Lisker v. Monsue

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 03-20-2015
  • Case #: 13-55374
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hurwitz for the Court; Circuit Judges Christen and Sentelle
  • Full Text Opinion

Police officers acting as witnesses may claim absolute immunity to protect themselves from liability for testimony at trial and preparatory activities “inextricably tied” to testimony at trial.

Bruce Lisker was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with his mother’s death in March of 1983. Lisker was sentenced to imprisonment of sixteen years to life. Lisker was unsuccessful in his petitions for post-conviction relief in California state court. In 2004, Lisker filed a federal habeas corpus petition, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and due process violations. Lisker presented evidence and testimony that directly conflicted with investigative reports and testimony given by detectives Andrew Monsue and Howard Landgren. In August 2009, the district court found Lisker’s due process rights had been violated due to evidence falsified by Monsue and Landgren. After 26 years in prison, Lisker was released. Lisker filed suit against Monsue, Landgren, and the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging numerous violations of which falsification of evidence and Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. claims were taken to trial. Liability under a Monell claim can be found when a municipal’s policy or custom causes a constitutional injury. Monsue and Landgren raised an absolute immunity defense to the falsification of evidence claims. The court rejected the defense. Monsue and Landgren appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that police officers acting as witnesses may claim absolute immunity to protect themselves from liability for testimony at trial and preparatory activities “inextricably tied” to testimony at trial. The panel declined to extend immunity to include tampering with physical or documentary evidence because that evidence serves purposes other than influencing testimony at trial. The panel categorized Monsue and Landgren’s evidence as investigative and, therefore, it falls outside the protection of the immunity doctrine. AFFIRMED.

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