United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S RULE 50(A) AND (B)
MOTIONS [RE: ECF 113]
LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge
Felicia Nichols brought this action alleging that Defendant
Christopher Schipke violated her rights under the Fourth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On June 23, 2017, after a
four-day trial, the jury returned a partial verdict.
See ECF 111.
before the Court is Defendant's motion for judgment under
rule Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) and (b). Mot., ECF
113. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court DENIES
facts are well known to the parties and the Court need not
recite them in detail here. See Order Granting in
Part and Denying in Part Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF 54. In
brief, Felicia Nichols brought this action following an
encounter with San Jose Police officers in November 2012.
Nichols alleged that the officers violated her constitutional
rights. At summary judgment, the Court dismissed Nichols'
claims for alleged violations of her First Amendment rights
and for Monell liability against the City of San
Jose. The Court also dismissed all claims against Officer
Christopher Ferguson, another officer at the scene on the
night of the incident. Only the claims against Officer
Schipke for deprivation of the right to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures and the use of
unreasonable excessive force remained.
12, 2017, a jury was empaneled, and the trial proceeded for
four days. ECF 94, 95, 98, 105. On June 23, 2017, after
deliberating for five days, the jury returned a partial
verdict. ECF 111. The jury found that Officer Schipke did not
unreasonably seize or search Felicia Nichols in violation of
her Fourth Amendment rights. Id. The jury deadlocked
on Nichols' excessive force claim. Id. at 4.
the Court dismissed the jury, Defendant asked the Court to
rule on his Rule 50(a) motion. The Court ordered the parties
to file simultaneous briefing on Defendant's motion as it
related to the remaining claim. In his motion, Defendant
moves for judgment pursuant to Rule 50(a) and (b). Mot.
Officer Schipke argues that the evidence presented at trial
is insufficient to establish a constitutional violation for
excessive force, and thus that he is entitled to qualified
immunity on Nichols' claim of excessive force for
handcuffing her too tightly. Id. at 5. Ms. Nichols
opposes Officer Schipke's motion, and contends that there
was sufficient evidence to establish a legal basis for a
finding that Officer Schipke used excessive force during the
interaction. See generally Opp'n, ECF 114.
district court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of
law pursuant to Rule 50(a) or (b) “when the evidence
presented at trial permits only one reasonable conclusion,
” i.e., “if no reasonable juror could
find in the non-moving party's favor.” Torres
v. City of Los Angeles, 548 F.3d 1197, 1205 (9th Cir.
2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)- (b). “The evidence must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of that
party. If conflicting inferences may be drawn from the facts,
the case must go to the jury.” Torres, 548
F.3d at 1205-06 (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). “A jury's inability to reach a verdict
does not necessarily preclude a judgment as a matter of
law.” Headwaters Forest Def. v. Cty. of
Humboldt, 240 F.3d 1185, 1197 (9th Cir. 2000),
vacated on other grounds, 534 U.S. 801 (2001). The
same standard applies to a motion for judgment as a matter of
law made after a mistrial because of jury deadlock. See
Id. at 1197 n.4 (“The fact that the motion was
granted after a mistrial was declared because of jury
deadlock does not alter the standard to be applied on
upon a review of the evidence, the Court finds that Officer
Schipke is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
Nichols' excessive force claim because Nichols'
evidence could support the conclusion that Officer Schipke
employed excessive force during his detention of Nichols in
government official sued under § 1983 is entitled to
qualified immunity unless the plaintiff shows that (1) the
official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and
(2) the right was “clearly established” at the
time of the challenged conduct. Plumhoff v. Rickard,
134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014) (citing Ashcroft v.
al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011)). Only the first prong
is at issue in the instant motion, and therefore, the Court
need only determine whether Plaintiff has failed to present
substantial evidence to support a claim of excessive force.
of excessive force brought against police officers must be
analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's
“reasonableness” standard. Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989); Smith v. City of
Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 700-01 (9th Cir. 2005). The
“objective reasonableness” of an officer's
use of force in a particular case is determined “in
light of the facts and circumstances confronting [him],
without regard to [his] underlying intent or
motivation.” Connor, 490 U.S. at 396-97.
“The operative question in excessive force cases is
‘whether the totality of the circumstances justifie[s]
a particular sort of search or seizure.'” Cty.
of Los Angeles v. Mendez, 137 S.Ct. 1539, 1546 (2017)
(citing and quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1,
claims that Officer Schipke used excessive force by engaging
in the following conduct: using handcuffs that were so tight
that they were painful and caused bruises; ignoring her
complaints that the handcuffs were too tight; and slamming
her body onto the hood of the police car, among other
complaints. Despite this, Officer Schipke addresses only the
handcuffing in his motion. Specifically, he argues that
Nichols' testimony that the handcuffs were so tight as to
cause pain did not establish a legal basis for a reasonable
jury to find that Officer Schipke's use of handcuffs
constituted excessive force. Mot. 3-4. However, in addition
to her testimony regarding the handcuffing, Nichols testified
that Officer Schipke slammed her upper body onto the hood of
the car after she attempted to avoid stares from other
officers on the scene by turning her head. She also testified
that when Officer Schipke slammed her down on the hood of the
car, it felt to her that when he pressed his body against her
that he was aroused. The Court cannot review a portion of the
evidence in isolation, as Nichols brings a single claim for
excessive force based on the totality of the circumstances.
Mendez, 137 S.Ct. at 1546; Opp'n 4 (arguing that
Defendant ignores the entirety of Nichols' testimony
regarding the incident).
also suggests that Defendant ignores her remaining complaints
because Baltazar Jasso, a percipient witness, identified
another officer as having slammed Plaintiff on the hood of
the car. Opp'n 5, ECF 114. However, as Plaintiff
correctly argues, Ms. Nichols identified Officer Schipke as
the person who slammed her on the hood of the car during her
testimony. Id. Again, as Plaintiff states in her
brief, the jury is entitled to conclude that Mr. Jasso
misidentified the officer who slammed Ms. Nichols on the car,
and that Plaintiff's identification of Officer Schipke
was correct. Id. And, the Court cannot weigh the
credibility of the witnesses on a motion for judgment as a
matter of law. See E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software,
Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009) ...