ADAMS v. ST. LUCIE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT. No. 91-5137.
962 F.2d 1563 (1992)
Robert Jeff ADAMS, Sr., Personal Representative for the Estate of Donald Demasco Adams, Sr., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ST. LUCIE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Robert C. Knowles, Sheriff, Donnie Ingram, Defendants, J.M. Lindsey, Robert Soesbe, Defendants-Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
As Amended August 12, 1992.
Evan I. Fetterman & Assoc., Salvatore Scibetta, North Palm Beach, Fla., for plaintiff-appellee.
Before HATCHETT and EDMONDSON, Circuit Judges, and HILL, Senior Circuit Judge.
HATCHETT, Circuit Judge:
In affirming the district court, we reject the appellant-deputy sheriffs' contention that intentionally ramming the automobile of a fleeing misdemeanant, causing it to crash (killing an occupant) did not constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and did not violate clearly established rights of which a deputy sheriff would have known.
In order to investigate reports of a petty theft, Deputy Sheriff Donnie Ingram of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Department stopped an automobile on May 8, 1985, driven by Robert Adams, Jr. Donald Demasco Adams, Sr. was a passenger in the automobile's back seat. After being stopped, Robert approached Ingram's patrol car and informed Ingram that he was driving without a valid license in order to take the former operator of the automobile home. Ingram radioed the communications center to report the stop and learned that a warrant for Robert's arrest was outstanding for failure to appear in court on the misdemeanor offense of petty theft. No warrants had been issued for Donald's arrest.
Deputy Ingram, who on previous occasions had stopped and then released Robert, told Robert that he would have to go to jail. Robert stated that Ingram knew his identity and address, and returned to his automobile to drive away. Following these comments, a high-speed chase ensued through a residential neighborhood. Deputy Sheriff Robert Soesbe joined in the chase which covered approximately ten miles. During the chase, Soesbe asked J.M. Lindsey, a supervisor with the sheriff's department, whether he should try to "take out" the automobile. Lindsey advised Soesbe to shoot a bullet through the radiator of the automobile. Continuing the chase, Soesbe intentionally rammed the automobile several times. After the last contact between the automobiles, the Adams automobile went out of control, struck a telephone pole and a house, and was demolished. The driver, Robert, walked away with minor injuries, but his brother, Donald, died from injuries sustained in the crash.
The personal representative for the estate of Donald (the decedent's representative) brought this action against five defendants: Ingram, Soesbe, Lindsey, Sheriff Robert Knowles, and St. Lucie County, Florida. The amended complaint alleged that the conduct of the sheriff and the deputies was intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in reckless disregard of Donald's rights, or grossly negligent in that this conduct shocks the conscience and is fundamentally offensive to civilized society. Additionally, the amended complaint alleged that the conduct violated Robert's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures.
Before trial, the claims against St. Lucie County were dismissed, and the court entered summary judgment in favor of Sheriff Knowles who was being sued only in his official capacity. Additionally, the court granted summary judgment in favor of Soesbe, Ingram, and Lindsey as to claims brought against them in their official capacities. The case proceeded to trial on the claims brought against Soesbe, Ingram, and Lindsey in their individual capacities. At the close of evidence, the court directed a verdit in favor of Ingram. The jury found that no constitutional violation occurred and returned verdicts in favor of Lindsey and Soesbe. On November 1, 1989, after a hearing on post-trial motions, the district court granted a new trial. Lindsey and Soesbe attempted to appeal on the basis that the granting of a new trial in effect denied the qualified immunity defense. This court declined to accept jurisdiction. The deputies then filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion for summary judgment.
The issue is whether the district court erred in denying the deputies' motion for summary judgment based on a claim of qualified immunity.
The deputies contend that they did not violate clearly established law of which a reasonable law enforcement officer would have been aware and were thus entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. On the other hand, the decedent's representative contends that the law was clearly established at the time of the incident, and that it would have been apparent to a reasonable officer operating
Specifically, the deputies contend that before the date of the incident in this case, the law was not clearly established that a law enforcement officer's intentional ramming of an automobile during a high-speed chase, causing it to crash, and thereby terminating the freedom of movement of a passenger in the automobile constituted an unreasonable seizure violative of the Fourth Amendment.
In Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
To ensure that insubstantial claims were decided at the summary judgment phase, the Supreme Court in Mitchell v. Forsyth,
The Eleventh Circuit followed the "immunity from suit" rationale of Mitchell in Ansley v. Heinrich,
Ansley, 925 F.2d at 1347 (citations omitted). The court concluded in Ansley that "[t]he Supreme Court's qualified immunity precedent aims at one goal: to keep the public official out of the courtroom, free to exercise discretionary duties under clearly established law without the constant threat of lawsuits." Ansley, 925 F.2d at 1345.
This court must determine as a matter of law whether the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity before the trial in order to keep them out of the trial if possible. See Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 526, 105 S.Ct. at 2815; Ansley, 925 F.2d at 1347. If this court reverses the district court's denial of the motion for summary judgment, the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity and the case is at an end. See Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 528, 105 S.Ct. at 2816; Ansley, 925 F.2d at 1348. On the other hand, if this court affirms the district court's denial of the motion for summary judgment, the deputies are not entitled to qualified immunity, and the jury should determine the factual issues without further mention of qualified immunity.
The objective reasonableness standard announced in Harlow afford broad qualified immunity protection to "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs,
The Supreme Court revisited its objective reasonableness standard in Anderson v. Creighton,
Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039 (citations omitted). In accord with Anderson, the Eleventh Circuit has stated that
Nicholson, 918 F.2d at 147 (citations omitted). The holding of Anderson, adopted in Nicholson, seeks a balance between unnecessarily burdening officials with the responsibility of divining what general constitutional and statutory terms might require and unreasonably failing to assess liability unless the specific action has been found unlawful. See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 639-40, 107 S.Ct. at 3038-39. Officials are required, however, to relate established law to analogous factual settings. People of Three Mile Island v. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners,
This court held in Rich v. Dollar,
Rich, 841 F.2d at 1563-64 (quoting Zeigler v. Jackson,
The deputies have satisfied the first prong of the Rich analysis since they were clearly acting within the scope of their discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred. It is axiomatic that a law enforcement officer has the discretionary authority to pursue and apprehend a fleeing suspected offender. The deputies' actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of their duties since Robert was driving without a valid license and a warrant for his arrest was outstanding.
The second prong of the objective reasonableness test poses the following two questions of law which must be answered: (1) what was the clearly established law at the time of the deputies' actions, and (2) whether the deputies' conduct violated that clearly established law? Rich, 841 F.2d at 1564. To decide whether, at the time of this incident, persons in a fleeing car whose driver was suspected of a misdemeanor had a clearly established right not to be subjected to intentional ramming from a police car at high speed, the court must look to established law in the area. See Greason v. Kemp,
In surveying the law in this area, we begin with Tennessee v. Garner,
This court held in Stewart v. Baldwin County Board of Education,
Adams v. Lindsey,
Justice O'Connor notes in her Garner dissent that "[b]y declining to limit its holding to the use of firearms, the court ... implies that the fourth amendment constrains the use of any practice that is potentially lethal, no matter how remote the risk." Garner, 471 U.S. at 31, 105 S.Ct. at 1711. Justice O'Connor's dissent points out that Garner recognizes that the use of deadly force against arrestees has limitations, regardless of the nature of the instrumentality used in applying the force. See Garner, 471 U.S. at 31, 105 S.Ct. at 1711; Mathis v. Parks,
The district court also correctly noted that in Brower v. Inyo,
Adams, 759 F.Supp. at 801.
Before the incident in this case, the law was clearly established that the Fourth Amendment applies to all high-speed chases, regardless of the method of apprehension or termination of movement. See Colorado v. Bannister,
Judge Edmondson points our attention to the case of Wright v. Whiddon,
Our panel in Wright, however, distinguished that case from Garner (and the facts of this case) when it recognized that "Garner involved a person who had not yet been taken into official custody fleeing to avoid custody, while this case involved a person who had been captured, arrested, and detained awaiting trial, who then sought to escape custody." Wright, 951 F.2d at 300. Our panel also recognized that the Supreme Court has indicated that whether the fleeing individual is trying to avoid custody or escape custody may constitute a constitutionally significant distinction. See Wright, 951 F.2d at 300. The Supreme Court noted in Graham v. Connor,
Graham, 109 S.Ct. at 1871 n. 10. Thus, the panel ruling in Wright that the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity was based primarily upon the possible inapplicability of the Fourth Amendment when the seizure or arrest ripens into detention. The area of law explored in Wright, as the Supreme Court indicated in Graham, is not settled.
