Non-compliance with training is not a Monell complaint

JKJV CITY OF SAN DIEGO, 17 F.4e 1247 (9th Cir. 2021)

Officers pulled over a Cadillac with an expired registration and quickly learned that the two men in the front seat had previous drug convictions. They also learned that Aleah Mariah Jenkins, a rear passenger, was the subject of an arrest warrant. Officers searched the car and found two wallets, one of which was filled with cash, and some medicine packaging material. They found no drugs.

When officers questioned Jenkins, she spoke coherently and showed no signs of distress. They arrested Jenkins, handcuffed her, and put her in a cruiser, where she vomited. Officers called paramedics and asked Jenkins if she was in rehab. Jenkins replied, “No, I’m pregnant.” Officers canceled the call for paramedics.

As officers drove Jenkins to a station for fingerprinting and processing, she whimpered and screamed for help. When she arrived at the station, Jenkins was hyperventilating. After taking Jenkins’ fingerprints at the police station, officers drove her back to the squad car. Several minutes later they found her unconscious, called paramedics and started CPR. Jenkins fell into a coma and died nine days later. A surviving minor child sued.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit because it did not set out a valid claim against the defendants. The Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal. The court granted qualified immunity to the individual agents. The primary allegation against the officers was that they failed to recognize and adequately respond to Jenkins’ serious medical need. The court considered that this right was not clearly established in the specific context of this case. Thus, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

The plaintiff also provided a monell complaint against the city. According to the Court of Appeal, JKJ had to plead facts alleging that:

  1. Jenkins was deprived of a constitutional right
  2. The municipality had a policy
  3. The policy amounted to a willful disregard for Jenkins’ constitutional right, and
  4. Politics was the driving force behind the constitutional violation.

The court found that the plaintiff’s complaint does not plausibly allege that any city policy or custom “was the driving force behind the alleged constitutional violations Jenkins allegedly suffered.” On the contrary, the court held that “the force in motion was not a lack of training, but the officers’ failure to consider their training.”

This is an example of the challenge of suing a government agency under a monell Claim. At the same time, the case reminds officers to seek medical attention whenever reasonably necessary. We all love doctors and firefighters, but we shouldn’t be shy about waking them up and letting them decide if an arrested person is in medical distress.

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