JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:
The City of New Orleans ("the city") appeals a judgment of liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the shooting of James Snyder by police officer Sidney Trepagnier. Snyder cross-appeals, contending that the district court erred in submitting to the jury the question of Trepagnier's qualified immunity. We reverse the judgment insofar as it imposes liability against the city but affirm insofar as the judgment grants Trepagnier qualified immunity. We affirm the refusal to find liability for assault and battery.
Snyder was shot in the back by Trepagnier while fleeing on foot from police following a high-speed chase. Although the precise facts surrounding the shooting are not apparent from the briefs,
Snyder sued Trepagnier, Officer Joseph Valiente, and the city (as well as the Mayor and Police Superintendent in their individual and official capacities) under § 1983. Snyder also sued Trepagnier for assault and battery under Louisiana law. The case was tried to a jury. Before the verdict, the court dismissed Snyder's claims against Valiente, the Mayor, and the Police Superintendent, leaving Trepagnier and the city the only remaining defendants.
The jury rendered its verdict in the form of answers to special interrogatories. It found that Trepagnier had violated Snyder's constitutional rights but was protected by qualified immunity. The jury also found that Trepagnier had not committed an assault and battery. Even though the jury concluded that Trepagnier had acted reasonably in shooting Snyder, it held the city liable on the ground that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a municipal custom or policy.
The jury did not specify the policy at fault, although Snyder's expert witness had offered several customs and policies as possibilities. Specifically, Snyder had alleged that the hiring and screening policies of the New Orleans Police Department ("NOPD") were deficient; that the NOPD enforced a "code of silence" that fostered a permissive attitude toward violence against civilians; and that the NOPD failed to train officers in stress management and did not put in place an "early warning system" that would signal when stressed officers were about to crack. In its post-verdict review of the sufficiency of the evidence, the district court relied on the city's failure to enact a stress management program for police officers as supporting liability under § 1983.
The jury awarded Snyder $1,964,000 — the amount of his past and future medical expenses. Yet it awarded Snyder nothing for past and future physical pain and suffering, nothing for past and future mental pain and suffering, nothing for permanent physical disability and loss of function, and nothing for loss of life's pleasures.
The city contends that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of § 1983 liability under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).
The Supreme Court has established two fundamental requirements for holding a city liable under § 1983 for inadequate hiring and training policies: culpability and causation. First, the municipal policy must have been adopted with "deliberate indifference" to its known or obvious consequences. Second, the municipality must be the "moving force" behind the constitutional violation.
In Monell, the Court held that a local government may not be held liable under respondeat superior for constitutional torts committed by a municipal employee. Instead, "[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037-38. Monell set a high threshold for causation as well, requiring that the plaintiff establish that the municipal policy be the "moving force" behind the constitutional violation. Id.
The Court clarified the Monell requirements in City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989), a case arising under a liability theory (failure to train) that Snyder presses here. The Court held that, in limited circumstances, a municipality can be held liable for a failure to train its police officers. Plaintiffs seeking to win under this theory must first prove a direct causal link between the municipal policy and the constitutional deprivation; they
Id. at 388-89, 109 S.Ct. at 1204-05.
The Court further clarified Monell in Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997), another case arising under a liability theory advanced in the instant case — the municipality's allegedly inadequate screening and hiring policies. There, the Court held that the county was not liable for a sheriffs decision to hire, without adequate screening, an officer who later was accused of using excessive force. The Court noted that the plaintiff had "not demonstrated that [the sheriff's] decision reflected a conscious disregard for a high risk that [the officer] would use excessive force in violation of [the plaintiffs] federally protected right." Id. at ___, 117 S.Ct. at 1394.
Bryan County underscores the need for Monell plaintiffs to establish both the causal link ("moving force") and the city's degree of culpability ("deliberate indifference" to federally protected rights). These requirements must not be diluted, for "[w]here a court fails to adhere to rigorous requirements of culpability and causation, municipal liability collapses into respondeat superior liability." Id.
