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Steuerwald v. Cleveland

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 31, 2015

John Steuerwald, Plaintiff,
Richard Cleveland, City of Montpelier, Vermont, and Glen Marold, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 24, 32, 40, 41, 42, 44)

J. GARVAN MURTHA, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Steuerwald, proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Richard Cleveland ("Cleveland"), the City of Montpelier, Vermont ("the City"), and Glen Marold ("Marold"). Steuerwald alleges violations of his Fourth, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendment rights arising from an arrest that occurred on March 8, 2011, in Montpelier, Vermont. Now pending before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 24, 40, 41, 42), Steuerwald's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 32), and Steuerwald's motion to amend the complaint and motion for a court Order to view the CD/DVD of 3/8/11 incident (Doc. 44).

Factual Background and Procedural History

Steuerwald is an inmate in the custody of the State of Vermont. Cleveland is a police officer for the City, and Marold is a firefighter and emergency medical technician ("EMT"), also employed by the City. Steuerwald brings suit against Cleveland and Marold in both their official and individual capacities, and he sues the City under a theory of municipal liability.

Steuerwald initially filed this lawsuit in the Vermont Superior Court on February 28, 2014. (Doc. 7.) Defendants removed the case to this Court on April 29, 2014. (Doc. 1.) On October 30, 2014, the Court granted Steuerwald's motion to amend the complaint (Doc. 37), and denied without prejudice Defendants' then-pending motions to dismiss (Docs. 36, 38).

For the purpose of the pending motions to dismiss, the Court assumes as true the facts alleged in Steuerwald's First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 39.) Steuerwald alleges that in the early morning hours of March 8, 2011, Cleveland and Officer Jacqueline Adams responded to a call from a neighbor regarding a domestic disturbance at an apartment in Montpelier, Vermont. (Doc. 39 at 2.) At approximately the same time police arrived, Steuerwald was engaged in a physical altercation with a female who had jumped on and attacked him. Id. Steuerwald and the woman fell to the ground just as Cleveland kicked open the door to the apartment and drew his firearm on Steuerwald. Id. Steuerwald "was not actively posing a threat, or actively causing harm to [the woman]." Id. at 3. Cleveland could see that Steuerwald was not causing a threat to anyone present or trying to flee. Id. Steuerwald was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and at some point thereafter, his blood alcohol content ("BAC") was measured as.218. Id. at 11.

Cleveland holstered his firearm and picked up Steuerwald from the floor by pulling Steuerwald's right arm with a "violent" motion. (Doc. 39 at 11.) Steuerwald experienced severe pain and was later diagnosed with a right rotator cuff injury that will require surgery. Id. As a result of the injury, Steuerwald could not use his right arm for almost four months and experienced difficulty sleeping. Id.

Cleveland and Officer Adams arrested Steuerwald and transported him to the Montpelier Police Department. (Doc. 39 at 6.) Steuerwald told Cleveland that his shoulder was injured during the arrest and requested medical attention. Id. Steuerwald "was placed in a restraint belt" and locked in a holding cell. Id. Steuerwald was crying and screaming and remained in severe pain. Id. at 10. Steuerwald eventually "passed out from a mix of [extreme] pain and intoxication." Id. at 6. He fell off the cell bench and struck his head on the floor. Id. at 7. The restraint belt prevented Steuerwald from putting his hands in front of him to protect his head from the fall. Id. at 10.

Cleveland called for medical personnel. (Doc. 39 at 7.) Marold and another EMT, Justin Redman, responded to the call. When they arrived, Steuerwald was unconscious and lying on the floor. Id. at 10. Cleveland attempted to wake up Steuerwald by "kick[ing] the back of [Steuerwald's] head with one of his feet, or hand." Id. at 7. Steuerwald was in a state of semi-consciousness. Cleveland then told the EMTs that Steuerwald "was not in need of any kind of medical attention, " they "did not need to see or evaluate" him, and he would not allow them inside Steuerwald's cell. Id. at 8. At some point, Marold and Redman left without treating Steuerwald.

Several hours later, Cleveland entered the holding cell and removed the restraint belt, allowing Steuerwald to move his arms freely. (Doc. 39 at 12.) Steuerwald asked for medical attention again, but Cleveland did not make the call. Id. Instead, Cleveland told Steuerwald to "stop your complaining[, ] you will get to see a doctor at jail." Id. Eventually Steuerwald was removed from the holding cell and placed in handcuffs, causing additional pain to his injured right shoulder. Id. Steuerwald was transported to a correctional facility while he remained in pain and eventually received medical treatment. Id. at 13.

At a bail hearing on September 28, 2012, Cleveland allegedly gave false testimony regarding the circumstances which led to Steuerwald's arrest, testifying that Steuerwald would have "killed" the woman in the apartment but for Cleveland's intervention. (Doc. 39 at 5.) Cleveland also testified that he injured Steuerwald in the struggle, and that Steuerwald requested medical attention prior to falling off the cell bench. Id. at 7. He testified Steuerwald was "cooperative" and "not resisting arrest" when he placed Steuerwald in the restraint belt. Id. at 14. After Steuerwald fell, he told Cleveland that he had a head injury. Id. at 5. Cleveland was aware that Steuerwald was knocked unconscious as a result of hitting his forehead when he fell. Id. at 7. Cleveland also testified that he knew Steuerwald's BAC was.218, over three times the legal limit. Id.

On March 25, 2014, Steuerwald sent a public records request to the City of Montpelier seeking a copy of the ambulance log report for the date of the incident. (Doc. 39 at 16.) The documents he received included a report from the encounter with Steuerwald authored by Marold, and it stated that "[first] aid was given". Id. In other sections of the report, however, a box is marked "none" for "aid given or received[.]" Id. The report also states, "NO COMPLAINTS OF INJURY, NO [INJURIES] FOUND[.]" Id. Steuerwald alleges that Marold falsified the log report. Id.

On May 15, 2014, Steuerwald's "POA, " a person he refers to as "JR, " reviewed a video of Steuerwald from a holding cell camera taken on the night of the incident. (Doc. 39 at 10.) The video shows that Steuerwald was "cooperative" when Cleveland and Officer Adams put him in the restraint belt, and that he was not posing a threat to the police or to himself or trying to flee. Id. The video shows Steuerwald crying and screaming in pain and then falling and hitting his head. Id. While Steuerwald remained on the floor unconscious, police officers took photographs of him and moved him around on the floor. Id. at 15.

Steuerwald makes the following claims against the Defendants: (1) Section 1983 conspiracy claims against Cleveland and Marold; (2) Cleveland violated his Fourth, Fourteenth, and Eighteenth Amendment rights; (3) Marold violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights; and (4) the City is liable for Cleveland and Marold's conduct under a theory of municipal liability. (Doc. 39.) As relief, Steuerwald seeks nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages.


I. Motion to Dismiss Standard of Review

Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Filings by self-represented parties are "to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires the plaintiff to provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court reviews the face of the plaintiff's complaint and accepts all factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Price v. N.Y. State Bd. of Elections, 540 F.3d 101, 107 (2d Cir. 2008). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 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)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

II. Section 1983 Conspiracy Claims

In response to Defendants' pending motions, Steuerwald moves to voluntarily dismiss all § 1983 conspiracy claims against Cleveland and Marold under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a). (Docs. 27 at 15, 46 at 6.) Steuerwald's request is GRANTED, and all § 1983 ...

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