January 6, 2008
Fed. Dist. Ct. Denies Motion for Summ. Judg. in Excessive Force Claim Brought By Lesbian Bus Passenger
This case does not involve spectacular facts, nor does it involve intricate, complex issues of law. The reason I decided to "blog" about this particular case stems from the pervasiveness of such behavior in our communities and everyday lives. It seems that LGBT individuals face discrimination and hateful words on a daily basis. This case, however, demonstrates that some of these "everyday incidents" of prejudice may subject the actor to civil liability.
The case stems from a lesbian couple's attempt to catch the bus. Johnson v. Sakoski, 2008 WL 53774, No. 06-CV-13904 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 3, 2008). The driver, defendant Sakoski, passed them by three times and finally allowed them to enter the bus. Id. at *1. When the couple finally was able to enter, the plaintiff asked why the driver kept on passing them by. According to the plaintiff, the driver responded that "he did not have to cater to lesbians." Id. A conversation ensued as the plaintiff and her significant other were about to exit the bus. The couple continued to try to explain that the driver had an obligation to pick them up, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to the plaintiff, the driver then pushed her off of the bus, injuring her right knee. When the plaintiff arrived at her home, she called an ambulance and was treated for "musculoskeletal strain" in her leg. Id. at *2. She also suffered from emotional distress and sought counseling for depression as a result of the incident. Id.
The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office pursued a criminal charge for assault and battery against Sakoski, but the jury found him not guilty. Id. The plaintiff sued both Sakoski and the public transportation authority SMART. The court granted SMART's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiff's state-law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence in hiring and supervision. Id. at *8-9.
Significantly, the court denied defendant Sakoski's motion for summary judgment on the Section 1983 excessive force claim. Id. at *7. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court found that Sakoski's action in pushing her off of the bus was not a "good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline", but rather an intentional, malicious and sadistic act. Id. Furthermore, the act was committed "for the very purpose of causing harm." Id. Furthermore, the court explained that even if the defendant's actions did not cause extensive physical injury to the plaintiff, she might also be able to raise an excessive force claim on the basis of her emotional harm. Id.