Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 8

1994Some messes can take years to clean up. 

In 1990, after months trying to get Henry Quade to respond to complaints about sewage and foul odors seeping from his house, state health department officials obtained a forcible-entry warrant. When they arrived at Quade’s house, Quade threatened “to get my gun and use it.” A team of police officers was called to the scene. When the officers entered the house, Quade fired a handgun at them. The officers shot back, killing Quade. 

In a divided panel ruling in Alexander v. City of San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit, in a majority opinion by Judge Betty Fletcher, rules that the officers can be held liable for damages for excessive force “in creating the situation which caused Quade to take the actions he did.” In dissent, Judge Stephen Trott laments that the ruling “wreaks havoc on the Fourth Amendment.” He further observes, “If I were a police officer, I might reconsider my calling with this kind of misunderstanding of my job and inconsistent messages from the court. 

Over the ensuing decades, the Ninth Circuit will apply this “provocation rule” in case after case even as other courts of appeals cast doubt on it. Finally, in 2017, a unanimous Supreme Court (in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez) will reject the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule as “incompatible with our excessive force jurisprudence.” 

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