222 F.3d 455 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-1687, Feist v. Simonson

Docket Nº:99-1687
Citation:222 F.3d 455
Party Name:DOROTHY I. FEIST, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT OF KIN OF BRIAN KEITH FEIST, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. BRADLEY JON SIMONSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, KIM JOHNSON; ROBERT GLASRUD; MATTHEW BLADE; CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA; CRAIG NORDBY, DEFENDANTS. SOLUTIONS OF THE TRAGEDY OF POLICE PURSUITS, AMICUS ON BEHALF OF APPELLEE
Case Date:July 25, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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222 F.3d 455 (8th Cir. 2000)

DOROTHY I. FEIST, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT OF KIN OF BRIAN KEITH FEIST, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

BRADLEY JON SIMONSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,

KIM JOHNSON; ROBERT GLASRUD; MATTHEW BLADE; CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA; CRAIG NORDBY, DEFENDANTS.

SOLUTIONS OF THE TRAGEDY OF POLICE PURSUITS, AMICUS ON BEHALF OF APPELLEE.

No. 99-1687

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 25, 2000

Submitted: February 16, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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Before McMILLIAN, Lay, and John R. Gibson, Circuit Judges.

Lay, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by Bradley Jon Simonson, a police officer for the Minneapolis Police Department, arising from his high-speed pursuit of a stolen automobile. Brian Feist was traveling eastbound on Interstate 94 near downtown Minneapolis and was killed when the pursued suspect's car crashed into him while traveling against traffic. Dorothy Feist brought this action against Simonson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court denied Simonson's motion for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. This interlocutory appeal followed.1

The essential question in this case is whether Officer Simonson's conduct rises to the level of a due process deprivation under the Fourteenth Amendment. In evaluating whether a state officer enjoys the privilege of qualified immunity in the face of an alleged Fourteenth Amendment violation, the Supreme Court recently held in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 847-48 n.8 (1998), that the "threshold question" is whether the police officer's conduct is "so egregious, so outrageous" that it serves to "shock the contemporary

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conscience." Section 1983 does not provide a forum for litigation of state tort law-thus, if the conduct arises only to the level of negligence or recklessness, the federal forum stands foreclosed to those who seek reparation for damage.2

I. Facts and Background

The Chase

According to the record, on August 11, 1996, Simonson observed a black Ford Galaxy matching the description of a reportedly stolen vehicle traveling eastbound on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Simonson made a U-turn and followed the Galaxy. The driver, Darren Shannon, voluntarily pulled the vehicle over. At this point, Simonson had no reason to suspect the driver of anything other than the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, which is a low-level felony. Simonson exited his squad car with his weapon drawn and ordered both the driver and the passenger to put their hands in the air. Neither individual complied. Simonson repeated the order two more times, after which the suspect yelled an expletive and quickly took off in the car. Simonson ran back to his cruiser, activated his lights and siren, and notified dispatch of the chase.

Simonson followed the Galaxy northbound on Park Avenue, then approximately eight blocks westbound on East 28th Street, which is a one-way going east. Shannon made several more turns and ran two stop signs and two stop lights in the process. Shannon eventually headed northbound on Portland Avenue, a one-way street running south, with Simonson still in pursuit. After two more turns, Shannon and Simonson drove onto the entrance ramp of eastbound Interstate 94. The cars proceeded down the interstate, and Shannon eventually crossed a grassy median on I-94 and exited the interstate via the southbound Hiawatha Avenue off-ramp. Simonson continued to give chase.

Shannon eventually turned around on Hiawatha and drove northbound in the southbound lanes. In so doing, Shannon passed Simonson on the driver's side of the squad car. Simonson then made a U-turn and witnessed Shannon re-enter eastbound I-94 through the Hiawatha exit ramp. Simonson, now joined by three other squads, followed Shannon down the off-ramp. At this point, Shannon, Simonson, and the three secondary squads were all driving westbound in the eastbound lanes. Simonson estimated Shannon's speed at around 70 miles per hour.

As the chase headed the wrong way down I-94, Simonson observed both Shannon and his passenger making obscene gestures at him through the windows of the Galaxy. Shannon was also weaving back and forth through the traffic lanes. Simonson shadowed Shannon's course on

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I-94, even following him the wrong way through a tunnel.3

During the chase, Feist drove eastbound on I-94 heading toward Shannon and the cruisers. Traffic slowed almost to a stop as Shannon and the officers continued their course. Feist swerved into the right shoulder to avoid rear-ending the car in front of him. Upon entering the shoulder, Feist's vehicle was immediately crushed by Shannon's vehicle, which was being pursued in the right-hand shoulder of I-94. The estimated closing speed of the two cars was 97 to 104 miles per hour (146.6 feet per second). Both Shannon and his passenger were injured, and Feist died on the scene. An accident reconstructionist found Feist free of any fault.

Approximately 1500 feet west of the point of impact stands the Lowry Hill tunnel. The Lowry Hill tunnel is noticeably longer than the tunnel through which Simonson pursued Shannon, and it is even more dangerous due to its narrow build and the existence of a blind curve within. Assuming a driving speed of 70 miles per hour, Shannon and the officers would have reached the tunnel traveling the wrong way within approximately fifteen seconds.

In all, the chase lasted over six minutes and spanned over six miles, 1.2 of which were in the wrong direction down I-94. The cars sped through residential areas, past the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a nearby park, and onto the stretch of road intersecting I-94 and Interstate 35, the two primary throughways in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Simonson's History

Simonson has a documented history of engaging in high-speed pursuits. He testified at his deposition that he may have been a party to over 100 such chases during his ten-year career with the Minneapolis Police Department. He was reportedly a party to twelve chases in one twenty-day period alone. Simonson admitted to his involvement in as many as twelve to fifteen chases in a single month. He has never terminated a chase voluntarily. His actions at the conclusion of a high-speed pursuit in 1990 led to two suits against him and the City of Minneapolis, which resulted in $555,000 in liability for the City. See Olson v. City of Minneapolis, Civ. No. 3-95-61; Mattson v. City of Minneapolis, Civ. No. 3-96-741.

The District Court's Opinion

The district court, 4 in a well-reasoned opinion, denied Simonson's motion for summary judgment and held the facts of this case were clearly distinguishable from Lewis. In Lewis, officers encountered a motorcycle being driven at a high rate of speed. Lewis was a passenger on the motorcycle. The driver refused to obey the officer's instruction to pull over, and a chase ensued. While attempting to make a sharp turn, the motorcycle tipped over

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and skidded to a halt. Lewis was struck by the officer's vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. The Ninth Circuit applied the standard of deliberate indifference in determining whether the officer's conduct "shocked the conscience" for Fourteenth Amendment purposes. The appellate court reversed the district court's prior grant of summary judgment based on the officer's qualified immunity. See...

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