Nahmod Law

Local Governments Can Be Liable for Failure to Supervise Police in Excessive Force Cases, But Not in This Second Circuit Decision

Local Government Liability Under Section 1983 for Failure to Train or Supervise Police in Excessive Force Cases

The Supreme Court ruled almost thirty years ago in City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989), that local governments can be liable under section 1983 for damages for their deliberately indifferent failures to train or supervise their employees who, as a result, commit constitutional violations.

Under this standard, there must be a close connection–both in terms of cause in fact and proximate cause–between the deliberate indifference (the required state of mind) and the particular constitutional violation. See generally ch. 6 in Nahmod, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed. 2018)(West & Westlaw).

However, proving deliberate indifference and its connection to the particular constitutional violation can be a difficult hurdle for section 1983 plaintiffs to overcome, as witness Outlaw v. City of Hartford, 884 F.3d 351 (2nd Cir. 2018).

Outlaw v. City of Hartford (2nd Cir. 2018)

In Outlaw, the Second Circuit dealt with a plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against a city that alleged an official policy or custom of deliberate indifference in supervising police officers in the use of force. The defendant police officer had allegedly used excessive force against the plaintiff in arresting him, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

Affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the city, the Second Circuit found that the evidence submitted by the plaintiff was insufficient to permit an inference of deliberate indifference by the city regarding supervision and the use of excessive force. The plaintiff’s reliance on proceedings in other police misconduct litigation was misplaced because that litigation focused on systemic discrimination against racial minorities.

Also, there had only been two prior excessive force complaints against this police officer: one was filed after the incident here and could not have been a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries; the other complaint, which was filed after the incident here–although it related to an incident that occurred prior to it–was not deliberately ignored by the city but demonstrated no more than negligence.

Further, excessive force lawsuits against other officers and the claims sent to the city’s insurers might have provided a basis for a finding of deliberate indifference. But there was no evidence of the underlying facts or how thoroughly they were investigated. Some of these cases did not even involve excessive force.

Finally, it was “incumbent” on the plaintiff to “utilize procedures provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to compel responses to his request that sought necessary information and that were appropriate.”

 

Written by snahmod

October 2, 2018 at 10:18 am

Substantial Section 1983 Compensatory and Punitive Damages Awarded for False Arrest on Sexual Abuse Charges

Sexual abuse charges are obviously very serious for all concerned. So when police officers investigate, arrest and charge sexual abuse, especially when the charges involve minors, they must be very careful. The following Sixth Circuit decision serves as a cautionary tale.

Wesley v. Campbell, 864 F.3d 433 (6th Cir. 2017)

Wesley dealt with the false arrest of the plaintiff for sexual abuse of students. In this case, the Sixth Circuit upheld, as not excessive, a jury’s $589,000 compensatory and $500,000 punitive damages awards against the defendant police officer for Fourth Amendment violations.

Compensatory Damages of $589,000 Upheld

The compensatory damages award was for lost wages, past pain and suffering and future pain and suffering (plaintiff was diagnosed with PTSD because of the arrest). As to the disputed $132,000 awarded for lost wages, the district court observed that even though plaintiff’s termination as a school counselor had occurred before his arrest, nevertheless the “red flags caused by his false arrest, and the resulting unemployment period, were detrimental to [plaintiff’s] ability to be rehired in any position, but especially in one working with children.” In addition, there was testimony about plaintiff’s inability, despite his background and qualifications, to obtain a job working with children. The district court thus did not err in refusing to remit the compensatory damages award.

Punitive Damages of $500,000 Upheld

In addition, the Sixth Circuit upheld the jury’s $500,000 punitive damages award. First, there was sufficient evidence of defendant’s reckless and callous disregard of plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights to justify a punitive damages award. Further, the award was not excessive: plaintiff suffered fear and uncertainty for over three months; he was depressed and irritable; he suffered significant economic harm; the threat of physical force directed at him was apparent; the stigma was significant; the defendant’s conduct was particularly reprehensible, especially in light of the plaintiff’s career of counseling children; the ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages awards was in single digits with the punitive damages award even being less than the compensatory damages award; and finally, the punitive damages award here was comparable to awards for similar violations.