Nevertheless, the law is clearly established in the area of suspects fleeing to avoid custody. See Tennessee v. Garner,
Although it was clearly established that the alleged events constituted a seizure, the deputies are still entitled to qualified immunity if it would not have been apparent to a reasonable official in their position that the seizure was "unreasonable" and thus violative of the Fourth Amendment. See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039.
The Supreme Court held in Garner that "it is plain that reasonableness depends on not only when a seizure is made, but also how it is carried out." Garner, 471 U.S. at 8, 105 S.Ct. at 1699; see also United States v. Ortiz,
The Sixth Circuit opinion in Smith, however, fully embraces this court's reasoning and extension of Garner. The facts of Smith, however, fitted squarely into the exception to the rule of Garner. The Supreme Court noted in Garner that "where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force." Garner, 471 U.S. at 11, 105 S.Ct. at 1701. The Sixth Circuit found in Smith that the motorist posed a threat of serious physical harm to others since he had demonstrated that he would do almost anything to avoid capture. The motorist in Smith had assaulted the police officer by attempting to ram the police car in order to break through a road block, and the motorist was proceeding at extremely high speeds in a residential neighborhood.
In this case, the deputies do not contend that this case falls within the exception of Garner. In their pleadings and briefs they do not contend that the persons fleeing to escape custody in this case posed a serious threat of physical harm either to the officers or to others. The issue that was dispositive in Smith — the applicability of the Garner exception — has not been raised in this case and is not properly before this court.
In Garner, the Court also emphasized the common law rule that the use of deadly force to apprehend a misdemeanant is forbidden since such action was disproportionately severe. Garner, 471 U.S. at 15, 105 S.Ct. at 1703. The district court correctly noted that in this case,
Adams, 759 F.Supp. at 803. When the principles of Garner are applied to these facts, this court concludes that it would
We hold that before the date of the incident in this case, the law was clearly established that a law enforcement officer's action of intentionally ramming an automobile during a high-speed chase, causing it to crash, and thereby terminating the freedom of movement of a passenger in the car constituted an unreasonable seizure which would have been apparent to a reasonable officer operating under similar circumstances. Accordingly, the deputies are not entitled to qualified immunity, and the district court's denial of summary judgment was proper.
The district court's ruling is affirmed.
HILL, Senior Circuit Judge, concurring specially:
I concur in the judgment of the court affirming the district court's denial of the defendants' motion for a summary judgment praying that, on any set of facts, the defendants would be protected by immunity.
I concur in our judgment because I conclude that one resolution of facts in dispute would present a case where constitutional "qualified immunity" would not be available to the officers. The plaintiff presents some evidence that the defendants sought to take the plaintiff's driver into custody by deliberately ramming the automobile. Such a seizure would violate a clearly established constitutional protection under the Fourth Amendment.
Under familiar tort law principles, an individual operating a vehicle in the way the defendants were alleged to be operating might be found liable. Racing an automobile with another might result in liability for injury to the occupants of the other vehicle should it crash. Crowding another vehicle on the highway or otherwise maneuvering in an effort to cause the other vehicle to come to a stop might well result in liability should the maneuvering be done carelessly and be the cause of a crash. Were the defendant not an officer of the law, many theories of liability might well sound. See, e.g., Orszulak v. Bujnevicie,
A law enforcement officer may pursue one subject to arrest for a crime if he attempts to flee. Having successfully pursued and overtaken the fleeing suspect, the law enforcement officer is not constitutionally required to be a mere observer of the flight of his quarry. He can try to cause the pursued driver to bring the car to a stop and submit to custody. Galas v. McKee,
The police are not constitutionally responsible if they did not deliberately cause the chased car to crash. In Galas, the police had engaged in a high speed pursuit of a thirteen year old minor. The minor lost control of his car, crashed, and was severely injured. Id. at 202. The parents argued that the officers should have stopped the pursuit and allowed the minor to flee in order to lessen the chances of a serious accident. Id. While this argument might be relevant in a state tort action to show that the officer was negligent, so long as there has been no restraint by physical force, there has been no Fourth Amendment seizure. Id. at 203. See also Keller v. Truska,
Unless the pursuing officer, despairing of apprehending the pursued safely, deliberately undertakes to bring him into custody by assaulting him with deadly force, I believe that the efforts would be constitutional. We are already instructed that the officer may not attempt to stop such a fleeing suspect with a firearm, unless the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses a threat of serious bodily harm, either to the officer or to others. Tennessee v. Garner,
This seizure with deadly force must be deliberate and willful. As the Supreme Court, in Brower v. County of Inyo, wrote,
The result the officer would like to obtain by seizing the suspect with deadly force is not a factor to be considered. In Brower, although the officers may have wished that the fleeing suspect would have stopped on his own volition, the Supreme Court did not inquire into their subjective intent. Id. 109 S.Ct. at 1382. Under the plaintiff's allegations, the "seizure" occurred because the police put up a road block to stop him. Id. This seizure was "unreasonable" because the police set up the road block "in such a manner likely to kill him." Id.
