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4 PJI 6.7 | Third Circuit (US)
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4 PJI 6.7 | SECTION 1983 – MUNICIPALITIES – LIABILITY THROUGH INADEQUATE TRAINING OR SUPERVISION

82[Plaintiff] claims that [municipality] adopted a policy of [inadequate training] [inadequate supervision], and that this policy caused the violation of [plaintiff’s] [specify right].

In order to hold [municipality] liable for the violation of [plaintiff’s] [specify right], you must find that [plaintiff] has proved each of the following three things by a preponderance of the evidence:

First: [[Municipality’s] training program was inadequate to train its employees to carry out their duties] [[municipality] failed adequately to supervise its employees].

Second: [Municipality’s] failure to [adequately train] [adequately supervise] amounted to deliberate indifference to the fact that inaction would obviously result in the violation of [specify right].

Third: [Municipality’s] failure to [adequately train] [adequately supervise] proximately caused the violation of [specify right].


In order to find that [municipality’s] failure to [adequately train] [adequately supervise] amounted to deliberate indifference, you must find that [plaintiff] has proved each of the following three things by a preponderance of the evidence:

First: [Governing body] or [policymaking official] knew that employees would confront a particular situation.

Second: The situation involved [a matter that employees had a history of mishandling].83

Third: The wrong choice by an employee in that situation will frequently cause a deprivation of [specify right].


In order to find that [municipality’s] failure to [adequately train] [adequately supervise] proximately caused the violation of [plaintiff’s] federal right, you must find that [plaintiff] has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that [municipality’s] deliberate indifference led directly to the deprivation of [plaintiff’s] [specify right].

COMMENT As noted above, municipal liability can arise from an official policy that authorizes the constitutional tort; such liability can also arise if the constitutional tort is caused by an official policy of inadequate84 training, supervision or investigation, or by a failure to adopt a needed policy.85 In the context of claims asserting such “liability through inaction,” Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 276 (3d Cir. 2000), the plaintiff will have to meet the additional hurdle of showing “deliberate indifference” on the part of the municipality.86 “[L]iability for failure to train subordinate officers will lie only where a constitutional violation results from ‘deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of [the municipality's] inhabitants. ’” Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 637 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989)); see also City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-24 (1985) (plurality opinion) (holding that evidence of a single incident of shooting by police could not establish a municipal policy of inadequate training); Brown v. Muhlenberg Township, 269 F.3d 205, 216 (3d Cir.2001) (plaintiff “must present evidence that the need for more or different training was so obvious and so likely to lead to the violation of constitutional rights that the policymaker's failure to respond amounts to deliberate indifference”); Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 324-25 (3d Cir. 2005) (discussing failure-to-train standard in case involving suicide by pre-trial detainee). The deliberate indifference test also applies to claims of “negligent supervision and failure to investigate.” Groman, 47 F.3d at 637.

“A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’ to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1360 (2011) (quoting Board of County Com'rs of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409 (1997)); see also Carswell v. Borough of Homestead, 381 F.3d 235, 244 (3d Cir. 2004) (“A plaintiff must identify a municipal policy or custom that amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of people with whom the police come into contact.... This typically requires proof of a pattern of underlying constitutional violations.... Although it is possible, proving deliberate indifference in the absence of such a pattern is a difficult task.”); Mann v. Palmerton Area School District, 872 F.3d 165, 175 (3d Cir. 2017) (holding that a school district could not be held liable for failure to train football coaches about concussions because there was “no evidence of a pattern of recurring head injuries” in the football program, and finding it significant that state law did not mandate concussion training for coaches until after the events at issue). Thus, for example, evidence of prior complaints and of inadequate procedures for investigating such complaints can suffice to create a jury question concerning municipal liability. See Beck, 89 F.3d at 974-76 (reviewing evidence concerning procedures and holding that “Beck presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could have inferred that the City of Pittsburgh knew about and acquiesced in a custom tolerating the tacit use of excessive force by its police officers”). Cf. City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390 n.10 (“It could also be that the police, in exercising their discretion, so often violate constitutional rights that the need for further training must have been plainly obvious to the city policymakers, who, nevertheless, are ‘deliberately indifferent’ to the need.”) In a “narrow range” of cases, Connick, 131 S. Ct. at 1366, deliberate indifference can be shown even absent a pattern of prior violations by demonstrating that a constitutional violation was sufficiently foreseeable: “[I]t may happen that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390. In a post-Connick case, Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 2014), the court of appeals found the evidence sufficient for the claim to go to a jury under this standard. It held that “a reasonable jury could conclude based on the frequency of fights and the volatile nature of the prison” that the county was deliberately indifferent based on its failure to provide training in conflict de-escalation. See also Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 800 (3d Cir. 2019) (holding that one could reasonably infer deliberate indifference because the city knew to a moral certainty that its officers would need to conduct searches, but its training did not cover the basics of the Fourth Amendment, it did not discipline officers for misconduct, even after prior violations, and, in at least one instance, it failed to provide training since 1995).