Comments

1. Compensatory damages are available under section 1983, and federal common law rules of compensatory damages govern. These damages can consist of special damages, or out-of-pocket expenses such as lost wages and medical costs. They can also include general damages, or damages for past and future pain, suffering and humiliation. In Wesley, there were substantial special and and general damages proved that accounted for the large compensatory damages award.

2. Punitive damages are available under section 1983 against individuals, although not against local governments. Before a section 1983 plaintiff can get a punitive damages instruction to the jury, there must be sufficient evidence of the defendant’s reckless or callous indifference to the section 1983 plaintiff’s federally protected rights. Malice or ill will is not required. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983). Note that the state of mind required for a punitive damages instruction is not the same as the state of mind required for the constitutional violation in the first place. This is the case even if that state of mind is, say, purposeful discrimination for an equal protection violation or deliberate indifference for an Eighth Amendment violation. The higher punitive damages state of mind must be separately proved. In Wesley, the defendant’s conduct not only satisfied the punitive damages standard but it was found to be particularly reprehensible. The jury’s punitive damages award was thus upheld.

See generally on section 1983 damages, Nahmod, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 ch. 4 (4th ed. 2018)(West & Westlaw).

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Written by snahmod

September 18, 2018 at 11:18 am

A DeShaney Danger Creation Case that Survived Summary Judgment

Over the years I have posted many times about the difficulty plaintiffs have in surmounting the no-affirmative duty substantive due process rule of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189 (1989). This case declared that government has no affirmative duty to protect or rescue individuals from private harm. See Nahmod, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 secs. 3:59-3:61 (4th ed. 2017)(West).

As noted in the voluminous case law, there are two possible end-runs around this no-duty rule. First, where there is special relationship between the government and the plaintiff, a very limited category of cases in which the plaintiff is dependent on government and cannot act on his or her own behalf. And second, danger creation, where government itself is not neutral but rather creates the danger to the plaintiff.

But even where an affirmative substantive due process duty has been shown, the plaintiff must go on to show a breach of that duty, or a violation of substantive due process.

Irish v. Maine,  849 F.3d 521 (1st Cir. 2017), and danger creation.

In Irish v. Maine, the former boyfriend of the one of two plaintiffs (the other plaintiff was her mother) broke into her parents’ home, fatally shot her boyfriend, shot her mother, abducted her and engaged in a shootout with police during which another individual was shot fatally. The plaintiff alleged that the rampage began after a police officer left the former boyfriend a voice message notifying him that the plaintiff had made a complaint to police about the former boyfriend’s serious violent crimes against her earlier, and asking him to come in for an interview. This was despite the plaintiff’s explicit request that the former boyfriend not be notified by police because of her concern that such notice would incite further violence against her, which turned out to be true.

Reversing the district court which had dismissed plaintiff’s danger creation substantive due process claim, and had also granted defendants’ qualified immunity motion, the First Circuit remanded for further fact finding. It observed that there was no evidence as to whether the police decision to leave a voice message was in line with police protocol and training. There was also no evidence on exactly what the officers knew about the veracity of plaintiff’s allegations against the former boyfriend, about his propensity for violence and about whether he would likely act on that propensity. According to the First Circuit, these facts were relevant to both the viability of the due process claim and qualified immunity.

Comment

The first question is whether there was a general substantive due process duty imposed on the police to protect the plaintiff from her former boyfriend. The short answer under DeShaney is no. The second question is whether the police in this case had any kind of special relationship with the plaintiff, and here too the short answer is no. The crucial question, then, is whether the police violated substantive due process in creating the danger to the plaintiff by leaving a voice message for the former boyfriend despite the plaintiff’s explicit request that the police not notify him because that would incite him to further violence.

