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Mahdi v. Salt Lake Police Department.

No. 21-4102. 12/5/2022. D.Utah. Judge Hartz. High-Speed Chase—Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process—Excessive Force—Failure to Train or Supervise Employees—Qualified Immunity.

December 5, 2022

Robinson engaged in a shooting spree that included at least two armed robberies. Responding officers pursued him in a high-speed chase for about 20 minutes, during which Robinson fired multiple rounds from a rifle. The chase ended when Robinson crashed into Mahdi’s tailoring shop. Within seconds, officers fired scores of bullets at Robinson, and many hit and destroyed inventory and machines in Mahdi’s shop. Mahdi—who came to the United States from Iraq, where he faced physical threats from insurgents after working as a tailor for the US military—was psychologically traumatized by the shooting. Mahdi filed suit under 42 USC § 1983 against the Salt Lake City Police Department; the Unified Police Department; and four officers of the Utah Highway Patrol, Superintendent Rapich, Sergeant Shelby, and Troopers Miller and Thompson. Mahdi alleged that (1) the responding officers used excessive force in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right, and (2) the officers’ unconstitutional use of force resulted from Superintendent Rapich’s and the defendant law-enforcement agencies’ failure to properly train or supervise their employees. The officers raised a qualified immunity defense, and defendants moved to dismiss Mahdi’s first amended complaint for failure to state any claims. Mahdi moved for leave to file a second amended complaint. The district court held that Mahdi did not adequately allege that any officers violated his constitutional right to substantive due process and that in the absence of any such violation, the police agencies also could not be liable under § 1983. It denied Mahdi’s motion and granted defendants’ motion.

On appeal, Mahdi argued that the district court’s dismissal of his first amended complaint and denial of his proposed second amended complaint as futile were erroneous. A § 1983 substantive due process claim for excessive use of force based on the Fourteenth Amendment must show that the complained-of action “shocks the conscience.” In allegations of excessive force by a state actor, the standard for the shocks-the-conscience test turns on whether the state actor had time to deliberate—which means having more than a few seconds to think—before engaging in the complained-of conduct. Where there is no opportunity to deliberate, conduct will shock the conscience only if done with the intent to harm the injured party. Here, Robinson was not incapacitated by the crash, and the officers had only one or two seconds after arriving on scene to act. Therefore, the officers did not have the opportunity to deliberate before firing their weapons. Further, Mahdi did not allege that any officer intended to harm him. Accordingly, Mahdi’s constitutional right to substantive due process was not violated, and the district court did not err in dismissing the claims.

Further, given that none of the on-scene officers violated Mahdi’s substantive due process rights, the claim against Superintendent Rapich fails because Mahdi did not allege that the superintendent was involved in Robinson’s pursuit, and a supervisor cannot be held liable for training and oversight deficiencies if the subordinates did not violate the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. And the claim against the local law-enforcement agencies fails because Mahdi failed to allege a constitutional violation by any police official.

The orders dismissing Mahdi’s Fourteenth Amendment claims and denying his motion for leave to file a second amended complaint were affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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