Status of Civil Litigation Over George Floyd Killing

On July 15, attorneys for the family of George Floyd (by their trustee Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, a Minnesota attorney and resident of Hennepin County) sued the City of Minneapolis and the four ex-police officers involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. The 40-page Complaint has three counts. “Count I—42 U.S.C. §1983—Fourth Amendment Violations” is asserted against the four ex-policemen while counts II and III are against the City of Minneapolis: “Count II– 42 U.S.C. §1983—Monell Liability” and “Count III–42 U.S.C. §1983—Canton Liability.” [1]

The only development so far in the case is the August 18 filing of a Stipulation for 60-Day Stay of Litigation between the plaintiff and the City of Minneapolis. Such a stay until October 17 was requested “so that the parties may continue to discuss the possibility of a longer stay which would continue until the criminal proceedings against the individual Defendants are completed.”[2]

The next day, two Minneapolis attorneys—Gregory M. Erickson and Erick G. Kaardal–entered their appearances for defendant Derek Chauvin.

Background of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson[3]

Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who is presiding over this civil case, had 23  years of experience as an attorney in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Minnesota, the last 16 as a skillful attorney in high stakes civil litigation for an eminent Minneapolis law firm. Then in 2000 the judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota appointed her to the position of U.S. Magistrate Judge, who handles various pretrial matters and settlement conferences.

Most relevant for the current civil case over George Floyd from Nelson’s experience as a Magistrate Judge was her supervising settlement discussions over a racial discrimination suit by five high-ranking Black Minneapolis police officers—including current Chief Medaria Arrandondo. In July 2008, “the parties were on the of a $2 million settlement that also included the addition of a new deputy police chief position focused on documenting and responding to reports of discrimination both within the department and in the community. The tentative agreement included data collection about racially based policing and publication of that data; the Police Department’s adherence to terms of a previously proposed federal consent decree; and ongoing court oversight to ensure the settlement agreement’s terms were implemented and followed.”

One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Robert Muller, recently said Nelson “artfully encouraged the parties to work towards a potential resolution that included provisions beyond simply monetary relief. Her encouragement prompted the parties to be creative, dig in, and come up with what could have been very meaningful [police] reform.”

However, the Minneapolis City Council failed to approve this settlement. A year later the case was settled, but without the previously agreed upon policy changes.

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: George Floyd’s Family Sues City of Minneapolis and Four Ex-Officers Involved in His Death (July 16, 2020); George Floyd’s Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death (July 17, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count II (July 18, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count III (July 19, 2020).

[2] Stipulation for 60-Day Stay of Litigation, Schaeffer v. Chauvin, Civil No. 20-1577 (Aug. 18, 2020, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Minn.).

[3] Montemayor, Judge overseeing Floyd family’s federal suit no stranger to high stakes litigation, StarTribune (Sept. 6, 2020); Susan Richard Nelson, Wikipedia.

George Floyd’s Family Sues City of Minneapolis and Four Ex-Officers Involved in His Death      

On July 15, attorneys for the family of George Floyd (by their trustee Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, a Minnesota attorney and resident of Hennepin County) sued the City of Minneapolis and the four ex-police officers involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1]

Here we will review the public announcement of the case by the lead plaintiff’s lawyer, Ben Crump, the names of the other 11 plaintiff’s attorneys and the background of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who will preside over this case.

The 40-page Complaint has three counts. “Count I—42 U.S.C. §1983—Fourth Amendment Violations” is asserted against the four ex-policemen while counts II and III are against the City of Minneapolis: “Count II– 42 U.S.C. §1983—Monell Liability” and “Count III–42 U.S.C. §1983—Canton Liability.” A subsequent post will dive into the details of these counts.[2]

Attorney Crump’s Statement

“This is a crisis in Black America — a public health crisis. While all of America is dealing with the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, Black America has to deal with another public health pandemic of police brutality. This is a teachable moment for America.”

In addition to the misconduct for the four ex-policmen, the lawsuit alleges that local officials “with deliberate indifference” have failed to correct the police department’s dangerous arrest practices and train officers properly in the use of force.

“This complaint shows what we have said all along, that it was not just the knee of officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck. But it was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department on the neck of George Floyd that killed him. The City of Minneapolis has a history of policies, procedures and deliberate indifference that violates the rights of arrestees, particularly Black men, and highlights the need for officer training and discipline.”

