United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
OPINION AND ORDER
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE, Senior United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on motions for summary judgment by
Defendant Benjamin Fields (“Fields”) (ECF No. 42)
and Defendants Leon Lott, the Richland County Sheriff's
Department, and Richland County (ECF No. 45).
Plaintiff filed responses in opposition to the motions (ECF
Nos. 53, 54) and Defendant Fields filed a reply (ECF No. 55).
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02 (B)(2), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United
States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pre-trial
proceedings and a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) on dispositive issues. On August 29,
2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending the
motions be granted in part as to abandoned claims, but denied
as to the excessive force claim against Fields, and the
negligence and gross negligence claims against the RCSD. ECF
No. 59. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the
procedures and requirements for filing objections to the
Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so.
Defendants filed joint objections to the Report. ECF No. 60.
Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendants'
objections. ECF No. 61.
case arises out of an incident at Spring Valley High School,
in which a resource officer, Deputy Fields, was called to
assist a teacher with an uncooperative student, Plaintiff
Shakara Murphy. This incident occurred in teacher Robert
Long's third period algebra class on October 26, 2015.
ECF No. 42-4 at 51 (SLED Report). Long had noticed Plaintiff
holding an electronic device prior to the start of class and
asked her to put it away. ECF No. 42-2 at 12 (Long dep. at
19-20). Plaintiff placed the device in her book bag under her
desk. Id. Long then instructed the students to open
their laptops to complete an assignment. Id. at 15.
Plaintiff asked to see her resource teacher, Ms. Bryant, for
assistance with the assignment, pursuant to her
individualized education program (“IEP”) for
special needs. Id. at 10; ECF No. 42-5 at 16
(Plaintiff dep. at 58-59). Although Plaintiff's IEP
stated teachers were required to allow Plaintiff to call for
assistance from her resource teacher when she felt
overwhelmed, Long denied this request. ECF No. 42-5 at
59. Plaintiff then attempted to contact her resource teacher
by email on her laptop, but Long closed the program from his
own computer. Id. at 59; ECF No. 42-2 at 16-19.
attempting approximately five questions without the aid of
her resource teacher, Plaintiff stopped working on the
assignment because she did not understand it. ECF No. 42-5 at
59. She testified she put her head down on her desk and
started “fiddling with her fingernails” under her
desk. Id. Long, however, believed she was using her
electronic device under her desk, and told her to put it
away. Id. at 17-18. Plaintiff replied she did not
have anything in her hand, but Long believed he saw a phone
in her hand under the desk, told her to put it away, and
threatened to write a disciplinary referral - despite
Plaintiff's continued insistence she had nothing in her
hand. Id. at 18. Plaintiff testified Long then began
writing a referral and told her to leave the classroom, but
called an administrator, KaRon Webb, to escort
came into the classroom and asked Plaintiff to leave with
him, but Plaintiff protested because she believed she had not
done anything wrong. ECF No. 42-3 at 8, 23-25 (Webb dep. at
13, 35-37). Despite Webb asking several times for her to
leave the classroom, Plaintiff did not move from her desk.
Id. Therefore, Webb called the school resource
officer, Richland County Sheriff's Deputy Benjamin
Fields, to assist in the classroom. Id. at 26. Webb
and Fields discussed the situation outside the classroom
before entering, and unsuccessfully attempted to contact a
teacher or administrator familiar with Plaintiff to assist in
defusing the situation. Id. at 27. Fields then
decided to enter the classroom and remove Plaintiff. ECF No.
42-2 at 10 (Fields dep. at 11).
Fields entered the classroom, he engaged Plaintiff in
conversation and asked why she would not leave her seat.
Id. Plaintiff claimed she did nothing wrong, but
Fields responded she was disrupting the class, had been asked
several times to leave, and was being disrespectful. ECF No.
