496 F.3d 482 (6th Cir. 2007), 05-2409, Williams v. City of Grosse Pointe Park

Docket Nº:05-2409.
Citation:496 F.3d 482
Party Name:Stephanie WILLIAMS, Individually, and as Next Friend of Terrance Williams, Jr., a Minor, and Terrance Williams, Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF GROSSE POINTE PARK, a municipal corporation, and Michael Miller, Officer, Jointly and Severally, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 03, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 482

496 F.3d 482 (6th Cir. 2007)

Stephanie WILLIAMS, Individually, and as Next Friend of Terrance Williams, Jr., a Minor, and Terrance Williams, Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CITY OF GROSSE POINTE PARK, a municipal corporation, and Michael Miller, Officer, Jointly and Severally, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05-2409.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 3, 2007

Argued: October 26, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 03-73596-Nancy G. Edmunds, District Judge.

Page 483

ARGUED:

Heather A. Jefferson, Fieger, Fieger, Kennedy & Johnson, Southfield, Michigan, for Appellants.

Julie McCann O'Connor, O'Connor, DeGrazia Tamm & O'Connor, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Heather A. Jefferson, Fieger, Fieger, Kennedy & Johnson, Southfield, Michigan, for Appellants.

Julie McCann O'Connor, O'Connor, DeGrazia Tamm & O'Connor, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: KENNEDY and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges, ALDRICH, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Stephanie Williams filed the instant civil rights action on behalf of Terrance Williams, Jr., against defendants-appellees

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the City of Grosse Pointe Park and Officer Michael Miller of the Grosse Pointe Park Police Department. In their suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs alleged that Miller violated Williams's rights under the Fourth Amendment by subjecting him to an unreasonable seizure. Plaintiffs further alleged that Grosse Pointe Park is liable under § 1983 for the failure of its police department adequately to train Miller.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and held, as a matter of law, that Miller's conduct in stopping Williams's flight was objectively reasonable and that Miller therefore did not violate Williams's constitutional rights.1 With respect to Grosse Pointe Park, the district court held that there could be no municipal liability under § 1983 in the absence of a proven constitutional violation on the part of Miller, its agent. Plaintiffs subsequently appealed, arguing that there are issues of material fact as to the reasonableness of Miller's conduct precluding resolution of their claims against Miller and Grosse Pointe Park on a motion for summary judgment. Because we agree with the district court that no rational juror could conclude that Miller acted unreasonably, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I.

On the evening of August 17, 2003, Miller and Sgt. James Hoshaw-also an officer with the Grosse Pointe Park Police Department-were on duty. While on duty, they learned of a citizen report that three individuals in a green Dodge Shadow were tampering with cars. Miller and Hoshaw came upon a green Dodge Shadow (the "Shadow"), driven by Williams and containing two other passengers. Miller and Hoshaw subsequently determined that the Shadow had been reported stolen. The video camera in Miller's police cruiser captured the events that followed. Miller and Hoshaw pursued the Shadow. At approximately 7:14 p.m., Hoshaw positioned his cruiser in front of the Shadow in order to block its path, while Miller's cruiser continued to approach from the rear. One of the passengers of the Shadow exited the car on foot. Williams then put the Shadow in reverse in an apparent effort to flee but found his egress blocked by Miller's cruiser. As it reversed, the Shadow collided with Miller's cruiser.

Following the collision, Hoshaw exited his cruiser and, brandishing his weapon, directed an expletive toward Williams. Hoshaw approached the Shadow and stuck his gun in the driver's side window, pointing his weapon at Williams's head. Williams then accelerated in an effort to move around Hoshaw's cruiser and flee. In his attempt to navigate around the cruiser, Williams drove the Shadow over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Hoshaw, failing to release his grasp on the car, was knocked down as it accelerated. In the next instant, the video depicts Miller firing several rounds as the car moves out of view. One of Miller's shots struck Williams in the back of the neck, leaving him paralyzed. A period of less than one minute elapsed from the time Hoshaw placed his car in front of the Shadow to the point at which Miller discharged his weapon.

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As noted above, plaintiffs filed a civil rights action against Miller and Grosse Pointe Park under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of Williams's Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Miller and Grosse Pointe Park, holding as a matter of law that no constitutional violation occurred.

II.

This court reviews the grant of summary judgment de novo. DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 414 (6th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment will be affirmed if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If, on the other hand, "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party," summary judgment for the moving party is inappropriate. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In reviewing the district court's decision, this court draws all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

III.

Title 42, section 1983 of the United States Code imposes civil liability on those individuals who, acting under color of state law, deprive a citizen of, among other things, his or her federally guaranteed constitutional rights. In a § 1983 action in which a defendant claims the protection of qualified immunity, such as the one here under review, the court must follow a two-step process in evaluating the defendant's claim of immunity. See Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151. Under this analytical framework, a court must first determine whether the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, could support a finding that the defendant has violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id. If the facts would support a finding of a constitutional violation, the court must also find that the conduct of the defendant violated "clearly established" constitutional rights. Id. If, however, the plaintiff is unable to establish sufficient facts to support a finding of a constitutional violation by the defendant, the inquiry ceases, and the court must award judgment to the defendant. See id.

As the district court correctly noted, the proper inquiry on defendants' motion for summary judgment is whether, after considering the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a rational jury could find that Miller's use of deadly force against Williams was objectively unreasonable. The Supreme Court has recently summarized the principles governing excessive force cases under the Fourth Amendment and the objective reasonableness with which an officer attempting to seize a suspect must conduct himself or herself:

[T]he constitutional question . . . is governed by the principles enunciated in Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor. These cases establish that claims of excessive force are to be judged under the Fourth Amendment's "objective reasonableness" standard. Specifically with regard to deadly force, we explained in Garner that it is unreasonable for an officer to "seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead." But "[w]here the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable

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to prevent escape by using deadly force."

Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 197-98, 125 S.Ct. 596, 160 L.Ed.2d 583 (2004) (citations omitted).

"The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). This determination should also be made "in light of the facts and circumstances confronting [the officers], without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Id. at 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865. It is not for the court to substitute its own personal notion of the appropriate procedure for those decisions made by police officers in the face of rapidly changing circumstances. Smith v. Freland, 954 F.2d 343, 347 (6th Cir. 1992). As the Smith court noted, "[w]hat constitutes 'reasonable' action may seem quite different to someone facing a possible assailant than to someone analyzing the question at leisure." Id. The Court's mandate in Graham was clear: "[t]he 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." 490 U.S. at 396-97, 109 S.Ct. 1865. Ultimately, the Fourth Amendment "reasonableness" test requires a "careful balancing" of the individual interest in being free from unreasonable seizures and the important governmental interest in protecting the safety of its peace officers and the public. See id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865 (citing Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8-9, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985)). The reasonableness of a particular use of force "requires careful attention to the facts...

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