ROGERS VANN, As Personal Representative and on Behalf of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Jeremy W.Vann, Plaintiff - Appellant,
CITY OF SOUTHAVEN, MISSISSIPPI; LIEUTENANT JORDAN JONES, Individually and in His Official Capacity as a Police Officer; SERGEANT BRETT YOAKUM, Individually and in His Official Capacity as a Police Officer; POLICE CHIEF TOM LONG, Individually and in His Official Capacity as a Police Officer and Chief of Police; SERGEANT JEFF LOGAN, Individually and in His Official Capacity as a Police Officer, Defendants - Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Mississippi
SMITH, ELROD, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.
JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, Circuit Judge:
lawsuit arises from the death of Jeremy W.Vann, who was shot
and killed by police in a retail parking lot in Southaven,
Mississippi during a small-scale drug sting operation.
Because there are genuine issues of material fact that
preclude the qualified-immunity determination as to one of
the defendants, we AFFIRM in part, VACATE in part, and REMAND
to the district court.
City of Southaven used prior arrestees as confidential
informants to buy small amounts of drugs from non-residents
who agreed to sell them. When the drug sale was intercepted
by police, the police would seize cash and property from the
would-be drug sellers.
6:00 a.m. on May 28, 2014, Teon Katchens agreed through an
online chat system to sell one ounce of marijuana for $150 to
someone in Southaven, Mississippi. Later that morning,
Katchens's friend, Jeremy W.Vann, drove Katchens and
Katchens's three-year-old son from Memphis, Tennessee, to
a parking lot in Southaven for the exchange. Neither Vann nor
Katchens was armed.
after Vann arrived at the lot, his car was boxed in by
unmarked civilian cars driven by undercover Southaven police
officers. The officers exited their cars, and Vann reversed
his car, trying to escape the cars that surrounded him.
During Vann's escape attempt, Vann's car moved
forward toward Sergeant Jeff Logan, who shot Vann before
being knocked to the ground by Vann's car. While Logan
was on the ground, and as Vann's car approached him for a
second time, Lieutenant Jordan Jones fired a second shot at
Vann. Vann died as a result of the shots fired by Logan and
Jones. Katchens and his son survived.
parties agree that Vann maneuvered his car in an attempt to
escape, was shot first by Logan, and was shot second by
Jones. The parties disagree, however, on the precise sequence
and intent behind certain events between Vann's arrival
at the parking lot and the moment Logan fired his weapon. The
parties also disagree on whether the police officers used
lights and sirens, wore police vests or badges, and shouted,
"Police!" thus informing Vann of their status as
to the officers, in the course of Vann's efforts to
escape the cars boxing him in, Vann's car slammed into
Logan's and another officer's cars multiple times. As
Logan was running between his own car and Jones's car
away from Vann, Vann's car struck him, causing Logan to
shoot in self-defense before rolling over the hood of the car
and falling to the ground. In contrast, Plaintiff, who is
Vann's representative, argues that rather than Vann's
car striking Logan and causing him to shoot, Logan moved in
front of the car and shot Vann as Vann attempted to escape
through a gap between the cars. It was only then that
Vann's car hit Logan. As Plaintiff puts it, the disputed
central fact is therefore whether Logan ran to the opening
and shot Vann to prevent him from fleeing or whether,
instead, Logan was hit as he ran out of the way of Vann's
supports his account by noting that investigators found no
evidence of tire tracks or burnt rubber on the pavement and
the fact that any damage to the officers' cars was either
minimal or pre-existent. Plaintiff also points to the
testimony of Logan and Jones, both of whom agree that Vann
was trying to escape. In Plaintiff's view, this
concession forecloses the notion that Vann intentionally
drove toward Logan and instead suggests Logan purposefully
placed himself between Vann's car and his escape route.
sued the officers and the City of Southaven under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, claiming that the officers violated Vann's
Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure,
excessive force, and deadly force, and that the City had
failed properly to train its officers and had permitted an
official practice or custom that violated the constitutional
rights of the public at large. The officers and the City
simultaneously moved for summary judgment.
district court granted the officers' and the City's
summary-judgment motion. With respect to the officers, the
district court concluded that Plaintiff failed to show the
violation of a clearly established right under either factual
scenario: Logan attempting to dodge Vann's oncoming car
or Logan attempting to stop Vann from fleeing. The district
court concluded that Plaintiff's alleged causes of action
against the City were insufficient, first, because Plaintiff
failed to show an underlying constitutional violation
according to clearly established law, and, second, because he
failed to bring sufficient evidence or make adequate
arguments regarding a particular policy that led to the
events at issue. Plaintiff now appeals.
