__ U.S. __ (2017), 16-369, Cty. of Los Angeles v. Mendez

Docket Nº:16-369
Citation:__ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1539, 198 L.Ed.2d 52, 85 U.S.L.W. 4292, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 604
Opinion Judge:Alito, Justice.
Party Name:COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, et al., Petitioners v. ANGEL MENDEZ, et al
Attorney:E. Joshua Rosenkranz, argued the cause for petitioners. Nicole A. Saharsky, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court. Leonard Feldman, argued the cause for respondents.
Judge Panel:Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except Gorsuch, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Gorsuch, Justice took no part
Case Date:May 30, 2017
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had information that a potentially armed and dangerous parolee-at-large had been seen at a certain residence. While others searched the main house, deputies searched the property. Unbeknownst to the deputies, Mendez and Garcia were napping inside a shack where they lived. Without a search warrant and without announcing their presence, the deputies... (see full summary)

 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2017)

137 S.Ct. 1539, 198 L.Ed.2d 52, 85 U.S.L.W. 4292, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 604

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, et al., Petitioners

v.

ANGEL MENDEZ, et al

No. 16-369

United States Supreme Court

May 30, 2017

[137 S.Ct. 1541] Argued March 22, 2017.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Mendez v. Cnty. of L.A., 815 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. Cal., Mar. 2, 2016)

SYLLABUS

[137 S.Ct. 1542] [198 L.Ed.2d 55] The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department received word from a confidential informant that a potentially armed and dangerous parolee-at-large had been seen at a certain residence. While other officers searched the main house, Deputies Conley and Pederson searched the back of the property where, unbeknownst to the deputies, respondents Mendez and Garcia were napping inside a shack where they lived. Without a search warrant and without announcing their presence, the deputies opened the door of the shack. Mendez rose from the bed, holding a BB gun that he used to kill pests. Deputy Conley yelled, " Gun!" and the deputies immediately opened fire, shooting Mendez and Garcia multiple times. Officers did not find the parolee in the shack or elsewhere on the property.

Mendez and Garcia sued Deputies Conley and Pederson and the County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pressing three Fourth Amendment claims: a warrantless entry claim, a knock-and-announce claim, and an excessive force claim. On the first two claims, the District Court awarded Mendez and Garcia nominal damages. On the excessive force claim, the court found that the deputies' use of force was reasonable under Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443, but held them liable nonetheless under the Ninth Circuit's provocation rule, which makes an officer's otherwise reasonable use of force unreasonable if (1) the officer " intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation" and (2) " the provocation is an independent Fourth Amendment violation," Billington v. Smith, 292 F.3d 1177, 1189. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the knock-and-announce claim and that the warrantless entry violated clearly established law. It also affirmed the District Court's application of the provocation rule, and held, in the alternative, that basic notions of proximate cause would support liability even without the provocation rule.

Held: The Fourth Amendment provides no basis for the Ninth Circuit's " provocation rule." Pp. ___ - ___, 198 L.Ed.2d, at 59-62.

(a) The provocation rule is incompatible with this Court's excessive [198 L.Ed.2d 56] force jurisprudence, which sets forth a settled and exclusive framework for analyzing whether the force used in making a seizure complies with the Fourth Amendment. See Graham, supra, at 395. The operative question in such cases is " whether the totality of the circumstances justifie[s] a particular sort of search or seizure." Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8-9, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1. When an officer carries out a seizure that is reasonable, taking into account all relevant circumstances, there is no valid excessive force claim. The provocation rule, however, instructs courts to look back in time to see if a different Fourth Amendment violation was somehow tied to the eventual use of force, an approach that mistakenly conflates distinct Fourth Amendment claims. The proper framework is set out in Graham. To the extent that a plaintiff has other Fourth Amendment claims, they should be analyzed separately.

The Ninth Circuit attempts to cabin the provocation rule by defining a two-prong test: First, the separate constitutional violation must " creat[e] a situation which led to" the use of force; and second, the separate constitutional violation must be committed recklessly or intentionally. [137 S.Ct. 1543] 815 F.3d 1178, 1193. Neither limitation, however, solves the fundamental problem: namely, that the provocation rule is an unwarranted and illogical expansion of Graham. In addition, each limitation creates problems of its own. First, the rule relies on a vague causal standard. Second, while the reasonableness of a search or seizure is almost always based on objective factors, the provocation rule looks to the subjective intent of the officers who carried out the seizure.

