480 U.S. 257 (1987), 85-1217, City of Springfield v. Kibbe

Docket Nº:No. 85-1217
Citation:480 U.S. 257, 107 S.Ct. 1114, 94 L.Ed.2d 293, 55 U.S.L.W. 4239
Party Name:City of Springfield v. Kibbe
Case Date:February 25, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 257

480 U.S. 257 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1114, 94 L.Ed.2d 293, 55 U.S.L.W. 4239

City of Springfield

v.

Kibbe

No. 85-1217

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 25, 1987

Argued November 4, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Certiorari was granted in this case to resolve the question whether, consistently with the decision in Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, a municipality can be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for inadequate training of its employees. In addressing that issue, this Court anticipated that, under its Rule 21. 1(a), it would be able to reach the "fairly included" related question whether more than negligence in training is required in order to establish such liability. However, in the District Court, petitioner city did not object to the jury instruction stating that gross negligence would suffice, and in fact proposed its own instruction to the same effect. Nor did it argue for a higher standard than gross negligence in the Court of Appeals.

Held: The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted. Although petitioner argues here that a heightened negligence standard does not suffice under Monell's requirement of a municipal policy, this Court ordinarily will not decide questions not raised or litigated in the lower courts, especially where the party seeking to argue the issue has failed to object to a jury instruction, as required by Rule 51 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Court's inability to reach the negligence issue makes this case an inappropriate vehicle for resolving the inadequate training question, because of the close interrelationship between the two matters, and the other questions presented are not of sufficient importance to warrant review independently. Although there is no jurisdictional bar to this Court's reaching the negligence issue, whether or not the Court of Appeals did so, there would be considerable prudential objection to reversing a judgment because of instructions that petitioner accepted, and indeed itself requested. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, distinguished.

Certiorari dismissed. Reported below: 777 F.2d 801.

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Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

We granted certiorari to resolve the question whether, consistently with our decision in Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), a municipality can be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for inadequate training of its employees. * 475 U.S. 1064 (1986). In addressing that issue, we anticipated that we would be able to reach the "fairly included" related question, see this Court's Rule 21.1(a), whether more than negligence in training is required in order to establish such liability.

The case having now been fully briefed and orally argued, we conclude that we cannot reach the negligence question. Although petitioner city of Springfield argues here that a heightened negligence standard does not suffice under Monell's requirement of a municipal policy, it appears that, in the District Court, petitioner did not object to the jury instruction stating that gross negligence would suffice, App. 234-235, and indeed proposed its own instruction to the same effect. Id. at 28. Nor did it argue for a higher standard than gross negligence in the Court of Appeals. Brief for Defendant-Appellant and Reply Brief for Defendant-Appellant in No. 85-1078 (CA1). It has informed us of no

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special circumstances explaining its failure to preserve this question.

We ordinarily will not decide questions not raised or litigated in the lower courts. See California v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 553, 556, n. 2 (1957). That rule has special force where the party seeking to argue the issue has failed to object to a jury instruction, since Rule 51 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that

[n]o party may assign as error the giving . . . [of] an instruction unless he objects thereto before the jury retires to consider its verdict.

Here, our inability to reach the negligence issue makes this case an inappropriate vehicle for resolving the inadequate training question, because of the close interrelationship between the two matters, and the other questions presented are not of sufficient importance to warrant our review independently.

The dissent argues that we need not concern ourselves about Springfield's failure to preserve this issue, because it was passed on by the Court of Appeals below. Post at 263-266. There is doubtless no jurisdictional bar to our reaching it, whether or not the Court of Appeals did so. See Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 17, n. 2 (1980). We think, however, that there would be considerable prudential objection to reversing a judgment because of instructions that petitioner accepted, and indeed itself requested. That the Court of Appeals was fortunate enough to entertain the issue without reaching that outcome would not justify our running the same risk. In any event, we disagree with the dissent's reading of the Court of Appeals' opinion, and do not believe that it pursued the extraordinary course of considering this issue -- which petitioner had not even raised in its arguments to that court -- any more than we are inclined to do so. See 777 F.2d 801, 804, 809-810 (CA1 1985). (We refrain from elaborating upon the latter point, since it is of no general application.)

