C.B. v. City of Sonora

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Qualified Immunity
  • Date Filed: 10-15-2014
  • Case #: 11-17454
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: En Banc: Circuit Judges Paez, M. Smith, O’Scannlain, Thomas, Silverman, Graber, Gould, Berzon, Tallman, and Bybee; Chief Judge Kozinki
  • Full Text Opinion

For police acting at the behest of school officials to be entitled to qualified immunity against a Fourth Amendment violation claim, the court must determine (1) whether the official violated a constitutional right, (2) whether the constitutional right was clearly established, and (3) evaluate whether the police conduct was reasonable in light of the circumstances and not excessively intrusive.

C.B., a sixth-grader, had a “‘rough’ day” associated with not taking his attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) medication, and refused to leave the school playground when asked by the school disciplinarian. When police arrived to remove C.B., C.B. remained sitting unresponsively in the playground. The officers asked C.B. to stand, then handcuffed and placed C.B. in the police vehicle for transportation to his uncle’s business. C.B. sued the school district, the school disciplinarian, the City of Sonora, and the two officers, mainly “alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights.” C.B. settled with the school district and disciplinarian, but the claims against the police officers went to trial. The jury had inconsistencies within the verdict form, so supplemental instructions were provided to assist the jury. The jury eventually found the officers liable, and the officers appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether the supplemental jury instructions were proper and whether the officers should have received qualified immunity, and then granted rehearing en banc. The panel reviewed the supplemental jury instructions for plain error, and determined the instructions were proper because the district court was within its discretion when “responding to jury questions.” The panel reviewed the officers’ qualified immunity argument based on the reasonableness standard for school teachers and officials, and determined they were “not entitled to qualified immunity [on the Fourth Amendment excessive force claim] because no officer could have reasonably believed” using handcuffs to remove C.B. complied with the Fourth Amendment. However, the panel found the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for the unlawful seizure claim because given the situation, a reasonable officer would not have known temporary custody was unreasonable. AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED in part.

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