655 F.3d 1156 (9th Cir. 2011), 09-56372, Young v. County of Los Angeles

Docket Nº:09-56372.
Citation:655 F.3d 1156
Opinion Judge:REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Mark Anthony YOUNG, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES and Richard Wells, Deputy, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:John C. Fattahi and Dale K. Galipo, Woodland Hills, CA, and Paul Hoffman, Venice, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant. Raymond G. Fortner, Robert H. Granbo and Steven J. Renick, Los Angeles, CA, for the defendants-appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: STEPHEN REINHARDT, JOHNNIE B. RAWLINSON, and N. RANDY SMITH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 26, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 1156

655 F.3d 1156 (9th Cir. 2011)

Mark Anthony YOUNG, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES and Richard Wells, Deputy, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 09-56372.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

August 26, 2011

Argued and Submitted Feb. 8, 2011.

Page 1157

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1158

John C. Fattahi and Dale K. Galipo, Woodland Hills, CA, and Paul Hoffman, Venice, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Raymond G. Fortner, Robert H. Granbo and Steven J. Renick, Los Angeles, CA, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Manuel L. Real, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 2:08-cv-05438-R-RZ.

Before: STEPHEN REINHARDT, JOHNNIE B. RAWLINSON, and N. RANDY SMITH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

This case arises from a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation in which Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Wells pepper sprayed Mark Anthony Young and struck him with a baton after Young exited his vehicle and disobeyed Wells's order to reenter it. Young filed this action against Wells and the County of Los Angeles, claiming that Wells's use of force was excessive under the Fourth Amendment, and also that Wells's conduct constituted false imprisonment and negligence under California tort law.1 The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of Young's claims. We affirm the grant of summary judgment on Young's false imprisonment claim. However, because we conclude that the use of intermediate force is unreasonable when an officer has detained a suspect for minor infractions and the suspect clearly poses no threat to the officer or the public safety, we reverse as to Young's excessive force and negligence claims.2

I.

Because on summary judgment the evidence of the non-moving party is assumed

Page 1159

to be true, see Narayan v. EGL, Inc., 616 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir.2010), we set forth the facts as alleged by Young, noting only those factual disagreements that are relevant to our decision here. At approximately 10:22 a.m. on a February morning in 2007, Young, a 46-year-old African-American probation officer, was driving his truck to the gym, wearing workout clothes and enjoying a snack of broccoli and tomato, when Deputy Wells pulled him over for driving with an unfastened seatbelt. An audio recording of the exchange that followed indicates that Wells informed Young of the basis for the traffic stop, and that Young conceded not only that he had failed to fasten his seatbelt, but also that his car was missing both a side-mirror and a rear license plate. Young provided Wells with his driver's license and proof of insurance, but was unable to immediately find his vehicle registration. Wells told Young to continue searching for the registration and returned to his motorcycle to begin writing Young's citation.

When Young found his registration, he exited his truck carrying both the registration and his vegetables, walked to Wells's motorcycle, and handed Wells the registration. Wells took the registration and ordered Young to " just have a seat in the truck." Young declined to do so, stating, " I don't feel like sitting in my truck, man." 3 Instead, Young walked past his truck, sat on the sidewalk curb, and resumed eating his broccoli. The exchange between Wells and Young continued:

DEPUTY WELLS: Mr. Young—

MR. YOUNG: I don't feel—

DEPUTY WELLS: — I'm not asking you what you feel like—

MR. YOUNG: — sitting—

DEPUTY WELLS: — doing.

MR. YOUNG: — in my truck.

DEPUTY WELLS: Have a seat in your truck, please.

MR. YOUNG: I don't feel like sitting in my truck, officer.

DEPUTY WELLS: Mr. Young, have a seat—

MR. YOUNG: I don't feel like sitting in my truck.

DEPUTY WELLS: — in your truck, please. Mr. Young, have a seat—

MR. YOUNG: I don't feel like sitting in my—

DEPUTY WELLS: — in your truck, please.

MR. YOUNG: — truck.

