Mattos v. Agarano

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-17-2011
  • Case #: 08-15567
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Paez for the Court; Circuit Judges Silverman, Graber, McKeown, Fisher, Rawlinson, and Clifton; Concurrence by Circuit Judge Schroeder; Dissenting in part, concurring in part, Chief Judge Kozinski joined by Circuit Judge Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

Police are entitled to qualified immunity for claims of use of excessive force involving tasers, when not all reasonable police officials would find the particular set of circumstances a use of excessive force.

The cases of Mattos and Brooks were consolidated for this appeal. Both Mattos and Brooks filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Fourth Amendment violations of excessive force after police tased them. The district court held that the plaintiffs’ cases were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment respectively. The district court also held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The police officers appealed on the issue of qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit applied a two-part test: (1) “whether the officer violated the plaintiff’s constitutional right”, and (2) “whether the constitutional right was ‘clearly established in light of the specific context of the case’ at the time of the events in question.” The Court noted that, at the time, no Supreme Court decision dealt with tazers and excessive force, and only three circuit court cases addressed the issue, none of which held that excessive force was used. In both cases, the Ninth Circuit held that officers violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right because the plaintiffs: were not involved in serious crimes, did not pose a serious threat to the safety of the officers or others, and were only passively, if at all, resisting arrest. The Court also noted that Mattos had children nearby and that Brooks was pregnant. The Ninth Circuit found that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because not “every ‘reasonable official would have understood . . . beyond debate’ that tasing [the plaintiffs] in these circumstances constituted excessive force.” AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part.

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