Municipalities may not be held liable under federal law unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature causes a constitutional tort. In addition to an official policy, a municipality may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental custom even though such custom does not receive formal approval through the governmental body's official decisionmaking channels. Proof of random acts or isolated events are insufficient to establish custom.
Plaintiffs' relative learned that her estranged husband was going to hurt her, so she called 911 to request help. However, the dispatcher told her that nothing could be done until the dispatcher showed up, and actually tried to harm her. Roughly 15 minutes later, the husband killed the plaintiffs' relative. Plaintiffs sued the county and the sheriff, claiming that the defendants had a discriminatory policy of assigning a lower priority to 911 calls for domestic violence. They also argued that it impermissibly discriminated against abused women. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claims.
Whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the county, sheriff, and municipality.
Yes, the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the county, sheriff, and municipality.
On appeal, the court affirmed part of the lower court's ruling, but held that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether there was a custom of not classifying the domestic violence calls as emergencies. The court held that the testimony of a dispatcher, if proven, could have established that appellees had a policy in treating domestic violence calls differently and therefore the district court erred in granting summary judgment to appellees. However, the court held that appellants failed to provide sufficient evidence on their claim of deliberate indifference in the training of the dispatchers and that portion of the judgment was affirmed.