City of Springfield v. Kibbe
Decided on Feb. 25, 1987; 480 US 257


Police department is sued for shooting a man during pursuit

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (Federal)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Can a municipality be held liable for inadequate training of its employees? If so, is more than negligence in training required in order to establish such liability?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

On September 28, 1981, Clinton Thurston had allegedly broken into an apartment and assaulted a woman. When officers arrived at the scene, they discovered that Thurston had abducted the woman and had driven away in his car. 

Thurston's vehicle was spotted by an officer driving an unmarked police car. Thurston drove away after he was stopped at an intersection and approached by the officer. The officer initiated a police chase and was soon joined by other members of the Springfield Police Department.  Other officers set up a roadblock to stop Thurston, but he drove past without stopping.  Officers set up a second roadblock in an attempt to stop the car. Thurston again failed to stop. Officer Theodore Perry, who had been waiting near the second roadblock, joined the chase.  Rather than remain behind Thurston's vehicle, Perry moved even with his rear window.  When Thurston swerved towards him, Perry fired his gun. Perry hit Thurston in the head with the second shot; the car rolled to a stop and Thurston was taken unconscious to the hospital where he later died.

Thurston's relatives (Respondents) filed suit against the Springfield police in Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  They argued that negligent training had led Officer Perry to wrongfully shoot and kill Thurston, depriving him of his civil rights.

The jury returned verdicts against the city and Officer Perry, but found in favor of the other officers. The District Court denied the city's motions for directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The city appealed the District Court's refusal to grant either a directed verdict or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and also claimed error in the jury charge.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling. The US Supreme Court granted certiorari.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Terry Scott Nagel argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were J. Levonne Chambers and Eric Schnapper.
Edward M. Pikula argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Richard T. Egan and Harry P. Carroll.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee) 
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Marjorie Heins, Jack D. Novik, Howard Friedman, Michael Avery, and Donald Rudovsky; and for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People by Grover G. Hankins.
Benna Ruth Solomon and David O. Stewart filed a brief for the US Conference of Mayors as amicus curiae, urging reversal.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Court concluded that they cannot reach the negligence question. Although petitioner city of Springfield argued that a heightened negligence standard does not suffice under Monell's requirement of a municipal policy, it appears that, in the District Court, petitioner did not object to the jury instruction stating that gross negligence would suffice and indeed proposed its own instruction to the same effect. Nor did it argue for a higher standard than gross negligence in the Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court ordinarily does not decide questions not raised or litigated in the lower courts. That rule has special force where the party seeking to argue the issue has failed to object to a jury instruction, since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that 'No party may assign as error the giving... of an instruction unless he objects thereto before the jury retires to consider its verdict.'

Here, the Supreme Court's inability to reach the negligence issue makes this case an inappropriate vehicle for resolving the inadequate training question, because of the close interrelationship between the two matters, and the other questions presented are not of sufficient importance to warrant our review independently."

The Court concluded that the writ should be dismissed as improvidently granted.
Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con
Per Curiam decision (no individual authorship of the majority decision)
  •  Brennan, W.  Pro
  •  Marshall, T.  Pro 
  • Stevens, J.  Pro 
  • Scalia, A.  Pro   
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro
  • O'Connor, S.  Con  (Wrote dissenting opinion) 
  • Rehnquist, W.  Con  (Joined dissenting opinion) 
  • Powell, L.  Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • White, B.  Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the Supreme Court concluded the writ should be dismissed, in a 5-4 vote giving the ACLU an apparent win.