race.

The parties agree generally on what happened next, though several important details are in dispute. It is undisputed that at least one, and perhaps several, motorists near the intersection of Grand Central Avenue and 34th Street sounded their horn. Weigle admits that he sounded his horn, but states that he did so only once, and only after he heard other drivers sound theirs. The defendants claim that Weigle was sounding his car's horn "repeatedly."

Patrolman Joshua Cole ("Cole") who, along with Pifer, was directing traffic at the intersection of Grand Central Avenue and 34th Street, went to investigate the horn sounding. Walking along the line of stopped or slowly moving vehicles, Cole eventually determined that Weigle had sounded his horn. He approached Weigle's small vehicle, a "Smart car," and instructed him to pull over to the side of the road. Weigle did not comply. Weigle claims that he did not comply because he did not recognize that Cole, who was wearing rain gear that obscured his police uniform and did not prominently display a badge, was a police officer. Shortly thereafter, Cole returned to the intersection and spoke with Pifer. After speaking with Cole, Pifer made his way to Weigle's vehicle. Weigle concedes that he knew Pifer to be a policeman when he saw Pifer approaching.

When Pifer arrived, he knocked on Weigle's driver-side window, and Weigle rolled down his window in response. After Weigle lowered the window, Pifer asked Weigle to produce his driver's license. He also instructed Weigle to pull his vehicle out of the line of traffic and into the parking lane. Weigle complied with the latter request and, after pulling into the parking lane, exited the vehicle. Weigle produced his driver's license, although the parties disagree about the manner in which it was produced. Weigle then began expressing his dissatisfaction with being stuck in traffic and Pifer offered commiserations.

The parties agree that shortly thereafter Weigle attempted to reenter his vehicle. He was physically prevented from doing so by Pifer. The parties disagree about the exact sequence of events that follow, but a physical altercation ensued. During this altercation Pifer initiated an arrest of Weigle.

Sometime after Weigle had exited his vehicle, but before the arrest began, Ingraham, who had been directing traffic at a different intersection along the course of the race, arrived at the scene in his police cruiser. Ingraham, in response to a signal from Pifer, had just begun to exit his cruiser when Pifer initiated the arrest. Ingraham began assisting Pifer in his attempts to secure Weigle. Although the parties offer different accounts concerning the amount of force employed by the officers, it is undisputed that Pifer forcibly wedged Weigle against the hood of Ingraham's police cruiser during the arrest. The officers were initially unable to handcuff Weigle, whose hands were positioned underneath his torso near his abdomen. Eventually, with the assistance of Ingraham, who threatened to use pepper spray against Weigle, Pifer was able to secure handcuffs on Weigle and complete the arrest.

Weigle was processed, then eventually charged with obstructing a police officer. He appeared before a county magistrate and was convicted. He appealed that conviction, seeking de novo review in the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia. After a bench trial, the magistrate conviction was overturned and Weigle was acquitted.

Weigle initiated this action by filing a ten count complaint on April 21, 2014. The first seven counts raise six state law claims against the officers (negligence, outrage, negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, and malicious prosecution) and one against the City (negligent retention). The complaint's last three counts assert a number of federal constitutional claims arising under 42 U.S.C § 1983, consisting of excessive force claims under the Fourth Amendment2 against the officers related to their conduct during the arrest, and separate but related constitutional violations against the City, namely, that it had customs or policies that contributed to or caused the injuries inflicted by the officers during the arrest (the "Monell claims").

The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. The defendants advance a number of theories with respect to the state law claims, including insufficiency of the evidence, common law privilege, and statutory immunity. With respect to the federal claims, the defendants both invoke the protection of qualified immunity and argue that Weigle's claims are substantively meritless because the force used by officers during the arrest was objectively reasonable.

The court is properly invested with jurisdiction over the federal claims inasmuch as Section 1983is a federal statute through which deprivation of constitutional rights may be redressed. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A district court properly invested with jurisdiction can also exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims that "form part of the same case or controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 1367, see also United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs , 383 U.S. 715, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966).

Accordingly, the court has jurisdiction over all of Weigle's claims.

II. The Summary Judgment Standard

A party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

A genuine issue of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The moving party has the initial burden of showing—"that is, pointing out to the district court—that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts as would be admissible in evidence that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); id. at 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548. A party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin , 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir.1991). Conversely, summary judgment is inappropriate if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

III. Discussion

With the exception of the malicious prosecution claim set forth in Count Seven and two of the four infliction of emotional distress claims in Counts Three and Four, each of Weigle's claims relates either directly or indirectly to the force employed by the officers during his arrest. The officers have asserted qualified immunity with respect to Weigle's Section 1983claims and analogous state law statutory immunity with respect his state law claims. "Because qualified immunity is 'an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability,' " Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009)(quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth , 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985)), immunity is a threshold issue which the court addresses before considering any of the defendants' proffered substantive bases for summary judgment. Saucier v. Katz , 533 U.S. 194, 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)("Where [...

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