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Law School Case Brief

Brower v. Cty. of Inyo - 489 U.S. 593, 109 S. Ct. 1378 (1989)


It is enough for a seizure that a person be stopped by the very instrumentality set in motion or put in place in order to achieve that result.


The driver of a stolen automobile was killed at the end of a high-speed nighttime chase when his vehicle collided with a truck that county police officers had positioned across the road to serve as a roadblock. Members of the driver's family subsequently brought an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. The family members alleged that the county, the individual officers involved, and various other parties, acting under color of law, had violated the driver's constitutional rights in that, among other things, they had used excessive force in establishing the roadblock--particularly since they had allegedly concealed the roadblock by placing it behind a curve, leaving it unilluminated, and positioning a police car so that its headlights would shine in the face of an oncoming driver--and had thus effected an unreasonable seizure of the driver in violation of the Federal Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The District Court granted a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, on the ground that establishing a roadblock was not unreasonable. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed with respect to the Fourth Amendment claim, as it held that the use of the roadblock to stop the driver did not constitute a "seizure" for Fourth Amendment purposes.


Did the use of the roadblock to stop the driver constitute a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes?




The United States Supreme Court held that a Fourth Amendment "seizure" occurs when there is a governmental termination of freedom of movement through means intentionally applied. As such, the allegations that the police officers, acting under color of law, sought to stop the driver by means of a roadblock, and that they succeeded in doing so, were sufficient to allege a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the Court remanded the case to the court of appeals for consideration of whether the district court properly dismissed the Fourth Amendment claim on the basis that the alleged roadblock did not effect a seizure that was "unreasonable," because in order to establish a violation of civil rights, it must have been shown that a seizure was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

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