Failure to Train Municipal Officers

Author: LegalEase Solutions

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether or not any claim lies against the city for failure to train officers?

SHORT ANSWER

A claim against the city for failure to train its officers will arise if the following conditions are satisfied: (1) the training procedures followed by the city are inadequate; (2) the city exercised deliberate indifference to the rights of others in adopting the training procedures and (3) the plaintiff’s injury or violations were caused as a result of deficient training policy.

The city or police department will almost certain invoke the defense of qualified immunity should the widow decide to pursue her claims. The defense of qualified immunity is a difficult hurdle for civil rights plaintiffs, and on the facts of this case it is likely that defendants would prevail at summary judgment with the defense of qualified immunity.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

“To prevail on a failure to train theory a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that the municipality’s training procedures were inadequate, (2) that the municipality was deliberately indifferent in adopting its training policy, and (3) that the inadequate training policy directly caused the violations in question.” Zarnow v. City of Wichita Falls, Tex., 614 F.3d 161, 170 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted).

“In resolving the issue of a city’s liability, the focus must be on adequacy of the training program in relation to the tasks the particular officers must perform.” City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390, 109 S. Ct. 1197, 1206, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412 (1989).

In Valle, the son of the petitioner was shot dead by the police officers who forcibly entered the house where he had locked himself up. A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer was talking with the deceased from outside the house when the incident occurred. The deceased “was not a suspect in any criminal activity, nor had he threatened the officers or himself.” Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2010). In a § 1983 action brought against the City, the parents alleged inadequate training of the officers on CIT tactics. In support of the contention they “presented evidence that the City chose not to implement a 2004 proposal for additional mandatory CIT training, prepared at the direction of the Executive Assistant Chief of Police.” Id., at 544. Though the court held that “we cannot say that the City was deliberately indifferent” Id., at 549, they observed in an earlier paragraph that “it highlights the factual dispute whether the City’s training and its response to the proposal were inadequate.” Id., at 546.

“In order for ‘liability to attach based on an inadequate training claim, a plaintiff must allege with specificity how a particular training program is defective.’” Zarnow, supra, 614 F.3d at 170 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Roberts v. City of Shreveport, 397 F.3d 287, 293 (5th Cir.2005)).

In Thomas, a case involving an attack on an inmate by the other inmates in a correction facility, in the presence of correction officers, the court observed that the “corrections officers had no de-escalation or intervention training as a part of their pre-service training.” Thomas v. Cumberland Cnty., 749 F.3d 217, 225 (3d Cir. 2014). The court further added that “the causation inquiry focuses on whether the injury could have been avoided had the employee been trained under a program that was not deficient in the identified respect.” Id., at 226 (internal quotations omitted). The court “conclude[d] that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the County exhibited deliberate indifference to the need for pre-service training in conflict de-escalation and intervention and whether the lack of such training bears a causal relationship to [petitioner’s] injuries” and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with that opinion. Id., at 227.

“‘[D]eliberate indifference’ is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1360, 179 L. Ed. 2d 417 (2011) (quoting Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cnty., Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410, 117 S. Ct. 1382, 1391, 137 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1997)).

The policy makers can be considered to be deliberately indifferent to the need if, “in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights.” Canton, supra, at 390, 109 S. Ct. 1197, 1205 (1989).

“A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’ to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick, supra, at 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1360, 179 L. Ed. 2d 417 (2011) (quoting Bryan Cty., 520 U.S., at 409, 117 S.Ct. 1382).

“Nevertheless, the Supreme Court posited in Canton that in certain situations, the need for training ‘can be said to be ‘so obvious,’ that failure to do so could properly be characterized as ‘deliberate indifference’ to constitutional rights’ even without a pattern of constitutional violations.” Thomas, supra, 749 F.3d at 223 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Canton, supra, 489 U.S. at 390 n. 10, 109 S. Ct. 1197, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412 (1989)). The Canton court examined the hypothetical situation where a city fails to train its armed police officers in the constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force on fleeing victims in discussing ‘single – incident failure to train.’

Thus, “a single-incident constitutional violation was sufficient to preclude summary judgment on a failure-to-train claim against a municipality.” Thomas, supra 749 F.3d at 224 (3d Cir. 2014). “However, this single incident exception is extremely narrow and gives rise to municipal liability only if the municipal actor is a final policymaker.” Valle, supra 613 F.3d at 542 (5th Cir. 2010).

