Viability of Monell Claim

Author: LegalEase Solutions

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether a “Monell” § 1983 claim appears viable against City of Pharr based on provided facts.

 SHORT ANSWER

A “Monell” § 1983 claim appears to be viable against City of Pharr because the inaction of the police chief in the face of allegations of sexual abuse arguably resulted in a tacit, de facto approval of Officer Mata’s actions. Further, the city’s, chief’s and department’s history of ignoring or refusing to take action may be used to reinforce the claim of a pattern or practice.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

Generally, “every Monell claim requires ‘an underlying constitutional violation.’” Kitchen v. Dallas Cnty., Tex., 759 F.3d 468, 483 (5th Cir. 2014). Further, “‘municipal liability under section 1983 requires proof of three elements: (1) a policymaker; (2) an official policy; and (3) violation of constitutional rights whose moving force is the policy or custom.’” Hampton Co. Nat. Sur., LLC v. Tunica Cnty., Miss., 543 F.3d 221, 227 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir.2001).

“‘To hold a municipality liable under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 for the misconduct of an employee, a plaintiff must show, in addition to a constitutional violation, that an official policy promulgated by the municipality’s policymaker was the moving force behind, or actual cause of, the constitutional injury.’” Harris v. Serpas, 745 F.3d 767, 774 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 137, 190 L. Ed. 2d 45 (2014) (quoting James v. Harris Cnty., 577 F.3d 612, 617 (5th Cir.2009)). Additionally, “[a] government entity may be held liable under § 1983 only when the injury results from the ‘execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts and acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.’” Keenan v. Tejeda, 290 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)).

However, “the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.” City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). “Only where a municipality’s failure to train its employees in a relevant respect evidences a ‘deliberate indifference’ to the rights of its inhabitants can such a shortcoming be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom’ that is actionable under § 1983.” Id. at 389.

In order to succeed on a Monell claim resulting from failure to adopt adequate training or hiring policy by municipality, the plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) the training or hiring procedures of the municipality’s policymaker were inadequate; (2) the municipality’s policymaker was deliberately indifferent in adopting the hiring or training policy; and (3) the inadequate hiring or training policy directly caused the plaintiff’s injury.” Benavides v. Cnty. of Wilson, 955 F.2d 968, 972 (5th Cir. 1992).Moreover, “liability [under section 1983] may result if municipal officials have actual or constructive knowledge of constitutional violations and fail to carry out their duty to correct them.” O’Quinn v. Manuel, 773 F.2d 605, 608-09 (5th Cir. 1985) (citing Bennett v. City of Slidell, 728 F.2d 762, 768 (5th Cir.1984) (en banc)). Also, “‘some courts . . . have held that a municipal policy of authorizing or encouraging police misconduct can be inferred where the municipality has been grossly negligent in the hiring, training, or disciplining of its police force.’” Languirand v. Hayden, 717 F.2d 220, 225 (5th Cir. 1983) (quoting Berry v. McLemore, 670 F.2d 30 (5th Cir.1982)).

Cities have been held liable for the misconduct of police officers where a police chief’s decision or inaction resulted in a de facto policy of tacit approval. In Gros v. City of Grand Prairie, Tex., 181 F.3d 613 (5th Cir. 1999), Plaintiffs filed a complaint against a former officer of the police department, the city, and other officials for “several causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.” Id. at 614. Plaintiffs alleged that the officer “physically, sexually, and verbally abused them.” Id.

The court held that “[the city] could be liable for the decisions of [the Chief] if the Chief was the City’s final policymaking authority over the areas in which the decisions were made.” Id. at 615. The court reasoned that “[a] policy or custom becomes official for purposes of § 1983 when it results from the decision or acquiescence of the municipal officer or body with ‘final policymaking authority’ over the subject matter of the offending policy.” Id. (citing Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989)).

Similarly, in Brown v. Bryan Cnty., OK, 219 F.3d 450, 453 (5th Cir. 2000), an action was “brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries resulting from excessive force by an arresting officer.” Id. at 452. The court held that “the County, through its policymaker, is culpable for purposes of § 1983 for its choice not to train [the officer] (and not to provide proper supervision for him), . . . .” Id. at 462. The Court reasoned that “because the need to train [the officer] was obvious, the failure to train him constituted ‘deliberate indifference’ to the constitutional rights of the citizens of [the County], and that this decision was the ‘moving force’ behind [Plaintiff’s] injuries. Id. at 465.

Therefore, a Monell claim applies where there is a violation of constitutional rights. Further, liability of municipality under § 1983 can be established by providing proofs of a policymaker, an official policy and the violation of constitutional rights as a result of these policy or custom. Under Monell, a municipality may also be held liable for inadequate training or hiring policy. The municipality is held liable if the training and hiring procedure of municipality’s policymakers is inadequate, deliberate indifference in adopting the policy and injury was the result of inadequate policy.

In the instant case, the City of Pharr (“the City”) may be held liable under § 1983. The three requirements of Hampton Co. Nat. Sur., for municipal liability are satisfied. Here, the Police Chief (“the Chief”) is the policymaker and the official policy includes various hiring and training policies, policy for monitoring the behavior of officers, and the procedure implemented for the safeguard of general public. In the present case, the hiring and training policies followed in the Police Department are not satisfactory and there was no policy for monitoring the activities of officers. Further, the City did not implement any procedure for the safeguard of its residents. The Chief failed to take appropriate remedial action after learning about Plaintiff’s sexual assault claims. These acts of the Chief were done with conscious indifference to the constitutional rights of Plaintiff. However, from the court’s decision in Gros, it can be inferred that the City may be held liable for the decisions made by the Chief.

CONCLUSION

Therefore, a city can be held liable under § 1983, if the requirements of Monell claim as stated in Hampton Co. Nat. Sur., are satisfied. In the present case, the Monell § 1983 claim appears to be viable against the City. Here, the Chief is the policymaker and the official policies include the hiring, training, monitoring policies, and procedures followed for the safeguard of people. Further, the decisions of the Chief constituted a deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Plaintiff. The decisions taken by the Chief on the basis of the policy were the moving force for the violation of Plaintiff’s rights. Thus, the City may be held liable under § 1983.