Note that the issue in the First Circuit was not whether the voice message actually caused the former boyfriend’s violent acts; this seems to have been shown. Rather, having thus shown the existence of an affirmative due process duty to protect or rescue though the police creation of the danger, did the plaintiff also show a breach of that duty, namely, a violation of substantive due process? And the constitutionally required state of mind for such a substantive due process violation is deliberate indifference.

This is why the First Circuit remanded. If leaving a voice message was not in line with protocol, this would tend to show deliberate indifference. Similarly, if the police knew about the truthfulness of the plaintiff’s description of her former boyfriend and that he would likely engage in violence against her, that too would tend to show deliberate indifference.

(For more discussions of recent circuit court decisions addressing DeShaney issues, search this blog for “DeShaney”)

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Written by snahmod

August 21, 2018 at 9:33 am

Remarks On Receiving the American Constitution Society Abner Mikva Award (with Some Comments about Section 1983)

Please indulge me with this post of my remarks on receiving the Abner Mikva Award on July 24, 2018, from the Chicago Lawyers’ Chapter of the American Constitution Society.

 

Thanks, Geoff [Geoffry Stone is Professor of Law at University of Chicago Law School]. It is indeed an honor to be introduced by one of the premier constitutional law and First Amendment scholars of this generation, a worthy successor to the great Harry Kalven at U of C Law school, and a national leader in promoting the values of ACS.

It is especially an honor for me, a first-generation American, to receive the Abner Mikva award. Judge Mikva was one of the great public servants in my lifetime. I still remember, when I was a college student at U of C, hearing about an outstanding civil rights and liberties law firm in Chicago called Devoe, Shadur, Mikva and Plotkin. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Judge Mikva personally, I did meet his law firm colleague, Judge Milton Shadur, also a great public servant, when we spoke at several Federal Judicial Center programs for federal judges.

I want to thank the ACS Board in Chicago for giving me this award, and particularly appreciate the support of Erwin Chemerinsky; my superstar student, Anthony Joseph (at this very moment taking the Illinois Bar Exam); and Dana Pownall.

Thanks to all of you for being here to honor us. I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues from Chicago-Kent, several of my favorite former students and my close friends who are sitting at their special table. And I would be remiss (and perhaps divorced) if I did not acknowledge my ultimate supporter—my wife Sonia, whom I was exceedingly fortunate to meet and marry way back in the last century.

Since I love to teach, I would like to teach you a little about section 1983, a topic that I have taught, written about and litigated in the Supreme Court and various federal courts over the past forty years. Section 1983 is a federal statute enacted by the 42ndCongress in 1871 and signed into law by President Grant. It is one of several Reconstruction Era statutes enacted under the then-new 13thand 14thAmendments so as to protect former slaves and their supporters and to go after the KKK. I like to think of section 1983 as covenental, as codifying an agreement between citizens and their local and state governments.

This superstatute creates a 14thAmendment damages action against state and local government officials and employees, and against local governments themselves, that violate our constitutional rights and cause damage. It is pro-plaintiff all the way, and its resurrection in 1961 in Monroe v. Pape initially gave rise to expansive interpretations in the Supreme Court. However, in the last decade-and-a-half in particular, the Supreme Court unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) has cut back on the scope of section 1983 liability by limiting constitutional protections (especially the Fourth Amendment), by expanding what’s called absolute immunity from damages liabiltiy and, more to the present point, by providing law enforcement officers with overbroad and often unjustifiable qualified immunity protection from damages liability in excessive force and false arrest cases. As currently articulated by the Supreme Court, qualified immunity protection in my view provides too big a margin for error to too many law enforcement officers and effectively renders them unaccountable. These decisions constitute a kind of Supreme Court signalling to law enforcement that is very troubling and inconsistent with the grand purposes of section 1983.

