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Johnson v. City of Minneapolis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 24, 2018

Catrina Johnson Plaintiff- Appellee
City of Minneapolis, a government entity and political subdivision of the State of Minnesota; Robert Heiple, in his individual capacity acting under color of law as a Minneapolis Police Officer Defendants - Appellants

          Submitted: May 15, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before SHEPHERD, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.


         Fearing for her safety, Catrina Johnson called the police. One of the officers responding to the scene believed that Johnson kicked him. She had not, but Johnson was arrested based on that officer's belief. Charges against Johnson were eventually dropped and the officer now admits that Johnson did not kick him. Johnson sued the officer and the City of Minneapolis. The district court[1] held that the arrest violated Johnson's clearly established constitutional rights. In addition, it held that Johnson's state-law claims stemming from the arrest could proceed to trial. We agree and affirm.


         When a denial of immunity is appealed, "[o]ur jurisdiction extends only to abstract issues of law." Thompson v. City of Monticello, No. 16-4080, 2018 WL 3322315, at *2 (8th Cir. July 6, 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Div. of Empl't Sec. v. Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 864 F.3d 974, 978 (8th Cir. 2017) (state-law immunity appeal "limited to issues of law"). "Thus, we must accept the summary judgment facts as described by the district court because evidentiary determinations are not presently appealable." Craighead v. Lee, 399 F.3d 954, 960 (8th Cir. 2005).[2]

         With these principles in mind, we turn to the facts of this case.


         Johnson called 911 in July 2013 because her 17-year old son, Jareese, was acting violently. Two officers-Officers Buck and Heiple-responded to the call. Prior to the officers arriving, a neighbor, Mark Moriarty, entered Johnson's apartment after hearing a dispute. (Moriarty was present throughout the course of events, according to the district court.) When officers arrived, Johnson let them into her apartment building. She was clutching a hammer as a means of protecting herself from Jareese. She accompanied the officers down the hallway to her apartment, which is where the officers first encountered Jareese. The officers then proceeded to question Jareese and Johnson separately. During this time, Johnson informed Officer Buck (who was questioning her) that "Jareese threatened [her] and [she] wanted Jareese removed from the home."

         Officer Buck then moved to arrest Jareese, who was located just outside of Johnson's apartment in the hallway. Jareese resisted, so Officer Buck and Officer Heiple engaged in a take down of Jareese. When Jareese was brought to the floor, Officer Heiple was facing away from the Johnson's apartment while Officer Buck was facing towards it. And, as the district court recounts, "Johnson had retreated further into her apartment to give the [o]fficers room."

         According to the district court, "[a]fter the 'take down,' Officer Heiple felt a sharp pain like an 'explosion' in his right calf." He checked with Officer Buck to ensure that Jareese was "handcuffed and secured" before turning around and asking Johnson if she had kicked him. She said no. Officer Heiple again asked the question, and, again, Johnson said no. But this was to no avail. Although Officer Heiple had not seen Johnson kick him-nor had he seen if she was in a position to even reach him, given that she had fallen back into the apartment-he assumed she had. And Officer Heiple arrested Johnson immediately after her second denial that she had kicked him.

         One eyewitness was present during the takedown of Jareese. That eyewitness, Moriarty, confronted Officer Heiple after he arrested Johnson. Moriarty asked Officer Heiple twice if he was sure Johnson had kicked him, telling him "[i]t doesn't seem to make sense that she could have." D. Ct. Op. at 5 (internal quotation marks omitted). Officer Heiple said he was sure because "[i]t"-meaning his calf-"hurts." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Part of Moriarty's disbelief stemmed from the relative positions of Johnson and Officer Heiple. In his view, Johnson "would have had to give some powerful kind of soccer kick . . . around [Officer Heiple] to kick his other side." Id. (first alteration in the original). His disbelief was also fueled by the fact that Johnson could not inflict pain on the level Officer Heiple felt because "Johnson's shoes were" something akin to "'soft slipper[s].'" Id. (alteration in original). Officer Buck, who was facing Johnson at the time of Jareese's takedown, later testified that he never saw Johnson kick Officer Heiple because he was "focused on placing Jareese in handcuffs."

         Both Officer Heiple and Johnson were hospitalized after the arrest. Officer Heiple later learned he had a "rupture or sprain of his gastrocnemius muscle" which caused his pain. He now concedes Johnson did not kick him. Johnson spent four hours in the emergency room and then three days in jail before being released. Her arrest and subsequent imprisonment were the basis for an eight-count district court complaint against the City of Minneapolis and Officer Heiple in his individual capacity. At issue on this appeal are Counts IV through VIII of that complaint. Count IV alleges, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Counts V and VII allege Minnesota state-law claims for false arrest and false imprisonment against Officer Heiple, while Counts VI and VIII lodge parallel claims against Minneapolis.

         Officer Heiple and Minneapolis ("appellees") moved for partial summary judgment on Counts IV through VIII before the district court. The district court denied the motion in full. Specifically, the district court declined to dismiss Count IV on the basis of qualified immunity and denied dismissal of Count V-VIII because of official immunity-a Minnesota state immunity doctrine.

         Minneapolis and Office Heiple now appeal.


         We first turn to the question of qualified immunity. We review de novo "(1) whether . . . the conduct of [Officer Heiple] violated a constitutional right, and (2) whether that constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the incident such that a reasonable officer would have known his or her actions were unlawful." Ne ...

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