204 F.3d 947 (9th Cir. 2000), 98-55887, Lalonde v. County of Riverside

Docket Nº:98-55887
Citation:204 F.3d 947
Party Name:JOHN LOUIS LALONDE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COUNTY OF RIVERSIDE, ROBERT MOQUIN, and JASON HORTON, OPINION Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 25, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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204 F.3d 947 (9th Cir. 2000)

JOHN LOUIS LALONDE, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 98-55887

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 25, 2000

Argued and Submitted November 1, 1999

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COUNSEL: Michael R. Mitchell, Michael R. Mitchell Law Offices, Los Angeles, California, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Michael A. Bell, Barbara A. Buchholz, and Robert M. Padia, Bell, Orrock & Watase, Riverside, California, Timothy T. Coates and Michael D. Fitts, Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Beverly Hills, California, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Manuel L. Real, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. CV-97-0283-R (Mcx)

Before: Myron H. Bright,1 Stephen Reinhardt, and Stephen S. Trott, Circuit Judges.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiff, John LaLonde, brought a civil rights action alleging that Officers Robert Moquin and Jason Horton (i) illegally entered his home without a warrant and (ii) used excessive force during and after his arrest. LaLonde claimed that the officers were both liable for these acts and that the County of Riverside was also liable on the excessive force claim. With regard to the illegal entry claim, the district court issued a pretrial order granting the officers qualified immunity. With regard to the excessive force claim, after the plaintiff presented his final witness at a jury trial, the district court issued a judgment as a matter of law granting the officers qualified immunity and dismissing the plaintiff's claim against the County of Riverside. In all instances, the district court erred by failing to evaluate the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and by resolving disputed issues of material fact. LaLonde's claims should have been heard and decided by a jury. The district court's decision is reversed in all respects.2

Factual Background

John LaLonde lived in an apartment in Hemet, California, with his roommate Monica Jones and her three children aged three, six, and seven.3 On July 21, 1996, LaLonde got off work around 11:30 p.m. He came home, changed his clothes, and then went to the store to get some groceries. He arrived back home shortly before midnight. He grabbed a sandwich and decided to play some video games. The walls between the neighboring apartments were thin, so that one could hear people's voices next door. That evening, LaLonde had heard some yelling, thumping, and banging from the apartment directly across the way. At this point though, it was a fairly quiet night inside LaLonde's apartment. The children were asleep and Jones was reading. LaLonde muted the volume on the television set in order not to disturb the others.

Either late that evening or in the early morning hours, LaLonde's neighbor Alycie Niemczyk, contacted the Riverside County Sheriff's Department to complain that LaLonde had been causing a disturbance.

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On at least three previous occasions, Niemczyk had contacted the police with unfounded complaints about excessive noise in the apartment complex. The landlord had also investigated her complaints and determined them to be false or unfounded.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Deputy Sheriffs Robert Moquin and Jason Horton arrived in response to Niemczyk's complaint. Officer Moquin claimed that, upon arrival, he heard yelling originating from LaLonde's residence. Officer Horton testified that he also heard people yelling, but described it as voices communicating back-and-forth and not sounding angry.

The officers first spoke with Niemczyk at her apartment. She told them that LaLonde, "had been causing a disturbance about an hour, within an hour prior." She also told them that LaLonde owned a rifle, which he kept in his house. Niemczyk also said that LaLonde had a hostile attitude toward law enforcement and that the officers should be careful because he might be willing to use the rifle. Niemczyk told Officer Moquin to speak with LaLonde first, and that if he cooperated, she would drop the complaint. If he did not cooperate, Niemczyk stated she was willing to make a citizen's arrest.4

Officers Moquin and Horton proceeded to LaLonde's apartment. Monica Jones, LaLonde's roommate, opened the door and Officer Moquin spoke with her. He asked if LaLonde was there. LaLonde walked into view and said "I'm right here." LaLonde appeared in his underwear and a T-shirt, holding a sandwich in his hand. He remained inside the apartment and did not at any time reach the doorway.

Moquin was standing outside the residence, about two to three feet from the door. According to LaLonde, Moquin asked him to step outside, and LaLonde replied "No, I do not want to step outside." Moquin denies that he asked LaLonde to step out of his apartment, but does admit that he asked him to "come here" while the officer remained at the doorway. Moquin asked if he could enter the apartment. LaLonde responded "No," and added, "I will talk to you from inside the house."

