Young v. County of Los Angeles

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 08-26-2011
  • Case #: 09-56372
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges Rawlinson and N.R. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure clause, use of pepper spray and baton blows constitutes excessive force when the severity of the crime is low, there is no threat of violence, there is no resistance to arrest, and there are other less invasive means to accomplish police interests.

Young filed excessive force, false imprisonment, and negligence claims against the County of Los Angeles and Sheriff’s Deputy Wells. Deputy Wells pulled Young over for driving with an unfastened seatbelt. Young passively refused Wells’ instructions to return to his vehicle, and instead sat on the curb eating. Without warning or further provocation Wells pepper sprayed Young and struck him with a baton. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Young appealed. First, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that pepper spray and baton blows are “intermediate force” because they are “capable of inflicting significant pain and causing serious injury,” and therefore “present a significant intrusion upon an individual’s liberty interests.” Secondly, the Court noted that (1) the severity of the crime was low, (2) Young did not present a threat to Wells, (3) Young was passively, not actively, resisting the officer, and (4) less intrusive, less forceful measures were available to Wells to affect compliance. Therefore, the Court reasoned “the governmental interest in the use of force [was] minimal.” The Ninth Circuit held “taking the facts in the light most favorable to Young, the force used by Wells was excessive in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Additionally, the Court held that qualified immunity did not apply because the rights violated were well established at the time of the incident. Summary judgment was appropriate for the false imprisonment claim but not the negligence claim. AFFIRMED, in part, REVERSED, in part, and REMANDED.

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