High-speed chases.County of Sacramento v. Lewis is a major, but not insurmountable, obstacle to recovery for plaintiffs injured in·jure
tr.v. in·jured, in·jur·ing, in·jures
1. To cause physical harm to; hurt.
2. To cause damage to; impair.
3. by the actions of government officers during high-speed pursuits and other emergencies.
Under what circumstances can the government or government officers be held liable for injuries that result from high-speed police chases? In County of Sacramento v. Lewis, the U.S. Supreme Court made recovery by injured plaintiffs extremely difficult.(1)
The Court held that due process is violated only if the officers' behavior "shocks the conscience Shocks the conscience is a phrase used as a legal standard in the United States and Canada. An action is understood to "shock the conscience" if it is perceived as manifestly and grossly unjust, typically by a judge. ," which requires demonstrating that the officers acted with the intent of causing harm to the victim.(2)
The Court announced a standard to be applied in all emergency situations in which there is not the opportunity for deliberation and reflection. The decision is a major obstacle to recovery for plaintiffs injured by the actions of government officers during emergencies.
In the more than two years since Lewis, many courts predictably have applied this decision to bar recovery, especially in high-speed chase cases. However, several decisions have distinguished Lewis and have held that it does not apply, even in high-speed chase situations, if officers had the opportunity for deliberation and reflection.(3) These decisions clearly point the way for plaintiff attorneys: Overcoming Lewis requires alleging and proving that the situation allowed for thought and deliberation and thus liability should be imposed on the more lenient le·ni·ent
Inclined not to be harsh or strict; merciful, generous, or indulgent: lenient parents; lenient rules. "deliberate indifference" standard.
Like almost all high-speed chase cases, County of Sacramento v. Lewis had tragic facts. A police officer misunderstood what another officer had said and gave chase to two boys on a motorcycle. The chase ended in a crash, and a passenger on the motorcycle, a teenage boy, died. A suit was brought against the county on behalf of the boy, alleging a denial of his life without due process of law. The Ninth Circuit held that the county could be held liable if there was proof of deliberate indifference.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed. Justice David Souter wrote for the Court that "high-speed chases with no intent to harm suspects physically or to worsen their legal plight do not give rise to liability under the Fourteenth Amendment Fourteenth Amendment, addition to the U.S. Constitution, adopted 1868. The amendment comprises five sections. Section 1
Section 1 of the amendment declares that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens and citizens , redressible by an action under 42 U.S.C. [sections] 1983."(4)
The Court held that in emergency situations, where there is not the opportunity for deliberation or reflection, the deliberate-indifference standard is inappropriate. In these circumstances, due process is violated only if the officers' behavior shocks the conscience.(5)
In Rochin v. California In Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 72 S. Ct. 205, 96 L. Ed. 183 (1952), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for police to pump a criminal suspect's stomach and use the resulting evidence at trial. , which the Court heard almost 50 years ago, the Court held that officers violated a suspect's due process rights when they forcibly forc·i·ble
1. Effected against resistance through the use of force: The police used forcible restraint in order to subdue the assailant.
2. Characterized by force; powerful. pumped his stomach because this shocked the conscience.(6) In Lewis, the Court adopted this standard for evaluating police conduct in high-speed chases, but with an important modification: The Court defined "shocks the conscience" to require that the police intended to inflict injury on the victim.(7)
Souter said that the level of care required of executive agents in most circumstances cannot reasonably be expected of police in hazardous high-speed law enforcement chases. The Court explained that deliberate indifference is inapplicable in·ap·pli·ca·ble
Not applicable: rules inapplicable to day students.
in·ap to situations where decisions are "necessarily made in haste Adv. 1. in haste - in a hurried or hasty manner; "the way they buried him so hurriedly was disgraceful"; "hastily, he scanned the headlines"; "sold in haste and at a sacrifice"
hastily, hurriedly , under pressure, and frequently without the luxury of a second chance."(8)
The Court said that the officer's behavior in giving chase was an instinctive and instantaneous response to the motorcycle driver's lawless LAWLESS. Without law; without lawful control. activity. The officer acted not out of malice malice, in law, an intentional violation of the law of crimes or torts that injures another person. Malice need not involve a malignant spirit or the definite intent to do harm. or a desire to inflict harm but from a need to deal with illegal activity that he played no part in instigating.
Lewis creates a significant obstacle to recovery by plaintiffs injured in high-speed chases and other emergency contexts. Not only did the Court reject deliberate indifference as a basis for recovery, but it also held that the plaintiff must prove that officers intended to cause harm. This standard is very difficult, and often impossible, to meet.
Denial of relief
Many courts have used Lewis as the basis for denying relief to civil rights plaintiffs. Some cases involved high-speed police chases.(9)
For example, in Hall v. Village of Bartonville Police Department, the plaintiff sued for injuries incurred when a truck pursued at high speed by a police officer collided with her car.(10) The Illinois Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
The plaintiff attempted to distinguish Lewis based on the Supreme Court's emphasis in that case that the driver had caused the passenger's death. Souter's majority opinion went to great lengths to stress the driver's culpable Blameworthy; involving the commission of a fault or the breach of a duty imposed by law.
