Johnson v. BART

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Qualified Immunity
  • Date Filed: 07-30-2013
  • Case #: 11-16456; 11-16480; 11-16481
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Murguia for the Court; Circuit Judges Hawkins and Tashima
  • Full Text Opinion

When resolving qualified immunity questions, the appellate court will not attempt to weigh facts and resolve issues in favor of one party, but will instead construe the facts most favorable to the plaintiffs to allow the defendants to stand trial for their alleged constitutional violations.

On January 1, 2009, multiple officers responded to a Bay Area Rapid Transit dispatch report about a fight in progress in the lead car. Seeking a “group of black males, in the lead car, wearing dark clothing,” Officer Anthony Pirone was first to respond and initiated contact with a group loosely fitting the description. Some minutes later, Officer Johannes Mehserle arrived. Pirone and Mehserle struggled to handcuff one of the suspects, Oscar Grant III. Once Grant was handcuffed, Mehserle shot and killed Grant as he lay face down on the concrete with his hands cuffed behind his head. All five of the men in Grant’s group, along with Grant’s father on a separate Fourteenth Amendment deprivation of familial relationship claim, brought civil rights claims against Mehserle, Pirone, and Marysol Domenici, Pirone’s partner. The officers sought qualified immunity, which the district court largely denied. Regarding Mehserle, the Ninth Circuit held: (1) the district court was correct to deny qualified immunity on Grant’s father’s Fourteenth Amendment claim; (2) the panel lacked appellate jurisdiction to reach the lower court’s ruling denying immunity from a state law claim; (3) Mehserle was entitled to qualified immunity from the unlawful arrest claim because he played no part in the act; (4) the district court did not consider whether evidence suggested Mehserle took part in the detentions of the other suspects; and (5) Mehserle’s denial from qualified immunity regarding one of the suspects was proper because there was a jury question. The panel held that Pirone was not entitled to qualified immunity because jury questions remained. Additionally, the panel vacated the district court’s judgment denying Domenici immunity because it improperly relied on Dubner v. City and County of San Francisco. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, DISMISSED IN PART, and REMANDED.

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