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Duffie v. City of Lincoln

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 23, 2016

Leroy Duffie Plaintiff- Appellant
City of Lincoln, A Municipal Corporation; Nathan Kaiser; Tobias Hite; Shane Jensen Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: April 13, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Lincoln

          Before SMITH, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         Officers Nathan Kaiser, Shane Jensen, and Tobias Hite of the City of Lincoln Police Department (LPD) conducted a high-risk traffic stop of Leroy Duffie. Duffie sued the City of Lincoln and the three police officers involved in the traffic stop (collectively "defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for depriving him of his constitutional rights. Duffie argues that the defendants (1) conducted a high-risk traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, (2) used excessive force in conducting the stop, (3) searched his van without consent, and (4) placed him in danger of physical harm without due process. The defendants claimed qualified immunity and moved for summary judgment on all claims. The district court granted the defendants' motion. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Around 9:20 p.m. on the evening of September 2, 2011, two clerks working at a northeast Lincoln, Nebraska convenience store called LPD and reported an encounter with a young man. The LPD's incident report noted that the young man-described by the clerks as black, in his late teens or early twenties with short black hair, and wearing a black shirt and blue jeans-acted strangely while making a purchase. He did not respond to one of the clerk's general questions, and the other clerk noted that the young man "kept starring [sic] at the cash register." After the young man left the store, one of the clerks took the garbage outside and noticed the same young man sitting in the passenger seat of an "early 90s Astro style van" described by the clerk as "maroon with white stripes down the side." As the clerk was returning to the store, the young man "held up a hand gun and acted like he was blowing smoke from the barrel." The clerk thought that the handgun resembled a silver Beretta. The report classified the young man as a "35222 - SUSPICIOUS PERSON." The report also indicates that the young man was accompanied by another young man sitting in the driver's seat of the van. The clerk described him as black, in his late teens or early twenties with braids or short hair, and wearing a white tank top. The report did not include a license plate.

         When the 11:00 p.m. shift began, LPD briefed its officers entering duty of the incident. Around 12:45 a.m. on September 3, Officer Kaiser observed "an older maroon Chevrolet Astro Van (NE Plate #SNM794) with light colored stripes down the side" traveling on the roadway just ahead of his cruiser. The van had a handicapped parking placard hanging from the rearview mirror, but there is no indication that Officer Kaiser noticed it. Officer Kaiser believed that the van he observed could be the van from the incident report. He attempted to view the occupants, but his visibility was limited due to the low light, his positioning, and the brevity[1] of his side-by-side travel with the van. Officer Kaiser could only confirm that the driver of the van was a black male. He thought that the driver was wearing a white top and "possibly" had braided hair. He was uncertain whether others occupied the van. Officer Kaiser radioed a sergeant and refreshed his memory of the incident-report details. Based on the match of the driver's race and gender and the similarity of the van description, Officer Kaiser determined that he "had probable cause to stop the van and investigate further."

         Concerned that an occupant of the van may have a firearm, Officer Kaiser requested an additional officer to assist him in making a high-risk traffic stop. Officer Kaiser and Officer Jensen initiated the high-risk traffic stop, positioning their cruisers behind the van.[2] The officers exited their vehicles with their sidearms drawn and remained shielded behind their opened doors. Officer Kaiser ordered the driver "to turn off the vehicle, place his hands in the air, open the door, and slowly step out of vehicle." The driver did not immediately comply. The officers began cautiously approaching the vehicle with their sidearms drawn toward the van, while continuing to shout commands for the driver to exit the vehicle. The driver explained his apparent noncompliance. He attempted to inform the officers that he was physically unable to exit his vehicle with his hands in the air. The officers responded by ordering him to put his head back in the vehicle and get out with his hands in the air. Eventually, the driver opened his door and turned his body to exit the vehicle but immediately fell face-first to the pavement.

         The driver, later identified as Duffie, is a double amputee with two prosthetic legs. He could not safely exit the vehicle in the manner that the officers commanded. The fall caused one of Duffie's prostheses to become detached. Duffie's prosthetic legs were ill-fitting due to weight loss from cancer treatments. Duffie remained on the ground for the remainder of the traffic stop. After finding no one else in the van, the officers handcuffed Duffie, still face down on the pavement, searched him for a weapon, and then removed the handcuffs after five to ten minutes at Duffie's request. The officers told Duffie that they stopped him because his vehicle matched the description of the van from the incident at the convenience store. By this point, the officers knew that Duffie did not match the description of the young man at the convenience store. Duffie was not a young man in a tank top with braids; at the time, he was a bald, 58 year-old double-amputee.

         The officers resumed searching Duffie's van. Duffie claims that the officers began this second search without his consent and that he later consented only because he believed that the officers had already searched his van. In searching Duffie's van, the officers found a silver handgun-style paintball gun with a black grip. Duffie explained that the paintball gun belonged to his son. Officer Kaiser seized the paintball gun in order to follow-up with Duffie's son regarding the convenience-store incident. The officers then released Duffie. Although Duffie did not report any injuries to the officers during the traffic stop, he later claimed that he lost two teeth and tore his rotator cuff as a result of the traffic stop.

         The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. In ruling on the defendants' motion, the district court noted that Duffie's complaint failed to adequately allege which officers were responsible for the claimed constitutional violations. Thus, Duffie's complaint did not state a claim under § 1983. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) ("Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution."). Notwithstanding, the district court recognized that it had a duty to address the defendants' assertion of qualified immunity. It granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity.[3]

         II. Discussion

         Duffie alleges that the defendants deprived him of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. He argues that the defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights by (1) conducting a high-risk traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, (2) using excessive force in conducting the stop, (3) searching his van without consent, and (4) placing him in danger of physical harm without due process.[4]"We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity." LaCross v. City of Duluth, 713 F.3d 1155, 1157 (8th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         Although § 1983 makes no mention of qualified immunity, the common law roots of the doctrine are deep and were not discarded by § 1983's enactment. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 555 (1967); see also 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries *292. "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials 'from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The doctrine balances "the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Id. A state official will be shielded by qualified immunity if (1) the plaintiff fails to allege or show that the official's conduct violated a constitutional right ...

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