Yates v. City of Cleveland, 90-3556

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Citation941 F.2d 444
Docket NumberNo. 90-3556,90-3556
PartiesJerome YATES, Jameela Yates, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CITY OF CLEVELAND, Defendant, Sanford L. Currie, Officer, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date01 October 1991

Terry H. Gilbert (argued), Friedman, Gilbert & Berezin, Cleveland, Ohio, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Gary R. Williams (argued), City of Cleveland Law Dept. Office of Director of Law, Roberto H. Rodriguez, Cleveland, Ohio, for defendant and defendant-appellant.

Before JONES and SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judges, and JOINER, * Senior District Judge.

NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

This case involves a section 1983 claim of excessive force against a police officer and a municipality. The district court denied a summary judgment motion based on the police officer's qualified immunity. The defendant then brought this interlocutory appeal of the denial of qualified immunity under Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). We agree with the district court that the police officer is not entitled to qualified immunity, and therefore affirm.


One of the few facts on which all parties are able to agree is that in the early morning hours of April 7, 1984, Officer Sanford Currie of the Cleveland Police Department shot Jerome Yates. Yates, twenty-four years old at the time of the shooting, is now a quadriplegic. On the night of the shooting, Jerome Yates, along with his wife, mother, brothers, and three others were attending a party in the upstairs apartment at 1371-1373 E. 91st Street in Cleveland. At about 1:00 a.m., Samuel and Rodney Yates left to patronize a nearby bar. Shortly thereafter, the three non-family members were asked to leave the party because of rude behavior. The ejected trio returned a few minutes later armed with baseball bats but were chased away. Rodney and Samuel Yates then returned from the bar and learned of the incident. Rodney left the house to search for the troublemakers. When Rodney returned he was bloody and claimed to have been shot by one of the individuals ejected from the party. Rodney had to break a plate glass door to enter the house.

Meanwhile, at 2:45 a.m., Officer Currie and his partner responded to a call of a disturbance in the street in front of 1370 E. 91st Street. When the officers approached the house on foot, they heard shouting and threatening language coming from inside the house. Officer Currie's partner then returned to the car to radio for assistance, and Currie proceeded into the poorly lit hallway. Officer Currie did not identify himself as a police officer, was not wearing his hat, and did not use a flashlight or display a billy club. The four Yates brothers, already in a confused state from the disturbance at the party and their brother's injury, perceived an intruder in the hallway and rushed down the steps. At this point, Currie states that the brothers knocked him back through the door, and compelled him to draw his gun and fire because he felt vulnerable to attack.

Plaintiff Jerome Yates offers a differing version of the incident in which the brothers froze on the steps after Samuel Yates yelled "It's a cop!" or "It's a policeman!" Yates also states that Currie tripped on a warped floorboard while moving backward, and purposefully shot him while his hands were raised and after he said "Don't shoot." Also according to Yates, Currie and his partner drove down the street with their lights off following the shooting and made no attempt to help him.

In his report on the incident, Currie stated that he was kicked, beaten in the face, and stomped on. At the emergency room after the shooting, however, Currie was only treated for superficial scrapes on his knee and ankle.

On October 26, 1984, Jerome Yates and his wife Jameela Yates filed this suit claiming malicious prosecution, loss of consortium, and violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986. On August 9, 1989, two weeks before trial was scheduled to begin, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. On April 20, 1990, the district court granted defendants' summary judgment motion with respect to the malicious prosecution claim, and the claims arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1985, 1986.

The district court denied the summary judgment motion with respect to the section 1983 and loss of consortium claims. The district court first concluded that the City of Cleveland may be held liable for the shooting by Currie. In addressing the issue of whether the city's police training policies could hold the city liable, the district court stated that: "[t]he fact that the city has a policy on its books is not dispositive in and of itself, but the question is how a policy is applied that may give rise to a constitutional violation.... It is clear to this Court that there is a material dispute as to the issue of exactly what type of supervision and training did the city of Cleveland give to its police officers." J.App. at 407-08 (Memorandum and Order).

The heart of plaintiff's section 1983 claim alleges that the City of Cleveland was knowingly and deliberately indifferent to the unconstitutional use of deadly force by their police officers. Plaintiff's expert on police practice and procedure, Dr. James J. Fyfe, reviewed the relevant material. Dr. Fyfe was prepared to offer the opinion that defendant Currie was inadequately trained in the use of deadly force; that investigations of citizens' complaints were covered up; that no disciplinary action was taken as to Officer Currie despite a pattern of misconduct; and that these practices indicated a policy which led to the unconstitutional shooting.

The district court apparently neglected to rule on the qualified immunity issue with respect to Officer Currie in its April 1990 Memorandum and Order. As a result, the City of Cleveland and Officer Currie filed a Motion for Reconsideration, specifically arguing that Currie was entitled to qualified immunity. J.App. at 409-10. On May 18, 1990, the district court issued a Memorandum and Order denying the request for qualified immunity. On June 18, 1990, Officer Currie filed an interlocutory appeal on the basis of the district court's denial of qualified immunity.


Because review of a denial of qualified immunity claim is an issue of law, our review is de novo. Eugene D. by and through Olivia D. v. Karman, 889 F.2d 701, 706 (6th Cir.1989), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2631, 110 L.Ed.2d 651 (1990). In Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987), the Supreme Court set out the standard for qualified immunity:

[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions [have] qualified immunity, shielding them from civil damages liability as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated. Somewhat more concretely, whether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the 'objective legal reasonableness' of the action assessed in light of the legal rules that were 'clearly established' at the time it was taken.

* * * * * *

[O]ur cases establish that the right the official is alleged to have violated must have been 'clearly established' in a more particularized, and hence more relevant, sense: The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right. This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful, but it is to say that in light of the pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent.

Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. at 638-40, 107 S.Ct. at 3038-39 (citations omitted).

The relevant inquiry, then, should first focus on whether an objectively reasonable officer would believe that the shooting of Yates was lawful. At the time of the shooting it was clearly established in the Sixth Circuit that Yates "had a right not to be shot unless he was perceived to pose a threat to the pursuing officers or to others[.]" Robinson v. Bibb, 840 F.2d 349, 351 (6th Cir.1988) (relying on Garner v. Memphis Police Dep't, 710 F.2d 240, 246 (6th Cir.1983), aff'd and rem'd sub nom. Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985)). As Yates' right not to be shot by an officer unless he posed a threat to the officer or to others was clearly established, it is apparent that "a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039. It was not 'objectively reasonable' for Currie to enter the dark hallway at 2:45 a.m. without identifying himself as a police officer, without shining a flashlight, and without wearing his hat. Thus, because the right Officer Currie is alleged to have violated was clearly established, and because Officer Currie's actions preceding the shooting were not those of an objectively reasonable police officer, we conclude that qualified immunity is not appropriate.

Officer Currie argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity because he reasonably believed his life to be in danger. At the moment when the Yates brothers were on the steps and Currie was on his back in the doorway, Currie asserts that there was an immediate threat to his safety; therefore, the shooting was objectively reasonable. Officer Currie may have experienced subjective moments of apprehension as he entered the doorway that night. However, Currie's "subjective beliefs ... are irrelevant.... The relevant question ... is the objective (albeit fact-specific) question of whether a reasonable police officer could have believed ... [the shooting] to be lawful, in light of the clearly established law and the information the searching officer possessed." Ande...

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