Curley v. Klem, 05-4701.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtJordan
Citation499 F.3d 199
PartiesCorvet CURLEY; Elaine Curley v. Ronald KLEM, a Police Officer, Sued In His Individual Capacity; John Doe; Bill Doe, two currently unknown Police Officers also sued in their individual capacities Corvet Curley, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 05-4701.,05-4701.
Decision Date24 August 2007
499 F.3d 199
Corvet CURLEY; Elaine Curley
v.
Ronald KLEM, a Police Officer, Sued In His Individual Capacity; John Doe; Bill Doe, two currently unknown Police Officers also sued in their individual capacities
Corvet Curley, Appellant.
No. 05-4701.
United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Argued March 27, 2007.
Filed: August 24, 2007.

[499 F.3d 201]

David S. Gould [ARGUED], Steven L. Salzman, Richard L. Huffman, David S. Gould, P.C., New York, NY, for Appellant.

Jeffrey M. Kadish, Esq. [ARGUED], Morgan Melhuish Abrutyn, Livingston, NJ, for Appellees.

Before: FISHER, JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

JORDAN, Circuit Judge.


This civil rights suit, after a long and difficult history, is before us for the second time. Plaintiff Corvet Curley ("Curley"), an officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and his wife, Elaine, sued defendant Ronald Klem ("Klem"), a New Jersey State Trooper, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Klem violated Curley's constitutional rights by shooting him while both Curley and Klem were responding to a police emergency at the George Washington Bridge. The Curleys appeal from a judgment order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, entered after a jury trial. The jury made various findings of fact through special interrogatories, and stated by a verdict sheet its conclusion that Trooper Klem had not acted unreasonably under the circumstances. Based on those findings, the District Court entered judgment in favor of Klem on the basis of qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm, albeit on different grounds.

I.

A. Factual Background

On the evening of November 20, 1997, at approximately 8:45 p.m., Trooper Klem was on duty and learned that a suspect, Deon Bailey ("Bailey"), had shot and killed a Long Branch police officer and stolen a police car. A follow-up radio transmission informed Klem that Bailey was on the Garden State Parkway and had fired shots at a another police car. Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Klem received another transmission, this one saying that Bailey was now in a green Toyota Camry he had stolen from a woman at a gas station. A few minutes later, a further radio transmission described Bailey as a "tall, black male"1 and stated that he was headed north in the Camry on the New Jersey Turnpike. Klem and several other troopers found Bailey on the Turnpike and began chasing him, while Bailey shot at them. One of the troopers in the chase was shot in the arm, and Klem's windshield was struck by a bullet.

499 F.3d 202

During the chase, Klem ended up as the nearest trooper behind Bailey. He followed Bailey to the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge, where, according to his testimony, he briefly lost sight of the Camry. He then saw the Camry stopped on the far left side of the plaza. Klem stopped his car about thirty yards back, and approached the Camry at a jog. He testified that he was unaware of any other police officers on the scene at that time, and that he did not wait for back-up.

Klem did not know that Bailey, upon arriving at the toll plaza, had crashed the Camry at high speed into a Nissan Pathfinder that was waiting in a toll lane. The crash sent the Pathfinder spinning out into the toll plaza some thirty feet from where the Camry had stopped. Immediately after the crash, Bailey shot himself in the head. According to a toll booth attendant and another law enforcement officer, Bailey was sprawled across the passenger seat of the Camry. The toll booth attendant stated that he had no trouble seeing the body. That same attendant next saw the two principal parties in this dispute, Curley and Klem, approaching the ill-fated scene.

Curley was on duty that evening at the bridge. He was in his Port Authority police uniform, although not wearing his hat. He too had received a radio transmission stating that a black male in a stolen vehicle was being pursued by the New Jersey State Police, and was heading toward the bridge. By now it was nearing 9:30 p.m. Curley went to the New York side of the toll plaza in his marked police car, with both the lights and sirens on. After reaching the plaza, he turned his sirens off but left the lights on. He then saw a vehicle, which he later learned was the stolen Camry, headed toward the toll plaza at a high rate of speed, and he heard it crash into the Pathfinder.

Curley drove his car toward the Pathfinder and stopped next to it. He looked over at the Camry, but had trouble seeing inside of it because the front end was smashed. He unholstered his gun, told the driver of the Pathfinder to stay in his vehicle, and moved toward the Camry. Curley testified that, at this point, he had his gun pointed toward the Camry. Realizing that he did not have cover, Curley pointed his gun at the ground, turned and began to move back toward his own car.

At approximately the same time that Curley was investigating the scene, Klem approached the back of the Camry with a shotgun in hand. He saw a toll collector pointing toward the center of the toll plaza. Klem testified that he had not heard any shots, and that all of the doors on the Camry were closed. Klem approached the Camry from the back right, and stopped by the right front passenger door, close enough to the Camry to be able to touch it. He testified that, as he approached the Camry, he looked into the rear seat of the vehicle and into the front seat of the vehicle; he testified that the air bags had deployed, and that the interior of the Camry was filled with dust from the air bags. Klem stated that, at that time, he did not see a body in the Camry and did not see blood on the air bags or seat.

Klem turned in the direction that the toll collector had been pointing and saw a black male with a gun in his hand. According to Klem, the man had both hands on the gun and was pointing it directly at him. Klem testified that he shouted three times for the man with the gun, who was, in reality, Curley, to drop his gun. He also testified that Curley raised and lowered his gun to point at Klem three times while backpedaling away from Klem. Klem

499 F.3d 203

hesitated briefly, then fired his shotgun,2 hitting Curley in the leg. Immediately after he fired, someone screamed to him that he had just shot a cop. Klem then looked into the Camry and saw Bailey's body. Klem testified that, had he earlier seen the body in the Camry, he never would have shot Curley.3 Curley testified that he never saw Klem and that he never heard anyone tell him to drop his gun.

