461 U.S. 95 (1983), 81-1064, City of Los Angeles v. Lyons

Docket Nº:No. 81-1064.
Citation:461 U.S. 95, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675
Party Name:CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Petitioner v. Adolph LYONS.
Case Date:April 20, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

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461 U.S. 95 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675



Adolph LYONS.

No. 81-1064.

United States Supreme Court.

April 20, 1983

Argued Nov. 2, 1982.

Plaintiff brought civil rights action against city, seeking damages, injunctive relief and declaratory relief. On remand after an appeal, 615 F.2d 1243, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted preliminary injunctive relief, and the Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, affirmed, 656 F.2d 417. On grant of certiorari, the Supreme Court, Justice White, held that: (1) that plaintiff might have been illegally choked by police did not establish real and immediate threat that he would again be stopped for traffic violation or for any other offense by officer or officers who would illegally choke him into unconsciousness without any provocation or resistance on his part, and additional allegation that Los Angeles police routinely applied chokeholds in situations where they were not threatened by use of deadly force fell far short of allegations necessary to establish case or controversy, and (2) because plaintiff did not allege that all police officers in Los Angeles always choked any citizen with whom they happened to have encounter, whether for purpose of arrest, issuing citation or for questioning, nor did complaint allege that city ordered or authorized police officers to act in such manner, there was failure to allege case or controversy.


Justice Marshall dissented and filed opinion in which Justice Brennan, Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens joined.

[103 S.Ct. 1661] Syllabus[*]


Respondent filed suit in Federal District Court against petitioner city of Los Angeles and certain of its police officers, alleging that in 1976 he was stopped by the officers for a traffic violation and that although he offered no resistance, the officers, without provocation or justification, seized him and applied a "chokehold," rendering him unconscious and causing damage to his larynx. In addition to seeking damages, the complaint sought injunctive relief against petitioner, barring the use of chokeholds except in situations where the proposed victim reasonably appeared to be threatening the immediate use of deadly force. It was alleged that, pursuant to petitioner's authorization, police officers routinely applied chokeholds in situations where they were not threatened by the use of any deadly force; that numerous persons had been injured as a result thereof; that respondent justifiably feared that any future contact he might have with police officers might again result in his being choked without provocation; and that there was thus a threatened impairment of various rights protected by the Federal Constitution. The District Court, on the basis of the pleadings, ultimately entered a preliminary injunction against the use of chokeholds under circumstances that did not threaten death or serious bodily injury. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The case is not rendered moot even though while it was pending in this Court, city police authorities prohibited use of a certain type of chokehold in any circumstances and imposed a 6-month moratorium on the use of another type of chokehold except under circumstances where deadly force was authorized. The moratorium by [103 S.Ct. 1662] its terms was not permanent, and thus intervening events have not irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged misconduct. Pp. 1664-1665.

2. The federal courts are without jurisdiction to entertain respondent's claim for injunctive relief. O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674; Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561. Pp. 1665-1671.

(a) To satisfy the "case or controversy" requirement of Art. III, a plaintiff must show that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of the challenged official conduct, and the injury or threat of injury must be "real and immediate," not "conjectural" or "hypothetical." "Past exposure to illegal conduct

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does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief ... if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects." O'Shea, supra, 414 U.S., at 495-496, 94 S.Ct., at 675-676. Pp. 1665-1666.

(b) Respondent has failed to demonstrate a case or controversy with petitioner that would justify the equitable relief sought. That respondent may have been illegally choked by the police in 1976, while presumably affording him standing to claim damages against the individual officers and perhaps against petitioner, does not establish a real and immediate threat that he would again be stopped for a traffic violation, or for any other offense, by an officer who would illegally choke him into unconsciousness without any provocation. If chokeholds were authorized only to counter resistance to an arrest by a suspect, or to thwart an effort to escape, any future threat to respondent from petitioner's policy or from the conduct of police officers would be no more real than the possibility that he would again have an encounter with the police and that he would either illegally resist arrest or the officers would disobey their instructions and again render him unconscious without any provocation. The equitable doctrine that cessation of the challenged conduct (here the few seconds while the chokehold was being applied to respondent) does not bar an injunction is not controlling, since respondent's lack of standing does not rest on the termination of the police practice but on the speculative nature of his claim that he will again experience injury as the result of that practice even if continued. The rule that a claim does not become moot where it is capable of repetition, yet evades review, is likewise inapposite. Pp. 1667-1670.

(c) Even assuming that respondent's pending damages suit affords him Art. III standing to seek an injunction as a remedy for the claim arising out of the 1976 events, nevertheless the equitable remedy is unavailable because respondent failed to show irreparable injury--a requirement that cannot be met where there is no showing of any real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again. Nor will respondent's injury allegedly suffered in 1976 go unrecompensed; for that injury he has an adequate damages remedy at law. Recognition of the need for a proper balance between state and federal authority counsels restraint in the issuance of injunctions against state officers engaged in the administration of the State's criminal laws in the absence of irreparable injury which is both great and immediate. Pp. 1670-1671.

656 F.2d 417, reversed.


Frederick N. Merkin argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Ira Reiner and Lewis N. Unger.

Michael R. Mitchell argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Fred Okrand and Charles S. Sims.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Robert J. Logan for the City of San Jose, California, et al.; by Myron L. Dale for the National Association of Chiefs of Police et al.; by Benjamin L. Brown, J. Lamar Shelley, James B. Brennan, Henry W. Underhill, Jr., Roy D. Bates, George Agnost, Roger F. Cutler, John Dekker, Lee E. Holt, George F. Knox, Jr., Walter M. Powell, William H. Taube, Aaron A. Wilson, John W. Witt, Max P. Zall, Conard B. Mattox, Jr., and Charles S. Rhyne for the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers; and by George J. Franscell, Wayne W. Schmidt, and Courtney E. Evans for the Los Angeles Police Protective League et al.

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Frederick N. Merkin, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Michael R. Mitchell, Woodland Hills, Cal., for respondent.


Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue here is whether respondent Lyons satisfied the prerequisites for seeking injunctive relief in the federal district court.


This case began on February 7, 1977, when respondent, Adolph Lyons, filed a complaint for damages, injunction, and declaratory [103 S.Ct. 1663] relief in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The defendants were the City of Los Angeles and four of its police officers. The complaint alleged that on October 6, 1976, at 2 a.m., Lyons was stopped by the defendant officers for a traffic or vehicle code violation and that although Lyons offered no resistance or threat whatsoever, the officers, without provocation or justification, seized Lyons and applied a "chokehold"1--either

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the "bar arm control" hold or the "carotid-artery control" hold or both--rendering him unconscious and causing damage to his larynx. Counts I through IV of the complaint sought damages against the officers and the City. Count V, with which we are principally concerned here, sought a preliminary and permanent injunction against the City barring the use of the control holds. That count alleged that the city's police officers, "pursuant to the authorization, instruction and encouragement of defendant City of Los Angeles, regularly and routinely apply these choke holds in innumerable situations where they are not threatened by the use of any deadly force whatsoever," that numerous persons have been injured as the result of the application of the chokeholds, that Lyons and others similarly situated are threatened with irreparable injury in the form of bodily injury and loss of life, and that Lyons "justifiably fears that any contact he has with Los Angeles police officers may result in his being choked and strangled to death without provocation, justification or other legal excuse." Lyons alleged the threatened impairment of rights protected by the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Injunctive relief was sought against the use of the control holds "except in situations where the proposed victim of said control...

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