252 F.3d 1124 (10th Cir. 2001), 00-1153, Medina v. Cram

Docket Nº:00-1153
Citation:252 F.3d 1124
Party Name:ERNEST MEDINA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. MICHAEL CRAM, Police Officer for the City of Colorado Springs, in his individual capacity, Defendant - Appellant, and RALPH BRUNING, deceased, Police Officer for the City of Colorado Springs, in his individual capacity; CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS, a municipality and LOREN KRAMER, Chief of Police for the City of
Case Date:June 12, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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252 F.3d 1124 (10th Cir. 2001)

ERNEST MEDINA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

MICHAEL CRAM, Police Officer for the City of Colorado Springs, in his individual capacity, Defendant - Appellant,

and

RALPH BRUNING, deceased, Police Officer for the City of Colorado Springs, in his individual capacity; CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS, a municipality and LOREN KRAMER, Chief of Police for the City of Colorado Springs, in his official capacity, Defendants.

No. 00-1153

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 12, 2001

DISTRICT OF COLORADO

(D. Ct. No. 98-WY-1264-CB)

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Shane Matthew White, Senior Attorney (Patricia K. Kelly, City Attorney, with him on the briefs), City Attorney's Office, Colorado Springs, Colorado, appearing for Appellant.

Dennis W. Hartley (Kimberly K. Caster, with him on the brief), Dennis W. Hartley, P.C., Colorado Springs, Colorado, appearing for Appellee.

Before TACHA, Chief Judge, SEYMOUR, and BRORBY, Circuit Judges.

TACHA, Chief Judge.

The defendants appeal from the district court's order denying their motion for summary judgment based on the defense of qualified immunity. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and reverse.

I. Background

The following facts are undisputed. On June 10, 1996, a bail bondsman went to Plaintiff Ernest Medina's residence to take Mr. Medina into custody for a bail bond violation. When Mr. Medina saw the bondsman, he put his right hand behind his back and said he had a gun. The bondsman subsequently retreated and called the police. As numerous officers, including Defendant Officers Cram and Bruning, began arriving at the scene, Mr. Medina refused to leave the house and began using cocaine and drinking rum. In

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addition to receiving phone calls from the police, Mr. Medina made other phone calls, including one to a friend whom he asked to bring him a syringe so that he could "get high" and a gun so that he could "make a break." In one phone conversation, Officer Bruning tried to convince Mr. Medina to leave the house peacefully, but Mr. Medina said he needed time and told Officer Bruning that he had a gun. During this time, Mr. Medina experienced suicidal thoughts, eventually cutting his left wrist with a knife.

Mr. Medina finally emerged from the house with his left hand in a cup and his right hand wrapped in a towel concealing a staple gun, which Mr. Medina intended as a representation of a weapon. Although officers ordered Mr. Medina to stop, he continued to walk toward and into the street. The officers first used nonlethal beanbag rounds to stop Mr. Medina. When that was unsuccessful, an officer released an attack dog, which bit him and released, returning to the officer. At this time, Officer Cram was following Mr. Medina, planning to stop him by knocking him to the ground. As Officer Cram was communicating his plan to his fellow officers, the attack dog was released the second time. Mr. Medina subsequently dropped to the ground and exposed the staple gun, which officers at the scene believed to be a gun. As he did so, he turned to the left, causing Officer Cram to conclude he and other officers were in the line of fire. From a distance of approximately eight to ten feet, Officer Cram then fired a three-round burst from his automatic weapon, hitting Mr. Medina in the stomach. In addition, Officer Bruning fired two shots at the center of Mr. Medina's body from a distance of approximately ten to twelve feet. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Medina was taken to the hospital where he survived his injuries.

