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Bd. of the Cnty. Comm’rs v. Brown

Supreme Court of the United States

November 5, 1996, Argued ; April 28, 1997, Decided

No. 95-1100

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

Petitioner county sought a writ of certiorari from a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to challenge an award of damages to respondent on her claim for injuries sustained as a result of excessive use of force by police officer, in an action brought under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983.

Overview

The Court granted certiorari to decide whether the county was properly held liable for respondent's injuries based on the sheriff's single decision to hire the officer who caused the injuries. Although the municipality could be held liable as a "person" under § 1983, it could not be held liable solely because it employed a tortfeasor. Vicarious liability could not be imposed on the governing body solely on the basis of the employer-employee relationship. Respondent was required to identify a municipal policy or custom that caused her injuries. It was not sufficient for respondent merely to identify conduct attributable to the county, such as the one-time decision to hire, she also had to demonstrate that through its deliberate conduct, the county was the moving force behind the injury and that municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability. The Court found that the lower courts failed to test the link between the officer's background and the risk that, if hired, he would use excessive force. The mere probability that the sheriff used inadequate screening was insufficient to impose municipal liability.

Outcome

The Court reversed the decision and remanded the case because it found that the county could not be held liable for the sheriff's isolated decision to hire the police officer without adequate screening because respondent did not demonstrate that the decision reflected a conscious disregard that the officer would use excessive force.

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Civil Rights Law > ... > Section 1983 Actions > Scope > Government Actions

Governments > Local Governments > Claims By & Against

Civil Rights Law > Protection of Rights > Section 1983 Actions > Scope

HN1  Scope, Government Actions

42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 does not impose liability on a municipality unless deliberate action attributable to the municipality itself is the "moving force" behind the plaintiff's deprivation of federal rights.

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Criminal Offenses > Vehicular Crimes > General Overview

Governments > Local Governments > Employees & Officials

Criminal Law & Procedure > ... > Obstruction of Administration of Justice > Resisting Arrest > General Overview

HN2  Criminal Offenses, Vehicular Crimes

Oklahoma law does not preclude the hiring of an individual who has committed a misdemeanor to serve as a peace officer. Okla. Stat. tit. 70, § 3311(D)(2)(a) (1991) requires that the hiring agency certify that the prospective officer's records do not reflect a felony conviction.

 

Civil Rights Law > Protection of Rights > Section 1983 Actions > Scope

HN3  Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions

See 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983.

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520 U.S. 397 ; 117 S. Ct. 1382 ; 137 L. Ed. 2d 626 ; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 2793 ; 65 U.S.L.W. 4286; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3033; 12 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1217; 97 Daily Journal DAR 5311; 10 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 405

BOARD OF THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF BRYAN COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, PETITIONER v. JILL BROWN ET AL.

Prior History:  [1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition: 67 F.3d 1174, vacated and remanded.