Accordingly, we have demanded a high standard of proof before imposing Monell liability on a municipality. In Gonzalez v. Ysleta Indep. Sch. Dist., 996 F.2d 745 (5th Cir.1993), we held that a school board did not act with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of schoolchildren when it failed to remove from the classroom a teacher accused of fondling students. We noted that mere negligence fell short of the "deliberate indifference" standard and that "[i]n order for municipal liability to attach, plaintiffs must offer evidence of not simply a decision, but a `decision by the city itself to violate the Constitution.'" Id. at 759 (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 395, 109 S.Ct. at 1208 (O'Connor, J., concurring)).
Similarly, in Stokes v. Bullins, 844 F.2d 269 (5th Cir.1988), we held that a county that failed to request a National Crime Information Center check for police applicants did not act with deliberate indifference toward the rights of its citizens — even though conducting a check would have disclosed that the applicant (who later shot the plaintiff) had a history of fifteen arrests for assault, armed robbery, and other misdeeds. We saluted the efficiency of an NCIC check but shied away from anointing it as a constitutional requirement. Id. at 275.
In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we examine the three municipal policies offered at trial that might support a finding of Monell liability. Applying Bryan County's "rigorous requirements of culpability and causation," 520 U.S. at ___, 117 S.Ct. at 1394, we conclude that the evidence is insufficient to uphold the jury verdict.
Snyder alleges that the city's police hiring policies were deficient because candidates' backgrounds were inadequately investigated. Most of Snyder's evidence came from James Ginger, who was offered as an expert witness in the field of police operations and administration. Ginger observed that the city overlooked two blemishes on Trepagnier's application: He had admitted to stealing a jacket and to having smoked marihuana over a two-and-a-half-year period. Moreover, the city did not conduct oral interviews but relied on written statements from Trepagnier's friends and neighbors. Finally, Ginger charged that although the city had a psychologist perform a "personality test" on Trepagnier, the test form did not include room for the psychologist's narrative interpretation,
This evidence is insufficient under Bryan County, where the Court held that "[o]nly where adequate scrutiny of an applicant's background would lead a reasonable policymaker to conclude that the plainly obvious consequence of the decision to hire the applicant would be the deprivation of a third party's federally protected right can the official's failure to adequately scrutinize the applicant's background constitute `deliberate indifference.'" Id. at ___, 117 S.Ct. at 1392. The Court held that the county was not liable for a tort committed by a police officer, even though the sheriff had hired the officer despite a lengthy criminal record, including assault and battery, resisting arrest, and public drunkenness. The Court concluded that "[t]he connection between the background of the particular applicant and the specific constitutional violation must be strong." Id.
Trepagnier had admitted to two nonviolent offenses: stealing a jacket and smoking marihuana. On this evidence, Snyder's claim that the city's screening policies were inadequate fails the Bryan County test: that the plaintiff's injury be the "plainly obvious consequence" of the hiring decision.
Snyder's next complaint is that the NOPD enforced a "code of silence" that fostered a permissive attitude toward violence against civilians. To bolster this allegation, he introduced evidence concerning what he terms the "Pembrook incident." In 1986, six years before Snyder's shooting, Trepagnier (while off-duty) verbally abused and grabbed Herman Pembrook, who had just been in a car accident involving Trepagnier's girlfriend. Other officers, present at the accident site, restrained Trepagnier. Pembrook filed a complaint with the Office of Municipal Investigation (a city agency independent of the NOPD), but that office dismissed the complaint, and Pembrook never filed criminal charges.
Ginger testified that the fact Trepagnier would threaten and intimidate a civilian in front of his fellow officers revealed the existence of a code of silence.
The remaining evidence establishing the code of silence came in the form of assorted policy papers and reports. It appears that no one save Ginger was asked to interpret or discuss these materials, many of which were excluded as hearsay.
