Avina v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tort Law
  • Date Filed: 06-12-2012
  • Case #: 11-55004
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges Graber and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

A genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the conduct of DEA agents against two minors was excessive, given their ages and the threat that they posed, where the agents forced the handcuffed minors to lie face down on the floor and pointed guns at the head of one minor.

Thomas and Rosalie Avina and their minor daughters, B.S.A. and B.F.A. (ages eleven and fourteen), filed suit against the United States government under the Federal Torts Claim Act for assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) agents searched the Avinas’ home, because they mistakenly believed that a suspected drug trafficker’s vehicle was registered to their residence. During the search, the agents shouted at the Avinas, forced them to remain on the ground, handcuffed them, and pointed guns at their heads. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the government. On appeal, the Court considered whether the Avinas established “unreasonable force” on the part of the DEA agents for each claim. The Court found that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the force against the adults was reasonable. Both Thomas and Rosalie Avina were suspected of collusion with a drug dealer, so the search of their home was “inherently dangerous” and handcuffs were necessary. However, the Court found that a jury could find that the force against the minors was excessive. Thus, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the officers’ force was unreasonable given the minors’ ages and the threat that they posed. The Court also found that a rational trier of fact could find that the agents’ conduct towards the minors was “extreme or outrageous.” AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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