Chew v. Gates

27 F. 3d 1432 (9 th Cir. 1992).

Thane Carl CHEW, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Daryl GATES, individually and as Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department;

City of Los Angeles, a Municipal Corporation and Public Entity of the State of California; and Daniel Bunch; Donald Yarnall; Mark Mooring; Patrick McKinley; and Does 1 through 10, 14,16 through 20, inclusive, each individually and as a Los Angeles Police Officer, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 91-55718.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted Aug. 18, 1992. Decided June 27,1994.

Richard M. Helgeson, Asst. City Atty., Los Angeles, CA, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before: MORRIS, REINHARDT, and TROTT, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge REINHARDT; Partial Concurrences and Partial Dissents by Judges NORRIS and TROTT.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

On appeal, Thane Carl Chew seeks the right to pursue his claims for damages resulting from dog bites inflicted on him by a police dog the Los Angeles Police Department uses to capture suspected criminals.   Chew brought his action in federal  district  court  pursuant  to  42 U.S.C. section 1983.   He sued the City of   Los  Angeles,   Police   Chief   Daryl Gates, and various other members of the police department for violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.      The   district   court   granted summary   judgment   to   all   of   the defendants except Officer Daniel Bunch. When Bunch’s case went to trial, Chew introduced evidence that the officer both turned the police dog loose on him and assaulted him directly. The jury returned a general verdict in the amount of $13,000 against Bunch.    This appeal involves only the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the other defendants, including the city. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

Although there are a number of important issues raised by this case, the two most fundamental are whether the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy governing the use of dogs to seize fleeing or hiding suspects is unconstitutional and whether, if so, the officers who are responsible for promulgating that policy enjoy qualified immunity. The latter question, while important, is more of theoretical than practical import in this case because if the policy is unconstitutional the city will be liable for whatever damages result in any event.

I. Facts and Proceedings

At about 2 p.m. on September 4, 1988, an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department stopped plaintiff Thane Carl Chew for a traffic violation in a part of the City of Los Angeles known as Pacoima. Chew subsequently fled from the officer on foot and hid in a scrapyard. The officer had not searched him for weapons. Upon discovering that there were three outstanding warrants for his arrest, the officer radioed for assistance. A police perimeter was set up around the scrapyard, and a helicopter and canine units were called in to search for Chew.

Officer Bunch and his charge, police dog Volker, were among those dispatched to assist in the search of the scrapyard. Bunch unleashed Volker and, approximately two hours after Chew had fled to the yard, Volker found him crouching between two metal bins. According to Chew, as soon as he became aware of Volker’s presence, he attempted to surrender and yelled to the police to call off the dog. Both sides agree that at this point Officer Bunch was not within sight of Volker. The parties further agree that Officer Bunch did not immediately accede to Chew’s request, that Volker bit Chew several times and then seized him, and that Chew sustained severe lacerations to his left side and left forearm. Chew asserts that he did not offer resistance at any time after he spotted the dog and repeatedly begged the officers to restrain his dog, but that Bunch instead ordered Volker to attack. Bunch, on the other hand, vigorously denies that he ordered an attack and maintains that when he first saw Chew, the suspect was hitting the dog with a pipe. Bunch admits kicking at Chew in an attempt to disarm him and to protect Volker, and acknowledges that he may have kicked Chew in the head, face, or body.

Chew subsequently brought this action in federal district court, alleging violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The first claim of Chew’s amended complaint named Officer Bunch, Sergeants Donald Yarnall and Mark Mooring (who trained the L.A.P.D. canines), and Captain Patrick McKinley (who had overall supervisory responsibility for the K-9 unit) as defendants in their individual capacities. In his second claim, Chew sued the City of Los Angeles under Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), for injuries allegedly resulting from the city’s policy regarding the use of canine force. In the latter claim he also named Police Chief Daryl Gates in both his individual and official capacities as an employee with policymaking authority.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual defendants other than Bunch on the ground of qualified immunity, and in favor of the City of Los Angeles on the ground that Chew had failed to demonstrate that a city policy unlawfully caused his injuries. The case proceeded to trial against Officer Bunch, and the jury rendered a $13,000 general verdict in Chew’s favor. Pursuant to California Government Code §§ 815.2 and 825, the city has paid the judgment and attendant fees and costs on Bunch’s behalf.

