298 F.3d 880 (9th Cir. 2002), 00-15840, Stevens v. Rose

Docket Nº:00-15840.
Citation:298 F.3d 880
Party Name:Keith K. STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Scott ROSE, Esq.; Kenny Moore; County of Lander, Defendants, and Troy Hanson, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:August 02, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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298 F.3d 880 (9th Cir. 2002)

Keith K. STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Scott ROSE, Esq.; Kenny Moore; County of Lander, Defendants,


Troy Hanson, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 00-15840.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 2, 2002

Argued and Submitted March 13, 2002.

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Keith L. Loomis, Carson City, NV, for defendant-appellant.

James Andre Boles, Reno, NV, for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada; Robert A. McQuaid, Magistrate Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-98-00254-RAM.

Before RYMER, KLEINFELD, and McKEOWN, Circuit Judges.


McKEOWN, Circuit Judge.

We address here whether a police officer is entitled to qualified immunity, as a matter of law, for seizing an individual based on a civil dispute. The case comes to us on an interlocutory appeal after the district court determined that the officer was not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Under the collateral action doctrine, we may take jurisdiction over interlocutory orders denying summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). We do so here and affirm.


This suit arises from the seizure of Keith Stevens by Deputy Troy Hanson

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and other members of the Lander County Sheriff's Office in August 1996. The circumstances that led to the seizure began with a discussion in the District Attorney's Office. Stevens along with his wife met with Deputy District Attorney Leon Aberasturi in order to resolve a dispute over the ownership of an automobile that Stevens believed he had purchased. Also present at the meeting with Aberasturi were Hanson and the other party claiming ownership of the vehicle. In the course of the meeting, Aberasturi told Stevens that he did not have good title to the car, that he planned to turn the title over to the other party, and that whoever had the title was entitled to possession of the car. In response, Stevens grabbed the official title document from Aberasturi and attempted to eat it so as to prevent the title from being used to deny his claim to the car. Aberasturi grabbed the document back and ordered Stevens from his office. On the way out Stevens heard Hanson and others joking about what happened.

Soon after Stevens left, Aberasturi realized that Stevens might have had the vehicle's keys in his possession. Aberasturi dispatched Hanson to recover the keys. Aberasturi instructed Hanson to arrest Stevens for disorderly conduct if he caused any problems. Hanson found Stevens at a nearby cemetery where he had gone to take a walk in order to clear his head. From his patrol car, Hanson told Stevens that he wanted to talk. It is undisputed that Hanson did not explain why he was interested in speaking with Stevens. Stevens told Hanson "to stay out of the matter since it was[ ] civil" in nature. Stevens then started to walk away from Hanson. At that point, Hanson radioed for back-up and exited his vehicle in pursuit of Stevens, who began to run away from Hanson.

Hanson chased Stevens, caught him, and tore off his shirt. Hanson then struck Stevens, who was able to escape his grasp and keep running. Ultimately, Stevens was captured and subdued by Hanson and additional officers who arrived upon the scene. It is undisputed that pepper spray was used to subdue Stevens. In addition, however, Stevens asserts that the officers severely beat him and repeatedly sprayed pepper spray into his mouth before and after he was handcuffed. After having been subdued, Stevens blacked out, began convulsing involuntarily, and was transported to a hospital where he was treated for a fractured rib and neck pain. Hanson issued Stevens a citation for resisting and delaying a public officer.

The county and law enforcement defendants moved for summary judgment in the district court based on a variety of grounds, including Hanson's qualified immunity. The motion was granted in part and denied in part. With regard to Hanson, the district court concluded that summary judgment was not warranted because triable issues of fact existed as to whether Hanson acted reasonably in violating Stevens' Fourth Amendment rights.


This appeal relates solely to Hanson's qualified immunity defense with respect to the alleged Fourth Amendment violation. Establishing qualified immunity requires that the official's conduct be objectively reasonable "as measured by reference to clearly established law." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). The

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Supreme Court recently encapsulated this objective approach into a two-step test. The threshold question that the court must answer is whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right[.]" Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). If this initial question is answered affirmatively, the court must address whether "[t]he contours of the right [are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Id. at 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)).


Stevens charges that Hanson violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures by arresting him in connection with a civil dispute. We start with the basic proposition that a full-scale arrest must be supported by probable cause. Atwater v. City of Logo Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354, 121 S.Ct. 1536, 149 L.Ed.2d 549 (2001); Morgan v. Woessner, 997 F.2d 1244, 1252 (9th Cir. 1993) (citing Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 148-49, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 32 L.Ed.2d 612 (1972)). In turn, we have previously held that "[b]y its definition, probable cause can only exist in relation to criminal conduct. It follows that civil disputes cannot give rise to probable...

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