Brown v. Bryan County OK

Decision Date18 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 98-40877,98-40877
Citation219 F.3d 450
Parties(5th Cir. 2000) JILL BROWN, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, v. BRYAN COUNTY, OK; ET AL., Defendants, BRYAN COUNTY, OK, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, STACY BURNS, Defendant-Cross-Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, JOLLY, and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents a case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries resulting from excessive force by an arresting officer, for which Bryan County, Oklahoma, was found liable by a jury on the basis of its failure to provide any training to a reserve deputy who was allowed to make arrests. Stacy Burns, a young, inexperienced reserve sheriff's deputy, without the benefit of training or supervision, participated in a car chase and arrest involving the use of force. Because of the manner in which Burns effectuated the arrest, the plaintiff, Jill Brown, suffered severe knee injuries. The question is whether Bryan County can be held liable under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for her injuries because the County failed to train Burns.

We conclude that the evidence, given the standard of review of a jury verdict, fairly allowed the jury reasonably to conclude that Bryan County's sheriff, admittedly a policymaker, failed to train Burns in the light of facts demonstrating an obvious need to train him. We think the jury reasonably concluded that, given notice of the need to train Burns and that the consequences of the failure to train him were so obvious, that the County is culpable for its failure to train him. Furthermore, the evidence allowed a reasonable inference that the decision not to train Burns was the "moving force" behind, i.e., directly caused, the injuries suffered by Brown. Given these conclusions, we hold that Brown established that Sheriff Moore's decision not to train Burns constituted a policy decision for which the County is liable under § 1983.

The case has a significant procedural history. We have issued two previous opinions, see Brown v. Bryan County, Oklahoma, 53 F.3d 1410 (5th Cir. 1995), withdrawn and superseded by, 67 F.3d 1174 (5th Cir. 1995), and the Supreme Court has considered the case. See Bd. of the County Comm'ns of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397 (1997). When the Supreme Court reversed our decision upholding liability against the County on the basis of its hiring decision,1 we remanded to the district court for further consideration. Specifically, the district court had to decide whether liability against the County could be upheld on the basis of the jury's finding that the County had a policy of not training its officers. 117 F.3d 239, 240 (5th Cir. 1997). On remand, the district court denied the County's motion for judgment as a matter of law and upheld the earlier jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The County appeals the district court's denial of its j.n.o.v. motion. In a cross-appeal to this second judgment, Brown complains that the district court struck all compensatory damages for lost income and lost earning capacity, and reduced to a nominal award damages awarded for her abstract injuries from the violation of her constitutional rights.

We affirm the judgment as it relates to the County's liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We also affirm the district court's judgment with respect to damages.


The jury awarded Jill Brown extensive damages on her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the County for injuries she sustained because of the excessive force used by the arresting officer, Reserve Deputy Burns. The jury found that Bryan County policymaker, Sheriff B. J. Moore, failed to train Burns in the proper use of force.2 The jury specifically found that "the training policy of Bryan County . . . was so inadequate as to amount to deliberate indifference to the constitutional needs of the plaintiff." Brown argues that this failure-to-train policy was the "moving force" behind her injury. This much is undisputed: Sheriff Moore is a final policymaker for Bryan County and Burns used excessive force against Brown in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizures. The question is whether the County can be held liable for these injuries under § 1983.


The underlying events occurred in the early morning hours of May 12, 1991. Todd Brown was driving a pickup truck from Texas into Oklahoma, with his wife as a passenger, when he saw a roadblock ahead. He decided, for reasons the jury could have accepted as plausible, to turn around. The execution of the 180 degree turn and the speed of the pursuit that followed were hotly disputed before the jury. Jill Brown claims to have been asleep through most of this event. The County deputies eventually stopped the Browns' truck on an unlighted country road.

The events leading to Jill Brown's injuries were also disputed. As we must, we accept the version of the facts most favorable to upholding the verdict. Indeed, it is not contested that Burns's application of excessive force resulted in a constitutional injury in violation of Brown's Fourth Amendment rights. Burns removed Brown from the truck using, what he claimed, an "arm bar" technique. Brown testified that Burns used force despite her best efforts to comply with Burns's command to her to exit the truck. Burns says that he needed to use this technique because she was unresponsive to commands to get out of the vehicle.3 According to Burns, Brown was bending forward in her seat after Burns opened the truck door. Burns interpreted this as a threatening gesture, that is, she may have been reaching for a gun. Burns, however, admits that Brown did not struggle, did not strike out, and did not even say anything to him during the course of the event. In the process of removing Brown, Burns grabbed her, pulled her from the truck, and spun her to the ground. She landed on the pavement knees first. Either during or immediately after application of the "arm bar" technique, Burns had at least one knee in Brown's back. As a result of the incident, Brown suffered severe knee injuries.

It is important to note some pertinent background facts relating to Burns. At the time of the incident, Burns was only twenty-one years old. He was also inexperienced. He had been on the force for a matter of weeks. He had no experience as a law enforcement officer before beginning work as a reserve deputy for the County. His educational background consisted of a high school diploma and a few semesters of college. Although purporting to have majored in criminal justice, Burns testified that he had not taken any law enforcement courses. His work experience consisted of general delivery and sales--"kind of a 'go-fer'"--for two furniture companies.

His record of having engaged in some inappropriate conduct before joining the force is undisputed. Within the two-year period before his hire, Burns had been arrested for assault and battery, resisting arrest, public drunkenness, driving while intoxicated, possession of false identification, driving with a suspended license, and nine moving traffic violations.4 At the time he was hired, Burns was in violation of the terms of his probation; for that reason, he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.5

Finally, his conduct for the short time that he had been on the force also suggested a problem. Specifically, the jury reasonably could have concluded that he had an excessive number of "takedown" arrests, similar to the one in which Jill Brown was injured.

We also note several relevant background facts with respect to operation of the sheriff's department. Here, the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, showed the County to have a policy of providing no training itself for its regular officers and reserve deputies. The record indicates that the County's practice was to hire individuals for full-time positions who had already received training from Oklahoma's Commission on Law Enforcement Education and Training ("CLEET") program.6 With respect to reserve deputies of Bryan County, the record is not entirely clear whether CLEET is mandatory. The County also made available television training programs through the Law Enforcement Training Network ("LETN")(although Sheriff Moore testified that there is no requirement that the programming actually be watched), and there remained the possibility that an officer could receive ad hoc on-the-job training.

Sheriff Moore acknowledged that the County itself does not train its officers. Confirming this admission, Sheriff Moore further testified that there were no funds to train personnel.7 Both the plaintiff's expert and the defendants' expert corroborated this lack of training, and it was stressed to the jury during the plaintiff's closing argument. Further substantiating Sheriff Moore's testimony about the absence of County-provided training, Officer Morrison, Burns's partner during the incident, testified that, although he completed CLEET training before joining the County's force (through working in another county), he had received no training from the County.

The County's handling of Burns also reflects its lack of a training program. At his deposition, Burns testified that he had received no training through Bryan County. Specifically, he testified that he received "no formal training." He did not even receive any "written documentation from Bryan County as to [his] duties as a reserve officer."

Burns did testify, however, that he received several months of training at CLEET, had gone on "ride-alongs" with his grandfather (a special deputy) and another officer, and watched police training videos via the LETN network. The jury, however, reasonably could have rejected these claims. Particularly noteworthy is the strong...

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