IV. Merits

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the remaining defendants on the ground that the use of Volker for the purpose of apprehending Chew was an objectively reasonable act. Chew v. Gates, 744 F.Supp. 952, 956 (C.D.Cal.1990). [FN3] We must determine, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Chew, whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the substantive law. Tzung v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 873 F.2d 1338, 1339-1340 (9th Cir.1989).

FN3. The district court denied summary judgment against Bunch because of allegations of unreasonable conduct that applied solely to Bunch, namely, that Bunch ordered Volker to attack Chew after he attempted to surrender, and wrongfully kicked Chew in the head and body. Under the jury instructions, the jurors could have based their decision on the theory that the use of Volker was unreasonable in itself. Because summary judgment was denied, Chew was free, absent a contrary order by the court, to introduce evidence to    support    any    theory comprehended by his complaint.

A. The City of Los Angeles

In order to succeed on his section 1983 claim   against   the   city,   Chew   must demonstrate first that his seizure by Volker was unconstitutional and second that the city was responsible for that constitutional wrong.   Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-94, 98 S.Ct. at 2035-38.   Chew advances two distinct theories of Monell liability.   First, he contends that Officer Bunch violated his Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to excessive force by unreasonably releasing Volker and that Bunch’s action was caused by a city policy, custom, or usage. Second, he   argues   that,   regardless   of   the reasonableness    of   Officer   Bunch’s action in releasing the dog (given the alternatives then available to him), the city’s policy of training police dogs such as Volker to apprehend unarmed and non-resistant    suspects    by    biting, mauling, and seizing them was itself unreasonable and unconstitutional.

The district court held that the city was not liable under either theory for the bites inflicted by Volker because “the manner in which the police dog was used to apprehend Chew did not, under the circumstances, infringe on his constitutional rights.” 744 F.Supp. at 956. Initially, we must determine whether the district court correctly concluded that Chew suffered no constitutional injury. Under Chew’s first theory of municipal liability, whether a constitutional wrong was committed depends upon an assessment of the objective facts and circumstances bearing on the reasonableness of Officer Bunch’s decision to release Volker. The existence of a constitutional injury under Chew’s second theory is not dependent on the lawfulness of Officer Bunch’s conduct, but instead turns on the reasonableness of the city’s general policy of training dogs to bite and seize all suspects.

For the reasons that follow, the district judge erred in finding as a matter of law that Officer’s Bunch’s decision to release Volker was reasonable. While the district court never reached them, there are also genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether Bunch’s decision was made pursuant to city policy. Thus we are required to remand for trial on Chew’s first theory of municipal liability. It is therefore unnecessary to determine whether the record requires reversal on Chew’s alternative Monell theory as well. Specifically, it is not necessary to decide here wnetner the city’s policy oi training its police dogs to bite and seize is unconstitutional. However, on remand, Chew is entitled to pursue that question fully, as well as any other theory of municipal liability as to which he can obtain probative evidence.

1. Bunch’s Decision to Release Volker

[11][12] With respect to Chew’s first theory-that a triable issue of fact exists as to whether Bunch’s release of Volker constituted the use of unreasonable force-we start from the fundamental premise that the use of force to effect an arrest is subject to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 LEd.2d 443 (1989). There is, of course, no mechanical test for determining whether a particular application of force was unreasonable; the reasonableness of a seizure must instead be assessed by carefully considering the objective facts and circumstances that confronted the arresting officer or officers. See id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. at 1871-72.

[13][14][15][16]    In    determining reasonableness, “the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests” must be balanced against the “countervailing government interests    at    stake.”    Id.    (internal quotations omitted).     To assess the gravity of a particular intrusion on Fourth Amendment rights, the factfinder must evaluate the type and amount of force inflicted.   In weighing the governmental interests involved the following should be taken into account: (1) the seventy of the crime at issue,  (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and (3) whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. Id.    The relevant inquiry is, moreover, an objective one-good intentions will not redeem an otherwise unreasonable use of force, nor will evil intentions transform an objectively reasonable use of force into a constitutional violation. Id. at 397, 109 S.Ct. at 1872.   Because questions of reasonableness are not well-suited to precise legal determination, the propriety of a particular use of force is generally an issue for the jury.   See Barlow v. Ground,   943   F.2d   1132,   1135   (9th

Cir.1991), cert, denied, 505 U.S. 1206, 112 S.Ct. 2995, 120 LEd.2d 872 (1992); White by White v. Pierce County, 797 F.2d812, 816(9thCir.1986).

