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Jones v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 20, 2017

Johnathan Jones, also known as John Leroy Jones; Rosie Lee Mathews; Estate of Anthony Jones, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Mark Hatten; Timothy English; Richard Fonbuena; Steven Skenandore, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted December 15, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court No. 2:12-cv-01636-APG-CWH for the District of Nevada Andrew P. Gordon, District Judge, Presiding

          Dale K. Galipo (argued) and Eric Valenzuela, Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, Woodland Hills, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Craig R. Anderson (argued) and Micah S. Echols, Marquis Aurbach Coffing, Las Vegas, Nevada, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Alex Kozinski, Jay S. Bybee and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment in favor of Las Vegas police officers, and remanded in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law by the parents and estate of Johnathan Jones, who died after being restrained and tased repeatedly and simultaneously for an extended period.

         The district court determined that plaintiffs failed to assert their Fourth Amendment claims as executor or administrator of Jones's estate, as required by the Nevada survival statute, and thus plaintiffs lacked standing to bring these claims. The panel held that consistent with the text of Fed.R.Civ.P. 17 and this Circuit's case law interpreting the rule, the district court abused its discretion by failing to give plaintiffs a reasonable opportunity to substitute the proper party and thus cure the defective complaint.

         The panel held there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the officers were reasonable in the degree of force they deployed. The panel held that evidence presented at summary judgment would support a jury finding that the officers' repeated and simultaneous use of tasers for over ninety seconds was unreasonable and that a jury could reasonably conclude that the officers knew or should have known that these actions created a substantial risk of serious injury or death.

          The panel held that any reasonable officer would have known that continuous, repeated, and simultaneous tasings could only be justified by an immediate or significant risk of serious injury or death to officers or the public. The panel held that such force generally cannot be used on a prone suspect who exhibits no resistance, carries no weapon, is surrounded by sufficient officers to restrain him and is not suspected of a violent crime. The panel concluded that given that there was clearly established Fourth Amendment law and a jury could reasonably conclude that the officers used excessive force, the question of qualified immunity must proceed to trial.

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Fourteenth Amendment claim. The panel held that even assuming all the facts plaintiffs alleged, there was no evidence that the officers acted with a purpose of harming Jones that was unconnected to a legitimate law enforcement objective.

         The panel held there was a triable issue of fact as to the state law battery and negligence claims. The panel held that while there was no evidence that any of the officers acted out of hostility or improper motive, there was a factual dispute as to whether the repeated and simultaneous tasings were so excessive under the circumstances that they amounted to willful or deliberate disregard of Jones's rights. The panel therefore remanded plaintiffs' battery and negligence claims.

         The panel held that the false arrest/imprisonment claim failed because there was no evidence that the decision to arrest Jones lacked justification, let alone that it was made in bad faith. The panel therefore affirmed the dismissal of that claim.

         Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Judge N.R. Smith would affirm the district court's decision to dismiss the Fourth Amendment claims pursuant to Rule 17. Judge N.R. Smith could not conclude that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims because the plaintiffs failed to name the proper party in interest. He agreed that absent this unreasonable mistake in failing to name the proper party, this case should proceed to trial.

          OPINION

          Kozinski Judge

         We consider whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity when they're alleged to have caused the death of a suspect by using tasers repeatedly and simultaneously for an extended period.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         In the early morning of December 11, 2010, Officer Mark Hatten of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department pulled over Anthony Jones for a routine traffic stop. Hatten ordered Jones out of the car so he could pat him down for weapons. Jones obeyed at first but then started to turn toward Hatten. Scared of the much larger Jones, Hatten drew his firearm, pointed it at Jones and ordered him to turn back around. Instead, Jones sprinted away.

         Hatten called for backup and pursued Jones. Hatten didn't believe deadly force was necessary because Jones hadn't threatened him and didn't appear to have a weapon. As he waited for other officers to arrive, Hatten used his taser to subdue Jones. Hatten fired his taser twice, causing Jones's body to "lock up" and fall to the ground face down with his hands underneath him. Hatten proceeded to kneel on Jones's back in an attempt to handcuff Jones, keeping his taser pressed to Jones's thigh and repeatedly pulling the trigger.

         Hatten continued to tase Jones even after backup arrived. Backup consisted of four officers: Richard Fonbuena on Hatten's right side, who helped handcuff Jones Steven Skenandore, who controlled Jones's legs and feet Timothy English at Jones's head, who applied a taser to Jones's upper back and Michael Johnson, who arrived last and ordered the tasing to stop. Johnson wanted his officers to "back off on the tasers so that [Jones's] muscles would relax." According to Johnson, Jones "didn't look like he was physically resisting" and there were "enough officers" to take Jones into custody. In all, Jones was subjected to taser shocks for over ninety seconds: Hatten tased Jones essentially nonstop that whole time-with some applications lasting as long as nineteen seconds-and, for ten of those seconds, English simultaneously applied his taser.

         Once the officers stopped tasing Jones, his body went limp. They sat him up but Jones was nonresponsive and twitching; his eyes were glazed over and rolled back into his head. The officers tried and failed to resuscitate him. Jones was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. The coroner's report concluded that "police restraining procedures"-including the tasings-contributed to Jones's death.

         Jones's parents sued the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and all of the officers involved in restraining Jones. They alleged Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations as well as various state law torts. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. Because plaintiffs make no arguments regarding the district court's dismissal of the Monell claim against the police department, we deem that claim waived. See Hayes v. Idaho Corr. Ctr., 849 F.3d 1204, 1213 (9th Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs also voluntarily dismissed their claims against Officers Fonbuena and Skenandore, so we consider only the claims against Officers Hatten and English.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Rule ...


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