Ford v. City of Yakima

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 02-08-2013
  • Case #: 11-35319
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per curiam; Circuit Judges Hug and Nelson; Dissent by Circuit Judge Callahan.
  • Full Text Opinion

A police officer who arrests an individual due to retaliatory animus, even if there is probable cause, violates a clearly established right for the purpose of § 1983.

Officer Urlacher initially detained Ford during a traffic stop for violation of a noise ordinance. As Ford retrieved his license and registration, he stated that he thought the traffic stop was racially motivated. Urlacher told Ford, Lieutenant Wentz, and the back-up officer that Ford would only receive a ticket if he stopped "running the mouth," and would be arrested if he did not stop. Ford was arrested and prosecuted for violation of the City of Yakima noise ordinance; he was acquitted. Ford sued the city, Urlacher and Wentz under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The District Court ruled that there was no constitutional violation as a matter of law, and granted appellee's motion for summary judgment. It did not reach the issue of qualified immunity. In the Ninth Circuit, it is settled law than an individual has a right to be "free from police action motivated by retaliatory animus but for which there was probable cause." The Ninth Circuit held this right was violated. Ford's criticism of the police fell within First Amendment protection. Ford demonstrated that the officer's conduct would chill speech, and that a desire to chill speech was the but-for cause of the officer's unlawful conduct. Officer Urlacher is not entitled to qualified immunity, because the right was clearly established at the time of the violation, and Washington law clearly lists the limited factors that allow a police officer to book and jail an arrestee. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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