There is no need to distort the excessive force inquiry in this way in order to hold law enforcement officers liable for the foreseeable consequences of all their constitutional torts. Plaintiffs can, subject to qualified immunity, generally recover damages that are proximately caused by any Fourth Amendment violation. See, e.g., Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 483, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383. Here, if respondents cannot recover on their excessive force claim, that will not foreclose recovery for injuries proximately caused by the warrantless entry. Pp. ___ - ___, 198 L.Ed.2d, at 59-62.

(b) The Ninth Circuit's proximate-cause holding is similarly tainted. Its analysis appears to focus solely on the risks foreseeably associated with the failure to knock and announce--the claim on which the court concluded that the deputies had qualified immunity--rather than the warrantless entry. On remand, the court should revisit the question whether proximate cause permits respondents to recover damages for their injuries based on the deputies' failure to secure a warrant at the outset. Pp. ___ - ___, 198 L.Ed.2d, at 62-63.

815 F.3d 1178, vacated and remanded.

E. Joshua Rosenkranz, argued the cause for petitioners.

Nicole A. Saharsky, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.

Leonard Feldman, argued the cause for respondents.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except Gorsuch, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

OPINION

[198 L.Ed.2d 57] Alito, Justice.

If law enforcement officers make a " seizure" of a person using force that is judged to be reasonable based on a consideration of the circumstances relevant to that determination, may the officers nevertheless be held liable for injuries caused by the seizure on the ground that they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force? The Ninth Circuit has adopted a " provocation rule" that imposes liability in such a situation.

[137 S.Ct. 1544] We hold that the Fourth Amendment provides no basis for such a rule. A different Fourth Amendment violation cannot transform a later, reasonable use of force into an unreasonable seizure.

I

A

In October 2010, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were searching for a parolee-at-large named Ronnie O'Dell. A felony arrest warrant had been issued for O'Dell, who was believed to be armed and dangerous and had previously evaded capture. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law No. 2:11-cv-04771 (CD Cal.), App. to Pet. for Cert. 56a, 64a. Deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson were assigned to assist the task force searching for O'Dell. Id., at 57a-58a. The task force received word from a confidential informant that O'Dell had been seen on a bicycle at a home in Lancaster, California, owned by Paula Hughes, and the officers then mapped out a plan for apprehending O'Dell. Id., at 58a. Some officers would approach the front door of the Hughes residence, while Deputies Conley and Pederson would search the rear of the property and cover the back door of the residence. Id., at 59a. During this briefing, it was announced that a man named Angel Mendez lived in the backyard of the Hughes home with a pregnant woman named Jennifer Garcia (now Mrs. Jennifer Mendez). Ibid. Deputy Pederson heard this announcement, but at trial Deputy Conley testified that he did not remember it. Ibid.

When the officers reached the Hughes residence around midday, three of them knocked on the front door while Deputies Conley and Pederson went to the back of the property. Id., at 63a. At the front door, Hughes asked if the officers had a warrant. Ibid. A sergeant responded that they did not but were searching for O'Dell and had a warrant for his arrest. Ibid. One of the officers heard what he thought were sounds of someone running inside the house. Id., at 64a. As the officers prepared to open the door by force, Hughes opened the door and informed them that O'Dell was not in the house. Ibid. She was placed under arrest, and the house was searched, but O'Dell was not found. Ibid.

Meanwhile, Deputies Conley and Pederson, with guns drawn, searched the rear of the residence, which was cluttered with debris and abandoned automobiles. Id., at 60a, 65a. The property included three metal storage sheds and a one-room shack made of wood and plywood. Id., at 60a. Mendez had built the shack, and he and Garcia had lived inside for about 10 [198 L.Ed.2d 58] months. Id., at 61a. The shack had a single doorway covered by a blue blanket. Ibid. Amid the debris on the ground, an electrical cord ran into the shack, and an air conditioner was mounted on the side. Id., at 62a. A gym storage locker and clothes and other possessions were nearby. Id., at 61a. Mendez kept a BB rifle in the shack for use on rats and other pests. Id., at 62a. The BB gun " closely resembled a small caliber rifle." Ibid.

Deputies Conley and Pederson first checked the three metal sheds and found no one inside. Id., at 65a. They then approached the door of the shack. Id., at 66a. Unbeknownst to the officers, Mendez and Garcia were in the shack and were napping on a futon. Id., at 67a. The deputies did not have a search warrant and did not knock and announce their presence. Id., at 66a. When Deputy...

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