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BROWER v. COUNTY INYO ET AL.

decided: March 21, 1989.

BROWER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CALDWELL (BROWER), ET AL
v.
COUNTY OF INYO ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, O'Connor, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined, post, p. 600.

Author: Scalia

[ 489 U.S. Page 594]

 JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the night of October 23, 1984, William James Caldwell (Brower) was killed when the stolen car that he had been driving at high speeds for approximately 20 miles in an effort to elude pursuing police crashed into a police roadblock. His heirs, petitioners here, brought this action in Federal District Court under 42 U. S. C. ยง 1983, claiming, inter alia, that respondents used "brutal, excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary physical force" in establishing the roadblock, and thus effected an unreasonable seizure of Brower, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Petitioners alleged that "under color of statutes, regulations, customs and usages," respondents (1) caused an 18-wheel tractor-trailer to be placed across both lanes of a two-lane highway in the path of Brower's flight, (2) "effectively concealed" this roadblock by placing it behind a curve and leaving it unilluminated, and (3) positioned a police car, with its headlights on, between Brower's oncoming vehicle and the truck, so that Brower would be "blinded" on his approach. App. 8-9. Petitioners further alleged that Brower's fatal collision with the truck was "a proximate result" of this official conduct. Id., at 9. The District Court granted respondents' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on the ground (insofar as the Fourth Amendment claim was concerned) that "establishing a roadblock [was] not unreasonable under the circumstances." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-21. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Fourth Amendment claim on the basis that no "seizure" had occurred. 817 F.2d 540, 545-546 (1987). We granted certiorari, 487 U.S. 1217 (1988), to resolve a conflict between that decision and the contrary holding

[ 489 U.S. Page 595]

     of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Jamieson v. Shaw, 772 F.2d 1205 (1985).

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized."

In Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), all Members of the Court agreed that a police officer's fatal shooting of a fleeing suspect constituted a Fourth Amendment "seizure." See id., at 7; id., at 25 (O'Connor, J., dissenting). We reasoned that "[w]henever an officer restrains the freedom of a person to walk away, he has seized that person." Id., at 7. While acknowledging Garner, the Court of Appeals here concluded that no "seizure" occurred when Brower collided with the police roadblock because "[p]rior to his failure to stop voluntarily, his freedom of movement was never arrested or restrained" and because "[h]e had a number of opportunities to stop his automobile prior to the impact." 817 F.2d, at 546. Essentially the same thing, however, could have been said in Garner. Brower's independent decision to continue the chase can no more eliminate respondents' responsibility for the termination of his movement effected by the roadblock than Garner's independent decision to flee eliminated the Memphis police officer's responsibility for the termination of his movement effected by the bullet.

The Court of Appeals was impelled to its result by consideration of what it described as the "analogous situation" of a police chase in which the suspect unexpectedly loses control of his car and crashes. See Galas v. McKee, 801 F.2d 200, 202-203 (CA6 1986) (no seizure in such circumstances). We agree that no unconstitutional seizure occurs there, but not for a reason that has any application to the present case.

[ 489 U.S. Page 596]

     Violation of the Fourth Amendment requires an intentional acquisition of physical control. A seizure occurs even when an unintended person or thing is the object of the detention or taking, see Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 802-805 (1971); cf. Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 85-89 (1987), but the detention or taking itself must be willful. This is implicit in the word "seizure," which can hardly be applied to an unknowing act. The writs of assistance that were the principal grievance against which the Fourth Amendment was directed, see Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 624-625 (1886); T. Cooley, Constitutional Limitations *301-*302, did not involve unintended consequences of government action. Nor did the general warrants issued by Lord Halifax in the 1760's, which produced "the first and only major litigation in the English courts in the field of search and seizure," T. Taylor, Two Studies in Constitutional Interpretation 26 (1969), including the case we have described as a "monument of English freedom" "undoubtedly familiar" to "every American statesman" at the time the Constitution was adopted, and considered to be "the true and ultimate expression of constitutional law," Boyd, supra, at 626 (discussing Entick v. Carrington, 19 How. St. Tr. 1029, 95 Eng. Rep. 807 (K. B. 1765)). In sum, the Fourth Amendment addresses "misuse of power," Byars v. United States, 273 U.S. 28, 33 (1927), not the accidental effects of otherwise lawful government conduct.

Thus, if a parked and unoccupied police car slips its brake and pins a passerby against a wall, it is likely that a tort has occurred, but not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And the situation would not change if the passerby happened, by lucky chance, to be a serial murderer for whom there was an outstanding arrest warrant -- even if, at the time he was thus pinned, he was in the process of running away from two pursuing constables. It is clear, in ...


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