American Bar Association
Media Alerts
Media Alerts - Ninth Circuit: Velazquez v. City of Long Beach
Decrease font size
Increase font size
September 15, 2015
  Ninth Circuit: Velazquez v. City of Long Beach
Headline: 9th Circuit reverses JMOL which held Long Beach police did not use excessive force or conduct an unlawful arrest.

Areas of Law: Federal Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure

Issues Presented: Whether the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's Section 1983 Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest claim?
Whether the decision on the judgment as a matter of law fatally infected the jury's verdict on plaintiffs excessive force claims?

Brief Summary: The panel held that the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs Section 1983 Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest claim. The panel decided the jury was improperly influenced as a result of the district courts ruling on the judgment as a matter of law. Furthermore the panel held that the district court erred in granting the City's judgment as a matter of law on the claims against them. Lastly, the panel held that the district court erred in its failure to grant supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs state law claims.

In coming it its conclusions in the above mention holdings, the panel relied on the fact that the district court improperly implemented Rule 50(a) judgment as a matter of law procedurally. When the district court chose to credit the defense witnesses and discredit the plaintiffs witnesses and refused to draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff which is typically a jury decision. Since, the district court failed to allow the jury the opportunity to make that decision the panel held the district court abused its discretion.

Extended Summary: This case arises out of a series of events that are in dispute between the parties. Plaintiff was arrested in front of his home in Long Beach California for resisting arrest. Plaintiff contends that he was unlawfully arrested and subjected to excessive force. On October 24, 2009 plaintiff was celebrating his birthday. He began drinking alcohol around lunch time until the evening when Long Beach police officers responded to two calls at the residence for disturbing the peace. There are two versions of the events that transpired: the Police version and the plaintiff's witnesses version.

The officers claimed plaintiff walked outside of the house still drinking. According to police, plaintiff was so intoxicated that he was unable to stand without grasping their squad car, and when the officer told the plaintiff and his friends to go inside, plaintiff said "yeah sure," while sarcastically shaking his head. Because plaintiffs menacing remark insulted the officer, he was placed under arrest where plaintiff told the officer to "fuck off." The officer then claims plaintiff failed to comply with his verbal commands, which resulted in the officer using a series of tactical maneuvers to get plaintiff to the ground. The officer contends plaintiff continued resisting arrest so he was forced to strike plaintiff with his baton - 11 times.

Plaintiff's witness tell a different version. According to his witness, plaintiff was not drinking outside. When they saw the police, plaintiff's cousin told the officer "don't worry, we're leaving officer" and then plaintiff asked the officers "what's up?" When police heard plaintiffs question, they immediately stopped the car and reversed back to where plaintiff and his friends were located. The officer inquired about what was said, then "speed walked" toward plaintiff and said, " I'm tired of people calling because of you motherfuckers." Witnesses contend that no verbal commands were issued; the other officer testified that he did not hear any commands as well. Next the officer takes plaintiff to the ground and continues to beat him up while never issuing any verbal commands.

Before trial, each side filed several motions in limine. The judge decided to rule on the motions at trial and the district court granted the motion to exclude the evidence of prior officer complaints, discipline and internal affairs history. Ultimately the district court grants the City's rule 50 judgment as a matter of law request and dismissed plaintiffs state law claims, only allowing the jury to hear the excessive use of force claim.

In plaintiffs unlawful arrest claim, the district court ruled that a reasonable jury could not have found that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiff for resisting a police officer. The panel held that the district court erred in its decision and relied on the plaintiff having a right to verbally question the officer and that the district court discredited the plaintiffs argument of a possible motive for the officers actions. Additionally, the district court chose to credit the defense witness over the plaintiff's even though the evidence was far from one sided. Simply put, it should have been left to the jury to decide.

Since the panel determined the district court erred in granting defendants judgment as a matter of law, the panel considered how this affected plaintiffs excessive force claim and ultimately held it fatally infected the jury's verdict as to excessive force. The court relied on the Graham factors and concluded that based on all the improperly excluded evidence, that the jury verdict must be reversed.

The panel held that the district court erred in granting the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law in their liability claims. The panel relied on the plaintiff having alleged valid grounds for liability under this cause of action, but the courts granting of a motion in limine for the defense prevented this evidence from being heard. Since it was never presented, the incorrect ruling on the evidence resulted in the judge erroneously entering a judgment as a matter of law for the defense.

Lastly, the panel held that the district court should not have dismissed plaintiffs state law claims. The district court dismissed them based on jury confusion. The panel overruled that decision relying on the presumption the jury's follows instructions, and that properly read instructions should not confuse the jury. Ultimately the Ninth Circuit held the district court abused its discretion in refusing to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.

To read full opinion, please visit:

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/da...15/12-56933.pdf


Panel: Kim Mclane Wardlaw and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges and William E. Smith, District Judge

Date of Issued Opinion: July 15, 2015

Docket Number: 2:11-cv-00120-R-JEM

Decided: Reversed and Remanded to vacate the district court ruling to grant defendants JMOL motion.

Case Alert Author:
Robert J. Dagmy

Counsel:
Petitioner - Mitchell Keiter.
Respondent - Howard D. Russell (argued) , Deputy City Attorney: Charles Parkin, City Attorney Long Beach, California.

Author of Opinion: Judge Berzon

Case Alert Supervisor:
Professor Ryan T. Williams

    Posted By: Ryan Williams @ 09/15/2015 03:32 PM     9th Circuit  

FuseTalk Enterprise Edition - © 1999-2018 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.

Discussion Board Usage Agreement

Back to Top