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Al-Baaj v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 20, 2019

SIRAAJ AL-BAAJ, Plaintiff,
v.
DEAN BENNETT, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARCIA S. KRIEGER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (# 45), the Plaintiff’s Response (# 50), and the Defendants’ Reply (# 59). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted, in part.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         The facts in this matter can be briefly summarized. On March 17, 2017, Plaintiff Siraaj Al-Baaj attended an event at the Broomfield Event Center in Broomfield, Colorado. Mr. Al-Baaj had a panic attack and exited the event. The Center’s private security staff told Mr. Al-Baaj he would be able to reenter the event, but when he attempted to do so, Defendant Dean Bennett, an officer with the Broomfield Police Department, prevented him from doing so.

         According to Mr. Al-Baaj, Officer Bennett grabbed his arm, put his hands behind his back, then pushed Mr. Al-Baaj through the Center’s doors and bodyslammed him to the ground. Then Officer Bennett flipped Mr. Al-Baaj onto his stomach and multiple officers held him down while Officer Bennett handcuffed him in a manner that left red marks on his wrists, as well as scrapes and lacerations on his elbow and shoulder.

         Mr. Al-Baaj brought this suit in March 2018. Following a stipulation dismissing claims against other defendants (# 41), the Complaint (# 1) alleges one claim of use excessive force by Officer Bennett in violation of Mr. Al-Baaj’s Fourth Amendment rights, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Officer Bennett moves for summary judgment on this claim as to the manner of handcuffing, but not as to the bodyslam (# 45).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Int’l Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producer's Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).

         If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus. Inc. v. Arvin Indus. Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.

         If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, it must point to an absence of sufficient evidence to establish the claim or defense that the non-movant is obligated to prove. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim or defense, a trial is required. If the respondent fails to produce sufficient competent evidence to establish its claim or defense, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Court reads the Complaint to allege a single claim for excessive force against Officer Bennett based on his entire course of conduct during the parties’ brief interaction, arguing that the use of any force and the amount of force used were unreasonable. Without any amendment to the Complaint, the parties (including Mr. Al-Baaj) appear to read it differently, with the handcuffing separate from the bodyslam, focusing only on the amount of force used. (See## 45at 4-6; 50 at 4-16.) Because the Complaint does enumerate the manner of handcuffing as a source of ...


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