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McHenry v. City of Ottawa

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 15, 2017

CHRIS MCHENRY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF OTTAWA, KANSAS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DANIEL D. CRABTREE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on plaintiff Chris McHenry's Motion for Entry of Final Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b), Doc. 64. The defendants have filed responses, opposing the motion.[1] For the reasons explained below, the court grants plaintiff's motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Chris McHenry filed this lawsuit on behalf of Joseph Jennings as the administrator of his estate and heir to recover for Mr. Jennings's death. Briefly summarized, this lawsuit arises from the shooting death of Mr. Jennings by Franklin County sheriff deputies and Ottawa police officers on August 23, 2014. Defendants Abe Schmidt, Casey Gilmore, Justin Bulcock, Jesse Vega, and Ricky Wilson (“the shooting officers”) allegedly shot Mr. Jennings. Defendants Doug Waterman, Bryce Hart, Derek Butters, Hunter Dryden, and Dwayne Woods (“the non-shooting officers”) allegedly were present but they did not fire their service weapons. Plaintiff also sued the City of Ottawa (“Ottawa”) and Franklin County, Kansas by and through its Board of County Commissioners (“Franklin County”).

         Only four claims matter to this motion. Count I of the Complaint alleges that the shooting officers incurred liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating Mr. Jennings's constitutional right to be free from excessive force. Count II alleges that the non-shooting officers incurred liability under § 1983 for failing to intervene in the use of constitutionally excessive force. Count IV alleges that Franklin County and Ottawa denied Mr. Jennings the benefits of their law enforcement services, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act. Count VI alleges that all defendants wrongfully caused Mr. Jennings's death by negligence.

         One set of defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 29. Another filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Doc. 31. The court ruled both motions in a consolidated Memorandum and Order (“Order”) dated September 26, 2017. See Doc. 46. It held that the claim in Count II-asserting that the non-shooting officers were liable under § 1983 for failing to intervene to prevent use of constitutionally excessive force-did not plead sufficient facts to state a claim. This Order also held that Count VI failed to plead a plausible claim against the non-shooting officers. Combined, these two rulings terminated all claims against the non-shooting officer defendants.

         Defendants did not fare so well on other aspects of the motions. The Order declined to dismiss Counts I and IV, leaving viable those claims against the shooting officer defendants, Ottawa, and Franklin County. Those defendants now have appealed the court's decision on Count I as a matter of right because it declined to grant them qualified immunity. See Docs. 49, 55. These defendants also asked the court to certify its decision on Count IV for interlocutory appeal, Docs. 47, 53, and the court granted their request. Doc. 70. This leaves the current motion, Doc. 64. In it, plaintiff asks the court to enter final judgment in favor of the non- shooting officers under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). He reasons that there is no just reason to delay review of the court's decision because it effectively concludes this matter as it pertains to the non-shooting officer defendants.

         II. Legal Standard

         “When an action presents more than one claim for relief . . . the court may direct entry of final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). “The purpose of Rule 54(b) ‘is to avoid the possible injustice of a delay in entering judgment on a distinctly separate claim or as to fewer than all of the parties until the final adjudication of the entire case by making an immediate appeal available.'” Okla. Turnpike Auth. v. Bruner, 259 F.3d 1236, 1241 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting 10 Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2654 (2d ed. 1982)). But the rule “ʻpreserves the historic federal policy against piecemeal appeals . . . .'” Id. (quoting Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 438 (1956)).

         To certify a final judgment under this rule, the court must make two express determinations: (1) “that the order [the court] is certifying is a final order” and (2) “that there is no just reason to delay review of the final order until [the court] has conclusively ruled on all claims presented by the parties to the case.” Id. at 1242 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b); Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1980)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Final Order

         An order is “final” under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) when it is “ʻan ultimate disposition of an individual claim entered in the course of a multiple claims action.'” Id. (quoting Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 7). In cases with multiple parties, a court enters a final judgment when it disposes of all claims against at least one-but not all-of the parties. See Caldwell-Baker Co. v. S. Ill. Railcar Co., 209 F.R.D. 649, 650 (D. Kan. 2002) (concluding that the court had issued a final judgment on claims against some of the defendants by dismissing all of plaintiff's claims against those defendants under Rule 12(b)(6) even if one defendant remained whose allegedly wrongful conduct was related factually and legally to the claims already decided in favor of the dismissed defendants); see also Jewler v. District of Columbia, 198 F.Supp.3d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2016) (concluding that the court had issued a final judgment on claims against some of the defendants in a § 1983 case when the court dismissed all claims against those defendants, “leaving no further basis for them to participate in the litigation”).

         After the September 26 Memorandum and Order, there is “no further basis for [the non-shooting officers] to participate in the litigation.” Jewler, 198 F.Supp.3d at 3. The court's rulings on the claims in Counts II and IV terminated all claims asserted against the non-shooting officers. There is nothing for them to do except wait for the rest of the case to conclude and then face any appeal (or cross-appeal) plaintiff elects to take of ...


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