DEPUTY WELLS: Mr. Young, have a seat in your truck please. Until you sit in your truck, I can't write you the ticket. You want me to hurry up and write the ticket. Have a seat in your truck, please. Mr. Young. Mr. Young.

Young contends that shortly afterwards, while he was still sitting on the sidewalk curb, Wells approached him from behind 4 and pepper sprayed him. The audio transcript of the stop suggests Young was unaware he was about to be pepper sprayed:

MR. YOUNG: You going to give me no— I'm an officer of the law, sir ... You don't give me warning.

Page 1160

DEPUTY WELLS: I don't have to give you a warning.

Wells does not argue on this appeal that Young posed any physical threat to him prior to his use of pepper spray, nor that he reasonably or unreasonably feared such a threat.5

Wells continued to pepper spray Young as he rose to his feet and attempted to back away from the pepper spray. Young protested, repeatedly telling Wells, " I'm an officer of the law." Young asserts that Wells responded to his protests by drawing his baton, striking him a number of times with it, and ordering him to get on the ground.

Wells asserted in his motion for summary judgment that he struck Young with the baton because he " believed that [Young] was trying to gain a position of advantage over [him], from which position he could then launch an assault," and that he " believed that [Young] was about to throw the broccoli at [him] in order to cause a distraction before assaulting him." However, on this appeal, Wells makes no claim that his decision to strike Young with a baton was motivated by safety concerns.

Despite being struck, Young did not immediately get on the ground, and continued to object to Wells's use of force, saying, for example, " I'm not going to let you hit me another time," and " How you going to pepper spray me?" At this point, a second sheriff's deputy, Michael Berk, arrived on the scene, and, like Wells, ordered Young to lie on the ground. Young did so, and Berk handcuffed him and placed his knee on his back. Young contends that after he lay on the ground, Wells struck him with a baton again. As he lay handcuffed on his stomach with Officer Berk on his back, Young complained that Berk had handcuffed him too tightly, to which Berk responded, " Well, you know what, that's part of not going along with the program." Young continued to complain vocally about Wells's use of force, stating that his eyes were burning from the pepper spray, that he had not been warned prior to Wells's use of the spray, and that, " You cannot pepper spray nobody. You cannot just pepper spray nobody, officer." Berk replied to this last statement by saying, " If you keep getting agitated, I'm going to pepper spray you." Young asked to be allowed to stand up and to have his handcuffs loosened; Berk stated that " until you calm down, I ain't going to help you." After several minutes in which Young strenuously objected to his treatment— in particular, to the fact that Berk continued to press his knee into his back— the officers allowed Young to stand, and placed him in the back of Berk's police car.

Young filed suit against both Wells and the County of Los Angeles in the Central District of California, and the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all counts. We review that judgment de novo, " viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party to determine the presence of any issues of material fact." Benay v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., 607 F.3d 620, 624(9th Cir.2010).

II.

Young appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Wells on his excessive force claim. Summary judgment is appropriate here only if, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Young, a reasonable jury could not find that " the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right [.]"

Page 1161

Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). Claims for excessive force are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures using the framework articulated in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). The reasonableness of a seizure turns on " whether ... officers' actions are ‘ objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them," id. at 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865, which we determine by balancing " the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake," id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865 (quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In conducting the balancing required by Graham, we first " assess the gravity of the particular intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests." Miller v. Clark County, 340 F.3d 959, 964 (9th Cir.2003). Second, we " assess the importance of the government interests at stake." Id. Finally, we " balance the gravity of the intrusion on the individual against the government's need for that intrusion to determine whether it was constitutionally reasonable." Id.

If we determine that, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Young, the defendant's conduct amounts to a violation of a constitutional right, we then determine whether the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity by assessing whether " the right at issue was clearly established at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S.Ct. 808, 816, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

1. Nature and Quality of Intrusion

The gravity of the particular intrusion that a given use of force imposes upon an individual's liberty interest is measured with reference to " the type and amount of force inflicted." Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1279 (9th Cir.2001). Young contends that Wells pepper sprayed him as he sat on the sidewalk eating his broccoli and...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP