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Stephens v. Degiovanni

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 30, 2017

PAUL STEPHENS, Plaintiff - Appellant,
NICK DEGIOVANNI, individually, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 0:13-CV-60349-RLR

          Before MARCUS and FAY, Circuit Judges, and FRIEDMAN, [*] District Judge.

          FAY, Circuit Judge

         Paul Stephens appeals summary judgment granted to Broward Deputy Sheriff Nick DeGiovanni based on qualified immunity in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, alleging false arrest and excessive force. We affirm summary judgment granted to Deputy DeGiovanni on Stephens's false-arrest claim, but we vacate summary judgment granted to Deputy DeGiovanni on Stephens's excessive-force claim, since Deputy DeGiovanni is not protected by qualified immunity because of the force he used in arresting Stephens on misdemeanor charges. We remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         A. Encounter Sequence

         On the evening of February 16, 2009, Paul Stephens, who is a black Jamaican and an automobile mechanic by trade, and his cousin, Roan Greenwood, also a black Jamaican male, were the invited guests of Greenwood's girlfriend, Claudia White, who resided at 4001 N.W. 34th Street, Apartment 205, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33319.[1] White's apartment was on the second floor of the Shoppes of St. Croix, a complex with businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The doorway leading to White's second-floor apartment was on the first floor. Stephens and Greenwood were checking a car, owned by Stephens's girlfriend, that she was planning to sell to White at her request, because the check-engine light came on prior to the car being parked. The car was not parked in a space designated for retail parking.

         The car door was open on the driver's side; Stephens was sitting on the metal frame of the driver's doorway, with both feet out of the vehicle and on the ground; Greenwood was sitting in the front-passenger seat. During his checking the car, Stephens had used a diagnostic scanner to determine what was wrong with the engine. When Stephens used the scanner, the car ignition was operating.

         At 8:15 P.M., Deputy DeGiovanni was on road patrol, assigned to Lauderdale Lakes. Aware of recent burglaries in the area, and because it was late and all of the businesses in the Shoppes of St. Croix were closed, he decided to investigate. Deputy DeGiovanni, who is white, initially drove past the car in which Stephens and Greenwood were sitting; he then reversed his patrol car, parked behind the car being checked, exited his vehicle, and approached Stephens, who remained seated. When Deputy DeGiovanni drove into the Shoppes of St. Croix, stopped his patrol car, and approached the car, Stephens was no longer using the scanner; the ignition and engine of the car were off. Deputy DeGiovanni's first words to Stephens were: "What are you two doing over here?" When Stephens answered he and Greenwood were chatting, Deputy DeGiovanni said: "You two are not supposed to be over here." Stephens responded they were invited guests of Claudia White, who lived at the Shoppes of St. Croix, which Greenwood confirmed. To prove this fact to Deputy DeGiovanni, Greenwood used the key White had given them to unlock the door on the first floor, giving access to her second-floor apartment, and unlocked the door.

         Deputy DeGiovanni turned away from Stephens and Greenwood and returned to his patrol car. Thereafter, one or two other police cars turned into the Shoppes of St. Croix and were driving toward the car being checked, where Stephens and Greenwood were sitting. Deputy DeGiovanni returned to Stephens and asked for identification, but he did not ask for a driver's license. Stephens stood up to give Deputy DeGiovanni his identification; while standing, Stephens asked Deputy DeGiovanni: "What is the problem?" Ignoring Stephens's question, Deputy DeGiovanni said: "Give me your ID." Stephens gave Deputy DeGiovanni his State of Florida identification card. On February 16, 2009, Stephens possessed a driver's license issued in Jamaica.

         While he was standing, Stephens's cellular phone rang. When he answered the phone using the Bluetooth device on his right ear, Deputy DeGiovanni unexpectedly slapped the Bluetooth from Stephens's ear and stated: "Who told you to answer the phone?" Stephens then asked Deputy DeGiovanni to get a field supervisor on the scene. Deputy DeGiovanni responded by saying: "Shut your damn mouth." For no reason, Deputy DeGiovanni, using his full body weight, slugged Stephens hard in his chest, slamming him into the driver's seat.

