332 F.3d 1255 (9th Cir. 2003), 01-56673, Mena v. City of Simi Valley

Docket Nº01-56673
Citation332 F.3d 1255
Party NameMena v. City of Simi Valley
Case DateJune 23, 2003
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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332 F.3d 1255 (9th Cir. 2003)

Iris MENA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit


Jose E. Mena, Plaintiff,


CITY OF SIMI VALLEY; Randy G. Adams; Marvin Hodges; Roy Jones; Vincent Allegra; Alan McCord; Richard Thomas; Ronald Chambers; William Lappin; Arnold Baynard; Jeffrey Dominick; Jack Greenburg; Richard Lamb; Frank Ahlvers; John Adamczyk; Tim Brown, Defendants,


Darin L. Muehler; Robert Brill, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 01-56673.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 23, 2003.


Argued and Submitted Feb. 4, 2003.

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Karen K. Peabody, Nye, Peabody, & Sterling, LLP, Santa Barbara, CA, for the defendants-appellants.

Paul L. Hoffman, Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris, & Hoffman, Venice, CA, and James S. Muller, Los Angeles, CA, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; A. Howard Matz, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-98-08512-AHM.

Before PREGERSON and REINHARDT, Circuit Judges, and ARCHER, 1 Senior Circuit Judge.


PREGERSON, Circuit Judge.

Iris Mena brought this action in the district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Robert Brill and Darin L. Muehler, both City of Simi Valley police officers, used excessive force and restrained her for an unreasonable period of time during a search of her home. The officers appeal the district court's judgment entered on a jury verdict. They argue that the district court erred in ruling that they are not entitled to qualified immunity. Additionally, the officers contend that they are entitled to a new trial on the unlawful detention claim because the district court abused its discretion (1) in denying the officers' proposed instruction on unlawful detention; (2) through its conduct during voir dire; and (3) through its cross-examination of defense witnesses during trial. The officers also argue that the award of punitive damages to Mena should be vacated as unsupported by substantial evidence. We have jurisdiction to hear this appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

Facts and Procedural Background

Just before 7:00 a.m. on February 3, 1998, several officers from the Simi Valley Police Department (SVPD) SWAT team

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executed a valid search warrant at 1363 Patricia Avenue. Brill and Muehler were directly responsible for supervising the search. The police officers searched the residence as part of their investigation of a gang-related drive-by shooting. The officers believed that Raymond Romero, the officers' primary suspect, was residing in the house, a single-family dwelling housing many unrelated residents. Iris Mena was a resident in the house, which was owned by her father, Jose Mena. The police officers forcibly entered the residence and observed that some of the rooms were locked, many with padlocks on the outsides of the doors. The officers proceeded to force entry into these locked rooms, including the bedroom in which Mena was sleeping. The officers, wearing SWAT team paraphernalia, found Mena in bed, and, pointing a submachine gun at her head, turned her over onto her stomach and handcuffed her. After searching her person and her room, the officers led Mena--barefoot and still wearing her pajamas--outside through the rain to a cold garage. Although she was absolutely compliant, the officers detained Mena in handcuffs for approximately two to three hours. While the police officers held Mena in the garage, the officers did not explain to her the reason she was being detained. During her detention, an immigration officer who had joined the police on the search asked Mena questions concerning her citizenship status. Upon learning from Mena that her citizenship documentation was in her purse, a police officer searched her purse without her consent. The police officers did not release Mena from the handcuffs until after they completed the search of the premises, at which time they finally informed her why she had been detained.

On October 19, 1998, Mena brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the police officers violated her civil rights in connection with the February 3, 1998, search of her home. Specifically, she contended that (1) the search warrant and search were overbroad; (2) the officers detained Mena unlawfully; (3) the officers detained her in an unreasonable manner; and (4) the officers failed to comply with the "knock and announce" rule before entering the house. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that Mena's constitutional rights were not violated, or, alternatively, that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. On August 10, 1999, the district court issued an order denying summary judgment, holding that because "a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the warrant and/or its execution was 'overbroad' " and "a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Iris Mena's detention was unreasonable," defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. The officers appealed, and we affirmed, except as to the claim that the warrant was overbroad on its face. See Mena v. City of Simi Valley, 226 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2000) (Mena I). On that claim, we reversed and remanded for the entry of summary judgment in favor of the appellants. Id. at 1037-38.

On June 12, 2001, trial began on Mena's Fourth Amendment claims. On June 21, 2001, the trial concluded and the jury returned a verdict finding that Muehler and Brill violated Mena's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure by detaining her with unreasonably excessive force and for a longer period than was reasonable. The jury found Muehler and Brill each liable to Mena in the amount of $10,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages. On July 11, 2001, the district court entered judgment against Muehler and Brill.

During trial, the Supreme Court decided Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), in which the Court clarified the proper approach to

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evaluating claims of qualified immunity. On July 25, 2001, the defendants filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) based on a purported intervening change in qualified immunity law; for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a) on the ground that the district court's jury instruction on unlawful detention was legally erroneous; and for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) based on an asserted lack of evidence to substantiate the jury's punitive damages award. The district court denied that motion, and the officers now appeal.


I. Qualified Immunity

Muehler and Brill argue that they should be shielded from liability to Mena under the doctrine of qualified immunity. 2 "Qualified immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151; Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). The central interest that underlies the doctrine of qualified immunity is that "officials can act without fear of harassing litigation only if they reasonably can anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages and only if unjustified lawsuits are quickly terminated." Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 195, 104 S.Ct. 3012, 82 L.Ed.2d 139 (1984). Although this court has already affirmed the district court's pre-trial determination that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the claim of unlawful detention, inter alia, Mena I, 226 F.3d at 1039-41, the officers argue that Saucier effected an intervening change in the law sufficient to amend our earlier decision and dismiss the excessive force claims based on qualified immunity.

Under Saucier, the first step in determining whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity is to consider whether the facts alleged, viewed in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, show that the official's conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 200-01, 121 S.Ct. 2151; accord Robinson v. Solano County, 278 F.3d 1007, 1012 (9th Cir. 2002) (en banc). Assuming a constitutional violation could be established on a favorable view of the plaintiff's submissions, "the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151. "The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Id. at 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151. But "[t]his is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). "[O]fficials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). Because law as to what is considered reasonable develops over time, courts must determine whether the law was clearly established at the time of the alleged constitutional violation. Robinson, 278 F.3d at 1013 (noting that "the law at that time must be our guide").

A. Whether Mena Asserts a Violation of a Constitutional Right

To evaluate the officers' claim that they are entitled to qualified immunity, we

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first accept the facts as Mena alleges them and determine whether those facts point to a constitutional violation. According to Mena, at least eighteen members of the Simi Valley Police Department (SVPD) SWAT team forcibly...

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