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Division of Employment Security v. Board of Police Commissioners

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 28, 2017

Division of Employment Security, State of Missouri Movant
v.
Board of Police Commissioners; David Epperson; Shawn Todd Defendants - Appellants Donna Lancaster Plaintiff- Appellee Compass Health, Inc. Interested Party

          Submitted: February 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City

          Before SMITH, [1] BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Officers Shawn Todd and David Epperson were involved in a physical altercation with Kenny Gurley that resulted in Gurley's death. Donna Lancaster, Gurley's mother, brought this suit against both officers and the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City, Missouri (the "Board") asserting a number of federal and state law causes of action. The officers and the Board moved for summary judgment on the basis of state and federal immunity doctrines, and the district court granted that motion in part and denied it in part. Both officers and the Board sought interlocutory review, and we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         I. Background

         Taken in the light most favorable to Lancaster as the non-moving party, see Chambers v. Pennycook, 641 F.3d 898, 904 (8th Cir. 2011), the facts are as follows. Police dispatch in Kansas City reported that prowlers had kicked in the door of a vacant house, and it provided a description of the suspects. Officers Todd and Epperson responded to the call. Upon arriving at the house a few minutes later, the officers heard a banging noise in the home and, as a result, believed a burglary was in progress. Officer Todd proceeded to the back yard. Although the record is unclear about his exact location, Officer Epperson stayed in the front of the house. Officer Todd announced his presence and instructed the people in the house to come out with their hands up. Shortly thereafter, Kenny Gurley and Robert Bowlin exited the back door of the home. Gurley was carrying a metal pipe.

         Officer Todd instructed the men to stop and put their hands up, and they complied. Bowlin told Officer Todd that Gurley was having some mental issues and that Gurley was thinking about buying the property. Next, Officer Todd holstered his firearm, walked up to Gurley, and punched him in the face. Because the punch did not appear to affect Gurley, Officer Todd called to Officer Epperson and requested a taser. Officer Epperson then came into the back yard, and Gurley-who still had the pipe in his hand with his hands in the air-turned his body toward Officer Epperson to see who was coming. Officer Epperson ran toward Gurley, yelled "Stop!, " and shot him twice. Gurley died immediately as a result of the gunshot wounds.

         Lancaster brought suit asserting the following claims: (1) In Count I, she asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Epperson for unreasonably inflicting deadly force; (2) In Count IV, she asserts a cause of action under § 1983 against both officers for violating Gurley's right to bodily integrity; (3) In Count V, she asserts a claim against the Board under § 1983 alleging the Board's failure to adequately train the officers caused the constitutional violations presented in Counts I and IV; (4) In Count VI, she asserts a state law wrongful death claim against both officers and the Board; and (5) In Count VII, she asserts a state law negligence claim against both officers and the Board.[2]

         All defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting, as relevant, defenses of qualified immunity, official immunity, and sovereign immunity. The district court denied Epperson's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity on Counts I and IV, finding that it was objectively unreasonable for him to use deadly force under the circumstances. Likewise, the court denied Todd's motion for summary judgment on Count IV, finding that it was objectively unreasonable for Todd to punch Gurley in the face. On Counts VI and VII, the court found that the officers were not entitled to official immunity because, under Missouri law, this immunity is not available when the official acts with malice or in bad faith.

          Accepting the plaintiff's version of the facts as true, the court ruled that a jury could find that the officers' actions were taken with these prohibited motives.

         The court next denied the Board's motion on Count V because its only argument was derivative of the officers' arguments on Counts I and IV-that the Board could not be liable because the officers were not liable. Finally, although the court did find that the Board was entitled to sovereign immunity for the negligence claim in Count VII, it found that immunity did not extend to the wrongful death claim in Count VI which, under Missouri law, can be premised on "any act . . . which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages in respect thereof." Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.080(1). Hypothesizing that the failure to train allegations would suffice, if proven, to allow Gurley to recover from the Board had he not died, the court concluded that the Board was not protected by sovereign immunity from the wrongful death claim.

         II. Discussion

         A party is entitled to summary judgment only when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Ordinarily, we lack jurisdiction to hear an immediate appeal from a district court's order denying summary judgment, because such an order is not a final decision." Shannon v. Koehler, 616 F.3d 855, 860 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[B]ut an immediate appeal is appropriate where summary judgment is denied on the grounds of sovereign immunity or qualified immunity, because immunity is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Argonaut Great Cent. Ins. Co. v. Audrain Cnty. Joint Commc'ns, 781 F.3d 925, 929-30 (8th Cir. 2015) (holding that the collateral order doctrine permitted interlocutory review of a denial of a ...


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