What can be done? I do not hold out much hope for change in the Supreme Court in the near future. After all, Justice Kennedy (who recently resigned) typically joined with four other conservative justices in expanding qualified immunity protection to law enforcement officers, and his likely replacement, Judge Kavanaugh, will surely do no less. So any changes to section 1983 that might restore it to its prior status as a powerful civil rights and liberties sword will have to come from a politically accountable Congress.

Here are my suggestions for Congressional legislation: (1) statutorily overule the Will decision and declare that section 1983 abrogates 11thAmendment immunity, so that states can be sued directly for damages, and (2) impose respondeat superior liabilty on state and local governments for the constitutional violations of their officials and employees (no more arcane official policy or custom requirement for governmental liability). These two changes would render qualified immunity protection for individual law enforcement officers and others less important because deep pocket state and local governments would be liable under respondeat superior.

Anyway, those are my section 1983 recommendations in a nutshell. Thank you all again for being here. I am truly fortunate to be in a position to promote civil rights and liberties by my teaching, my writing, my appellate advocacy and, yes, even my blogging.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter: @NahmodLaw

Written by snahmod

August 9, 2018 at 10:06 am

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach and First Amendment Retaliatory Arrest Damages Claims: The Court Again Sidesteps the Probable Cause Issue

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach

In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 138 S. Ct. — (2018), the Supreme Court once again avoided ruling generally on the question whether a section 1983 plaintiff who alleges a retaliatory arrest in violation of the First Amendment must allege and prove the absence of probable cause in addition to impermissible First Amendment motive. Or, to put it another way, whether probable cause to arrest is a defense to a First Amendment retaliatory arrest damages claim. Instead, it ruled narrowly for the plaintiff based on the particular facts of his case.

In Lozman, the plaintiff alleged that a city (through its policymakers) had him arrested in retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. He claimed that he was arrested at a city council meeting when he got up to speak because he previously had criticized the city’s eminent domain redevelopment efforts and had also sued the city for violating the state’s Sunshine Act. He was never prosecuted. However, the plaintiff conceded that there was probable cause for his arrest for violating a Florida statute prohibiting interruptions or disturbances at certain public assemblies, because he had refused to leave the podium after receiving a lawful order to do so.

Ordinarily, such a plaintiff, in order to make out a section 1983 First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim, would only have to allege and prove that this impermissible retaliatory motive caused him harm, and the defendant would have the burden of disproving the absence of but-for causation in order to escape liability. Mt. Healthy Bd. of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977). But here the city argued that even if its motive was impermissible under the First Amendment, there was probable cause–an objective Fourth Amendment standard–to arrest the plaintiff anyway, and that this constituted a defense to the plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim.

In Lozman, the Eleventh Circuit had ruled that probable cause was indeed a defense to a section 1983 First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim. Specifically, it determined that a section 1983 retaliatory arrest plaintiff must allege and prove not only the retaliatory motive but the absence of probable cause as well. In other words, the absence of probable cause was an element of the section 1983 plaintiff’s retaliatory arrest claim.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Reliance on Hartman v. Moore

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision was based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Hartman v. Moore,  547 U.S. 250 (2006), which held that for section 1983 retaliatory prosecution claims against law enforcement officers (prosecutors themselves are absolutely immune from damages liability for their decision to prosecute), the plaintiff must allege and prove not only the impermissible motive but the absence of probable cause as well. The Court reasoned that there was a presumption of prosecutorial regularity that the section 1983 plaintiff must overcome as an element of his retaliatory prosecution case. Accordingly, as a matter of section 1983 statutory interpretation and policy (but not of constitutional law), the plaintiff should have this twin burden in retaliatory prosecution cases.

The Court in Hartman explained that a retaliatory prosecution case was very different from the usual First Amendment retaliation case that involved a relatively clear causal connection between the defendant’s impermissible motivation and the resulting injury to the plaintiff. It was appropriate in such cases to apply the Mt. Healthy burden-shift rule under which the defendant has the burden of disproving but-for causation in order to prevail.

