CITY OF CANTON, OHIO V. HARRIS, 489 U. S. 378 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989)

City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris

No. 86-1088

Argued November 8, 1988

Decided February 28, 1989

489 U.S. 378


Although respondent fell down several times and was incoherent following her arrest by officers of petitioner city's police department, the officers summoned no medical assistance for her. After her release, she was diagnosed as suffering from several emotional ailments requiring hospitalization and subsequent outpatient treatment. Some time later, she filed suit seeking, inter alia, to hold the city liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for its violation of her right, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, to receive necessary medical attention while in police custody. The jury ruled in her favor on this claim upon the basis of evidence indicating that a city regulation gave shift commanders sole discretion to determine whether a detainee required medical care, and suggesting that commanders were not provided with any special training to make a determination as to when to summon such care for an injured detainee. Both the District Court, in rejecting the city's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the Court of Appeals, in ruling that there had been no error in submitting the "failure to train" claim to the jury, held that, under Circuit precedent, a municipality is liable for failure to train its police force where the plaintiff proves that the municipality acted recklessly, intentionally, or with gross negligence, and that the lack of training was so reckless or grossly negligent that deprivation of persons' constitutional rights was substantially certain to result. However, upon finding that certain aspects of the District Court's jury instructions might have led the jury to believe that it could find against the city on a mere respondeat superior theory, and that the jury's verdict did not state the basis on which it had ruled for respondent, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in her favor and remanded the case for a new trial.


1. The writ of certiorari will not be dismissed as improvidently granted on the basis of respondent's claim that petitioner failed to preserve for review the principal issues before this Court. Since the petition for certiorari directly addressed the critical question here -- the § 1983 actionability of a municipality's failure to train -- and since respondent's brief in opposition neither raised the objection that petitioner had failed to press its claims on the courts below nor informed this Court

Page 489 U. S. 379

that petitioner had arguably conceded below that inadequate training is actionable, this Court will exercise its discretion to deem these defects waived. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U. S. 808, 471 U. S. 816. Moreover, even if the asserted failure of petitioner to present the claims it makes here in the same fashion below actually occurred, that failure does not affect this Court's jurisdiction. Pp. 489 U. S. 383-385.

2. A municipality may, in certain circumstances, be held liable under § 1983 for constitutional violations resulting from its failure to train its employees. Pp. 489 U. S. 385-392.

(a) Petitioner's contention that § 1983 liability can be imposed only where the municipal policy in question is itself unconstitutional is rejected, in light of the rule established by the Court in this case that there are limited circumstances in which a "failure to train" allegation can be the basis for liability. Pp. 489 U. S. 386-387.

(b) The inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons with whom the police come into contact. In contrast to the Court of Appeals' overly broad rule, this "deliberate indifference" standard is most consistent with the rule of Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U. S. 658, 436 U. S. 694, that a city is not liable under § 1983 unless a municipal "policy" or "custom" is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Only where a failure to train reflects a "deliberate" or "conscious" choice by the municipality can the failure be properly thought of as an actionable city "policy." Monell will not be satisfied by a mere allegation that a training program represents a policy for which the city is responsible. Rather, the focus must be on whether the program is adequate to the tasks the particular employees must perform, and if it is not, on whether such inadequate training can justifiably be said to represent "city policy." Moreover, the identified deficiency in the training program must be closely related to the ultimate injury. Thus, respondent must still prove that the deficiency in training actually caused the police officers' indifference to her medical needs. To adopt lesser standards of fault and causation would open municipalities to unprecedented liability under § 1983; would result in de facto respondeat superior liability, a result rejected in Monell; would engage federal courts in an endless exercise of second-guessing municipal employee training programs, a task that they are ill-suited to undertake; and would implicate serious questions of federalism. Pp. 489 U. S. 388-392.

3. Although the evidence presently in the record does not satisfy the "deliberate indifference" rule of liability, the question whether respondent should have an opportunity to prove her case under that rule must be left to the Court of Appeals on remand, since the standard of proof the

Page 489 U. S. 380

District Court ultimately imposed on her was a lesser one than the one here adopted. P. 489 U. S. 392.

798 F.2d 1414, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, and III of which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, except as to n. 11. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 489 U. S. 393. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, post, p. 489 U. S. 393.

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