B. Procedural Background

Curley filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Klem used excessive force against him, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.4 Curley's wife joined in the complaint, alleging loss of consortium. After discovery, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Klem. It held that Klem's conduct was objectively reasonable and that he was thus shielded by qualified immunity. See Curley I, 298 F.3d at 276 (recounting procedural history). Curley appealed, and we reversed the summary judgment. See id. at 273-74. In that opinion, we analyzed both the question of whether Klem's conduct had violated Curley's constitutional rights, and whether Klem was entitled to qualified immunity. We did so recognizing — indeed we reiterated it no less than four times in different ways — that, because we were reviewing a decision on a summary judgment motion, we were required to take the facts as Curley, the non-movant, had alleged them and to view every fact and inference in the light most favorable to Curley. See id. at 276-77; 279-80; 282-83. Given that procedural perspective, we determined that Klem's actions would constitute an unreasonable seizure. Id. at 280.

Next, we decided that, in the District Court's qualified immunity analysis, the Court had not recognized factual disputes that precluded a grant of summary judgment. Id. at 281. Specifically, we noted that a number of facts, including whether Klem looked inside the Camry and how Curley behaved during the confrontation between him and Klem, were disputed and required resolution by a jury. Id. at 281-83. Thus, we remanded the case to the District Court for resolution of the disputed facts by a jury. Id. at 283.

On remand, the District Court held a jury trial and submitted both special interrogatories and a liability verdict sheet to the jury. In answer to the special interrogatories, the jury found that, when Klem approached the Camry, Bailey's body was on the front seat of the car, not on the floorboards, and that Klem did not look into the window of the car. Furthermore, the jury found that Bailey's body should have been visible to someone standing in Klem's position but that Klem had not made an objectively reasonable effort to

499 F.3d 204

look into the Camry. The jury also found that it was objectively reasonable for Klem to believe that the toll collector was signaling to the center of the plaza. Additionally, the jury found that Curley did not repeatedly point his gun at Klem, and that, when Curley was shot, he was not raising his gun to point it at Klem. Finally, the jury could not reach a unanimous decision and so did not answer whether Curley's police uniform was visible to someone in Klem's position or whether it was reasonable for Klem to believe that Curley was in civilian clothing.

In addition to the special interrogatories, the District Court submitted to the jury a liability verdict sheet asking whether Klem's conduct was objectively reasonable. See Curley v. Klem, 2006 WL 414093, at *2 (D.N.J. Feb.21, 2006) ("Post-trial Opinion"). More precisely, the liability verdict sheet contained four questions, three of which the jury answered. Question One asked the jury whether "Trooper Ron Klem's failure to act in an objectively reasonable manner in observing the Camry prevent[ed] him from seeing the perpetrator's body in the Camry?" Question Two asked "Did...

To continue reading

Request your trial
523 practice notes
  • Brandt v. Monte, Civil No. 06-0923 (RMB).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 29 Enero 2009
    ...whether the government official's error is a mistake of law, [or] a mistake of fact . . . ." (internal citation omitted)); Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 214 (3d Cir.2007). Here, Plaintiff alleges that he was forcibly medicated pursuant to an emergency declaration in the absence of an emerge......
  • Reid v. Pautler, No. CIV 13-0337 JB/KBM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 31 Julio 2014
    ...at 654 (emphasis in original)(quoting Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds in Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199 (3d Cir. 2007)). "The governing precedents recognize that this inquiry is an objective one, and that [the plaintiff] cannot defeat the offic......
  • Panarello v. City of Vineland, Civil. No. 12-4165 (RBK/JS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • 8 Febrero 2016
    ...there is a constitutional violation is properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendments' objective reasonableness standard.” Curley v. Klem , 499 F.3d 199, 206 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Graham , 490 U.S. at 388, 109 S.Ct. 1865 ) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The test of reasonableness unde......
  • Hadesty v. Rush Twp. Police Dep't, CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14-2319
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 15 Marzo 2016
    ...v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-02, abrogated in part by Pearson, 555 U.S. 223; Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 206 (3d Cir. 2007); Williams v. Bitner, 455 F.3d 186, 190 (3d Cir. 2006). Courts must ask: (1) "Taken in the light most favorable to the pa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
518 cases
  • Brandt v. Monte, Civil No. 06-0923 (RMB).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 29 Enero 2009
    ...whether the government official's error is a mistake of law, [or] a mistake of fact . . . ." (internal citation omitted)); Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 214 (3d Cir.2007). Here, Plaintiff alleges that he was forcibly medicated pursuant to an emergency declaration in the absence of an emerge......
  • Reid v. Pautler, No. CIV 13-0337 JB/KBM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 31 Julio 2014
    ...at 654 (emphasis in original)(quoting Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds in Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199 (3d Cir. 2007)). "The governing precedents recognize that this inquiry is an objective one, and that [the plaintiff] cannot defeat the offic......
  • Panarello v. City of Vineland, Civil. No. 12-4165 (RBK/JS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • 8 Febrero 2016
    ...there is a constitutional violation is properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendments' objective reasonableness standard.” Curley v. Klem , 499 F.3d 199, 206 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Graham , 490 U.S. at 388, 109 S.Ct. 1865 ) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The test of reasonableness unde......
  • Hadesty v. Rush Twp. Police Dep't, CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14-2319
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 15 Marzo 2016
    ...v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-02, abrogated in part by Pearson, 555 U.S. 223; Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 206 (3d Cir. 2007); Williams v. Bitner, 455 F.3d 186, 190 (3d Cir. 2006). Courts must ask: (1) "Taken in the light most favorable to the pa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT