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No. 20-7013. Huff v. Reeves.

E.D.Okla. Judge Hartz. 42 USC § 1983—Summary Judgment—Fourth Amendment—Fourteenth Amendment—Qualified Immunity—Failure to Adequately Train.

May 10, 2021


Plaintiff visited a local bank to access her safe deposit box. While she was there, Norris entered the bank, murdered the bank president, grabbed money from tellers, shot another employee, and took plaintiff hostage, forcing her to drive the getaway vehicle. Police officers pursued and forced the vehicle to crash. Norris fired at officers and plaintiff fled, raising her arms and facing the officers. However, they fired at her, and she fell to the ground. Norris then used her body as a shield. He was killed in the shootout, and plaintiff was shot at least 10 times but survived. She filed suit under 42 USC § 1983 alleging, as relevant here, that a trooper who shot her used excessive force against her in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that the sheriff failed to properly train deputies.

The trooper moved for summary judgment alleging qualified immunity, and the sheriff moved for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff could not establish supervisory liability. The district court granted the trooper’s motion, holding that plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated because there was no evidence that the trooper saw and intentionally shot plaintiff. The court dismissed the claim against the sheriff on grounds that plaintiff could neither demonstrate a predicate constitutional violation by one of his deputies nor identify any specific training deficiency related to the alleged violation.

On appeal, plaintiff challenged entry of summary judgment for the trooper. To overcome a qualified immunity defense on summary judgment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that on the facts alleged the defendant violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the alleged unlawful activity. Here, plaintiff was repeatedly struck by bullets from the trooper’s gun, which implies she was in his line of sight. Further, officers are prohibited from using deadly force against a person who apparently poses no physical threat to the officers or others. Plaintiff’s testimony that she raised her hands in surrender as she approached officers when she was first shot could be seen as evidence that she was not evading apprehension and posed no threat to anyone. Accordingly, the record contains ample evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the trooper saw and intentionally shot plaintiff. Therefore, summary judgment was improper.

Plaintiff also challenged the summary judgment on her Fourteenth Amendment claim. It is clearly established that all claims that law enforcement used excessive force should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment rather than a substantive due process approach. Because plaintiff’s excessive force claim alleges a prearrest seizure, it is properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, so summary judgment was proper.

Plaintiff also contested the entry of summary judgment for the sheriff on the failure to train claim. However, it was undisputed that the sheriff’s deputies involved in the incident received training on the proper use of force. Further, plaintiff failed to identify any additional training that would have prevented the alleged constitutional violation. Therefore, the sheriff was entitled to summary judgment.

The grants of summary judgment on the Fourteenth Amendment claim against the trooper and the failure to train claim against the sheriff were affirmed. The grant of summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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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