98 F.3d 434 (9th Cir. 1996), 93-15924, Lewis v. Sacramento County

Docket Nº:93-15924.
Citation:98 F.3d 434
Party Name:96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,353 Teri LEWIS and Thomas Lewis, Personal Representatives of the Estate of Philip Lewis, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SACRAMENTO COUNTY; Sacramento County Sheriff'S Department; James E. Smith, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 09, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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98 F.3d 434 (9th Cir. 1996)

96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,353

Teri LEWIS and Thomas Lewis, Personal Representatives of the

Estate of Philip Lewis, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


SACRAMENTO COUNTY; Sacramento County Sheriff'S Department;

James E. Smith, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 93-15924.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 9, 1996

Argued and Submitted Oct. 7, 1994.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Paul J. Hedlund, Kananack, Murgatroyd, Baum & Hedlund, Los Angeles, CA, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Terence John Cassidy, Porter, Scott, Weinberg & Delehand, Sacramento, CA, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Garland E. Burrell, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-91-00505-GEB.

Before SCHROEDER, [*] PREGERSON, and WIGGINS, Circuit Judges.


PREGERSON, Circuit Judge:

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case involves a high-speed pursuit of two teenagers on a motorcycle by a law enforcement officer in a patrol car. One of the teenagers was killed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity as to the officer but affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of the municipal defendants.


Because this case comes before us on summary judgment, the following facts are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. See Jesinger v. Nevada Fed. Credit Union, 24 F.3d 1127, 1130 (9th Cir.1994).

On the evening of May 22, 1990, at about 8:30 p.m., James Everett Smith, a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy, along with Murray Stapp, a Sacramento police officer, responded to a call to break up a fight. After handling the call, the officers returned to their separate patrol cars. As they were preparing to leave, Officer Smith saw Stapp's overhead lights come on and saw him yell something at two boys riding a motorcycle. Apparently, the windows of Smith's patrol car were up, so Smith could not hear what Stapp yelled at the boys. Neither boy was involved in the altercation-they just happened to ride by.

Brian Willard was driving the motorcycle, and Philip Lewis, the decedent, was a passenger. Both boys were minors; Lewis was sixteen. Neither boy wore a helmet. Stapp pulled his vehicle closer to Smith's to keep the motorcycle from leaving, but Willard drove the motorcycle slowly between the two cars and then accelerated away. Smith executed a three-point turn and initiated a high-speed pursuit.

The pursuit lasted about seventy-five seconds and covered approximately 1.3 miles. Posted speed limits were as low as 30 miles per hour. The average speed of the vehicles was calculated to be 60 miles per hour, with high speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. The pursuit went through four stop lights and three ninety-degree left turns. During the pursuit, Smith's patrol car followed the motorcycle at a distance of as little as 100-150

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feet, even though Smith drove at a speed that would have required 650 feet for him to stop his car. Smith was also driving at such a speed that his stopping distance was beyond the range of his headlights.

The chase ended when the motorcycle went over a crest in the road, attempted to make a hard left turn, and skidded to a halt. It is unclear whether Lewis remained seated on the motorcycle or got off. Smith saw the stopped motorcycle as he came over the crest of the hill. He slammed on his brakes but was unable to stop his vehicle in time. Smith was driving at a minimum of 65 miles per hour when he began braking. After skidding 147 feet, his patrol car hit Lewis at a speed of approximately 40 miles per hour, propelling Lewis nearly 70 feet down the road. Smith's car continued off the road, coming to rest in a residential front yard after knocking over a mailbox.

Lewis suffered massive internal injuries and a fractured skull. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Willard, the motorcycle driver, suffered no major injuries.

Plaintiffs Teri and Thomas Lewis, Philip Lewis's parents, filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court against Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, and Officer Smith. The Lewises allege a deprivation of their son's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and wrongful death under California state law. Defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction and moved for summary judgment on various grounds.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants on the § 1983 claims. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of Smith as to the state causes of action. The court denied summary judgment as to the pendent state law causes of action against the County and the Sheriff's department, dismissing those claims without prejudice. The district court's decisions are summarized below.

First, the district court assumed, without deciding, that Officer Smith had violated Lewis's constitutional rights. The court then addressed Smith's claim to qualified immunity. The court stated that plaintiffs had not presented, and it could not find, any "state or federal opinion published before May, 1990, when the alleged misconduct took place, that supports plaintiffs' view that they have a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right in the context of high speed police pursuits." The court therefore found that the law regarding Lewis's Fourteenth Amendment right to life and personal security was not clearly established and granted summary judgment in favor of Officer Smith on qualified immunity grounds.

Second, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the county and the sheriff's department on plaintiffs' claim that both entities had failed to adequately train sheriff's deputies in high-speed pursuits. The court found that, although Smith had received no training in pursuits, he had received training in high-speed driving and that the driving skills overlapped to some extent. The court thus concluded that the training procedures were "not so inherently inadequate" that the sheriff's department and the county could be held liable under § 1983 for inadequate training.

Third, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the sheriff's department, finding that its pursuit policy was not deliberately indifferent to Lewis's constitutional rights. The court reasoned that the department's policy exceeded California statutory standards and carefully delineated the factors an officer should consider before initiating or continuing a high-speed pursuit.

Finally, with respect to plaintiffs' state law negligence claims, the court found Officer Smith immune from suit under California Vehicle Code § 17004. Because the court dismissed all federal claims, it declined to decide whether the county and the sheriff's department were also immune under California law. The court then dismissed without prejudice the state claims against the county and sheriff's department to allow plaintiffs to file those claims in state court.

Plaintiffs appeal. 1

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We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. We must determine, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. We do not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter but only determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Jesinger, 24 F.3d at 1130.


To sustain a § 1983 civil rights action, a plaintiff must show "(1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that [such] conduct deprived the plaintiff of a federal constitutional or statutory right." 2 Wood v. Ostrander, 879 F.2d 583, 587 (9th Cir.1989), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 938, 111 S.Ct. 341, 112 L.Ed.2d 305 (1990). Here, it is undisputed that defendants were acting under color of state law. At issue here is whether Officer Smith, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, or Sacramento County engaged in conduct that deprived Lewis of a federally protected right.

The Supreme Court has held that "[w]here a particular amendment 'provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection' against a particular sort of government behavior, 'that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of 'substantive due process,' must be the guide for analyzing these claims.' " Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273, 114 S.Ct. 807, 813, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (plurality opinion) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1871, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)).

Lewis's claim as presented to us is properly analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment. 3 See Pleasant v. Zamieski, 895 F.2d 272 (6th Cir.1990) (noting that the Supreme Court's reasoning in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985), likely "preserve[d] Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process analysis for those instances in which a free citizen is denied his or her constitutional right to life through means other than a law enforcement official's arrest, investigatory stop or other seizure"), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 851, 111 S.Ct. 144, 112 L.Ed.2d 110 (1990).

The Fourteenth Amendment provides, in part, that no State shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. But not every government-caused deprivation of a right is a constitutional violation. See Cannon v. Taylor, 782 F.2d 947, 949 (11th Cir.1986) ("Although the right to life is an interest of constitutional dimension, not every deprivation...

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