Law School Case Brief
Shaw v. Stroud - 13 F.3d 791 (4th Cir. 1994)
There are three elements necessary to establish supervisory liability under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983: (1) that the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that his subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed "a pervasive and unreasonable risk" of constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) that the supervisor's response to that knowledge was so inadequate as to show "deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices," and (3) that there was an "affirmative causal link" between the supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional injury suffered by the plaintiff.
Plaintiffs, family members of a decedent, brought an action against defendants, a state trooper and his supervisors, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and state law after the trooper shot and killed the decedent during an arrest. The trooper (Morris) shot decedent five times during a struggle in decedent's driveway after stopping him on suspicion of drunk driving. Sergeant C.I. Stroud (Stroud) was Morris' supervisor from the time Morris joined the patrol in 1983 until late November 1988. Stroud was transferred 15 months before the Bowen shooting. Nevertheless, during his tenure as Morris' supervisor, Stroud received reports about Morris' use of excessive force. Sergeant J.M. Smith (Smith) transferred to the Troop and replaced Stroud as First Sergeant in December 1988. When Smith moved to the Troop, he knew nothing about Morris. Stroud did not inform him that he had heard any complaints about Morris' use of excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment on some claims and denied summary judgment on others. The family and two supervisors appealed.
(a) Did the district court err when it granted Sergeant Stroud's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity with respect to the § 1983 failure-to-supervise claim against him? (b) Did the district court err when it granted Sergeant Smith's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity with respect to the § 1983 failure-to-supervise claim against him? (c) Did the district court err when it entered summary judgment against plaintiffs on their state-law claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress?
(a) Yes; (b) No; (c) No.
The court found that summary judgment was properly denied on the supervisory liability claim against the past supervisor because a reasonable jury could have found that he acted with deliberate indifference by responding callously and with apparent amusement to past complaints about the trooper's abusive conduct. Even though he was transferred 15 months prior to the incident, a causal link existed between his inaction and the alleged harm. Summary judgment was properly granted to the present supervisor (Smith) on the supervisory liability claim because, although his actions were not the most effective, he did not exhibit deliberate indifference. He was entitled to qualified immunity because he followed standard operating procedures, made records of complaints, and reported the trooper's conduct to supervisors. The trooper had immunity from the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim under state law, even where he was grossly negligent. The due process clause did not support a claim for the loss of the love and support of a family member.
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