Gravelet-Blondin v. Shelton

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 09-06-2013
  • Case #: 12-35121
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hawkins for the Court; District Judge Selna; Circuit Judge Nguyen Dissenting
  • Full Text Opinion

The right to be free from the application of non-trivial force, such as the use of tasers, for engaging in mere passive resistance has been clearly established in the Ninth Circuit since at least 2008.

Officers responded to a call of a suicide in progress in Snohomish Washington in May of 2008. The elderly suicide suspect, Jack, was eventually subdued by police with the use of a taser. The plaintiffs, Donald and Kristi Gravelet-Blondin, stepped out of their home to investigate noises they heard coming from their neighbor Jack’s property. Donald, from 37 feet away, asked officers what they were doing to Jack. Officers instructed Donald to both “get back” and “stop.” Sgt. Jeff Shelton ran towards Donald who “appeared frozen with fear,” and tased Donald as he was commanding Donald to “get back.” The Blondins sued Shelton under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force and unlawful arrest violations, malicious prosecution, and a state law outrage claim. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims. The Ninth Circuit held a reasonable factfinder could find that Shelton’s use of force was excessive and unreasonable. Next the panel considered whether Shelton was entitled to qualified immunity for the use of non-trivial force in tasering Donald. The panel held, “[t]he right to be free from the application of [the] non-trivial force [of tasering,] for engaging in mere passive resistance was clearly established prior to [this incident].” The panel noted numerous Washington district court and sister circuit precedent which should have put Shelton on notice that the use of a taser was non-trivial force. The panel held a factfinder could find that certain Snohomish policies were the “force behind” the use of the taser against Donald. Therefore, the panel reversed and remanded for analysis of Shelton’s qualified immunity claim. Finally, the panel remanded for proper consideration of the Blondin’s unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, and outrage claims. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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