         Stephens stood up and asked Deputy DeGiovanni: "Why are you doing this?" Deputy DeGiovanni hit Stephens a second time with a blow to his chest, thrusting him into the driver's seat. With the air knocked out of his lungs, Stephens got up and said to Deputy DeGiovanni: "The kids are upstairs looking at you. What kind of example are you setting for the kids?"[2] Deputy DeGiovanni battered Stephens a third time by stepping on Stephens's left foot while simultaneously and forcefully grabbing him by the neck and slamming him backward, which threw Stephens against the car-door frame. Stephens's head hit in the space between the open driver's door and the car, and his head and neck slammed into the car-door jamb.[3] Stephens, who was seriously injured, reached up with his right hand to grab the car door to lift himself up. Deputy DeGiovanni then grabbed Stephens's right hand and twisted it so the palm of his hand faced up; he also forced the last three fingers on Stephens's right hand backward toward his forearm, causing all of Stephens's body weight to be placed on those three fingers of his right hand.

         After Stephens was standing and while Deputy DeGiovanni still had those three fingers of Stephens's right hand bent backwards, Deputy DeGiovanni told Stephens to turn around, and he handcuffed him. He did not tell Stephens he was under arrest or why he was arresting him. Because the handcuffs were quite tight, causing Stephens to lose the feeling in his hands, he asked Deputy DeGiovanni to loosen the handcuffs. Deputy DeGiovanni responded: "It's punishment. You people come here and think you can do as you please." Am. Compl. at 4 ¶ 15. Deputy DeGiovanni did not adjust the handcuffs on Stephens for almost three hours.

         At no time did Stephens resist being handcuffed by Deputy DeGiovanni. Greenwood told Deputy DeGiovanni the two had done nothing wrong; Deputy DeGiovanni told Greenwood "to stay back or he would be arrested, too." During the encounter, Stephens did not raise his voice, say anything threatening, or make any aggressive gestures.[4] Stephens averred: "At no time did Deputy DeGiovanni observe me driving or operating my girlfriend's car." The other Broward Deputy Sheriffs searched and towed away the car on which Stephens had been working, although it did not belong to him.

         Deputy DeGiovanni drove Stephens to the police station, where he was denied the use of a bathroom. In Stephens's presence, Deputy DeGiovanni prepared a report of the incident. After reviewing the report, another deputy told Deputy DeGiovanni: "That report's not gonna stick." Deputy DeGiovanni rewrote his event report for the Broward Sheriff's Office:

On 02/16/09 at 2015 hrs. I was conducting preventative patrol/business checks at 4061 N.W. 34th St. Lauderdale Lakes FL.
During my patrol I observed a 97' Grey Toyota Camry bearing FL Tag #<U54-0RT> parked in front of closed businesses with the vehicle running. Additionally, the space the driver parked his vehicle in was marked with a posted sign which read "Retail Parking Only". Alert to the recent burglaries in the area, I approached the vehicle and asked the driver if he had any business being parked in front of the mentioned closed establishments. He stated that he lived in the nearby residential area. I asked the driver to provide me with a form of identification to verify that he lived there. The driver refused. I made several additional requests, but the driver still refused. The driver then stepped out of the vehicle in an aggressive manner, without my request or permission. At this time, I placed him under arrest for obstructing my investigation. Search incident to the arrest revealed a FL ID Card which showed the driver lived at 7221 N.W. 54th Ct. Lauderhill, FL. and was issued on 05/03/2005. I then confirmed through teletype that the driver has never been issued, or possessed in the past, a valid driver's license. The suspect was charged accordingly.

         The vehicle was towed by West Way.

