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Emmons v. City of Escondido

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 25, 2019

Marty Emmons; Maggie Emmons, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
City of Escondido; Craig Carter, EPD Chief of Police; Jim Maher, Former EPD Chief of Police; Kevin Toth, EPD Sgt.; Robert Craig, EPD Officer; Jake Houchin, EPD Officer; Joseph Leffinwell, EPD Officer; Does, 2-50, inclusive; Corey Moles, Doe 1, Former Acting EPD Chief of Police, Defendants-Appellees.

          On Remand from the United States Supreme Court D.C. No. 3:14-CV-01662-JM-DHB

          Before: Susan P. Graber and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges, and Algenon L. Marbley, [*] District Judge.


         Civil Rights

         Following a remand by the United States Supreme Court, the panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of a police officer in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the officer used excessive force when he grabbed plaintiff and took him to the ground during an investigation of a reported domestic violence incident.

         The panel held that it was unable to find a specific case precisely on point that would establish that the officer's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right of which a reasonable official would have known, and therefore the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. The panel stated that although plaintiff posed no apparent danger to the police officer, it was mindful of the Supreme Court's conclusion that a case involving police force employed in response to mere "passive resistance" to police was not sufficiently on point with this case as to satisfy the Court's demand for specificity.


          PER CURIAM.

         The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Escondido and several Escondido police officers in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Emmons v. City of Escondido, 168 F.Supp.3d 1265, 1276 (S.D. Cal. 2016). We affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that Officers Toth and Craig were not entitled to qualified immunity. 716 Fed.Appx. 724, 726 (9th Cir. 2018) (unpublished). The Supreme Court granted certiorari, reversed our decision as to Officer Toth, and vacated and remanded as to Officer Craig. 139 S.Ct. 500, 502 (2019) (per curiam). We ordered supplemental briefing on the following question: Did "clearly established law prohibit[] the officers from stopping and taking down a man in these circumstances?" After considering that briefing, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Officer Craig.


         At the time this action was filed, Maggie Emmons lived in Escondido, California, with her husband, their two children, and a roommate, Ametria Douglas. In April 2013, Maggie called 911, accusing her husband of domestic violence. Emmons, 139 S.Ct. at 501. Escondido police arrested the husband, but he was never prosecuted. Id.

         In May 2013, Douglas was on the phone with her mother. After the call dropped, Douglas's mother called 911 to report what she believed was an on-going fight at the apartment. The Escondido police were asked to conduct a welfare check. Officer Craig was one of the responding officers.

         When the Escondido officers arrived on the scene, they found Douglas with the Emmons children at the swimming pool complex of the apartment. Douglas told the officers that everything was fine and that they were not needed. The officers proceeded to the apartment nonetheless. Maggie and her father, Marty Emmons, were watching television. Although Marty urged her to cooperate, Maggie refused to allow the officers to enter the apartment despite their repeated requests.

         Marty then emerged from the apartment, and the physical encounter with Craig that is the subject of this case ensued. The parties dispute what happened and, on this appeal from an adverse summary judgment, we must take the facts in the light most favorable to Marty. Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655-57 (2014) (per curiam). Marty testified that he stepped out of the apartment with his back to the exterior hallway and began to close the door. He could not see any officers by the door and did not hear anyone telling him to keep the door open. He first knew that Craig was there when Craig grabbed him and threw him to the ground. Douglas, who was watching from the pool, described the interaction as one in which "Mr. Emmons was pulled out of the door," and "tackled to the ground."

         The police body cameras recorded Craig saying the following: "Hi. How you doing sir? Don't close the door. Get your hands behind your back. Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground." The ...

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