Moquin explained to LaLonde that he was investigating a disturbing the peace complaint made by their neighbor, Ms. Niemcyzk. LaLonde responded that the complaint was "bullshit, because . . . it had been an ongoing harassment thing with her. She had done this several times in the past, bogus complaints to the property management people." Moquin stated that he was conducting an investigation and that LaLonde was a suspect. Officer Moquin testified that LaLonde answered, "You don't know what you're talking about."

According to LaLonde, at this point, Officer Moquin tried to reach in and grab him by the shirt. In contrast, Moquin testified that LaLonde turned and headed toward the interior of his apartment, which was the reason he reached in and tried to grab him. LaLonde denied that he made any physical movement before Moquin crossed the threshold of the door and entered his apartment: LaLonde testified that Moquin "tried to reach in and snatch me out of the apartment. . . . He reached in and grabbed a hold of the front of my T-shirt. At that point I stepped backward. My T-shirt ripped . .." LaLonde testified that Officer Moquin then advanced on him.5 At this point, LaLonde told Moquin he wanted a watch commander, a request which he repeated a number of times.

Officer Moquin told LaLonde he was going to be placed under arrest for obstructing

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a police investigation. Moquin asked LaLonde if he would submit to being arrested. LaLonde said no, not after seeing the officer strike a woman in his house. Moquin grabbed LaLonde's hands and knocked the sandwich to the floor. LaLonde reached down for the sandwich, while telling Moquin, "Don't tear up my house. You know, I worked to get it." Officer Moquin grabbed LaLonde by his ponytail and knocked him backwards to the ground. Moquin then straddled LaLonde and began to pin him down in order to handcuff him. LaLonde resisted and the two men got into a scuffle.

Officer Moquin then sprayed LaLonde's face with oleoresin capsicum pepper spray. At that point, LaLonde's resistance ceased. Officer Horton had now also entered the apartment and had begun helping his partner handcuff LaLonde. While performing the handcuffing, Officer Horton forcefully put his knee into LaLonde's back, causing him significant pain.

The officers then let LaLonde sit on his couch and brought Jones in to sit with him. Officer Horton asked LaLonde and Jones where the rifle was kept. LaLonde said he kept a rifle in the kitchen. Officer Horton found an unloaded rifle on top of a shelf in the rear of the kitchen.

For twenty to thirty minutes, LaLonde sat on the couch with his hands handcuffed and the pepper spray burning his face. LaLonde testified "when my wrists started to really bother me bad, I said something about it." LaLonde told the officers, "These handcuffs are too tight. They're cutting off my circulation." The officers told LaLonde if he would only hold still, he would be fine. LaLonde told the officers: "If I could hold still, I would, but the pepper spray was burning like hell."6 LaLonde testified that the pepper spray felt "like having turpentine poured on you." "The longer it sat on there, like the more it burned. . . . I felt like it was on fire." LaLonde was visibly in pain. He was red around his eyes, mucus was hanging from his nose, and tears were running down his face.

Officer Moquin was trained in the use of pepper spray. He knew it caused swelling of the mucus membranes, involuntary closing of the eyes, gagging, coughing, and an intense burning sensation. Officer Moquin testified that he observed mucus coming out of LaLonde's nose and tears flowing from his eyes. He knew that the symptoms of the pepper spray could last up to forty-five minutes if left untreated. He was also trained to know that, after spraying someone, he should take all possible steps to assist them, such as splashing water to flush out the person's eyes. Officer Moquin testified, "I was taught to offer first aid when possible." However, Officer Moquin stated baldly, "I did not offer [LaLonde] any first aid whatsoever."7 Officer Horton made a similar set of admissions. Officer Horton, on the other hand, tried to offer some excuse. He testified that LaLonde was still combative and, for that reason, "if I was to render any type of first aid . . . it may jeopardize my safety."8

After twenty to thirty minutes passed, two other police officers arrived. Almost immediately they got a wet dish towel from the kitchen and wiped LaLonde's face. LaLonde was not taken to the police

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station and he did not receive any citation that...

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