“Cities are not liable for constitutional violations committed by city employees unless those violations result directly from a municipal custom or policy.” Sanders-Burns v. City Of Plano, 594 F.3d 366, 380 (5th Cir. 2010).

The official policy is described as:

An official policy, for purposes of § 1983 liability, is a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the municipality’s lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority. Alternatively, official policy is a persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees, which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. Finally, a final decision maker’s adoption of a course of action tailored to a particular situation and not intended to control decisions in later situations may, in some circumstances, give rise to municipal liability under § 1983.

Brown v. Bryan Cnty., OK, 219 F.3d 450, 457 (5th Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted).

In the instant case, the widow’s claim against the municipality on failure to train the police officers who were not able to save the life of her husband will lie only if the city does not have adequate training procedures for the police officers, the training procedures were adopted with deliberate indifference to the rights of others and the death was caused due to deficient training of the officers.

Qualified immunity in § 1983 suits

“Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who deprives an individual of federally guaranteed rights ‘under color’ of state law. Anyone whose conduct is ‘fairly attributable to the state’ can be sued as a state actor under § 1983.” Filarsky v. Delia, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S. Ct. 1657, 1661, 182 L. Ed. 2d 662 (2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

“Qualified immunity strikes a balance between compensating those who have been injured by official conduct and protecting government’s ability to perform its traditional functions.” Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 167, 112 S. Ct. 1827, 1833, 118 L. Ed. 2d 504 (1992).

The “first inquiry, therefore, is whether the actions alleged by the plaintiffs come within the definition of under color of law.” Carlos v. Santos, 123 F.3d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted).

“It is firmly established that a defendant in a § 1983 suit acts under color of state law when he abuses the position given to him by the State.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49-50, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 2255, 101 L. Ed. 2d 40 (U.S. 1988).

“Thus, generally, a public employee acts under color of state law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id.

“[The qualified immunity … acts to safeguard government, and thereby to protect the public at large, not to benefit its agents.” Wyatt, supra, 504 U.S. at 168, 112 S. Ct. 1827 (1992).

The Sixth Circuit summarized the three goals of §1983 as “(1) ‘protecting the public from unwarranted timidity on the part of public officials;’ (2) ‘ensur[ing] that talented candidates were not deterred by the threat of damages suits from entering public service;’ and (3) guarding against the distraction from job duties that lawsuits inevitably create.” McCullum v. Tepe, 693 F.3d 696, 704 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 408, 411,117 S.Ct. 2100 (1997).

“An official sued under § 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless it is shown that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Plumhoff v. Rickard, — US –, 134 S. Ct. 2012, 2023, 188 L. Ed. 2d 1056 (2014) (internal quotations omitted).

Further “a defendant cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right’s contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant’s shoes would have understood that he was violating it.” Id.

In Clouthier, a case involving suicide of a pre trial detainee who was suicidal at the time of the arrest and kept in the observation room for days before shifting to general population, the court held that “a reasonable mental health professional could not have thought it was lawful to remove key suicide prevention measures put in place by a prior Mental Health staff member. Accordingly, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the [plaintiffs], [the defendant] is not entitled to qualified immunity.” Clouthier v. Cnty. of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1245 (9th Cir. 2010).

The Eight Circuit observed on qualified immunity of jailers where detainees attempted or committed suicide as:

Simply laying blame or fault and pointing out what might have been done is insufficient. The question is not whether the jailers did all they could have, but whether they did all the Constitution requires. The requirement for defeat of a claim of qualified immunity is that the evidence demonstrate deliberate indifference by the jailers in the face of a known suicide risk at the time preventive measures were effected.

Rellergert by Rellergert v. Cape Girardeau Cnty., Mo., 924 F.2d 794, 797 (8th Cir. 1991).

In the instant case, the widow has to prove that the officers who arrived interacted with her husband knew that he would commit suicide and they cannot claim qualified immunity because they deliberately allowed it to happen, and the widow can prove that the officers knowingly violated his constitutional rights in doing so.

 CONCLUSION

The city will be liable for failure to train its police officers if the training procedures adopted by the city were inadequate, the city showed deliberate indifference to the rights and the violation occurred due to deficient training of its officers.  This is an exceptionally difficult claim to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence, and the additional threshold of qualified immunity is another barrier to recovery by the Plaintiff.