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Grazier v. City of Philadelphia

May 09, 2003


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 98-cv-06063) District Judge: Honorable Petrese B. Tucker

Before: Becker, Chief Judge,*fn1 Alito and Ambro, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge


Argued June 24, 2002


Dwayne Campbell and Tierra Grazier brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Philadelphia police officers Thomas Hood and Anthony Swinton as well as the City of Philadelphia. They allege that Hood and Swinton violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by shooting at them in the course of a traffic stop and that the City failed to train these officers properly. At the close of the plaintiffs' case-in-chief, the District Court granted judgment as a matter of law for the City on the basis that the plaintiffs could not satisfy the stringent requirements for municipal liability. The case against Officers Hood and Swinton went to the jury, which found them not liable for any constitutional violations. In a post-trial memorandum, the District Court denied the plaintiffs' motion for a new trial. We affirm. *fn2

I. Factual Background

On October 3, 1997, Officers Hood and Swinton were patrolling Philadelphia in an unmarked police car and in civilian clothes. Officer Hood was wearing a Philadelphia Phantoms hockey jersey, blue jeans, and black high top uniform boots, with his badge hanging from a chain around his neck. Officer Swinton was wearing a multi-colored flannel shirt, blue jeans, white baseball cap, and white sneakers. Both officers were relatively new on the job, and this was the first time that either had been assigned to this type of plainclothes duty.

According to the officers, at approximately 8:00 p.m. a car passed them at high speed in a non-traffic lane. Hood and Swinton followed the vehicle, which Campbell was driving with his young cousin Grazier in the back seat, to the next intersection, where Campbell had stopped for a light. Notwithstanding that, under Philadelphia Police Department regulations, it is "preferable" that plainclothes officers not make traffic stops, *fn3 Hood drove his car around Campbell's, blocking him perpendicularly in the intersection. *fn4 Hood and Swinton emerged from the unmarked car and, according to them, displayed their police badges and said "Police, Don't Move." Campbell contends that he could not hear what the officers said because his windows were closed and the radio was playing. Because Hood and Swinton drew their guns and because they were dressed in plain clothes, Campbell believed that he was being carjacked. Panicked, he threw his car into reverse and backed into another car. He then drove forward either at Hood or in his direction. Hood fired four shots at Campbell's car, three of which struck Campbell. The shot that injured Campbell most severely, the last of the four, arguably was not discharged until after his vehicle was pulling away from the officers. No bullets hit Grazier, though she was showered in broken glass.

Following an inquiry, the Philadelphia Police Department determined that Hood violated police Directives 10 *fn5 and 92, which govern the use of deadly force and vehicle investigations, respectively. Hood was suspended thirty days for using his firearm improperly. Swinton was investigated but not disciplined. He neither drove the unmarked police car nor fired any shots at Campbell's car.

The City has promulgated numerous directives, like Directives 10 and 92, to inform its officers of proper procedures. In addition, the City responded to this incident consistently with its established procedure of investigating all firearms discharges by its police officers. When the City finds a violation, it disciplines the offending officer, including requiring a full day of firearms instruction. Furthermore, the City requires annual firearms retraining for all officers. The plaintiffs do not appear to claim that the City did not investigate these incidents and discipline the offending officers. They question the level of discipline and training, contending, among other things, that more extensive firearms retraining was necessary.

II. Discussion

We address first the plaintiffs' municipal liability claim, then their claim that the Court erred in instructing the jury on the claims against the individual officers, and last the claim that the District Court erred by not overturning the jury's verdict of no liability.

A. Municipal Liability

The District Court granted the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). We exercise plenary review over that decision. See Duquesne Light Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 66 F.3d 604, 613 (3d Cir. 1995). "A district court should grant such a motion only if, viewing all the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, no reasonable jury could find liability on a particular point." Id. (citing McDaniels v. Flick, 59 F.3d 446, 454 (3d Cir. 1995)).

The plaintiffs argue that the City is liable because it followed a policy of failing to train its officers in proper firearm and vehicle investigation techniques. The District Court concluded that no reasonable jury could find municipal liability from the facts that plaintiffs allege. In its post-trial memorandum, the District Court added another rationale for this ruling: the City cannot be liable on a failure to train theory for conduct that a jury determined did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986) (per curiam). Either reason independently supports the Court's judgment for the City.

1. Municipal liability requires constitutional harm

The District Court correctly determined that any error in granting judgment for the City at the close of the plaintiffs' case would have been rendered harmless by the jury's verdict of no liability against Hood and Swinton. There cannot be an "award of damages against a municipal corporation based on the actions of one of its officers when in fact the jury has concluded that the officer inflicted no constitutional harm." Heller, 475 U.S. at 799. Because the jury in this case found no constitutional violation, Heller precludes a finding of municipal liability against the City. This conclusion follows naturally from the principle that municipal liability will only lie where municipal action actually caused an injury. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390 (1989) (observing that a City "may be held liable if its policy actually causes injury") (emphasis added). *fn6

2. No reasonable jury could find liability on the merits.

Even if Heller did not bar municipal liability, the District Court correctly rejected on the merits the plaintiffs' claim against the City. The Supreme Court set out the framework for establishing municipal liability on a failure to train theory in Harris, 489 U.S. at 388, which drew on the principles announced in Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). A City's failure to train its police officers must reflect a deliberate or conscious choice by policymaking officials, such that one could call it the City's policy or custom. The failure to train must "amount[ ] to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact." Harris, 489 U.S. at 388; see also Bd. of ...

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