Culpability generally implies that an act performed is wrong but does not involve any evil intent by the wrongdoer. conduct, which led to the perilous pursuit. In Hall, the victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But the Illinois Court of Appeals found this distinction irrelevant. Quoting Lewis, it held that liability was inappropriate because "the officer's instinct was to do his job as a law enforcement officer, not to induce [the suspect's] lawlessness law·less
1. Unrestrained by law; unruly: a lawless mob.
2. Contrary to the law; unlawful: the lawless slaughter of protected species.
3. , or to terrorize ter·ror·ize
tr.v. ter·ror·ized, ter·ror·iz·ing, ter·ror·iz·es
1. To fill or overpower with terror; terrify.
2. To coerce by intimidation or fear. See Synonyms at frighten. , cause harm, or kill."(11)
Lewis has also been applied in emergency situations not involving high-speed chases. In Claybrook v. Birchwell, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a civil rights claim by a person who was inadvertently shot during a police shootout Shootout
Venture capital jargon. Refers to two or more venture capital firms fighting for the startup. .(12) The court said that the shocks-the-conscience test applies to police actions in dangerous situations that call for immediate instinctive judgment, in contrast to instances in which officials have ample opportunity to consider a range of alternative courses of action.(13) The court said that "the malicious or sadistic sa·dism
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty. " test of conscience-shocking behavior controls the due process analysis because the officers "had no opportunity to ponder or debate their reaction to the dangerous actions of the armed man."(14)
Judge Eric Clay dissented and argued that the deliberate-indifference test should be applied. He contended that "it is clear that the officers had sufficient time to make an unhurried judgment about their conduct upon seeing [the man] with his weapon."(15) In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , the disagreement between the majority and the dissent was over whether the situation allowed for reflection and deliberation.
In Cannon v. City of Philadelphia, a federal district court used Lewis to bar a plaintiff's recovery in a situation far less frantic than a high-speed chase or a police shootout.(16) The plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. [sections] 1983, alleging that police officers violated her Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process The substantive limitations placed on the content or subject matter of state and federal laws by the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. rights by failing to help her and actively delaying her efforts to reach the hospital when she was having a heart attack.
The district court acknowledged that the situation did not involve the highly charged environment of a police chase, but, nonetheless, it concluded that the shocks-the-conscience test should be applied. The court explained that the "police officers were operating in the relative chaos of a recent shooting and accident and, therefore, were attempting to balance a multitude of competing concerns."(17) It concluded that the officers' conduct did not shock the conscience "in the context of the chaotic and dangerous crime scene."(18)
Opportunity for deliberation
Few plaintiffs will succeed when a court applies the shocks-the-conscience test. It will be extremely difficult to prove that the police officers acted with the intent of causing harm to the victim. Even if they were totally reckless, and even if their behavior is conscience-shocking to the reasonable person, that is not enough. Lewis says that the test requires that the defendants intentionally harmed the victims.
Therefore, the challenge for plaintiff attorneys is to convince the court that Lewis is inapplicable because the situation offered the officers an opportunity to deliberate and reflect. Several courts have relied on this distinction to rule in favor of plaintiffs, even in high-speed chase cases.
For example, in Feist feist also fice
n. Chiefly Southern U.S.
A small mongrel dog.
[Variant of obsolete fist, short for fisting dog, from Middle English fisting, v. Simonson, the defendant, an officer in the Minneapolis Police Department The Minneapolis Police Department also known as MPD is the police department for the city of Minneapolis, in the state of Minnesota, United States. The city has 5 precincts. Notes
1. ^ Precincts. City of Minneapolis. , was involved in a high-speed chase that resulted in the death of an uninvolved un·in·volved
Feeling or showing no interest or involvement; unconcerned: an uninvolved bystander.
Adj. 1. third person.(19) The pursued suspect's car was traveling against traffic when it crashed into the decedent's.
The Eighth Circuit reviewed the events leading up to the chase and concluded that deliberate indifference rather than shocks the conscience was the appropriate test. The court said that "in situations where an officer could have actually deliberated, courts are to apply the deliberate-indifference standard to determine whether the behavior was conscience-shocking."(20) It concluded that the officer had multiple opportunities to "balance the law enforcement goal of apprehending [the fleeing suspect] for use of a stolen vehicle ... against the threat to the general public."(21) Because the deliberate-indifference standard was applied, the plaintiff did not need to allege To state, recite, assert, or charge the existence of particular facts in a Pleading or an indictment; to make an allegation.
allege v. or prove that the officers intended to cause the harm.
Similarly, in Helseth v. Burch, a federal district court applied deliberate indifference in a suit against a police officer and a city for injuries that resulted from a high-speed chase.(22) The chase, which involved speeds in excess of 100 mph, ended when the fleeing suspect's car hit the plaintiff's truck. The plaintiff was severely injured and rendered quadriplegic quadriplegic /quad·ri·ple·gic/ (-ple´jik)
1. of, pertaining to, or characterized by quadriplegia.