         The suspect was transported to BSO Main Jail. Deputy DeGiovanni's Event Rpt. at 3 (Feb. 17, 2009, 5:14:51 AM) (emphasis added).

         Deputy DeGiovanni charged Stephens under Fla. Stat. § 843.02, resisting an officer without violence to his or her person, [5] and Fla. Stat. § 322.03(1), requiring Florida drivers to be licensed.[6] After waiting half an hour to forty-five minutes at the Broward Sheriff's Office jail, the jail staff refused to book Stephens, because of his injuries. Deputy DeGiovanni took Stephens to Broward General Medical Center, where he remained for several hours. He then transported Stephens to the Broward County Jail, where he remained for several hours until he was able to pay his $100 bond the following morning.

         In his affidavit, Stephens describes his injuries resulting from his encounter with Deputy DeGiovanni that continue to cause him pain:

[A]s a result of Deputy DeGiovanni shoving me the third time, causing me to strike the back of my head and neck on the car, and twisting my hand the way he did, forcing the last three fingers on my right hand backwards toward my forearm and causing all of my body weight to be placed on those three fingers, and leaving me handcuffed for almost three hours in handcuffs that were too tight, I experienced physical injuries, pain and suffering including, among other things headaches, back pain, and loss of sensation in my right hand. The injuries, pain and suffering are continuing and ongoing.

Stephens's Aff. at 5 ¶ 13 (emphasis added). Dr. Barry Schapiro, an orthopedic physician, examined Stephens and reviewed his medical records resulting from the February 16, 2009, incident. In his September 26, 2014, report, Dr. Schapiro diagnosed Stephens with

a cervical sprain/strain with multilevel disc herniations and resultant foraminal stenosis as a result of the described assault on February 16, 2009. The patient also sustained a left shoulder partial thickness articular-sided rotator cuff tear involving the infraspinatus tendon. He also sustained a sprain of the right wrist. Further electrodiagnostic workup is required to evaluate the radiating pain and little finger numbness to differentiate cervical radiculitis/radiculopathy and a peripheral nerve injury in the right upper extremity.
. . . .
The injuries sustained are causally related to the injury of February 16, 2009. . . .
. . . .
The claimant's treatment was medically necessary and reasonable as it relates to his traumatic injury of February 16, 2009.
. . . .
The claimant's diagnostic workup was medically necessary and reasonable as it relates to his traumatic injury of February 16, 2009.
. . . .
I would recommend an electromyography and nerve conduction study of the right upper extremity. I believe this additional study to be reasonable, related, and necessary.
. . . .
Additional care, as it relates to the traumatic injury of February 16, 2009, is indicated. The patient may require arthroscopic rotator cuff debridement or repair due to his persistent and refractory left shoulder pain. He may require cervical epidural steroid injections or cervical disc decompression depending on the result of his electrodiagnostic studies.

         Barry Schapiro, M.D., Report on Paul Stephens at 8 (Sept. 26, 2014) (regarding injuries sustained on Feb. 16, 2009).[7]

         In his amended pro se complaint for his § 1983 action in the Southern District of Florida, Stephens describes his injuries and the consequences to him, all of which resulted from his encounter with Deputy DeGiovanni on February 16, 2009:

(A)Severe permanent physical injury resulting in pain and suffering and requiring neck surgery, which was performed; the injury resulted in me having a swollen neck, cervical herniated and bulging dis[c]s, severe pain spreading from my shoulder blade to my neck, headaches, and pain and numbness in my right hand (causing problems because I am right-handed). I also had to undergo extensive treatment and physical therapy;
(B)The injuries have prevented me from working, causing me to lose my job as an auto mechanic and causing me to continue to be unemployed;
(C)Monetary losses;
(D) Physical inconvenience and discomfort, loss of time, emotional trauma, anxiety and distress, humiliation and embarrassment, and impairment to reputation.

Am. Compl. at 5-6 ¶ 26 (emphasis added).

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;B. ...

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