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Leon's suit against police sergeant moves forward; other charges dismissed

WORTHINGTON -- Several of the counts contained in a civil case between Jesus Leon Sr. and several City of Worthington officials were dismissed in a summary judgment earlier this month, according to federal court documents.

Leon and Antonio Duenas Pena filed a civil lawsuit in March 2007 alleging that Worthington Police Sgt. Tim Gaul used excessive force while arresting Leon at his downtown Worthington dance club.

Allegations were also made against Worthington Manager of Planning and Economic Development Brad Chapulis and Worthington Building Official Armand Eshleman for revoking the plaintiffs' due process rights by revoking their dance club license. The plaintiffs also accuse Chapulis and Eshleman of negligence for issuing a permit for building renovations when the building was not suitable for a dance club.

The defense filed a motion for summary judgment, which would allow a judge to dismiss charges if he or she felt it appropriate. A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party -- in this case, Leon and Pena -- and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts.

United States District Judge John Tunheim issued a memorandum dismissing the claims regarding Chapulis and Eshleman, but denied the summary judgment involving the use of excessive force by Gaul.

After looking at the evidence, Tunheim concluded that Eshleman and Chapulis are entitled to official immunity on the negligence claim, as is the City of Worthington.

"Even viewing this evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, the court is not persuaded that it shows that the defendants' decision to issue the plaintiffs a building permit was unlawful or a willful violation of (their) right," the document states. "As such, a reasonable jury could not conclude from the facts presented here that the defendants acted with malice."

On the due process claim, the judge found insufficient evidence to suggest the city's decision to revoke the dance club license was truly irrational.

"The record suggests that the city council had a valid basis upon which to revoke the plaintiffs' dance license on grounds that (they) had repeatedly violated city noise ordinances," Tunheim wrote.

In the excessive force claim, Leon alleges he dislocated his shoulder as a result of Gaul shoving him against a door jam while he was handcuffed, an incident Gaul and another officer deny ever happened. The defense noted that Leon's treating physician on the night of the incident never described the shoulder as being dislocated.

"This court's review of Leon's medical records adequately supports Leon's claim that Gaul's use of force partially dislocated his shoulder," Tunheim stated.

"Leon's medical report, dated March 17, 2007, states Leon's left shoulder was in a partially sublexed position and later noted subluxation of the left shoulder. Subluxation is generally defined as a partial or incomplete dislocation ... While the nature of the physical injury here may result in only a minimal damages reward, that question is for a jury, and not this court, to decide," he added.

A notice of settlement conference was issued, in which counsel and each party, "armed with full settlement authority," shall attend in Minneapolis Aug. 27.

The parties were also encourage to meet in person before that date to engage in a settlement discussion, but no further documents have been filed in the case.