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The Fourth Amendment provides no basis for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's provocation rule. A different Fourth Amendment violation cannot transform a later, reasonable use of force into an unreasonable seizure.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department received word from a confidential informant that a potentially armed and dangerous parolee-at-large had been seen at a certain residence. While other officers searched the main house, Deputies Conley and Pederson searched the back of the property where, unbeknownst to the deputies, respondents Mendez and Garcia were napping inside a shack where they lived. Without a search warrant and without announcing their presence, the deputies opened the door of the shack. Mendez rose from the bed, holding a BB gun that he used to kill pests. Deputy Conley yelled, “Gun!” and the deputies immediately opened fire, shooting Mendez and Garcia multiple times. Officers did not find the parolee in the shack or elsewhere on the property. Mendez and Garcia sued Deputies Conley and Pederson and the County under 42 U. S. C. §1983, pressing three Fourth Amendment claims: a warrantless entry claim, a knock-and-announce claim, and an excessive force claim. On the first two claims, the District Court awarded Mendez and Garcia nominal damages. On the excessive force claim, the court found that the deputies' use of force was reasonable under Graham v. Connor, 490 U. S. 386, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443, but held them liable nonetheless under the Ninth Circuit's provocation rule, which would make an officer's otherwise reasonable use of force unreasonable if (1) the officer “intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation” and (2) “the provocation is an independent Fourth Amendment violation.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the knock-and-announce claim and that the warrantless entry violated clearly established law. It also affirmed the District Court's application of the provocation rule, and held, in the alternative, that basic notions of proximate cause would support liability even without the provocation rule. Certiorari was granted.
Was it proper to grant damages in favor of Mendez and Garcia on the basis of the provocation rule?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's judgment affirming a district court's order awarding around $4 million in damages to Mendez and Garcia who were shot by sheriff's deputies had to be vacated because it was based on the Ninth Circuit's “provocation rule" and the Fourth Amendment provided no basis for the Ninth Circuit’s rule. The Ninth Circuit's provocation rule, which held that an officer’s otherwise reasonable and lawful defensive use of force was unreasonable as a matter of law if the officer intentionally or recklessly provoked a violent response and the provocation was an independent constitutional violation, conflated excessive force claims with other Fourth Amendment claims and permitted excessive force claims that could not succeed on their own terms.