court reviews de novo the district court's resolution of
legal issues on a motion for summary judgment on the basis of
qualified immunity." Hanks v. Rogers,
853 F.3d 738, 743 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Griggs v.
Brewer, 841 F.3d 308, 311 (5th Cir. 2016)). Summary
judgment is appropriate only if "there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Id. (quoting
Griggs, 841 F.3d at 311-12); see also McClendon
v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 322 (5th Cir. 2002)
(en banc). "[W]e view the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable
inferences in its favor." Hanks, 853 F.3d at
743 (quoting Griggs, 841 F.3d at 312); see also
Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) ("Our
qualified-immunity cases illustrate the importance of drawing
inferences in favor of the nonmovant . . . .").
qualified immunity defense alters the usual summary judgment
burden of proof. Once an official pleads the defense, the
burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who must rebut the
defense by establishing a genuine fact issue as to whether
the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated
clearly established law." Hanks, 853 F.3d at
744 (citation omitted) (quoting Brown v. Callahan,
623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010)).
there are genuine disputed issues of material fact regarding
Logan's actions, we vacate the district court's grant
of summary judgment to Logan. The central disputed fact is
whether Logan ran to the opening and shot Vann to stop him
from fleeing or whether Logan ran between the cars to get out
of Vann's way and then shot Vann because Vann was going
to hit him. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to Plaintiff, this fact is in dispute.
also material. The Supreme Court has "repeatedly told
courts . . . not to define clearly established law at a high
level of generality." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563
U.S. 731, 742 (2011). "The dispositive question is
'whether the violative nature of particular
conduct is clearly established.'" Mullenix v.
Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (quoting
al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 742). In Brosseau v.
Haugen, 543 U.S. 194 (2004), for example, the specific
conduct at issue was "shoot[ing] a disturbed felon, set
on avoiding capture through vehicular flight, when persons in
the immediate area are at risk from that flight." 543
U.S. at 200. In Mullenix, a qualified-immunity case
involving a fatal shooting, the relevant circumstances
included "a reportedly intoxicated fugitive, set on
avoiding capture through high-speed vehicular flight, who
twice during his flight had threatened to shoot police
officers, and who was moments away from encountering an
officer . . . ." 136 S.Ct. at 309.
case, with respect to the reasonableness of Logan's
conduct, the district court, to conclude that Logan's
conduct was reasonable, primarily considered the fact that
Logan was in the way of Vann's accelerating car when he
shot at Vann. Vann v. City of Southaven, 199
F.Supp.3d 1129, 1140, 1143, 1146 (N.D. Miss. 2016). This
conclusion, the district court suggested, is supported by
this circuit's precedent. See, e.g.,
id. at 1147 (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507
F.3d 312 (5th Cir. 2007)) ("The Fifth Circuit has thus
made it clear that, in situations where an officer feels
threatened by an oncoming vehicle and has little time to
react, courts owe a great deal of deference to that
officer's decision regarding whether . . . to fire his
viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
however, Logan's running into the way of Vann's car
and shooting at Van are not distinct acts. Plaintiff contends
that "Logan ran to the opening and shot Vann to
prevent him from fleeing." Id. at 1134
(emphasis added) (quoting Pl.'s Br. At 6-7). As Logan
himself admits, describing the moment when he ran, turned to
face Vann, and shot, "it all happened at one
time." Id. at 1132 (quoting Defs.'
Br. at 12-14). Viewing these steps together as the relevant
conduct, before a car was headed in Logan's direction,
Logan was confronted with the following situation: whether to
shoot a misdemeanor suspect quickly maneuvering his car to
escape surrounding cars and driving in the direction of an
area with no officers.
long been settled that "[w]here [a fleeing] suspect
poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to
others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does
not justify the use of deadly force to do so."
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11 (1985). Put
simply, "[a] police officer may not seize an unarmed,
nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead." Id.
The district court here rejected Garner's
application, determining instead that "a more
particularized, and hence more relevant" example is
required to guarantee that "[t]he contours of the right
. . . [are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official
would understand that what he is doing violates that
right." Vann, 199 F.Supp.3d at 1138 (citing
Brosseau, 543 U.S. at 199). This court has held,
however, that Garner's proposition "holds
as both a general matter and in the more specific context of
shooting a suspect fleeing in a motor vehicle."
Lytle v. Bexar Cty., 560 F.3d 404, 417-18 (5th Cir.
2009) (citations omitted). The outcome in the present case
therefore depends on the facts.
one hand, if Logan was running away from Vann's moving
car and thus being threatened by it at the time he shot Vann,
this case could fall in line with other car-related cases
where courts have determined that a reasonable officer would
have resorted to deadly force. See, e.g.,
Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 311-12 (holding the officer
acted reasonably where the suspect "was speeding towards
a confrontation with officers he had threatened to
kill"); Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012,
2021-22 (2014) (holding the officer acted reasonably where
the suspect's reckless driving "posed a grave public
safety risk"); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
385-86 (2007) (holding the officer acted reasonably where the
car chase "posed a substantial and immediate risk of
serious physical injury to others"); Brosseau,
543 U.S. at 197-201 (holding the officer did not violate