MBLB Secures Summary Judgment in § 1983 Excessive Force Case

Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett Members Mark E. Hanna and Trevor M. Cutaiar recently secured summary judgment on behalf of their client, a former Covington Police officer in an excessive force case.

Muthuswamy v. Liberto – Background

The case, Muthuswamy v. Liberto, et al., No. 19-112-WBV-DPC (E.D. La. 9/29/20), involved Covington police officers responding to a call involving a patron who was intoxicated outside of a bar in downtown Covington. During the course of the arrest, the plaintiff resisted the officers and was injured. The plaintiff was charged with resisting an officer and ultimately pleaded guilty. He later filed suit against the officers and the City of Covington, alleging excessive force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights in connection with his arrest.

The Heck Bar

After limited discovery, a summary judgment motion was filed on behalf of the officer seeking dismissal on two grounds: (1) that plaintiff’s claim of excessive force was barred by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994); and (2) that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity.

The principle announced in Heck v. Humphrey—known as the Heck Bar—precludes civil claims where success on those claims would necessarily impugn a state criminal conviction which arose from the same underlying facts.

On September 29, 2020, District Judge Wendy B. Vitter granted the summary judgment motion, relying on the Heck Bar. Judge Vitter concluded that success on the plaintiff’s § 1983 claim would challenge the validity of his conviction for resisting an officer and was, therefore, barred by Heck v. Humphrey. The court did not reach the arguments on qualified immunity. Judge Vitter’s opinion granting the summary judgment motion is available at 2020 WL 5802425.