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

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