Newmaker v. City of Fortuna, No. 14-15098 (9th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
After Jacob Newmaker was fatally shot by Officer Maxwell Soeth, Newmaker's parents filed suit against the City of Fortuna, Officer Soeth, and Fortuna Police Sergeant Ellebrecht. Plaintiffs alleged that Soeth used unconstitutionally excessive force by striking Newmaker multiple times with his police baton and then fatally shooting him. The district court granted summary judgment to Officer Soeth based on qualified immunity. The court held that the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to Officer Soeth. The court explained that summary judgment is not appropriate in 42 U.S.C. 1983 deadly force cases that turn on the officer’s credibility that is genuinely in doubt. In this case, a reasonable jury could conclude that Soeth and Ellebrecht were wrong when they claimed that Newmaker grabbed the baton. In the alternative, a reasonable jury could conclude, given the trajectory of the bullets through Newmaker’s body, that even if Newmaker had grabbed the baton Officer Soeth could not have fired his first shot while Newmaker was standing up and swinging the baton. Because this case requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.
Court Description: Civil Rights. The panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment and remanded in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in which plaintiffs alleged that City of Fortuna police officer Maxwell Soeth used excessive force when he fatally shot Jacob Newmaker during an attempted arrest. Officer Soeth maintained in the district court that he shot Newmaker after Newmaker grabbed Soeth’s police baton. The panel held that summary judgment is not appropriate in § 1983 deadly force cases that turn on the officer’s credibility that is genuinely in doubt. The panel determined that the version of events offered by Officer Soeth and Sergeant Ellebrecht to the district court was materially contradicted by evidence in the record. The panel concluded that because this case required a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions — including whether the officers were telling the truth about when, why, and how Soeth shot Newmaker — summary judgment was inappropriate. NEWMAKER V. CITY OF FORTUNA 3