Torres v. City of Madera, No. 09–16573.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtOpinion by Judge HAWKINS; Concurrence by Judge SILER.
Citation11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 10744,2011 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12758,648 F.3d 1119
Docket NumberNo. 09–16573.
Decision Date22 August 2011
PartiesMaria TORRES and Melchor Torres, individually and as Administrators of the Estate of Everardo Torres, Plaintiffs–Appellants,v.CITY OF MADERA; Marcy Noriega, individually and as a member of the Madera Police Department; Does 1–50, Defendants–Appellees.

648 F.3d 1119
11 Cal.
Daily Op. Serv. 10,744
2011 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,758

Maria TORRES and Melchor Torres, individually and as Administrators of the Estate of Everardo Torres, Plaintiffs–Appellants,
v.
CITY OF MADERA; Marcy Noriega, individually and as a member of the Madera Police Department; Does 1–50, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 09–16573.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted Feb. 24, 2011.Filed Aug. 22, 2011.


[648 F.3d 1120]

Thomas A. Brill, Young & Nichols, Bakersfield, CA, for the plaintiffs-appellants.Bruce D. Praet, Ferguson, Praet & Sherman, Santa Ana, CA, for the defendants-appellants.Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Anthony W. Ishii, Chief District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 1:02–cv–06385–AWI–GSA.Before: BETTY B. FLETCHER, EUGENE E. SILER,* and MICHAEL DALY HAWKINS, Circuit Judges.Opinion by Judge HAWKINS; Concurrence by Judge SILER.
OPINION
HAWKINS, Senior Circuit Judge:

While handcuffed in the back seat of a patrol car, Everardo Torres (“Everardo”) was mortally wounded when Madera City Police Officer Marcy Noriega (“Officer Noriega”) shot him in the chest with her Glock semiautomatic pistol, believing it at the time to be her Taser M26 stun gun. Everardo's family filed this survival action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and now appeals from an adverse grant of summary judgment. Consistent with the Fourth Circuit's decision in Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 2011 WL 2725816 (4th Cir. July 14, 2011) (en banc),1 we reverse and remand for trial.

[648 F.3d 1121]

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
I. Background2

In the course of responding to a complaint of loud music on October 27, 2002, Madera City Police officers arrested Everardo and Erica Mejia (“Mejia”), handcuffed them, and placed them in the back seat of a patrol car. After approximately thirty to forty-five minutes (during which time Everardo had fallen asleep), Mejia was removed from the car and replaced by another arrestee. Everardo awoke at this time and began yelling and kicking the rear car door from inside, though the parties dispute whether he was yelling, “Get me out of the car,” or simply that his handcuffs were too tight.

Officer Noriega, one of several police officers on site that evening, was standing a few feet directly behind the patrol car when she first heard Everardo yelling. She recalls telling her fellow officers that whoever was closest should tase Everardo because he could injure himself if he kicked through the glass window. As it turned out, Officer Noriega herself was closest, so she approached the car. Upon reaching the rear driver's side door, she opened it with her left hand.3 She then reached down with her right hand to her right side, unsnapped her holster, removed the Glock, aimed the weapon's laser 4 at Everardo's center mass, put her left hand under the gun, and pulled the trigger, all without looking at the weapon in her hand. She had turned off the safety to her Taser earlier that evening, enabling her to use it more quickly. The parties agree that Officer Noriega had intended to reach for her Taser, which she kept in a thigh holster immediately below her holstered Glock on her dominant right side, and that she had intended to use her Taser in dart-tase rather than touch-tase mode. 5 Everardo died later that evening from the gunshot wound.

This was not the first time Officer Noriega had mistakenly drawn the wrong weapon, though never before with such dire consequences. The Madera City Police Department first issued Officer Noriega a Taser, and certified her to use it, sometime in the winter of 2001, less than one year before Everardo's shooting. Her certification training consisted of a single three-hour class, during which she fired the weapon only once. She was given a right-side holster for her Taser and instructed to wear it just below her Glock. There was no discussion during this training session of a recent incident in which a Sacramento officer had mistaken his handgun for his Taser.6

Nonetheless, Officer Noriega soon came to experience firsthand the risk of confusing

[648 F.3d 1122]

the two weapons, both all-black and of similar size and weight. The first incident occurred about a month and a half after she was first issued the Taser when she was at a jail putting her weapons back in their holsters. She mistakenly put her Glock into the Taser holster, realizing her error when the weapon did not “sit right” in the wrong holster. Concerned about the mistake, she notified her sergeant, Sergeant Lawson, who instructed her to practice putting each weapon in its proper holster and to practice drawing them.

Just one week later, Officer Noriega again confused her weapons, this time during a field call. Seeking to touch-tase a kicking and fighting suspect who refused to get into the back seat of a patrol car, Officer Noriega instead pulled out her Glock. Only when she tried unsuccessfully to remove the cartridge, which would have been present on her Taser but was not a feature on her Glock, did she realize she was holding the wrong weapon “and it was pointing at[her] partner's head, the [Glock's] laser was pointing at his head.” Frightened by this second incident of weapon confusion and by how narrowly she had averted a potentially fatal mistake, she again informed Sergeant Lawson, explaining that she “had pulled out my gun thinking it was my Taser.” Again, Sergeant Lawson instructed her “to keep practicing like he's been doing and that he's having everybody do.”

