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Byrd v. Phoenix Police Department

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 16, 2018

Charles Edward Byrd, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Phoenix Police Department, named as City of Phoenix Police Department; Robert McKinney, Phoenix Police Department Officer #8046; Timothy Thiebaut, Phoenix Police Department Officer #8008, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted November 14, 2017 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona Neil V. Wake, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:15-cv-02661-NVW-DKD

          Jeremy B. Rosen (argued) and Mark A. Kressel. Horvitz & Levy LLP, Burbank, California; Kyser Blakely (argued) and Emily Sauer (argued), Certified Law Students, Pepperdine University School of Law Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Malibu, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Clarence E. Matherson Jr. (argued), Assistant City Attorney; Brad Holm, City Attorney; Office of the City Attorney, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Jacqueline H. Nguyen and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges, and Richard K. Eaton, [*] Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Prisoner Civil Rights

         The panel reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of a complaint seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights by Phoenix police officers during a traffic stop.

         The panel disagreed with the district court that the allegation that the officers "beat the crap out of" plaintiff was too vague and conclusory to support a legally cognizable claim. The panel held that plaintiff's use of a colloquial, shorthand phrase made plain that he was alleging that the officers' use of force was unreasonably excessive; this conclusion was reinforced by his allegations about the resulting injuries.

         The panel held that plaintiff's § 1983 claims alleging Fourth Amendment and due process violations were not barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which held that § 1983 claims are not cognizable if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence. The panel noted that plaintiff pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit possession of a dangerous drug for sale, that no evidence was produced against him at his plea hearing, and that he alleged no facts suggesting that his plea was not knowing or voluntary. The panel determined that plaintiff's civil suit concerning allegations that the police illegally searched his person and used excessive force had nothing to do with the evidentiary basis for his conviction. Therefore, success on his civil claims would not necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of that conviction.

         The panel agreed with the district court that plaintiff's complaint failed to allege a Monell claim against the City of Phoenix. But because the panel was remanding for further proceedings, the panel left it to plaintiff's new counsel to determine whether to seek leave to amend to correct the deficiencies identified by the district court.

         Concurring, Judge Eaton stated that he would allow plaintiff's § 1983 claims to proceed, because his conviction resulted from a plea agreement and was thus based on no evidence at all.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         Charles Edward Byrd, an Arizona state prison inmate, appeals the district court's sua sponte dismissal, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, of his civil rights complaint. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review the dismissal de novo, Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 31, 2015, Byrd filed a pro se complaint seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by Phoenix Police Officers Robert McKinney and Timothy Thiebaut during a traffic stop.[1] Byrd alleged that Officers McKinney and Thiebaut stopped him for riding a bicycle without a headlight, but did not issue him a citation for that violation.[2]Rather, according to Byrd, the officers first searched him and his belongings, and then proceeded to "beat the crap out of" him, causing serious injuries, including the loss of seventy percent of his vision. Byrd later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit possession of a dangerous drug, and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.[3]

         The district court conducted a pre-answer screening of Byrd's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court first found that Byrd had improperly named the Phoenix Police Department as a defendant, instead of the City of Phoenix. In addition, the court found that, even if Byrd had sued the city, his claim could not survive dismissal because he alleged a respondeat superior theory of liability but did not allege that the officers were acting pursuant to an official policy or custom of the municipality. The court therefore dismissed the suit against the department.

         Next, the court examined the six counts of the complaint. The excessive force claim in Count Six was dismissed because the district court found its allegations too vague and conclusory to state a claim, and Count Three was dismissed as duplicative of Count Six. The court held that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) barred Counts One, Two, Four, and Five of the complaint, which asserted violations of Byrd's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed the complaint, with leave to amend, instructing Byrd to "cure the deficiencies outlined" and re-submit the complaint on a court-approved form.

         On April 18, 2016, Byrd filed his First Amended Complaint, which again named the City of Phoenix Police Department and the two officers as defendants and repeated the six counts alleged in the original complaint. The district court found that the First Amended Complaint suffered from the same defects that the court had previously identified and dismissed it without leave to amend. The district court denied leave to amend because Byrd was apparently "unable or unwilling to [craft a ...


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