If the plaintiff persuades the fact-finder that the defendant deliberately undertook to take his driver into custody through an assault by car, the officer would not be immune. If the events were otherwise as described by the officer, even though tort liability would otherwise exist, the officer would not be subject to respond in damages because in pursuing and apprehending a criminal, the officer would be immune.
The case is to be returned for trial. The trial judge must provide instructions, special verdict forms, or other devices to ensure that the officer shall not be exposed to damages if the jury does not find that a deliberate assault occurred.
EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
"The general rule of qualified immunity is intended to provide government officials with the ability `reasonably [to] anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages.' Where that rule is applicable, officials can know that they will not be held personally liable as long as their actions are reasonable in light of current
Plaintiff urges us to use Tennessee v. Garner,
As recently as March 1989, a split existed among the federal circuit courts about whether the intentional use of a deadman roadblock created a Fourth Amendment seizure. Compare Brower v. Inyo County,
To overcome defendant-appellants' qualified immunity, plaintiff bears the burden of showing, see Davis v. Scherer,
Plaintiff first advances Tennessee v. Garner to support the proposition that defendants in this case should have known they were "seizing" Adams by ramming the car in which he was a passenger.
When considering whether the law applicable to certain facts is clearly established, the facts of cases relied upon as precedent are important. The facts need not be the same as the facts of the immediate case. But they do need to be materially similar. See, e.g., Edwards v. Gilbert,
Plaintiff has produced only two cases, one from Pennsylvania's Eastern District and one from New York's Southern District — and both affirmed without opinion on different points of law — to support his contention that in 1985 it was clearly established that using physical force to stop a fleeing vehicle constituted a seizure. See Taylor v. Mayone,
As I stated earlier, see supra, until the Supreme Court's decision in Brower, the intentional, successful use of physical force — a deadman roadblock — applied directly to an automobile was considered by the Ninth Circuit to constitute no seizure. See Brower, 817 F.2d at 546-47. Also, not until October 1985 — after the incident here — did the Fifth Circuit in Jamieson first determine that the intentional, successful use of a deadman roadblock constituted a seizure.
Even if I assumed that the law in 1985 clearly established that striking a car constituted a seizure, I would still conclude that defendants were due qualified immunity because plaintiff has produced no case law to support the idea that the method of seizure was unreasonable within the context of the Fourth Amendment and the facts of this case. Plaintiff
Nicholson v. Georgia Dept. of Human Resources,
Plaintiff rests on the broad assertion from Garner that "the common law ... forbids the use of deadly force to apprehend a misdemeanant, condemning such action as disproportionately severe." 471 U.S. at 15, 105 S.Ct. at 1703. I agree with this as a general proposition of law. But general propositions have little to do with qualified immunity decisions: "generalities are just not helpful." Muhammad, 839 F.2d at 1424. I disagree that in 1985 (or now) it was (or is) clearly established that, under the circumstances here, defendants were exerting deadly force or unreasonably seizing the car's passengers. In 1985, Garner's reach and limits had not been defined in this circuit, particularly in the high-speed automobile chase context. "The bright line of `clearly established law' remained to be staked out by a process of inclusion and exclusion in individual[, concrete] cases." Barts, 865 F.2d at 1194.