For the next nine months, leading up to the day of Everardo's tragic shooting, Officer Noriega followed her sergeant's instructions, practicing drawing her two weapons daily, both before work and during downtime throughout each shift. Officer Noriega described her daily self-training as follows: “I would have both my gun and my taser in their holsters. And I would draw my taser, and then I would draw my gun. And in my mind thinking taser, taser, taser, gun, gun, taser. Just practicing that way so I would draw, draw, draw.” In the five or so times she used her Taser in the field, never again did she confuse her two weapons, until the night of Everardo's shooting. On all previous occasions, however, she had only touch-tased the subjects, which required her first to remove the Taser's safety cartridge. Never before had she dart-tased anyone, as she had intended to do to Everardo.

II. Procedural History

Everardo's parents, Maria and Melchor Torres (“the Torres Family”), as administrators of his estate, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting violation of Everardo's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure and seeking damages from Officer Noriega.7 The district court initially granted Officer Noriega's motion for summary judgment, determining Everardo was not “seized” by Officer Noriega's unintended use of her Glock and therefore no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.

On interlocutory appeal, we reversed, concluding that under the Ninth Circuit's longstanding “continuing seizure” doctrine, Everardo was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment at the time of the shooting. Torres v. City of Madera, 524 F.3d 1053, 1056 (9th Cir.2008) (“ Torres I ”).8 We held that Officer Noriega's conduct was therefore governed by Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis, and we remanded for the district court to consider

[648 F.3d 1123]

in the first instance whether Officer Noriega's mistake in using her Glock rather than her Taser was objectively unreasonable, for only then would Everardo have suffered a constitutional injury. Id. at 1056–57.

On remand, the district court found Officer Noriega's mistake was reasonable as a matter of law and determined she was entitled to qualified immunity in any event because it would not have been clear to a reasonable officer in 2002 that a mistaken use of force violated the Fourth Amendment. The Torres Family again appealed.9

STANDARD OR REVIEW

A district court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo, as is its determination of whether an officer's actions entitle her to qualified immunity. Ramirez v. City of Buena Park, 560 F.3d 1012, 1019 (9th Cir.2009). Summary judgment is appropriate only if, taking the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Corales v. Bennett, 567 F.3d 554, 562 (9th Cir.2009). Where the objective reasonableness of an officer's conduct turns on disputed issues of material fact, it is “a question of fact best resolved by a jury,” Wilkins v. City of Oakland, 350 F.3d 949, 955 (9th Cir.2003); only in the absence of material disputes is it “a pure question of law,” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 n. 8, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007).

DISCUSSION

Qualified immunity is “ ‘an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.’ ” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985)), abrogated in part on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S.Ct. 808, 817–18, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Accordingly, we must resolve “immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Pearson, 129 S.Ct. at 815.

An officer will be denied qualified immunity in a § 1983 action only if (1) the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting injury, show that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the incident such that a reasonable officer would have understood her conduct to be unlawful in that situation. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201–02, 121 S.Ct. 2151; Liberal v. Estrada, 632 F.3d 1064, 1076 (9th Cir.2011). To assist the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
361 practice notes
  • Easley v. City of Riverside, No. 16-55941
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 18, 2018
    ...was unlawful under the circumstances. See Green v. City & Cty. of S.F. , 751 F.3d 1039, 1051 (9th Cir. 2014) ; Torres v. City of Madera , 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011). On summary judgment, if these three inquiries could be answered in the affirmative upon development of the record at......
  • Estate of Hernandez-Rojas v. United States, Civil No. 11cv522 LDHB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 29, 2014
    ...is constitutionally excessive and violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures.” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1124 (9th Cir.2011) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394–96, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) ); see also Arpin v. Santa Clara ......
  • Lee v. City of San Diego, Case No.: 18-cv-0159 W(BLM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • October 2, 2020
    ...(9th Cir. 2001). Sometimes, however, officers themselves may "unnecessarily create their own sense of urgency." Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1127 (9th Cir. 2011) ; see also Porter v. Osborn, 546 F.3d 1131, 1141 (9th Cir. 2008) ("When an officer creates the very emergency he then......
  • Adams v. Kraft, No. 5:10–CV–00602–LHK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • October 25, 2011
    ...... summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.’ ” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir.2011) (quoting Santos, 287 F.3d at 853 (internal citation omitted)). A reasonable jury could weigh the evidence and conclude th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
363 cases
  • Easley v. City of Riverside, No. 16-55941
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 18, 2018
    ...was unlawful under the circumstances. See Green v. City & Cty. of S.F. , 751 F.3d 1039, 1051 (9th Cir. 2014) ; Torres v. City of Madera , 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011). On summary judgment, if these three inquiries could be answered in the affirmative upon development of the record at......
  • Estate of Hernandez-Rojas v. United States, Civil No. 11cv522 LDHB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 29, 2014
    ...is constitutionally excessive and violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures.” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1124 (9th Cir.2011) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394–96, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) ); see also Arpin v. Santa Clara ......
  • Lee v. City of San Diego, Case No.: 18-cv-0159 W(BLM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • October 2, 2020
    ...(9th Cir. 2001). Sometimes, however, officers themselves may "unnecessarily create their own sense of urgency." Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1127 (9th Cir. 2011) ; see also Porter v. Osborn, 546 F.3d 1131, 1141 (9th Cir. 2008) ("When an officer creates the very emergency he then......
  • Adams v. Kraft, No. 5:10–CV–00602–LHK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • October 25, 2011
    ...... summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.’ ” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir.2011) (quoting Santos, 287 F.3d at 853 (internal citation omitted)). A reasonable jury could weigh the evidence and conclude th......
  • 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