Galas v. McKee

Decision Date11 September 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85-5270,85-5270
Citation801 F.2d 200
PartiesMatthew John GALAS, Sr., Dorothy Galas, Individually and on Behalf of Their Minor Child, Matthew John Galas, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Richard McKEE and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Barrett and Ray, Charles R. Ray, Paul Housch (argued), Nashville, Tenn., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Mark C. Scruggs, James L. Charles (argued), Nashville, Tenn., for defendants-appellees.

Before KENNEDY and MILBURN, Circuit Judges, and PECK, Senior Circuit Judge.

MILBURN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs appeal the decision of the district court granting summary judgment for defendants in this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. On appeal the issue presented is whether the high-speed pursuit of the minor plaintiff by the defendant police officer or the pursuit policies of the Metropolitan Police Department violated the minor plaintiff's rights under the Fourth, Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Because we agree with the district court that no constitutional violation occurred, we affirm.


On March 16, 1983, Officer Richard McKee ("defendant officer") of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County, Tennessee, Police Department observed a 1972 Oldsmobile automobile allegedly traveling well in excess of the speed limit at a speed the officer estimated to be between 65 and 70 miles per hour. By activating the blue lights and siren on the police motorcycle he was operating, Officer McKee signaled the driver of the Oldsmobile to pull over and stop. However, rather than stopping, the operator of the Oldsmobile accelerated, and a high-speed pursuit by Officer McKee ensued.

The pursuit, which reached speeds of 100 miles per hour, ended when the driver of the Oldsmobile lost control of his automobile, ran off the roadway and wrecked. Shortly after the accident, the operator of the Oldsmobile, thirteen year old Matthew John Galas, Jr. ("minor plaintiff" or "Johnnie"), was transported to the hospital for treatment of the injuries he sustained in the accident. His resulting injures were serious and permanent.

One year later, on March 16, 1984, Matthew John Galas, Sr., and Dorothy Galas, Johnnie's parents ("plaintiffs"), filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 on their own behalf and on behalf of their son. As defendants, the Galases named Officer Richard McKee and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee ("the City"). In the complaint it was alleged that Officer McKee's conduct violated Johnnie's rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. On March 8, 1985, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment.

A. Fourth Amendment

Relying on Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985), plaintiffs first argue that the continuance of a high-speed pursuit of a traffic offender until the pursuit is terminated by a crash of the offender's vehicle constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In addressing this issue, the district court held that the pursuit did not constitute a seizure and that the conduct at issue did not involve the use of deadly force. The district court also held that the defendant officer's conduct was clearly not the proximate cause of the minor plaintiff's injuries. On appeal, plaintiffs urge that the defendant officer's decision not to stop the pursuit and merely allow the minor plaintiff to flee enhanced the possibility of a serious accident.

Although the analysis suggested by plaintiffs' argument may be helpful in determining state tort liability, it is inapposite in ascertaining whether the minor plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment protects against "unreasonable seizures," not unreasonable or even outrageous conduct in general. Thus, the threshold question which we must address has two parts. First, we must determine whether there was a seizure. Second, even assuming arguendo that a high-speed pursuit by a police officer is a seizure, we must decide whether it is an unreasonable method of seizing traffic offenders.

As recently noted by the Seventh Circuit, a "damage suit under [section 1983] is a tort damage action even though the duty the defendant is charged with having violated is created by the Constitution rather than by common law or a safety statute or regulation." Lossman v. Pekarske, 707 F.2d 288, 290 (7th Cir.1983); see also Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 146, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695-96, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979); Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 1160, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976). If we conclude either that no seizure occurred or that the manner of seizure was reasonable, the Fourth Amendment will not have been violated, and the question of whether defendant's conduct enhanced the likelihood of the accident need not be addressed. On the other hand, if we conclude that the minor plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated, we must determine whether that constitutional violation was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. If the constitutional violation occurred, but was not the proximate cause of plaintiff's damages, affirmance of the district court would be proper. Cf. Lossman, 707 F.2d at 290 (noting that a section 1983 action is a tort damage action and that "[a] plaintiff seeking tort damages cannot withstand summary judgment if he has sustained no actual damage....").

1. Seizure

In the landmark decision of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16, 88 S.Ct. 1868 1879 n. 16, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), the Court stated, "Obviously, not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves 'seizures' of persons. Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude that a 'seizure' has occurred."

In the instant case, there was no exercise of physical force. Thus, the remaining question is whether the defendant officer, by a show of authority, restrained the liberty of the minor plaintiff. Clearly, during the initial stages of the pursuit when the minor plaintiff decided to flee rather than to obey the defendant officer's directive to stop, the minor plaintiff was not restrained. Just as clearly, when the pursuit terminated in an accident with personal injury to the minor plaintiff, he was not restrained by, or as a result of, the officer's show of authority. Rather, the minor plaintiff's inability to leave was because he wrecked his automobile, and no seizure occurred.

When the officer arrived at the scene of the accident, medical assistance was summonsed, and plaintiff was transported to the hospital. Thus, even if the defendant officer's conduct could be considered negligent, it did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

In summary, we hold that the reasonableness of a seizure or method of seizure cannot be challenged under the Fourth Amendment unless there was a completed seizure (that is, a restraint on the individual's freedom to leave), accomplished by means of physical force or show of authority. During the initial stages of the pursuit at issue here, plaintiff was not restrained at all. Rather than submitting to the show of authority, plaintiff chose to flee. During the latter stages--when plaintiff crashed--he was tragically not free to walk away. This restraint on plaintiff's freedom to leave, however, was not accomplished by the show of authority but occurred as a result of plaintiff's decision to disregard it.

2. Reasonableness

Moreover, we come to the same result when we apply the second prong of the appropriate analysis--whether high-speed pursuits by police officers are a reasonable method of seizing traffic offenders. In order to determine the reasonableness, and thus the "constitutionality of [the method of] seizure '[wle must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion.' " Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 1699, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985) (quoting United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 2642, 77 L.Ed.2d 110 (1983)). Courts are, however, "hesita[nt] to declare a police practice of long standing 'unreasonable' if doing so would severely hamper effective law enforcement." Id. 105 S.Ct. at 1705.

Applying the balancing test to the instant case, we conclude that the use of high-speed pursuits by police officers is not an unreasonable method of seizing traffic violators. The extent of the intrusion is minimal. Without question highspeed pursuits place the suspect, the officer, and the public in general at risk of death or serious bodily injury. In that respect high-speed pursuits are no different than the use of firearms to apprehend fleeing suspects. However, it is the intrusiveness of the officer's conduct which must be weighed. By engaging in high-speed pursuits, without more, police use absolutely no force. Similarly, the show of authority is de minimis. By activating his blue lights and siren, an officer directs a traffic violator to pull to the side of the road where the traffic violator can expect to be detained for a few minutes and released. When the traffic violator decides to flout that order and flee from the officer, and the officer responds by following the violator, the intrusiveness occasioned by the officer's conduct is slight.

On the other side of the scales we must balance the importance of the government's interest in justifying the intrusion. The government's interest here includes that of apprehending traffic offenders. For us to hold as a matter of constitutional law that police officers are foreclosed from pursuing traffic offenders who disregard their...

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