Snyder relies on a single case to support premising § 1983 liability on a code of silence theory: Grandstaff v. City of Borger, 767 F.2d 161 (5th Cir.1985). There, we imposed municipal liability for a policy of "prevalent recklessness" when a group of police officers mistook a man for a fugitive, surrounded him, and killed him. Grandstaff has not enjoyed wide application in this Circuit. For example, we distinguished it in Coon v. Ledbetter, 780 F.2d 1158, 1161 (5th Cir.1986), noting that "Grandstaff affirmed a judgment against a Texas city on a highly peculiar set of facts.... The Grandstaff panel emphasized the extraordinary facts of the case, and
The shooting of Snyder, who was fleeing police pursuit, hardly rises to the level of the "extraordinary factual circumstances" presented in Grandstaff — particularly given the absence of evidence suggesting a culture of recklessness in the NOPD. In sum, the evidence was insufficient to support Monell liability on a code-of-silence theory.
We now turn to Snyder's primary argument for Monell liability: that the NOPD failed to train officers in stress management and failed to adopt an "early warning system" that would signal when an officer was about to "crack." This appears to be the basis on which the district court concluded that the verdict was supported by the evidence. The court noted:
Evidence of Trepagnier's stress level came from two lay sources. First was the testimony of Pembrook, who stated that a sergeant excused Trepagnier's aggressive behavior by explaining that Trepagnier worked long hours and was under considerable stress. Second was what Snyder terms "an excessive number of injuries to the dominant hand while effecting arrest."
According to Ginger, Trepagnier's personnel file revealed an unusually high number of injuries to his hand: five injuries over a three-year period. Because officers are trained to strike with their baton rather than their hand, a higher-than-average number of hand injuries may indicate a quick temper. Ginger also testified that an early-warning system would have caught Trepagnier's hand-injury situation, highlighting the need for psychiatric counseling before the officer exploded. Ginger did not claim that such a system would have prevented Snyder's injury, but it would have reduced the likelihood by making Trepagnier "a much better officer, much more under control and much less likely to enter into the Snyder shooting."
In City of Canton, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412, the Court articulated the test for when Monell liability can result from inadequate training. The opinion is worth quoting at length:
Id. at 390-91, 109 S.Ct. at 1205-06 (footnote and citations omitted).
Moreover, we have held that proof of a single violent incident ordinarily is insufficient to hold a municipality liable for inadequate training. The plaintiff must demonstrate "at least a pattern of similar incidents in which the citizens were injured ... to establish the official policy requisite to municipal liability under section 1983." Rodriguez v. Avita, 871 F.2d 552, 554-55 (5th
Under City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 389, 109 S.Ct. at 1205, in order to prove the city's deliberate indifference, Snyder must show that the failure to train reflects a "deliberate" or "conscious" choice to endanger constitutional rights.
Even if we accept that this evidence proves Trepagnier was dangerously stressed, there was no probative evidence concerning the stress level in the NOPD as a whole. There was no evidence of a pattern or practice of constitutional violations committed by overstressed New Orleans police officers. There was no evidence showing that the city was aware of the supposedly high stress levels in the NOPD or knew that the absence of a stress management program was likely to endanger the constitutional rights of its citizens. In short, the totality of the evidence does not even approach the City of Canton standard: that the inadequacy be "so obvious" and "so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights," 489 U.S. at 390, 109 S.Ct. at 1205, that the city can be said to have been deliberately indifferent.
Furthermore, we have emphasized that, when seeking to prove a municipality's malevolent motive, plaintiffs must introduce more evidence than merely the opinion of an expert witness. In Stokes v. Bullins, 844 F.2d 269 (5th Cir.1988), the district court relied primarily on the testimony of a single expert witness in holding that the municipality violated § 1983. We disagreed, remarking that "an expert's opinion should not be alone sufficient to establish constitutional `fault' by a municipality in a case of alleged omissions, where no facts support the inference that the town's motives were contrary to constitutional standards." Id. at 275. Ginger's testimony that New Orleans failed to meet "national standards" was unsupported by any facts establishing the city's purportedly bad motive.
Proof of "moving force" causation was similarly absent. The evidence did not establish even a remote link between the city's failure to enact a stress management program and Snyder's injury, so it fell far short of meeting the "rigorous" and "stringent" causation requirements demanded in Bryan County. Moreover, under Ginger's theory, any violent act by a police officer could be "caused" by stress, which in turn would be "caused" by the absence of a stress management program. Were we to adopt this line of reasoning, a city might be liable under § 1983 any time an officer acted in a way that could be characterized as resulting from stress. We reject this as a constitutional requirement.