As discussed in a prior post, the Court previously had a similar First Amendment retaliatory arrest issue before it in Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658 (2012). But it avoided addressing the merits by ruling for the individual defendants on qualified immunity grounds.

In my view, as I have argued previously, the Court’s decision in Hartman should not be applied to First Amendment retaliatory arrest cases. The express reason for the Hartman rule is that First Amendment retaliatory prosecution cases involve a presumption of prosecutorial regularity. But this reason is clearly inapplicable where there is no prosecution and the constitutional challenge is to the arrest itself.

Moreover, First Amendment retaliatory arrest claims involve the impermissible motivation (a subjective inquiry) of law enforcement officers irrespective of probable cause, which is an objective (could have arrested) inquiry. Under this objective inquiry, the existence of probable cause precludes a Fourth Amendment violation based on an arrest even where that arrest is grounded on an offense different from the offense for which probable cause is deemed to be present. This provides a great deal of protection for police officers who allegedly make arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

However, if a police officer arrests a person for racial reasons, and the claimed injury is grounded on those racial reasons, it should not matter for the Equal Protection claim–-even if it would for a Fourth Amendment claim–-that the officer had probable cause to do so, namely, that the officer could have arrested the plaintiff. This reasoning should apply as well to §1983 First Amendment retaliatory arrest claims.

It was always questionable whether the Court in Hartman should have allowed policy considerations to change the usual section 1983 causation rules in First Amendment retaliatory prosecution cases. Regardless, that reasoning should most definitely not be extended to First Amendment retaliatory arrest cases. Such policy considerations as are discussed in Hartman are most appropriately addressed, if they are to be addressed at all, as part of the qualified immunity inquiry, not the elements of the section 1983 retaliatory arrest claim.

The Supreme Court’s Narrow Decision in Lozman

In any event, in Lozman, the Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, reversed the Eleventh Circuit and ruled that in this particular case the plaintiff did not have to allege and prove the absence of probable cause, and probable cause was not a defense to his First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim.

Emphasizing the narrowness of its decision, the Court pointed out that the plaintiff only challenged the lawfulness of his arrest under the First Amendment; he did not make an equal protection claim. Further, he conceded there was probable cause for his arrest, namely, that he could have been arrested for violating the Florida statute. Thus, the only question was whether the existence of probable cause barred his First Amendment retaliation claim in this case.

The Court went on to observe that the issue in First Amendment retaliatory arrest cases was whether Mt. Healthy or Hartman applied. It addressed what it considered to be the strong policy arguments on both sides of the issue. The Court then determined that resolution of the matter would have to wait for another case: “For Lozman’s claim is far afield from the typical retaliatory arrest claims, and the difficulties that might arise if Mt. Healthy is applied to the same mine run of arrests made by police officers are not present here.” For one thing, the plaintiff did not sue the officer who made the arrest. For another, since he sued the city, he had to allege and prove an official policy or custom, which “separates Lozman’s claim from the typical retaliatory arrest claim.” Moreover, the causation issues here were relatively straightforward because the plaintiff’s allegations of an official policy or custom of retaliation were unrelated to the criminal offense for which the arrest was made but rather to prior, protected speech. In short, the causal connection between the alleged animus and the injury would not be “weakened by [an official’s] legitimate consideration of speech.”(quoting Reichle, 566 U.S. at 668).

This did not mean that the Lozman plaintiff would necessarily win on remand. A jury might find that the city did not have a retaliatory motive. Or, under Mt. Healthy, the city might show that it would have had the plaintiff arrested anyway regardless of any retaliatory motive.

Justice Thomas was the sole dissenter. He maintained that the Court had simply made up a narrow rule to fit this case. Instead, he argued that plaintiffs in First Amendment retaliatory arrest cases have the burden of pleading and proving the absence of probable cause. That is, probable cause “necessarily defeats First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claims.” Accordingly, the plaintiff should lose here.

