278 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2000), 99-15225, Robinson v. Solano County

Docket Nº:99-15225
Citation:278 F.3d 1007
Party Name:JAMES F. ROBINSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SOLANO COUNTY; BRIAN CAUWELLS, Solano County Sheriff's Deputy Officer; GARY FAULKNER, Solano County Sheriff's Deputy Officer, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 12, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1007

278 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2000)

JAMES F. ROBINSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


SOLANO COUNTY; BRIAN CAUWELLS, Solano County Sheriff's Deputy Officer; GARY FAULKNER, Solano County Sheriff's Deputy Officer, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 99-15225

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 12, 2000

En Banc Argument: March 22, 2001

San Francisco, California Submission Deferred: April 23, 2001

Resubmitted: September 26, 2001

Filed February 4, 2002

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Peter A. Nowinski, Magistrate Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. CV-96-01362-PAN

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Chief Judge, and Procter Hug, Jr., Betty B. Fletcher, William C. Canby, Jr., Stephen Reinhardt, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Pamela Ann Rymer, Thomas G. Nelson, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Ronald M. Gould, and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Chief Judge Schroeder; Concurrence by Judge Fernandez

COUNSEL: William M. Simpich, Oakland, California, for the plaintiff appellant.

Terence J. Cassidy, Porter, Scott, Weibert & Delehant, Sacramento, California, for the defendants-appellees.


SCHROEDER, Chief Judge:

We took this case en banc in order to clarify the law of the circuit regarding excessive force that violates the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, and to clarify the law of the circuit on the scope of qualified immunity for excessive force claims. The case arises out of a police seizure at gunpoint of an apparently unarmed individual suspected of having earlier used a shotgun to shoot two dogs.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens the right"to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable .. . seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court held that all claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure of an individual should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's "objective reasonableness" standard. The Court also cautioned, however, that the "calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments -in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving -about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation." Id. at 396-97.

Here we must address the interplay between the Fourth Amendment's objective reasonableness standard for claims of excessive force and the standard for measuring the scope of a law enforcement officer's qualified immunity, which also embodies a reasonableness standard. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The U.S. Supreme Court recently grappled with this subject in Saucier v. Katz, 121 S.Ct. 2151 (2001), and we follow its teachings.


The Plaintiff-Appellant is James F. Robinson, an African-American retired Page 1010

San Francisco police officer. Defendants-Appellees are the County of Solano and individual police officers Brian Cauwells and Gary Faulkner.

When the events at issue in this case took place, Robinson was 64 years old. He lived in a farmhouse set on a five-acre parcel in a semi-rural area of Fairfield, California, where he raised livestock including cattle, ducks, turkeys, geese, and chickens. He had fenced his property and kept a shotgun to protect his livestock. One morning he saw two dogs attacking and killing his livestock. He took out his shotgun and shot both dogs, killing one and wounding the other. Robinson then went looking for the wounded dog. His search took him to the public road fronting his property, and he walked approximately 50 feet along the road carrying the shotgun.

Robinson's neighbor Sarah Reyes, the owner of the dogs, came out of her house while Robinson was on the road looking for the wounded dog. According to Robinson, he was standing approximately 160 feet from Ms. Reyes when she yelled to him about the dogs. She was angry that he had shot her dogs, and he tried to explain that he did not know the dogs were hers. After the two had a heated conversation, Robinson returned home.

Ms. Reyes went back into her house and phoned the police. The police sent out a radio dispatch regarding a man carrying a shotgun who had just shot two dogs and "is in the middle of the street yelling at this time." The appellee officers were among the police officers who responded to the call and parked on the public road in front of Robinson's property.

Robinson, who was apparently at that moment inside discussing with his wife whether to call the authorities, saw six police vehicles pull up outside his home. He decided to go out and explain the incident to them. Wearing an unbuttoned shirt and a pair of jeans, he walked the 135 feet from his front door to the street. He asserts that the officers were able to see him approach, and that they observed that his demeanor was calm. He also states that the officers kept their guns holstered as he approached. Officers Cauwells and Faulkner, however, contend that Robinson appeared agitated, and that they unholstered their guns upon first seeing him.

As Robinson neared the street, Officer Cauwells, who had then been with the police force approximately nine months, walked forward to meet him. Robinson said, "My name is Robinson and I'm the man that was involved with the dogs." Officer Cauwells then pointed his gun at Robinson's head from a distance of about six feet. Officer Faulkner also took out his gun and pointed it at Robinson. Cauwells told Robinson to put his hands over his head. As Robinson was putting his hands up, he asked the officers "What's going on?" Without answering the question, Cauwells repeated the command as he stepped forward, and according to Robinson, thrust his gun three or four feet from Robinson's head. As a former police officer, Robinson was aware of the immediate physical danger posed by a gun pointed at his head from point blank range; he testified that he feared for his life.

Two police officers not named in this suit handcuffed Robinson and shoved him into the back seat of their patrol car. Robinson was confined in the police car while the officers talked to Ms. Reyes and other neighbors. The interval was approximately 15-30 minutes. Both sides agree that Robinson attempted to explain the situation to the officers, but that they refused to listen to him. The officers released Robinson after they ascertained that he had not violated the law.

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Robinson asserts that at no time -from the original detention to release -did the officers search him for any weapons.

He was in fact wearing a four-inch utility knife strapped to his belt that was never detected. Robinson was not charged with any crime for the events in question.


Robinson filed a civil action in federal court alleging both state and federal claims against the individual officers and Solano County. The district judge granted partial summary judgment with respect to all claims against Solano County and all state law claims against the individual defendants. However, the district judge declined to grant summary judgment on the § 1983 excessive force claim against the police officers. The parties then stipulated to a jury trial on the federal claim before a magistrate judge.

The jury found that the length of Robinson's detention was reasonable, but divided four to four on the question of whether the force employed to seize Robinson was reasonable. The trial court dismissed the jury after the deadlock. The court then granted the appellees' Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law on the federal excessive force claim, holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

Robinson appealed the grant of summary judgment on the state law claims and the grant of judgment as a matter of law on the federal excessive force claim. The original three-judge panel of this court reversed. It held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity on the federal excessive force claim because: (1) the contours of the law governing pointing of guns were sufficiently clear to put a reasonable officer on notice that pointing a gun at Robinson's head, under the circumstances alleged, would violate his constitutional rights; and (2) disputed issues of material fact existed regarding the force actually used by the officers and whether such force was reasonable under the circumstances. See Robinson v. Solano County, 218 F.3d 1030 (9th Cir.), reh'g en banc granted, 229 F.3d 931 (9th Cir. 2000). In so deciding, the panel relied on our circuit law then recently explained in Katz v. United States, 194 F.3d 962 (9th Cir. 1999), rev'd , 121 S.Ct. 2151 (2001). Judge O'Scannlain dissented. The panel also reversed the court's grant of summary judgment on the state-law torts.

After we ordered this case to be reheard en banc, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Katz. Saucier v. Katz, 531 U.S. 991 (2000). We heard oral argument, but deferred submission pending the Supreme Court's decision in Katz. We called for supplemental briefs and took the case under submission following the Supreme Court's decision in Katz. See Saucier v. Katz, 121 S.Ct. 2151 (2001).

The Katz Case

Our circuit law, prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Katz, focused on qualified immunity principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). Harlow instructed us to determine whether the law governing the official's conduct was clearly established, and if so, whether a reasonable official could have believed the conduct was lawful...

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