During the early morning hours, the plaintiff in Townsend v. Nathan Davis, et al, 2015 WL 1799756 (La. App. 1 Cir. 4.15/15) hosted an after-work party. At the height of the party, approximately 20 to 25 people attended. Multiple Baton Rouge City Police officers were dispatched to the scene due to a noise complaint and the plaintiff was instructed to shut down the party. The plaintiff contended that he went back inside the house to tell everyone to go home. He then heard a pounding on the door and again went outside. According to the plaintiff, one of the officers became hostile and began reading the plaintiff his Miranda rights.
The officers provided a different version of events and contended that the plaintiff, who appeared intoxicated, refused to shut down the party. They advised that they would issue him a summons and “shut the party down themselves” were he to refuse. It is undisputed that an officer tackled the plaintiff to the ground landing with enough force to cause him to involuntarily defecate. The plaintiff was also pepper sprayed and then handcuffed. It was alleged that the plaintiff was later kicked in the groin once at the police station with sufficient force to rupture his bladder.
At trial, the jury rendered a verdict that the plaintiff’s rights were violated through pepper spraying and battery. However, the jury did not find the officer to be in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the battery. The First Circuit upheld the finding that the plaintiff’s rights were violated. The Court further concluded that the trial court was correct in granting a “JNOV” from the finding that there was no course or scope of employment.
Courts generally considering four factors when assessing vicarious liability, including whether the tortuous act: 1) was primarily employment rooted; 2) was reasonably incidental to the performance of an employment duty; 3) occurred during working hours; and, 4) occurred on the employer’s premises. Applying these factors, the Court concluded that the battery by the officer was a “reasonable incident” of his duties.
The plaintiff also sought punitive damages under 42 USC § 1983. The Court upheld the refusal to award punitive damages based upon its conclusion that the evidence did not show an evil motive or intent.