Claiming Officers Cram and Bruning used excessive force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, Mr. Medina brought suit in district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Medina also brought a § 1983 action against the City of Colorado Springs for maintaining policies that foster excessive use of force and for failing to adequately train police officers. The district court denied the officer defendants' motions for summary judgment, concluding genuine issues of material fact remain regarding whether the officers' actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

II. Standard of Review in Qualified Immunity Cases

Although actions for damages provide an important remedy for individuals injured by governmental officials' abuse of authority, such actions sometimes subject officials to costly and harassing litigation and potentially inhibit officials in performing their official duties. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 814 (1982). In order to balance these competing interests, courts recognize the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, which protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The Supreme Court has emphasized the broad protection qualified immunity affords, giving officials "a right, not merely to avoid 'standing trial,' but also to avoid the burdens of 'such pretrial matters as discovery.'" Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 308 (1996) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). Consequently, courts should resolve the "purely legal question," Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232

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(1991), raised by a qualified immunity defense "'at the earliest possible stage in litigation.'" Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir. 1995) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991)).

We review the denial of a summary judgment motion raising qualified immunity questions de novo. Wilson v. Meeks, 52 F.3d 1547, 1551 (10th Cir. 1995) [hereinafter Wilson I]; Bella v. Chamberlain, 24 F.3d 1251, 1254 (10th Cir. 1994). Because of the underlying purposes of qualified immunity, we review summary judgment orders deciding qualified immunity questions differently from other summary judgment decisions. Nelson v. McMullen, 207 F.3d 1202, 1205-06 (10th Cir. 2000). After a defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, the burden shifts to the plaintiff. Scull v. New Mexico, 236 F.3d 588, 595 (10th Cir. 2000); Adkins v. Rodriguez, 59 F.3d 1034, 1036 (10th Cir. 1995). Applying the same standards as the district court, we must determine whether the plaintiff has satisfied a "heavy two-part burden." Albright, 51 F.3d at 1534; accord Wilson I, 52 F.3d at 1552. The plaintiff must first establish "that the defendant's actions violated a constitutional or statutory right." Albright, 51 F.3d at 1534; see also Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999) (noting the court must first decide whether the plaintiff has alleged deprivation of a constitutional right). If the plaintiff establishes a violation of a constitutional or statutory right, he must then demonstrate that the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful conduct. Albright, 51 F.3d at 1534. In determining whether the right was "clearly established," the court assesses the objective legal reasonableness of the action at the time of the alleged violation and asks whether "the right [was] sufficiently clear that a reasonable officer would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. at 615 (internal quotation marks omitted).

This two-step analysis "is designed to 'spare a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn-out lawsuit.'" Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. at 609 (quoting Siegert, 500 U.S. at 232)). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either part of the two-part inquiry, the court must grant the defendant qualified immunity. Albright, 51 F.3d at 1535. If the plaintiff successfully establishes the violation of a clearly established right, the burden shifts to the defendant, who must prove "'that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Id. (quoting Hinton v. City of Elwood, 997 F.2d 774, 779 (10th Cir. 1993)). In short, although we will review the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Nelson, 207 F.3d at 1205, the record must clearly demonstrate the plaintiff has satisfied his heavy two-part burden; otherwise, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

This circuit previously required plaintiffs to meet a heightened pleading standard when subjective intent is at issue and the defendant raises a qualified immunity defense. See, e.g., Breidenbach v. Bolish, 126 F.3d 1288 (10th Cir. 1997). We recently held that the heightened pleading requirement does not survive the Supreme Court's opinion in Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574 (1998). Currier v. Doran, 2001 WL 202045 (10th Cir. Mar. 1, 2001). Our decision in Currier is not, however, directly implicated in this case because we review the issues presented here

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in the context of summary judgment. Furthermore, unlike the dissent, we conclude Crawford-El does not affect our approach to qualified immunity questions at the summary judgment stage.

Crawford-El should be read narrowly in light of the specific issue before the Court. The Court repeatedly noted that it was addressing standards of proof in the context of the merits of a constitutional claim involving improper motive, rather than in the context of a qualified immunity defense: "The court's clear and convincing evidence requirement applies to the plaintiff's showing of improper intent (a pure issue of fact), not to the separate qualified immunity question whether the official's alleged conduct violated clearly established law, which is an 'essentially legal question.'" Crawford-El, 523 U.S. at 589 (emphasis added). The Court distinguished Harlow and the qualified immunity context, concluding that, "unlike Harlow, the proper balance does not justify a judicial revision of the law to bar claims that depend on proof of an official's motive." Id. at 592...

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