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Hernandez v. City of Pomona

California Supreme Court
207 P.3d 506 (2009)


Facts

Police officers (defendants) observed George Hernandez driving a vehicle before dawn with its headlights off. A police officer requested Hernandez to get out of the vehicle, and Hernandez drove away. The officers engaged in a high-speed pursuit, which resulted in Hernandez crashing. Hernandez then attempted to run from the police officers, and a police dog began attacking him. Hernandez reached towards his waistband and yelled either “I got a gun” or “gun.” The police officers fired 37 shots at Hernandez, hitting him 22 times and killing him. Hernandez was unarmed. Hernandez’s parents and children (plaintiffs) sued the officers and the City of Pomona (defendant) in federal court. The family alleged violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and asserted a claim for wrongful death under California law. The federal court bifurcated the federal and state claims and held a trial on the federal claims. The jury was given instructions on the claims, including an instruction to consider the totality of the circumstances in deciding whether excessive force was used. The jury returned a verdict for three of the four officers. The trial court then granted judgment as a matter of law to the fourth officer. The trial court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims and dismissed them without prejudice. The family then filed a lawsuit in California state court asserting the state law claims against the same defendants. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or a demurrer, alleging that the claims were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The trial court granted the motion, and the family appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the family could pursue a theory that the defendants negligently created a situation in which deadly force was reasonable. The California Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Chin, J.)

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