United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS'
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge.
case is before me on motions (Doc. Nos. 63, 80) for summary
judgment filed by defendants Bryce Knudsen, Joseph Metz, City
of Iowa Falls, Iowa, and Wade Harken (the City defendants)
and by defendants Kyle Haack, Jeremy Schaffer and Bryant
Strouse (the State defendants). Plaintiff has filed
resistances to both motions (Doc. Nos. 72, 82) and defendants
have filed a replies (Doc. Nos. 75, 84). Also before me is a
motion to strike (Doc. No. 76) filed the City defendants. I
do not find oral argument to be necessary. See N.D.
Ia. L.R. 7(c). The motion is fully submitted and ready for
Charles Fitz commenced this action on March 30, 2016, by
filing a petition (Doc. No. 4) in the Iowa District Court for
Hardin County in his individual capacity, as the executor of
the estate of Leighton Fitz and on behalf of Leighton
Fitz.The petition asserted six counts against
nine named defendants.
April 4, 2016, the defendants removed the action to this
court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Doc. No.
3. The State defendants then moved to dismiss all claims
against them, except the federal constitutional claims
against the individual defendants in their individual
capacities, on grounds of (1) sovereign immunity, (2) failure
to file the prerequisite tort claim under Iowa Code chapter
669 and (3) the principles set forth in Monell v.
Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978).
Doc. No. 26. On June 10, 2016, Senior United States District
Judge Edward McManus, to whom this case was then assigned,
granted that motion in part by, inter alia,
dismissing the State as a defendant. Doc. No. 33.
McManus then granted Charles leave to file an amended
complaint, which he did on October 7, 2016. Doc. No.
After an order (Doc. No. 61) in which Judge McManus addressed
additional motions to dismiss, the only remaining counts are:
(1) violation of clearly established rights guaranteed by the
Iowa Constitution, United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleged in individual capacity against Knudsen,
Metz, Schaffer, Haack and Strouse, (2) violation of clearly
established civil rights guaranteed by the United States
Constitution, the Iowa Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against Harken and Iowa Falls, (3) assault and battery
against Knudsen, Metz and Iowa Falls and (4) negligence
causing wrongful death against Knudsen, Metz, Harken, and
purposes of the pending motions for summary judgment, and
given the standards I must apply in admitting evidence, the
following facts are undisputed:
April 17, 2014, law enforcement officers responded to a call
advising that Leighton was possibly armed at his residence on
College Avenue in Iowa Falls, Iowa. Ashely Rasmussen,
Leighton's ex-girlfriend, made the report after having a
dispute with Leighton. She stated that he had a gun and
mentioned the possibility of a “gun rifle.” Doc.
No. 63-2 at 19. In a subsequent call, she stated that he had
handguns and that they had been having relationship problems.
Id. This information was relayed to officers who
then responded and surrounded the residence. Id. at
7. Among those at the scene were Iowa State Patrol Troopers
Schaffer and Haack, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement
Agent Strouse and Iowa Falls Police Officers Knudsen and
arriving at the scene, Knudsen stopped at the police
department at defendant Harken's request and obtained two
possible contact numbers for Leighton. Doc. No. 63-2 at 7-8.
Knudsen relayed the numbers to Harken and advised him that
Leighton was inside the residence, possibly armed with a
rifle or handguns. Id. at 8. Harken provided the
numbers to Emerson. One of the numbers was believed to be the
home phone number for the residence and the other was the
number for Rasmussen's cell phone, which was believed to
be located inside the residence and accessible to Leighton.
Doc. No. 72-2 at 77. Emerson made four calls, placing two
calls to each phone over a five-minute period. Doc. No. 72-2
at 77. Emerson was unable to make contact with Leighton. Doc.
No. 63-2 at 8.
scene, officers were informed that Leighton had access to
several weapons, including the possibility of a rifle he made
himself, and that he had made suicidal comments and posted on
Facebook about having a rifle. Doc. Nos. 72-2 at 15-16, 25.
At some point, Leighton exited the residence. He was agitated
and yelled at the officers that they were “neo
Nazis.” Doc. No. 80-1 at 2. Officers shouted at him to
get to the ground, keep his hands up and not reach for
anything, but Leighton did not appear to follow any of these
commands. Doc. No. 72-2 at 65-66, 77-78, 81, 86. Raum
testified that he and several other officers yelled commands
at Leighton and that more than three officers were yelling
various commands at the same time. Id. at 66-67.
