Krechman v. County of Riverside

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 07-25-2013
  • Case #: 12-55347
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judge Nguyen; Concurrence by Circuit Judge N.R. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

A district court judge improperly weighs evidence and misapplies the standard of Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a) when he uses personal experience rather than testimony viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to conclude that defendants did not use excessive force and were not a substantial factor in a death.

Carole Krechman brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against police officers (“Defendants”) for excessive use of force that killed her unarmed son, Robert Appel. Defendants responded to a 911 "hang-up" call from Appel’s home. Upon trying to restrain Appel, four officers “hammer-struck" Appel in the head, handcuffed one of Appel’s hands, pulling him into a chest-down position to handcuff his other hand, and applied pressure with their knees to multiple locations of Appel's back. After Appel was unresponsive, officers continued to apply force, turned him face-up, and then called paramedics. Officers did not attempt CPR or remove the handcuffs, and Appel died. At a jury trial, Defendants' expert witnesses testified that Appel died of natural causes, while Krechman's experts claimed Appel died from injuries caused by excessive force. Defendants motioned for judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a), which the court granted after a hung jury. The court categorically refused to accept Krechman's expert testimony and concluded that Defendants did not use excessive force. Further, the judge did not believe that the Defendants were a substantial factor in Appel's death because the judge personally considered Appel's one loose handcuff to be a dangerous weapon. Krechman appealed requesting reversal, a new trial, and a different judge because the trial court made erroneous rulings that prejudiced her and violated her due process rights. The Ninth Circuit held that the court below erred by substituting its own view of the evidence for that of the jury's, failed to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Krechman, and erred by not taking expert testimony as true when assessing a Rule 50 motion. The panel did not grant reassignment because the record did not reflect that the judge would be unable to fairly and correctly apply the correct standard on remand. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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