Here, the district court itself applied the “objective reasonableness” test. The court reasoned that all three of the factors articulated in Graham v. Connor supported the decision to use canine force to arrest Chew, and on that basis held that Bunch’s release of Volker was reasonable as a matter of law. When all disputes of fact are resolved in Chew’s favor, as they must be for purposes of summary judgment, it is apparent that application of the Graham factors would not have required a rational jury to decide that using Volker to apprehend him was reasonable. Moreover, the district court’s decision to take the excessive force question away from the jury conflicts with circuit law.

[17][18] First, it is necessary to assess the quantum of force used to arrest Chew. The three factors articulated in Graham, and other factors bearing on the reasonableness of a particular application of force, are not to be considered in a vacuum but only in relation to the amount of force used to effect a particular seizure-an analysis the district court never explicitly undertook.

By all accounts, the force used to arrest Chew was severe. Chew was apprehended by a German Shepherd taught to seize suspects by biting hard and holding. According to the defendants, Volker had to bite the suspect three times before he could  achieve an effective hold. Chew adds that, gripping his left side and then his left arm with his jaws, the dog dragged him between four and ten feet from his hiding place. Chew asserts that his arm was nearly severed. Officer Bunch acknowledged that the injuries to Chew’s side and arm were “pretty severe,” and that “[t]here was some serious lacerations.”

Bunch had good reason to expect that Chew might sustain exactly this type of mauling when he released Volker. All of the K-9 officers testified that the police dogs  were  trained  to  bite  suspects unless  a  countermanding  order was given by the handler.    Here, because Volker was sent to locate a concealed suspect,    the    dog    would    almost necessarily be out of sight of its handler, and  hence  beyond  the  reach  of  a countermanding order, if and when he came    upon    Chew.    Further,    the deposition    of    Sergeant    Mooring established that if a suspect attempted to  elude  the   dog’s   bite   instead   of passively allowing the animal to maintain its hold, the dog would repeatedly bite the suspect in an effort to obtain a sustained  grip  with  its jaws.     Chief Gates’ deposition disclosed that he was “very much” aware that such bites could be fatal, and Officer Bunch echoed this awareness.    Cf. Robinette v. Barnes, 854 F.2d 909 (6th Cir.1988) (burglary suspect died of wounds inflicted when a police dog seized him by the throat).

Second, it is necessary to turn to the district court’s application of the Graham criteria, beginning with the most important single element of the three specified factors:   whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others.   The record does not reveal an articulable basis for believing that Chew was armed or that he   posed   an   immediate   threat   to anyone’s  safety.     Cf.   Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 1701, 85 LEd.2d 1 (1985) (holding that fourth amendment permits use of deadly force to apprehend a fleeing felon where there is “probable cause to believe the suspect   poses   a   threat   of   serious physical  harm”).     Chew was  initially stopped for a traffic violation. Before he fled,   he  was  asked  for his  driver’s license,   and  produced   it.     He  also retrieved cigarettes and a lighter from his car, lit a cigarette, and engaged in a certain amount of conversation with the officer before  his flight.     Apparently, nothing about Chew’s appearance or demeanor gave the officer  reason to believe he should search the suspect. It appears  from  the   record  that  after fleeing Chew hid in the scrapyard for an hour and a half before Bunch released Volker in an effort to capture him.  The defendants do not suggest that Chew engaged in any  threatening behavior during this time, or that he did anything other than hide quietly. In light of these facts, a rational jury could easily find that Chew posed no immediate safety  threat to anyone.

The existence of a factual question as to whether Chew posed a safety threat would in itself be enough to preclude summary judgment in favor of the defendants if we were to determine that seizing a suspect by means of a German Shepherd trained to bite hard then hold constitutes deadly force, see Garner, 471  U.S. at 11, 105 S.Ct. at 1701  (holding that fourth amendment does not permit use of deadly force to apprehend   suspect   who   poses   no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others). Indeed, Judge Morris’s separate opinion rests on the conclusion that Chew has presented a genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether   the    Los    Angeles    Police Department’s use of dogs constitutes “deadly force.”   He may well be right. However, it is not necessary to decide here   whether  the   record   sufficiently raises that question, for the grant of summary judgment must be reversed whether or not Chew adduced adequate evidence   tending   to   show  that  the considerable   force   used   here   was “deadly.”   Of course, as stated earlier, Chew is free on remand to pursue the deadly force issue fully.