There was insufficient evidence to support the imposition of § 1983 liability under Ginger's stress management theory. There was no evidence of deliberate indifference to constitutional rights. Nor was there evidence supporting a causal link between the absence of a stress management program and Snyder's injury. No reasonable jury could have concluded otherwise.
Snyder argues that the district court erred in submitting the question of Trepagnier's qualified immunity to the jury. We disagree. While qualified immunity "ordinarily should be decided by the court long before trial," Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 228, 112 S.Ct. 534, 537, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991), if the issue is not decided until trial, the defense is not waived but goes to the jury, which "must determine the objective legal reasonableness of [the] officer's conduct by construing the facts in dispute." Melear
Here, important factual questions remained for trial. Specifically, the jury needed to determine what sequence of events occurred, and, in particular, whether Snyder had a gun — or, if he did not actually have a gun, whether Trepagnier reasonably believed he did. Accordingly, there is no doubt that the district court properly decided to submit the issue of qualified immunity to the jury.
A related question is whether the issues of liability and qualified immunity should have been fashioned as one issue or, as the district court submitted them, as two issues. The submission as two separate issues results in the dispute whether the jury's answers are irreconcilable.
The jury decided both that Trepagnier used excessive force, thereby depriving Snyder of his constitutional rights, and that Trepagnier had a reasonable belief that his actions would not violate Snyder's constitutional rights. On the basis of these answers, the district court granted Trepagnier qualified immunity. If, however, a finding of excessive force is tantamount to a finding of no objective reasonableness, the answers to the two interrogatories would be hopelessly in conflict, requiring a new trial with, perhaps, a different charge.
In reviewing jury answers to special verdicts, we must make a "concerted effort to reconcile apparent inconsistencies ... if at all possible." Alverez v. J. Ray McDermott & Co., 674 F.2d 1037, 1040 (5th Cir.1982). We must ask whether "the answers may fairly be said to represent a logical and probable decision on the relevant issues as submitted, even though the form of the issue or alternative selective answers prescribed by the judge may have been the likely cause of the difficulty and largely produced the apparent conflict." Griffin v. Matherne, 471 F.2d 911, 915 (5th Cir.1973). Only if there is no view of the case that will make the jury's answers consistent may we set aside its decision. Id.
There is no inherent conflict between a finding of excessive force and a finding of qualified immunity. In Brown v. Glossip, 878 F.2d 871, 873-74 (5th Cir.1989), we squarely held "that qualified immunity is available as a defense to monetary liability for an objectively unreasonable use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment."
There are two components to the qualified immunity inquiry: "`[ (1) ] clearly established law and [ (2) ] the information the ... officers possessed.'" Hunter, 502 U.S. at 227, 112 S.Ct. at 536 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3040, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). This was cogently explained by Judge Higginbotham in Melear, 862 F.2d at 1187-88 (Higginbotham, J., concurring): "[I]t is possible for the jury to find that, although the actual circumstances of the search did not justify the officer's behavior, the circumstances that appeared to the officer would have justified a search. That is, the officer could make a constitutionally reasonable judgment based upon a factual misperception." Id. at 1188. "[I]t might be possible for the jury to resolve factual ambiguities so as to conclude that a constitutional violation took place, even though it is not possible for the jury to resolve factual ambiguities so as to conclude that the violation was the product of an objectively unreasonable mistake." Id.
This is what happened in Presley, where the jury determined that although the officers committed a constitutional violation, they were entitled to qualified immunity. See Presley, 4 F.3d at 407. Specifically, the jury, in answer to the first question, said the officers' entry of plaintiff's residence violated the Fourth Amendment. This answer was in plaintiff's favor, but the answer to the second was not, for the jury answered "yes" to the
With the law thus explained, we proceed to discharge our duty to make a "concerted effort to reconcile apparent inconsistencies [in the jury's answers] ... if at all possible." Alverez, 674 F.2d at 1040. The jury's answer that Trepagnier used excessive force apparently was based on its conclusion that Snyder did not actually have a gun. The jury's additional answer that "Trepagnier had a reasonable belief that his actions would not violate [Snyder's] constitutional rights" must have been based on a finding that Trepagnier reasonably believed Snyder had a gun so that, given the "uncertain facts" Trepagnier possessed, "it cannot be said that [he] knew [he] was violating a person's rights." Presley, 4 F.3d at 409.
There was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have found what it did in answer to the two interrogatories at issue. Accordingly, there is no internal conflict in the verdict, and the district court properly granted qualified immunity to Trepagnier.
Snyder challenges several evidentiary rulings. We review for abuse of discretion. United States v. Torres, 114 F.3d 520, 526 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 118 S.Ct. 316, 139 L.Ed.2d 244 (1997). Snyder objects to the admission of evidence concerning his criminal history and to the exclusion of several reports purportedly documenting the NOPD's failure to comply with national standards of police training and administration. The evidence of Snyder's criminal conduct in the period before the shooting was admitted as probative of Trepagnier's state of mind and the reasonableness of the officer's behavior, and we find no abuse of discretion. Our holding regarding the city's liability renders moot the question of the city's adherence to national standards.
Accordingly, we REVERSE the portion of the judgment holding the city liable under § 1983 and RENDER judgment for the city. We AFFIRM the portion of the judgment granting Trepagnier qualified immunity and AFFIRM the refusal to find liability for assault and battery.
DeMOSS, Circuit Judge, dissenting in part:
I concur fully in the foregoing opinion as to Parts I, II, and IV. I cannot concur in Parts III or V. I write to set forth the reasons for my dissent.
As the majority opinion indicates, there was a critical factual issue in this case: whether Snyder had a gun and pointed it at Trepagnier before Trepagnier shot Snyder in the back. Regrettably, the jury was not posed that specific question; if it had been
I am in complete and fundamental disagreement with the majority's conclusion that there is no inherent conflict between a finding of excessive force (jury interrogatory no. 1) and a finding of qualified immunity (assumptively jury interrogatory no. 2). A finding that Trepagnier used excessive force in arresting Snyder necessarily involves a determination that the force used by Trepagnier (shooting Snyder in the back at a range of 6 to 10 inches) was "objectively unreasonable." However, absent some lawful justification, no reasonable police officer could reasonably believe that shooting a suspect in the back from a distance of 6 to 10 inches would not violate that individual's constitutional rights. In this case, the jury's answer to interrogatory no. 2 necessarily means that the jury found that Trepagnier reasonably believed that his actions were "objectively reasonable," a finding which is in direct conflict with the opposite finding in interrogatory no. 1. As the Tenth Circuit so cogently put it in Street v. Parham, 929 F.2d 537, 540 (10th Cir.1991):
I would additionally point out that interrogatory no. 2 is defective because it asks whether Trepagnier had a "reasonable belief," and not whether a "reasonable officer" would believe that his actions would violate Snyder's constitutional rights. The Supreme Court has made clear that the determination as to the reasonableness of the officer's use of force must be based on an objective and not subjective determination. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1872, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989).
Consequently, I believe the proper disposition of this case is to reverse the trial court's judgment granting Trepagnier the benefit of qualified immunity and remand the case for a retrial of Snyder's claims against Trepagnier. Upon retrial, the trial court should, in my view, require the jury to make the factual determination of whether or not Snyder had a gun and pointed it at Trepagnier, or structure the interrogatories in a manner that requires the jury to find that the force used by Trepagnier was either "objectively unreasonable" or "objectively reasonable" under all the circumstances.
With appropriate references to the record, Snyder presents the following facts:
(Emphasis and record references omitted.)
If your answer to question 1 is "yes," continue on to the remaining questions. If your answer to question 1 is "no" then sign and date this form and return to the courtroom.
2. Do you find that Officer Sidney Trepagnier had a reasonable belief that his actions would not violate James Synder's [sic] constitutional rights?
3. Do you find that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a governmental custom, policy, practice or decision of the City of New Orleans?