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Unlike Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808 (1985), this case does not present a proper [107 S.Ct. 1116] occasion for us to exercise our discretion to decide an issue despite petitioner's failure to preserve it. In Tuttle, the issue in question was explicitly set forth in the petition for certiorari, id. at 814, n. 2, and was not objected to in respondent's brief in opposition to certiorari or in respondent's merits brief. Id. at 815. In addition, the issue had been fully briefed and argued in the Court of Appeals. Ibid. Here, by contrast, respondent's failure to object at the petition stage is unsurprising, because the petition did not explicitly present the negligence question, and it had not been addressed below. It would be unreasonable to require a respondent, on pain of waiver, to object at the certiorari stage not only to the petitioner's failure to preserve the questions actually presented, but also to his failure to preserve any questions fairly included within the questions presented, but uncontested earlier. Respondent strenuously objected to petitioner's raising this question at the first point that she was on notice that it was at issue in this case -- in her response to petitioner's brief on the merits in No. 85-1078.

For these reasons, we have concluded that the writ should be dismissed as improvidently granted. See Belcher v. Stengel, 429 U.S. 118 (1976) (per curiam).

It is so ordered.

O'CONNOR, J., dissenting

JUSTICE O'CONNOR, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE POWELL join, dissenting.

We granted certiorari in this case to resolve whether a city can be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for providing inadequate police training, and, if so, what standard should govern the imposition of such liability. 475 U.S. 1064 (1986). In my view, the question is properly before the Court, and I would decide it on the merits.

I

On the evening of September 28, 1981, the Springfield Police Department received a telephone call reporting that

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someone had called an apartment's occupants and threatened to come after them with a knife. Later calls reported that an individual identified as Clinton Thurston had broken the apartment door and assaulted a woman staying at the apartment. When officers arrived at the scene, they discovered that Thurston had abducted the woman and driven away in his car. A short while later, Thurston's vehicle was spotted by an officer driving an unmarked police car. When Thurston stopped at an intersection, the officer walked up to Thurston's vehicle and identified himself as a police officer, but Thurston drove away.

The officer gave chase, and soon was joined by other members of the Springfield Police Department. Two officers set up a roadblock to stop Thurston, but he drove past the obstacle without stopping. As he did so, one of the officers fired at the tires of Thurston's vehicle; later a nick was found in the left rear wheel. At a second roadblock, Officer Kenneth Schaub placed his vehicle across one lane of traffic, while he stood in the middle of the other lanes and attempted to flag down Thurston's automobile. Thurston again failed to stop. As Thurston passed the roadblock, Schaub fired in the direction of the car.

Officer Theodore Perry, who had been waiting near the second roadblock on his motorcycle, heard Schaub's shot and joined the chase. Accelerating past several police cars, Perry pulled abreast of the rear window on the driver's side of Thurston's car. As he did so, Thurston swerved to the left, and Perry dropped back. Rather than remain behind the vehicle, Perry twice more moved up even with the car's rear window; on both occasions, when Thurston swerved towards him, Perry fired his gun. Apparently Perry hit Thurston in the head with the second shot; the car rolled to a stop and Thurston was taken, unconscious, to the hospital, where he died a short time later.

Respondent, the administratrix of Thurston's estate, brought suit in the Federal [107 S.Ct. 1117] District Court for the District of

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Massachusetts under § 1983, alleging that the city and several of its police officers had deprived Thurston of his civil rights. After trial, the jury returned verdicts against the city and Officer Perry, but found in favor of the other officers. The jury awarded $1 in compensatory damages and $500 in punitive damages against Perry and $50,000 in compensatory damages against the city. The District Court denied the city's motions for directed verdict and for...

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