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Partridge v. City of Benton

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 3, 2019

Piper Partridge, Individually as mother and next of kin to Keagan Schweikle and as Special Administratrix of the Estate of Keagan Schweikle; Dominic Schweikle, Individually as father and next of kin to Keagan Schweikle Plaintiffs - Appellants
City of Benton, Arkansas; Kyle Ellison, Individually and as Employee of City of Benton, Arkansas; Kirk Lane, Individually and as Employee of City of Benton, Arkansas; John Does, 1-20, Individually and as Employees of City of Benton, Arkansas Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: March 7, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before BENTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         Benton police officer Kyle Ellison shot and killed 17-year-old Keagan Schweikle. His parents, Piper Partridge and Dominic Schweikle, sued Ellison, the Chief of Police, and the City of Benton under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Arkansas law. The district court granted qualified immunity to the officers, and judgment on the pleadings. Partridge and Schweikle appeal. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court reverses in part, affirms in part, and remands.


         On October 17, 2016, Keagan walked into the woods with a gun. His mother called 911. She said he ingested cough syrup and possibly marijuana, was depressed after being suspended from school earlier that morning, and threatened to shoot himself. She said he was not going to hurt anyone but himself. She repeated these facts to the first officer on the scene, explaining that Keagan was suicidal, walked into the woods with a gun, and (she believed) was going to try to hurt himself.

         Ellison was dispatched to help with the search. Using a police dog, he found Keagan standing 45 feet away on a riverbank. Ellison told Keagan to show his hands. Keagan turned slightly to his right. Ellison saw a gun in Keagan's right hand, drew his gun, and ordered Keagan to drop the gun. Without speaking, Keagan instead raised the gun to his right temple. Ellison commanded Keagan to drop the gun "several times." Keagan remained silent. As Keagan began moving the gun away from his head, Ellison fired three shots. Two hit Keagan, killing him.

         Partridge and Schweikle sued several officers in their individual capacities for excessive force and deprivation of the right to a familial relationship. They also made related Monell claims against the officers in their official capacities and the City, including failure to train and failure to adequately investigate police misconduct. They alleged assault and battery under state law. The district court granted the defendants judgment on the pleadings. It found Ellison's use of force was not constitutionally excessive, warranting qualified immunity on the individual-capacity claims. It dismissed the Monell claims for lack of an underlying constitutional violation. It declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. Partridge and Schweikle appeal, arguing they sufficiently pled excessive force.


         This court reviews de novo a judgment on the pleadings, accepting as true the facts in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Levitt v. Merck & Co., 914 F.3d 1169, 1171 (8th Cir. 2019). Judgment on the pleadings "should be granted only if the moving party has clearly demonstrated that no material issue of fact remains and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Whatley v. Canadian Pac. Ry., 904 F.3d 614, 617-18 (8th Cir. 2018).

         In a § 1983 action, qualified immunity shields government officials from liability "when their conduct 'does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Morgan v. Robinson, 920 F.3d 521, 523 (8th Cir. 2019) (en banc), quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). To overcome qualified immunity at the pleadings stage, a plaintiff must "plead[] facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011), quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).


         This appeal turns on the claim that Ellison violated Keagan's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The key is whether Ellison's actions "were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him." Rogers v. King, 885 F.3d 1118, 1121 (8th Cir. 2018). Objective reasonableness is "judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene," in light of "the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (per curiam), quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). "It is reasonable for an officer to use deadly force if he has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others." Rogers, 885 F.3d at 1121. "But where a ...

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