The Third Circuit has previously applied a three-part test to determine whether “a municipality's failure to train or supervise to amount[s] to deliberate indifference”: Under this test, “it must be shown that (1) municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation; (2) the situation involves a difficult choice or a history of employees mishandling; and (3) the wrong choice by an employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights.” Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999).87 Readers should note that a substantially similar instruction was given in Connick, a case in which the closely-divided Court held that the municipal defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law due to the plaintiff’s failure to prove a pattern of similar violations. Because Connick states that such a pattern is ordinarily needed in order to establish deliberate indifference in connection with a failure-to-train claim, Instruction 4.6.7 no longer tracks the Carter instruction precisely: The second element no longer offers as an alternative a finding that the situation “involved a difficult choice.” For the narrow range of cases in which no pattern of similar violations is necessary, Instruction 4.6.7 can be modified.

(Last Updated July 2019)

Footnotes

82 In light of Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d 93 (3d Cir. 2019), consider the following as an alternative to this sentence: “[Plaintiff] claims that [municipality] failed to [adequately train] [adequately supervise] its employees, and that this failure caused the violation of [plaintiff’s] [specify right].” See discussion of Forrest in Comment 4.6.3.
83 See the Comment for a discussion of the reasons why this aspect of Instruction 4.6.7 diverges from the second element of the three-part test for deliberate indifference approved in Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999).
84 As to the adequacy of a municipality’s investigation, the Third Circuit has made clear that a policy must be adequate in practice, not merely on paper: “We reject the district court's suggestion that mere Department procedures to receive and investigate complaints shield the City from liability. It is not enough that an investigative process be in place;... ‘[t]he investigative process must be real. It must have some teeth.’” Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 974 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting plaintiff’s reply brief, Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, No. 95 3328, 1995 WL 17147608, at *5).
85 The Third Circuit has held that the failure to adopt a needed policy can result in municipal liability in an appropriate case, and has analyzed that question of municipal liability using the deliberate indifference test. See Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 585 (3d Cir. 2003) (“A reasonable jury could conclude that the failure to establish a policy to address the immediate medication needs of inmates with serious medical conditions creates a risk that is sufficiently obvious as to constitute deliberate indifference to those inmates' medical needs.”).

The Third Circuit has declined to “recognize[] municipal liability for a constitutional violation because of failure to equip police officers with non lethal weapons.” Carswell v. Borough of Homestead, 381 F.3d 235, 245 (3d Cir. 2004) (“We decline to [recognize such liability] on the record before us.”).

86 “If... the policy or custom does not facially violate federal law, causation can be established only by ‘demonstrat[ing] that the municipal action was taken with “deliberate indifference” as to its known or obvious consequences.’” Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 276 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Board of County Com'rs of Bryan County, Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 407 (1997)).
87 In Doe v. Luzerne County, 660 F.3d 169 (3d Cir. 2011) — a post Connick decision — the Court of Appeals quoted Carter’s three part test and held that the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, would not support a finding of municipal liability under that test. See Doe, 660 F.3d at 179-80. See also Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d 93, 118 (3d Cir. 2019); Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019) (both reiterating this test).

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