Even in Brower, the Supreme Court declined to hold that the use of a deadman roadblock there was necessarily unreasonable:
489 U.S. at 599, 109 S.Ct. at 1382-83 (emphasis added). Recall, too, that in Garner the Court was split 6-3 over the question whether shooting an unarmed, fleeing felony suspect was unreasonable, 471 U.S. at 22, 105 S.Ct. at 1707 (O'Connor, J., dissenting, joined by Burger, C.J. and Rehnquist, J.); put differently, at about the time of
Further supporting the unsettled nature of the law on seizures immediately following Garner is our recent decision in Wright v. Whiddon,
Plaintiff in this case, however, asks us to hold that six weeks after Garner, a reasonable police officer — despite that Garner had nothing to do with one car striking another or even with car chases in general — would necessarily have known that, in the context of the car chase in this case, he was violating the Fourth Amendment by an unreasonable seizure. A police car's bumping a fleeing car is, in fact, not much like a policeman's shooting a gun so as to hit a person. A gun is an instrument designed for the destruction of life or the infliction of injury, and death or injury will result if a person is struck by a bullet. While an automobile is capable of lethality, it is not designed to kill or to injure; and even when automobiles strike each other, death and injury may well not result (for instance, plaintiff claims that Adams' car was struck several times but only one blow allegedly resulted in a crash). Even if a policeman knew that he could not use "deadly force" to stop a misdemeanant who was fleeing in a car, I cannot say that, considering the 1985 case law, a reasonable policeman would necessarily know that hitting the fleeing car was just like shooting a person: a use of deadly force per se — that is, force almost certain to cause death or great bodily harm (not just capable of it).
As of May 1985 no reported decision held that physically forcing a car off the road, without more, constituted an unreasonable seizure. And as recently as January 1992 the Sixth Circuit in Smith v. Freland,
To resolve the question of qualified immunity, we need not decide today whether the Fourth Amendment was violated. But it is doubtful that the alleged level of force
Today's court seeks to avoid this Garner exception by stating that defendants failed to invoke expressly the exception and that defendants failed to contend that the fleeing car posed a serious threat of physical harm. While I recognize that defendants here have not specifically and expressly invoked the Garner-exception argument, I do not know that they, as a matter of law, must do so; we know that Adams' car fled at high speeds through residential neighborhoods, see Plaintiff's Amended Complaint at 4, par. 17; Brief for Appellee at 3; Brief for Appellant at 4, and defendants have told the courts that the fleeing car allegedly tried to run a deputy's vehicle off the road. See, e.g., Brief for Appellant at 4. Even if we ignore the allegation about the assault on the deputy, the speeding-car chase is undisputed; and the danger to others posed by the speeding car is self-evident. In the light of this self-evident danger and Freland's holding that, under virtually identical circumstances, a "reasonable" police officer could shoot and kill a fleeing misdemeanant, I think it is wrong to say that in 1985 defendants — or more correctly, reasonable police officers in defendants' situation — must have known their conduct was unlawful.
"The line between the lawful and the unlawful is often vague. [The] `clearly established' standard demands that a bright line be crossed. That line is not to be found in abstractions — to act reasonably, to act with probable cause, and so forth — but in studying how these abstractions have been applied in concrete circumstances. In 198 the relevant case law was still developing [and] the key issue in this case had not been clearly settled." Barts, 865 F.2d at 1194.
So, whatever I personally might think about a police car ramming a fleeing car under the circumstances plaintiff has alleged, I cannot say that under these same circumstances a reasonable police officer in 1985 would necessarily have known his actions to be violative of the Constitution. And, "[u]nless it can be said that the state of law was of such clarity that a reasonable official should have been on notice that his or her challenged conduct was unlawful, that official is entitled to immunity." Nicholson, 918 F.2d at 147. Here, plaintiff has failed to show the existence in 1985 of case law that would have made it readily apparent to the police that their conduct was unlawful. Defendants, therefore, are entitled to qualified immunity and should have been granted summary judgment.
I would also qualify the court's statement that, if we affirm the denial of summary judgment, defendants "are not entitled to qualified immunity".
I would reverse the denial of summary judgment.
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