The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a multimillion-dollar award against two Los Angeles County officers who shot a couple after bursting into their shack while looking for someone else.
The justices were unanimous in saying lower courts had erred in upholding a $4 million award to Angel Mendez and his pregnant girlfriend, Jennifer Garcia, who is now his wife. Both were seriously wounded in the 2010 incident involving officers Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson, and Mendez had to have part of his leg amputated.
The lower courts found it was reasonable for the officers to fire on the couple because Mendez was holding a BB gun that looked like a small-caliber rifle. But the officers should not have burst in on the couple in the first place, the courts held, and the officers were found liable under an appeals court ruling that allows a claim of excessive force when an officer “intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation.”
The problem with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s rule, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote disapprovingly, is that it “provides a novel and unsupported path to liability in cases in which the use of force was reasonable.”
A strange set of circumstances led to the confrontation in the Los Angeles County town of Lancaster. Officers were sent to search a house and property for parolee-at-large Ronnie O’Dell. While some officers went to the house, Pederson and Conley searched the property, littered with storage sheds and abandoned automobiles. The officers had been told Mendez and Garcia were living in a wood-and-plywood shack, and the couple was napping when the officers arrived.
The officers did not have a warrant to search the shack, nor did they knock and announce their presence. Instead they burst in and saw Mendez moving the BB gun. One officer shouted “Gun!” and they fired 15 rounds. O’Dell was not found.
The Supreme Court’s decision did not end the case. It will return to California, where Alito said the other missteps by the officers may provide the couple a path to damages.
“For example, if the plaintiffs in this case cannot recover on their excessive force claim, that will not foreclose recovery for injuries proximately caused by the warrantless entry,” Alito wrote.
The case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, was argued before Justice Neil M. Gorsuch joined the court, and he took no part in the decision.
Consensual sex with someone who is at least 16 years old does not qualify as sexual assault of a minor for the purposes of determining whether someone should be deported, the justices decided in another unanimous ruling.
The court was considering the government’s attempt to deport Juan Esquivel-Quintana, a native of Mexico who was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 2000. In 2009, he pleaded no contest to statutory rape under a California law that prohibits sex with a minor more than three years younger than the perpetrator.
The Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against Esquivel-Quintana. The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for deportation of those convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.
During part of their relationship, Esquivel-Quintana had just turned 21, and his girlfriend was 17.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court that the structure of the federal law “suggests that sexual abuse of a minor encompasses only especially egregious felonies.” When the provision was added in 1996, 31 states and the District of Columbia set the age of consent at 16, and some states lower. California and nine others set the age at 18.
“The general consensus from state criminal codes points to the same generic definition as dictionaries and federal law: Where sexual intercourse is abusive solely because of the ages of the participants, the victim must be younger than 16,” Thomas concluded.
Gorsuch did not participate in Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions.
Companies give up their patent rights once they sell a product, and it does not matter where the sale takes place, the court ruled.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court said companies cannot impose restrictions once they make a sale. It was a defeat for Lexmark International, which sued Impression Products to keep the company from selling refurbished Lexmark printer cartridges at a lower price than new ones.
The decision overturned a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“Extending the patent rights beyond the first sale would clog the channels of commerce, with little benefit from the extra control that the patentees retain,” Roberts wrote.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a partial dissent, saying the ruling should not apply to sales overseas.
Again, Gorsuch took no part in Impression Products Inc. v. Lexmark International.