42-5 at 19-20. Fields asked her multiple times to get up and
leave the classroom, but Plaintiff remained seated and did
not say anything. Id. At that time, Fields testified
he decided to arrest Plaintiff for disturbing schools because
she had disrupted the classroom for so long. ECF No. 42-4 at
10. Fields testified Plaintiff was only passively resisting
by holding on to her desk, and was not a physical threat to
any person or property. Id. at 12. He testified he
needed to “subdue” Plaintiff to effect the
arrest,  and asked the student sitting in front of
Plaintiff to move out of his seat. Id. at 10, 12.
then approached Plaintiff, still seated at her desk, grabbed
her left arm and pulled her (and the desk) towards him. ECF
No. 53-4 (cell phone videos 1 and 2). He then put his right
arm under Plaintiff's chin, put his left hand under her
left leg, and, standing behind Plaintiff, flipped her and the
desk backwards. Id. As she was falling,
Plaintiff's right hand struck Fields in the neck or head;
however, it is unclear and disputed whether this was
intentional or inadvertent. Id.; but see ECF No.
42-4 at 10, 39. Plaintiff landed on her back, still seated in
her desk. ECF No. 53-4. Fields testified Plaintiff was
resisting arrest by “fighting and flailing” at
this point. ECF No. 42-4 at 41. Fields then grabbed her arm
with his right hand and her left leg with his left hand and
pulled her out of the desk and dragged or threw her to the
front of the room. ECF No. 53-4.
testified Plaintiff continued to punch him in the chest at
the front of the classroom, and he was only able to handcuff
one of her hands until another deputy arrived and assisted in
applying the handcuffs. ECF No. 42-4 at 45-46. Plaintiff
suffered a hairline fracture to her right wrist and carpet
burn on her head. ECF No. 53-2 at 13, 19 (Plaintiff dep. at
75, 112). She required physical therapy for her injuries, and
counseling in the aftermath. Id. at 15, 17-18.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976).
The court is charged with making a de novo determination of
any portion of the Report of the Magistrate Judge to which a
specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the
Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate
Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
judgment should be granted if “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It is well established that summary
judgment should be granted “only when it is clear that
there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the
controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those
facts.” Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo
Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). The
party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and the
court must view the evidence before it and the inferences to
be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369
U.S. 654, 655 (1962).
Defendant Fields' Motion
has conceded she does not oppose summary judgment on the
following issues: probable cause to arrest, qualified
immunity as to an officer's decision to make an arrest,
and her SCTCA claim against Fields in his individual
capacity. ECF No. 53 at 6. Therefore, as recommended by the
Magistrate Judge, summary judgment is granted as to these
claims and they are dismissed with prejudice.
Excessive Force claim
alleges Defendant Fields used excessive force in effecting
her arrest, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Fields
argues he is entitled to qualified immunity. The Magistrate
Judge found Fields did not establish he is entitled to
qualified immunity because a reasonable officer would
understand the force used in this case - if Plaintiff's
version of the facts is accepted by the jury - violated her
Fourth Amendment rights. ECF No. 59 at 17.
immunity shields government officials from liability in a
§ 1983 lawsuit unless their conduct violates
“clearly established statutory or constitutional rights
of which a reasonable person would have known.” E.W. by
and through T.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172, 178 (4th
Cir. 2018) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009)). “To determine whether an officer is
entitled to qualified immunity, the court must examine (1)
whether the plaintiff has demonstrated that the officer
violated a constitutional right and (2) whether that right
was clearly established at the time of the alleged
objections, Fields argues the Report conflates the two prongs
of this test, and concludes the “report never analyzes
the facts and circumstances of a case to demonstrate that the
state of the law in 2015 clearly indicates that Fields'
conduct was objectionably unreasonable.” ECF No. 60 at
3-4. Fields further argues the Report did not properly
consider the “totality of the circumstances during the
incident and measure the proportionality of the force in
light of the circumstances, ” and that the cases cited
in the Report are not specific enough to qualify as clearly
established law governing Fields' conduct. Id.
response, Plaintiff argues the Report's conclusion
regarding qualified immunity is correct, as precedent with
identical facts is not required to clearly establish a
constitutional right, and the cases cited in the Report are
analogous to the facts of this case. ECF No. 61 at 3-8.
Violation of ...