Each month, Nexsen Pruet attorney Marc Manos, a member of the SC Bar Torts and Insurance Practice Section Council, sheds light on a few recent cases from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, focused in the area of Torts & Insurance.
Below are noted cases from July 2017.
Pratt-Miller v. Arthur
No. 17-1024 (4th Cir. July 3, 2017) (Unpublished): Section 1983 claims based on shooting death of plaintiff’s son by sheriff’s deputy. Summary judgment for sheriff in her individual capacity on both Section 1983 and state law claims affirmed. Court agreed there was no proof Sheriff knew of and was deliberately indifferent to acts of deputy and evidence indisputable that acts of deputy lay outside the scope and course of employment. Affirmed.
Burwick v. Pilkerton
No. 16-2043 (4th Cir. July 13, 2017) (Unpublished): Section 1983 claim based on alleged excessive force by allowing police dog to bite suspect multiple times. Summary judgment for defendants affirmed even though district court erred in not considering plaintiff’s interrogatory answers. The interrogatory answers did not state they were based on personal knowledge, but the answers made clear by context they were and district court should have considered them. The interrogatory answers were, however, contradicted by requests to admit that plaintiff failed to answer and, therefore, were deemed admitted. When the only conflict in the facts is between two different statements of the party opposing summary judgment, there is no issue of material fact and summary judgment should be granted, citing Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 960 (4th Cir. 1984). Affirmed.
Lee v. Town of Seaboard
No. 16-1447 (4th Cir. July 14, 2017) (Published): Court reversed summary judgment for a police officer defendant who used deadly force by firing a gun into a car driven by a man fleeing an angry mob of party goers who wanted to beat the driver up. Evidence showed the car going a relatively slow speed, not pointed at mob, at time shots fired, and officer fired from a place of safety behind another vehicle. The evidence created a genuine issue of material fact whether the officer feared the use or imminent threat of deadly force by the Plaintiff, which was necessary to justify, the officer using deadly force. Reversed and remanded.
Bounds v. Parsons
No. 16-1686 (4th Cir. July 14, 2017) (Unpublished): Section 1983 case alleging excessive force by using aTaser on a suspect. Court affirmed summary judgment for police defendants. At time of arrest in 2013, use of Taser did not violate clearly established law, only in 2016 did Fourth Circuit made clear a Taser may only be deployed when an officer faces an exigency that creates an immediate safety risk, citing Armstrong v. Vill. of Pinehurst, 810 F.3d 892, 909-910 (4th Cir. 2016). Summary judgment based on qualified immunity affirmed.
Daugherty v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC
No. 16-2243 (4th Cir. July 26, 2017): Mortgage servicer failed to properly investigate erroneous trade line on consumer’s credit report for over 17 months and nine correction requests, including contact from governmental agencies. Jury verdict for plaintiff on liability and willfulness affirmed with award of $6,234 in actual damages. Punitive damages decreased nisi remittitur from $2,500,000 to $600,000. Important rulings regarding the trial included—(1) Failure to put documents on pre-trial exhibit list harmless because defendant already had the documents and used them in plaintiff’s deposition; (2) Expert testimony on reasonableness of investigation under Fair Credit Reporting Act regulatory framework not a “legal conclusion” and properly admitted; (3) corporate representative of defendant left without being excused by court and was not available for punitive damages phase testimony and district court therefore properly allowed plaintiff to admit parent company’s consolidated balance sheet form SEC 10-K for proof on reasonable amount of punitive damages; and (4) $600,000 was the “outer most” constitutional amount of punitive damages allowable. Affirmed in part, modified in part and remanded.
Gray v. Kern
No. 16-1523 (4th Cir. July 27, 2017) (Unpublished): African-American University of Maryland Police trainee brought Section 1983 and state tort claims against police instructor who shot trainee in the head with live service pistol during training and others responsible for training course. Summary judgment for defendants reversed in part. District court properly granted summary judgment to all defendants on Section 1983 claim based on Fourth Amendment as shooting did not occur as part of any actual or potential criminal prosecution/arrest as required for Fourth Amendment based liability. The Court reversed summary judgment for the Section 1983 claim based on substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment finding evidence the trainer violated rules against having live weapons in training, evidence of racial animus, evidence of intent to actually shoot the trainee, sufficient to create a material issue of fact for the trainer, his co-trainer and police supervisory defendants. Summary judgment affirmed in part, reversed and remanded in part.