While not specifying how much the family will seek in compensation, Crump said, “This is an unprecedented case, and with this lawsuit we seek to set a precedent that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people — especially Black people — in the future.” In short, the case is “the tipping point for policing in America.”

Crump said that how the city leaders react to the demands put forth by the Floyd family lawyers will have consequences. “Their political legacy will be defined by how they respond,” he said.

Other attorneys for the Floyd family, Antonio M. Romanaucci and L. Chris Stewart, also spoke . Ms. Stewart said,  “The Floyd family deserves justice for the inhumane way in which officers with the Minneapolis Police Department killed Mr. Floyd. The city has a responsibility to acknowledge the history and practices of excessive force and impunity with its police force, as well as shortfalls in officer training and discipline.”

Plaintiffs’ Lawyers[3]

The following two Minnesota attorneys are on the Complaint for the plaintiff: Jeffrey S. Storms of the law firm of Newmark Storms Dworak LLC and Michelle R. Gilboe of the law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP. In addition, there are the following ten other attorneys for the plaintiff who are not Minnesota attorneys and, therefore, will have to be permitted to participate in this case (pro hac vice) by the Court:

  • Ben Crump of the Ben Crump Law firm of Washington, D.C.
  • Antonio M. Romanaucci, Bhavani Raveendran and Nicolette A. Ward of the Chicago law firm of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.
  • William Pintas and Laura Mullins of the Chicago firm of Pintas and Mullins Law Firm;
  • Devon M. Jacob of the Jacob Litigation, Inc. firm of Mechanicsburg, PA;
  • Chris Stewart and Justin Miller of the Stewart Trial Attorneys firm of Atlanta, GA; and
  • Scott Masterson of the Minneapolis firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP.

Judge Susan Richard Nelson[4]

The case was randomly assigned by the Clerk of Court to the 68 year-old District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who served as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Minnesota, by appointment of the Court’s judges, June 12, 2000, until she was confirmed as a U.S. District Judge of that court on December 22, 2010, upon recommendation of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, nomination by President Barack Obama and unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate. She obtained her B.A. degree with high honors from Oberlin College and her J.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Her initial professional employment was with a Pittsburgh law firm (1977-80) and a New Haven, Connecticut law firm (1980-1983). In 1984 she moved to Minnesota and joined the Minneapolis law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi as an associate (1984-88) and then was promoted to partner (1988), where she served until she became a U.S. Magistrate Judge. At the Robins firm, her practice focused on civil trial practice involving complex product liability and mass tort lawsuits.

Conclusion

 After subsequent posts that will examine the details of the three counts of the Complaint, we will await to see what attorneys will be representing the defendants, any potential motions attacking the complaint and the rigors of pretrial discovery (requests for production of documents and responses, written interrogatories and responses, requests for admissions and responses and oral depositions) followed by any possible motions for summary judgment and decisions thereon. Then the case would move to trial. Of course, settlements are always a possibility at any point during this complex (and expensive) process.

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[1] Reuters, George Floyd’s Family Sues Minneapolis and Four Officers Over His Death, N.Y. Times (July 15, 2020); Assoc. Press, Floyd Family Sues Minneapolis Officers Charged in His Death, N.Y. Times (July 15, 2020); Bailey, George Floyd’s family files wrongful-death lawsuit against City of Minneapolis and former officers, Wash. Post (July 15, 2020); Furst & Walsh, George Floyd family sues city of Minneapolis, officers involved citing ‘reckless disregard’ of civil rights, StarTribune (July 15, 2020); Treisman, George Floyd’s Family Files Civil Lawsuit Against Minneapolis And Police, Lawyers Say, MPR News (July 15, 2020); Attorney Ben Crump To File Civil Rights Lawsuit For Floyd’s Family, CBS Minnesota (July 15, 2020) (video of much of Crump’s statement).

[2] Complaint, Schaffer v. Chauvin, Case No, 0.20-cv-01577-SRN-TNL (D. Minn. July 15, 2020). Read the lawsuit filed by family of George Floyd against Minneapolis, four ex-police officers, StarTribune (July 15, 2020).

[3] Complaint at 38-40.

[4] Susan Richard Nelson, Wikipedia; Off the Cuff with Judge Susan Richard Nelson, The Oberlin Review (July 15, 2020).