CITY OF LOS ANGELES V. LYONS, 461 U. S. 95 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983)

City of Los Angeles v. Lyons

No. 81-1064

Argued November 2, 1982

Decided April 20, 1983

461 U.S. 95


Respondent filed suit in Federal District Court against petitioner City of Los Angeles and certain of its police officers, alleging that, in 1976, he was stopped by the officers for a traffic violation, and that, although he offered no resistance, the officers, without provocation or justification, seized him and applied a "chokehold," rendering him unconscious and causing damage to his larynx. In addition to seeking damages, the complaint sought injunctive relief against petitioner, barring the use of chokeholds except in situations where the proposed victim reasonably appeared to be threatening the immediate use of deadly force. It was alleged that, pursuant to petitioner's authorization, police officers routinely applied chokeholds in situations where they were not threatened by the use of any deadly force; that numerous persons had been injured as a result thereof; that respondent justifiably feared that any future contact he might have with police officers might again result in his being choked without provocation; and that there was thus a threatened impairment of various rights protected by the Federal Constitution. The District Court ultimately entered a preliminary injunction against the use of chokeholds under circumstances that did not threaten death or serious bodily injury. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The case is not rendered moot even though, while it was pending in this Court, city police authorities prohibited use of a certain type of chokehold in any circumstances and imposed a 6-month moratorium on the use of another type of chokehold except under circumstances where deadly force was authorized. The moratorium, by its terms, was not permanent, and thus intervening events have not irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged misconduct. Pp. 461 U. S. 100-101.

2. The federal courts are without jurisdiction to entertain respondent's claim for injunctive relief. O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U. S. 488; Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U. S. 362. Pp. 101-113.

(a) To satisfy the "case or controversy" requirement of Art. III, a plaintiff must show that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of the challenged official conduct, and the injury or threat of injury must be "real and immediate," not "conjectural" or "hypothetical."

"Past exposure to illegal conduct

Page 461 U. S. 96

does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief . . . if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects."

O'Shea, supra, at 414 U. S. 495-496. Pp. 461 U. S. 101-105.

(b) Respondent has failed to demonstrate a case or controversy with petitioner that would justify the equitable relief sought. That respondent may have been illegally choked by the police in 1976, while presumably affording him standing to claim damages against the individual officers and perhaps against petitioner, does not establish a real and immediate threat that he would again be stopped for a traffic violation, or for any other offense, by an officer who would illegally choke him into unconsciousness without any provocation. If chokeholds were authorized only to counter resistance to an arrest by a suspect, or to thwart an effort to escape, any future threat to respondent from petitioner's policy or from the conduct of police officers would be no more real than the possibility that he would again have an encounter with the police and that he would either illegally resist arrest or the officers would disobey their instructions and again render him unconscious without any provocation. The equitable doctrine that cessation of the challenged conduct (here the few seconds while the chokehold was being applied to respondent) does not bar an injunction is not controlling, since respondent's lack of standing does not rest on the termination of the police practice, but on the speculative nature of his claim that he will again experience injury as the result of that practice even if continued. The rule that a claim does not become moot where it is capable of repetition, yet evades review, is likewise inapposite. Pp. 461 U. S. 105-110.

(c) Even assuming that respondent's pending damages suit affords him Art. III standing to seek an injunction as a remedy for the claim arising out of the 1976 events, nevertheless the equitable remedy is unavailable because respondent failed to show irreparable injury -- a requirement that cannot be met where there is no showing of any real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again. Nor will respondent's injury allegedly suffered in 1976 go unrecompensed; for that injury, he has an adequate damages remedy at law. Recognition of the need for a proper balance between state and federal authority counsels restraint in the issuance of injunctions against state officers engaged in the administration of the State's criminal laws in the absence of irreparable injury which is both great and immediate. Pp. 461 U. S. 111-113.

656 F.2d 417, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 461 U. S. 113.

Page 461 U. S. 97

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