The other two specified Graham factors cut in favor of the defendants, but only slightly. With respect to whether Chew was “actively resisting arrest,” it is undisputed that he fled and then hid from the police. He did not, however, resist arrest to the point of offering any physical resistance to the arresting officers, nor, at the time the officers released the dogs, did they have any particular reason to believe that he would do so. With respect to whether he was attempting to evade arrest by flight when Volker was released, the answer is yes and no. In a general sense he was, but in more precise terms his flight had terminated, at least temporarily, in the scrapyard. Still, a slight edge goes to the government on this score.

Turning to the severity of the crime for which Chew was arrested, although he was   initially   stopped   for   a   traffic violation,    the    traffic    officer    later discovered   the   existence   of   three outstanding   felony   warrants   for   his arrest.   The   district   court   correctly pointed   out   that   outstanding   felony warrants are not to be taken lightly. However, in view of the fact that the record does not reveal the type of felony for   which   Chew   was   wanted,   the existence of the warrants is of limited significance.   A wide variety of crimes, many of them nonviolent, are classified as felonies.   The Supreme Court has observed that “while in earlier times the gulf between felonies and the minor offences  [sic] was  broad and  deep, today, the distinction is minor and often arbitrary.” Garner, 471 U.S. at 14, 105 S.Ct.    at    1703   (internal   quotation omitted). It added: “the assumption that a  felon   is   more  dangerous  than   a misdemeanant [is] untenable.”  Id. The existence    of   three   warrants    for undetermined crimes- for which Chew had not been tried or convicted-is thus not strong justification for the use of dangerous force. [FN9] The significance of the warrants is further diminished by the facts that Chew was completely surrounded by the police, and that the prospects for his imminent capture were far greater than are those of the many fleeing suspects who are fleeter than the police officers chasing them.

FN9. While defense counsel contended at oral argument that the warrants were issued in connection with  burglaries,  this information was not part of the record before the district judge, and certainly was not known to Officer    Bunch.        Moreover, inclusion of this information in the record    would    make    no appreciable   difference   to   the analysis set forth in the text.   In Garner, the Court noted that the fact that “an unarmed suspect has broken  into a dwelling at night   does   not   automatically mean    he    is    physically dangerous.”  Id. at 21, 105 S.Ct. at 1706.    The Court also took notice of statistics showing that burglaries   only   rarely   involve physical violence, and of the FBI’s classification of burglary  as  a  “property” rather   than   a   “violent” crime.   Id.   Here, there is not even an indication that the  burglaries  for which Chew    was     wanted occurred at night.     See Cal.Penal   Code   §   460 (1988ed.).

This was not an occasion on which the police were forced to make “split-second judgments” in circumstances that were “rapidly evolving.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 397, 109 S.Ct. at 1872. Chew was trapped in the scrapyard for two uneventful hours before Volker bit and mauled him. There was time for deliberation and consultation with superiors. There was even time for the police to summon a helicopter to the scene, an airborne vehicle which apparently aided the dogs in their search. What other tactics if any were available-given the absence of urgency–is, again, a question to be explored upon remand.

Under all of the circumstances, the question of the reasonableness of the decision to use the force involved, whether or not “deadly,” to seize Chew must be submitted to a jury. When the record is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Graham factors do not all support either side. However, the most important factor-the absence of an immediate safety threat- cuts strongly in Chew’s favor, while the other two tilt only slightly in favor of the defendants. Such a record does not render reasonable as a matter of law the considered judgment to unleash a German Shepherd trained to seize suspects by “biting hard and holding,” by mauling and sometimes seriously injuring them.

in conclusion, the question whether it was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for Bunch to release Volker was for the jury.

2. Municipal Liability

Although the district court ended its inquiry with the question whether Chew’s constitutional rights were violated by the release of Volker (and the dog’s subsequent conduct), we cannot. Because a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to the constitutional violation, we must consider whether the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the city may be affirmed on the ground that Chew’s injury did not result from the application or enforcement of an official city policy. See Jackson v. Southern California Gas Co., 881 F.2d 638, 643 (9th Cir.1989) (summary judgment may be upheld based upon any ground supported by the record).

