Figueroa v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. 2016) 651 Fed.Appx. 709

In an action alleging excessive force arising out of an incident in the Visitor’s Center of the Men’s Central Jail, the Ninth Circuit vacated a default judgment against one of two GMSR clients involved in the appellate proceedings, a supervising sergeant, and vacated the attorney fee award. The sergeant had left for the Dominican Republic before the phase of trial that would have addressed supervisor liability. The court found that in entering a default judgment against him, the district court failed to apply the law correctly, failed to consider alternatives to a default, and miscalculated the sergeant’s importance at trial without even requiring an offer of proof. It also found that the sergeant lacked personal culpability for his absence. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff’s motion for a new trial of his claims against GMSR’s other client, a deputy who, the jury found, had used excessive force but had made a reasonable mistake about how much force was necessary under the circumstances. Noting clear conflict in Circuit law about the jury’s role in the context of qualified immunity, the court found any error harmless because, by independent analysis of legal precedent, any right violated was not clearly established.

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