Comments

The better approach, as indicated above, is to apply Mt. Healthy in all retaliatory arrest cases. Hartman should be limited to retaliatory prosecution cases. Nevertheless, after Lozman the question is still open in the Supreme Court. This means, among other things, the retaliatory arrest individual defendants will continue to have a powerful qualified immunity argument, namely, that the law is not clearly settled even now, per Reichle v. Howards.

Note, however, that the Court may yet resolve this question in its forthcoming 2018 Term. On June 28, 2018, it granted certiorari in Nieves v. Bartlett, 712 Fed.Appx. 613 (9th Cir. 2017)(No.17-1174), to address once again whether probable cause is a defense to a section 1983 First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim. In this unreported decision, the Ninth Circuit ruled that probable cause is not a defense to First Amendment retaliatory arrest damages claims.

Written by snahmod

July 19, 2018 at 2:19 pm

An Unusual Section 1983 Second Amendment Lawsuit Brought by Police Officers(!)

Section 1983 Second Amendment lawsuits are typically brought by citizens who argue that their Second Amendment rights have been, or will be, violated by state and local governments through legislation imposing gun controls of one kind or another.

(For background, see three earlier posts on the Second Amendment: (1) https://nahmodlaw.com/2010/08/08/the-second-amendment-and-section-1983-after-mcdonald/ & (2) https://nahmodlaw.com/2013/02/28/the-second-amendment-and-gun-control-unanswered-questions/ & (3) https://nahmodlaw.com/2014/11/11/the-second-amendment-and-section-1983-a-podcast/)

The Ninth Circuit’s Decision in Mahoney v. Sessions

So consider Mahoney v. Sessions, 2017 WL 4126943 (9th Cir. 2017), an unusual Ninth Circuit case that involved Second Amendment claims brought under section 1983 by police officers challenging the City of Seattle’s use of force policy on the ground that this policy violated their right to use firearms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense. The policy stated that police officers must use objectively reasonable force “proportional to the threat or urgency of the situation, when necessary, to achieve a law-enforcement objective.” It also required officers to use de-escalation tactics to reduce the need for force but only when safe and feasible “under the totality of circumstance[s].”

Affirming the district court, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the policy did not violate the Second Amendment. The court assumed that the policy was subject to Second Amendment analysis. However, applying intermediate level scrutiny, the court went on to determine that the city’s interest in the policy was substantial because it was intended for  the safety of the public and police officers. Further, there was a reasonable fit between this purpose and the policy which assured that the interest would be furthered. It was also significant that this was a regulation of department-issued firearms.

Comment

Apart from the unusual plaintiffs in Mahoney, the result was not surprising. For one thing, the circuits as a general matter have coalesced around intermediate level scrutiny in Second Amendment cases. Mahoney appears to have applied this standard appropriately: Seattle’s policy was a sensible way of trying to constrain police officers when they contemplate the use of deadly force. Put another way, the policy was a means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment’s limits on the use by police officers of deadly force.

For another, state and local governments have no affirmative substantive due process duty to protect their officials or employees from private harm. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115 (1992), discussed in Nahmod, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 sec. 3:58 (2017; West). Police officers in particular know full well that their job exposes them to the risk of serious harm on a regular basis.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter: @NahmodLaw

 

Written by snahmod

July 10, 2018 at 8:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What Everyone Should Know About Free Speech, Hate Speech and Political Protests: My New Video

I spoke about free speech, hate speech and political protests at the Chicago Bar Association on March 22, 2018. This was a CLE presentation setting out the basics of free speech and its relation to hate speech and political protests.

Although the audience consisted of lawyers, I deliberately used as little legal jargon as possible, with the result that the video of my presentation is suitable for any non-lawyers who are interested in learning about this always-important topic.

I hope you find it of interest. If you have any comments or thoughts, please feel free to email me at snahmod@kentlaw.edu.

Here is the link to the video (not in HD, unfortunately):

 

I also invite you to follow me on Twitter: @NahmodLaw.

 

Written by snahmod

June 26, 2018 at 10:11 am