The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES WARE, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION AND UPON
RECONSIDERATION, GRANTING DEFENDANTS' RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT
AS A MATTER OF LAW
At the close of the evidence, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 50(a), Defendants William Foster and the City of San
Jose moved for judgment in their favor as a matter of law with
respect to Plaintiff Bryon McIntyre's claim for battery and with
respect to Plaintiff Laura Bushell-McIntyre's claims for battery
and violation of civil rights. The motions were taken under
submission and the case was submitted to the jury.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Bushell
McIntyre and against Defendants. Pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 50(b), Defendants made a Renewed Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law. On March 15, 2005, in a written
Order, the Court denied the Renewed Motion for Judgment.
Defendants have now moved the Court to reconsider its March 15
Order on the ground that the decision was based on an erroneous
factual premise with respect to the important issue of whether
Officer Foster had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff
Bushell-McIntyre. Defendants contend that even construing the
evidence in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as a matter
of law, Officer Foster had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for
battery on a police officer. Consequently, the Defendants contend that they are entitled to Judgment as a Matter of Law
with respect to any claim on which Plaintiff bore the burden of
proving lack of probable cause.
Furthermore, Defendants content that, because the evidence
clearly established that Officer Foster had probable cause to
arrest Plaintiff for battery on a police officer, he was entitled
to use force to effect the arrest, unless the Plaintiffs proved
that the law put him on notice that the force he used was clearly
unlawful. Defendants contend that even construing the evidence in
a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, there was no evidence
that would put a reasonable police officer on notice that the
force used to arrest Plaintiff was clearly unlawful. Defendants
ask the Court to reconsider its March 15, Order and grant them
Judgment as a Matter of Law.
2. MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
Defendants' principal ground for their Motion for
Reconsideration is manifest failure of the Court to apply the law
to undisputed facts. Specifically, Defendants contend that on the
basis of the facts construed favorably to Plaintiff, Officer
Foster had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for battery of a
police officer and to use force in effecting the arrest and
therefore he is entitled to qualified immunity from liability on
all Claims of Plaintiff Bushell-McIntrye. Defendants attached a
copy of the trial transcript to their moving papers. Defendants
emphasize that expert witness testimony by Plaintiff's expert
witness establish probable cause for Foster's arrest and for his
using force to respond to the battery. After reading the
transcript, the Court now decides that in ruling on the
post-verdict motion, the Court did not give due consideration to
whether Officer Foster was qualifiedly immune from liability
based on the facts of the case. Therefore, Defendants' motion for
reconsideration is granted. The Court proceeds to reconsider the
Renewed Motion for Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
3. LEGAL STANDARD IN RULING ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT
The Court reiterates the legal standard for ruling on the
Motion for Judgment which was contained in its March 15 Order. In
ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, "the trial
court can overturn the jury and grant such a motion only if,
under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Winarto v. Toshiba
America Electronics Components, Inc., 274 F.3d 1276 (9th Cir.
2001). "In other words, the motion should be granted only if
`there is no legally sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to
find for that party on that issue.'" Id. citing Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 149 (2000). In
ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court
must not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence
and should view all inferences in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (citing Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). "[T]he court must
accept the jury's credibility findings consistent with the
verdict." Bilbrey by Bilbrey v. Brown, 738 F.2d 1462, 1468 n. 8
(9th Cir. 1984). It "must disregard all evidence favorable to the
moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves,
530 U.S. at 151. The court "may not substitute its view of the
evidence for that of the jury." Johnson v. Paradise Valley
Unified Sch. Dist., 251 F.3d 1222, 1227 (9th Cir. 2001).
Under this standard the Court proceeds to consider if under the
facts so construed, Officer Foster is entitled to qualified
immunity from liability for the arrest or the force used to
effect the arrest.
4. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY BASED ON PROBABLE CAUSE FOR ARREST
A claim of qualified immunity requires a two part analysis.
First, the Court must consider whether the evidence submitted,
taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the
injury, shows that the officer's conduct violated a
constitutional right. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194
(2001). If the evidence does not establish the violation of a
constitutional right, the officer is not liable. See id. The
Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable seizures. Brower v.
County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 596 (1989). An arrest without
probable cause violates an individual's constitutional right to
be free from unreasonable seizures.
The Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law invites the
Court to determine whether, even if Plaintiff Bushell-McIntyre's
evidence is believed, her admission that she touched Officer
Foster accords him immunity for liability for the arrest because
her uninvited and unwelcome contact with his body constituted
probable cause for arrest for battery of a police officer. The
Court has reviewed the transcript of the trial and the legal memoranda
filed by the parties. Both parties called expert witnesses on the
standards of conduct of reasonable police officers. Both expert
witnesses stated that in their respective opinions a reasonable
police officer would believe that, under the circumstances facing
Officer Foster, an individual who reaches out and touches the
officer's badge without the police officer's permission is
committing a battery against a police officer. Having
reconsidered the matter, the Court now finds that the evidence
admits to but one conclusion, namely that Officer Foster had
reasonable cause to believe that Plaintiff Bushell-McIntyre was
committing battery on a police officer when she touched his badge
without his permission. Therefore, he had probable cause to
arrest her for that offense.
There was a dispute in the evidence over whether Plaintiff
committed a second battery on Officer Foster by shoving him with
her left arm against his right shoulder. Officer Foster testified
that after she "grabbed" his badge, he knocked her hand away with
his arm. According to the testimony of Officer Foster, in
response to knocking her hand away, Plaintiff shoved his right
Plaintiff admitted reaching out to "touch" Officer Foster's
badge without his permission so that she could read his badge
number. Plaintiff testified that in response to her touching his
badge, Officer Foster knocked her hand away with a hard object.
She believes that it was a flashlight he was holding. She
testified that she made no further physical contact with Officer
Foster other than touching his badge. She testified that he
forcefully and physically arrested her within seconds after he
knocked her hand away.
With regard to this second incident, the evidence clearly
established that Officer Foster believed that Plaintiff shoved
him. Under the law, his belief that an individual has shoved him,
even if he is mistaken in that belief, entitles him to qualified
immunity to arrest that individual for battery on a police
officer. If an officer makes a reasonable mistake as to what the
law requires, the officer is nevertheless entitled to immunity.
See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 at 1258. The qualified
immunity defense "provides ample protection to all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."
See Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The inquiry
is not whether another reasonable or more reasonable interpretation of events can ...