2. an individual with quadriplegia. . Another passenger in the truck was killed in the accident.
The district court ruled that the deliberate-indifference test, rather than the shocks-the-conscience standard, applied because the defendant officer had multiple opportunities for reflection. The court said,
At each significant juncture along the chase route--before pursuing [the suspect] off-road onto residential property, before chasing him against oncoming traffic onto a highway, before striking [his] vehicle multiple times, and at the point when [the suspect's] badly damaged vehicle began swerving--[the officer] had an opportunity to weigh the importance of apprehending [the suspect] against the escalating threat to public safety that the chase presented.(23)
The court noted that the officer "testified that during the chase it was possible for him to assess continually whether the goal of apprehending [the suspect] outweighed the risks to public safety."(24) All of this convinced the court that the officer engaged in "conscious deliberation rather than reflexive (theory) reflexive - A relation R is reflexive if, for all x, x R x.
Equivalence relations, pre-orders, partial orders and total orders are all reflexive. conduct."(25)
Thus, the task for plaintiff attorneys is to show the court that the police officers had the opportunity for conscious deliberation. Cases such as Feist and Helseth are powerful precedents showing that proving liability in high-speed chase cases is still possible.
Plaintiff attorneys handling these cases should consider possible state law claims against the officers and government entities. Lewis dealt only with the standard for recovery under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In no way does it affect claims under state constitutions or, more important, state tort law A body of rights, obligations, and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings to provide relief for persons who have suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others. .
For example, in Czarecki v. Scherer, a district court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment motion for summary judgment n. a written request for a judgment in the moving party's favor before a lawsuit goes to trial and based on recorded (testimony outside court) affidavits (or declarations under penalty of perjury), depositions, admissions of fact, answers on a plaintiff's state law tort claim arising from a high-speed chase.(26) A woman died as a result of injuries incurred during a chase, and her estate sued the city, the police chief, and the patrol officers involved on both federal and state claims. Although the court found that the due process claims were barred by Lewis, it permitted the state law negligence claims to go forward. The court concluded that the issue of whether the patrol officers acted recklessly, and were thus liable under state tort law, was a question for the jury.
Lewis greatly limits the ability of victims of police misconduct Police misconduct refers to objectional actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties, which can lead to a miscarriage of justice. Types of misconduct
tr.v. en·dan·gered, en·dan·ger·ing, en·dan·gers
1. To expose to harm or danger; imperil.
2. To threaten with extinction. innocent bystanders without providing a satisfactory means of recourse."(27) To overcome Lewis, plaintiffs need to show that the situation allowed time for officer deliberation and, thus, that the preferable deliberate-indifference standard should be applied.
(1.) 523 U.S. 833 (1998).
(2.) Id. at 853-54.
(3.) See, e.g., Feist v. Simonson, 222 F.3d 455, 462 (8th Cir. 2000); Helseth v. Burch, 109 F. Supp. 2d 1066, 1076 (D. Minn. 2000).
(4.) 523 U.S. 833, 854.
(5.) Id. at 853-54.
(6.) 342 U.S. 165 (1952).
(7.) 523 U.S. 833, 849, 853.
(8.) Id. at 852.
(9.) See, e.g., Courville v. City of Lake Charles Lake Charles, city (1990 pop. 70,580), seat of Calcasieu parish, SW La.; inc. 1867. It is located on Lake Charles at the mouth of the Calcasieu River in a rice, timber, oil, and natural gas region. , 720 So. 2d 789 (La. Ct. App. 1998) (denying recovery to victim of high-speed chase based on County of Sacramento v. Lewis).
(10.) 699 N.E.2d 148 (Ill. Ct. App. 1998).
(11.) Id. at 150 (citations omitted).
(12.) 199 F.3d 350, 359-60 (6th Cir. 2000).
(13.) Id. at 359.
(15.) Id. at 362 (Clay, J., dissenting).
(16.) 86 F. Supp. 2d 460 (E.D. Pa. 2000).
(17.) Id. at 471.
(19.) 222 F.3d 455 (8th Cir. 2000).
(20.) Id. at 461.
(22.) 109 F. Supp. 2d 1066 (D. Minn. 2000).
(23.) Id. at 1076.
(26.) 64 F. Supp. 2d 92 (N.D.N.Y. 1999).
(27.) Erica L. Reilley, County of Sacramento v. Lewis: A "Conscious-Shocking" Decision Regarding Officer Liability in High-Speed Police Pursuits, 32 LOY n. 1. A long, narrow spade for stony lands. . L.A. L. REV. 1357, 1359 (1999).
Erwin Chemerinsky Erwin Chemerinsky (born 1953) is a well-known professor of Constitutional law and federal civil procedure, has recently accepted a position at the University of California, Irvine, in the new Donald Bren School of Law, beginning in 2009. is the Sydney M. Irmas Professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page. , and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law School The University of Southern California Law School (Gould School of Law), located in Los Angeles, California, is a graduate school within the University of Southern California. . He thanks Evan Goldstein for his assistance preparing this article.