[19][20][21] Under the Monell doctrine, Chew may recover from the city if his injury  was   inflicted   pursuant  to  city policy,   regulation,  custom,  or  usage. See Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Serv. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2035-36, 56 LEd.2d 611 (1978). City   policy   “need   only   cause   [the] constitutional violation;   it need not be unconstitutional per se.”    Jackson v. Gates, 975 F.2d 648, 654 (9th Cir.1992); see   also   Collins  v.   City  of   Marker Heights, Tex., — U.S. —, —-, 112 S.Ct. 1061,  1067,  117 LEd.2d 261   (1992). City policy “causes” an injury where it is “the    moving    force”    behind    the constitutional violation, Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ci. ai 2037-55, or wnere “the  city   itself  is  the   wrongdoer.” Collins, 503 U.S. at —, 112 S.Ct. at 1067.

[22] There is little doubt that a trier of fact could find that Chew’s injury was caused by city policy. In the district court, the city conceded, for purposes of summary judgment, the truth of Chew’s contention that departmental policy authorized seizure of all concealed suspects-resistant or nonresistant, armed or unarmed, violent or nonviolent–by dogs trained to bite hard and hold. Construing city policy as the appellee concedes we must, it doubtless could be found to be the “moving force” behind Chew’s injury. Bunch released Volker because his superiors instructed him that he was authorized to do so under the circumstances of Chew’s case. The instructions were based on what we assume to be city policy. Accordingly, we must reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Los Angeles.

In its brief on appeal, the city ignores the concessions it made in the district court and attempts to argue that even if the department’s policy was to use dogs to apprehend concealed suspects by biting and mauling them, this policy was attributable only to the officers responsible for training the canine units, and not to the police chief or the police commission-the two entities vested with the authority to make municipal policy. The city is bound by the concession it made in the district court. However, even if it were not, summary judgment for the city would be inappropriate on this record.

[23] A city cannot escape liability for the consequences of established and ongoing departmental policy regarding the use of force simply by permitting such basic policy decisions to be made by lower level officials who are not ordinarily considered policymakers. Los Angeles could not, for example, distance itself from policy regarding the use of firearms by de facto delegating the formulation of firearms policy to the commander of the police academy. So too here: if the city in fact permitted departmental policy regarding the use of canine force to be designed and implemented at lower levels of the department, a jury could, and should, nevertheless find that the policy constituted an established municipal “custom or usage” regarding the use of police dogs for which the city is responsible. See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127, 108 S.Ct. 915, 926, 99 LEd.2d 107 (1988).

Further, even if we were to accept the city’s argument that no jury could find that  departmental  canine  policy  was officially sanctioned,  municipal liability could be found under the “deliberate indifference”   formulation    of   Monell liability.    See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 1204, 103 LEd.2d 412 (1989). In order to accept the city’s contention that departmental   canine   policy  was   not officially sanctioned, we would have to find that the city itself had no policy regarding  the  proper  use  of canine force, or, at best, a policy of vesting complete discretion regarding the use of the canines in the dogs’ handlers.  The record contains evidence that the dogs bit   suspects   in   over   40%   of   the instances  in which they were  used. Where the city equips its police officers with potentially dangerous animals, and evidence is adduced that those animals inflict injury in a significant percentage of the cases in which they are used, a failure to adopt a departmental policy governing their use, or to implement rules   or   regulations   regarding   the constitutional    limits    of   that    use, evidences a “deliberate indifference” to constitutional   rights.        Under   such circumstances, a jury could, and should, find that Chew’s injury was caused by the  city’s  failure  to  engage   in  any oversight whatsoever of an important departmental practice involving the use of force.

Finally, as noted earlier, on remand Chew is not limited to pursuing any single theory underlying our decision that summary judgment was improper. The district court’s grant of summary judgment for the city was based on the conclusion that Officer Bunch’s decision to release Volker was reasonable. However, municipal liability need not be predicated on an “unreasonable” action on Officer Bunch’s part. A jury could conceivably decide, for example, that although the officer’s on-the-scene decision to use canine force was reasonable under the circumstances, the city was nevertheless at fault for providing its officers with dogs trained to bite and seize all concealed suspects regardless of their efforts to surrender. If the plaintiff could prove at trial that training in less dangerous means of detection and apprehension was both feasible and effective from a law enforcement standpoint (and the city’s recent adoption of a “find and bark” policy suggests that it may well have been, then the city’s failure so to train its dogs may well have constituted an unreasonable municipal action regarding the use of force.