Leighton left the home, Reicken and Blau observed Leighton
reach into his right pocket, pull out a cell phone and inform
officers they should only worry if he reached into his left
pocket. Id. at 75, 86. Reicken observed Leighton
holding his phone and requesting officers come over and read
his messages. Id. at 86.
Leighton dropped the phone, Shaffer told Leighton to remove
the fixed blade knife he was wearing and Leighton complied,
removed the knife and dropping it to the ground. Id.
at 86-87. Raum testified that officers yelled for Leighton to
keep his hands up and to drop the knife concurrently.
Id. at 70. While Leighton was dropping the knife,
officers called out that he was wearing body armor.
Id. at 22, 81; Doc. No. 62-3 at 8. Ehrhardt and
Metz, who were positioned on the side of the house and behind
Leighton, attempted to tase Leighton. Ehrhardt gave his taser
to Metz, but after Metz heard that Leighton was wearing body
armor, the plan was abandoned. Doc. No. 72-2 at 76; Doc. No.
62-3 at 16.
Leighton removed the knife, officers called out that Leighton
had guns in his front left pocket and in the back of his
waistband. Doc. Nos. 72-2 at 22, 76, 78, 87; Doc. No. 62-3 at
8, 16. Officers then yelled at Leighton to show his hands and
to get his hands out of his pockets. Doc. No. 62-3 at 16.
Emerson, Raum, Shaffer and Bergman heard Leighton make the
statement to the effect that if he was going to use a gun it
would be with his left hand. Doc. No. 72-2 at 22, 67, 78, 81.
Knudsen also heard commands being given to show his hands and
heard Leighton state “if I had a gun” or
“if I was gonna use a gun it would be in my left
hand.” Doc. No. 62-3 at 9.
thereafter, Leighton reached with his left hand into his left
pocket and pulled out a silver handgun. Doc. No. 72-2 at 81.
Shaffer saw Leighton grab the gun and begin pulling it out of
his pocket. At that point, Shaffer opened fire. Id.
at 23. Shaffer also told Leighton not to touch the gun, but
Leighton dropped his hand to his left side and officers
opened fire. Id. at 87. Strouse stated during a DCI
interview that officers told Leighton to drop the gun after
his hand went to his pocket and not before. Doc. No. 82-3 at
24. Strouse affirmed that this was not a command for Leighton
to get the gun and drop it, but a reaction to him reaching
for the gun. Id. at 24. There were commands to drop
the gun once Knudsen observed Leighton bring the handgun up
from his pocket. Doc. No. 62-3 at 9. According to Blau, when
Leighton reached for the gun, shots were fired. Doc. No. 72-2
at 75. A photograph taken as Leighton fell to the ground
shows a silver handgun in his left hand. Doc. No. 80-1 at 4;
Doc. No. 81 at 31.
testified that Leighton pulled the gun out of his pocket with
his left hand enough that he was able to get a glimpse of the
weapon to identify that it was a silver handgun. Doc. No.
72-2 at 71. Raum testified that although the weapon was
raised just above Leighton' waistline, he does not recall
if it was pointed at any officers present. Id. at
72-73. Raum also testified that firing began soon after he
glimpsed the gun. Id. at 73. Emerson believes shots
were fired after the weapon was drawn and was clearly
visible. Id. at 78. Metz also witnessed Leighton
reach to his left side and raise a gun in his left hand and
begin to draw it. Doc. No. 62-3 at 16. Metz then fired his
weapon. Id. Leighton died as a result of the
gunshots fired at that time.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
party may move for summary judgment regarding all or any part
of the claims asserted in a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
material fact is one that “‘might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law.'”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). Thus, “the substantive law will identify which
facts are material.” Id. Facts that are
“critical” under the substantive law are
material, while facts that are “irrelevant or
unnecessary” are not. Id.
issue of material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in
the record, Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 395
(8th Cir. 1992) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)), or
when “‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party on the question, ” Woods v.
DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Evidence that
only provides “some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, ” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586,
or evidence that is “merely colorable” or
“not significantly probative, ”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, does not make an issue
of material fact genuine.
such, a genuine issue of material fact requires
“sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual
dispute” so as to “require a jury or judge to
resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. The
party moving for entry of summary judgment bears “the
initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis
for its motion and identifying those portions of the record
which show a lack of a genuine issue.”
Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 395 (citing Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323). Once the moving party has met this burden,
the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and by
depositions, affidavits, or otherwise, designate specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Mosley v. City of Northwoods,415 F.3d 910 (8th Cir.
2005). The nonmovant must show an alleged issue of fact is
genuine and material as it relates to the substantive law. ...