Angilau et al v. USA et al
ORDER granting 36 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim ; granting 37 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. The defendants' motions for summary judgment (Doc. 36 and 37) are granted. A separate Judgment will be entered forthwith. Signed by Judge John E. Dowdell on 3/9/2018. (jwt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF UTAH, CENTRAL DIVISION
MAVENI ANGILAU, et al.,
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., )
Case No. 2:16-CV-00992-JED-PJC
OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court are the defendants’ motions for summary judgment (Doc. 36, 37).1 The
Court conducted a hearing on the original motions and has considered all related filings and
evidentiary submissions made by the parties. (See Doc. 36, 37, 78, 82, 83, 110).
The following facts are undisputed, except where noted specifically. In April 2014, Siale
Angilau was on trial in the District of Utah on three counts of a Second Superseding Indictment.
The operative indictment alleged that Mr. Angilau and his co-defendants were members and
associates of the Tongan Crip Gang (TCG), which was purportedly a criminal organization
engaged in acts of violence, among other things. (Case No. 2:08-cr-758-TC, Doc. 114 at 2, 6-8).
In addition to racketeering charges asserted in Count I, Mr. Angilau was also on trial on Count
XVII, for allegedly assaulting two individuals with a dangerous weapon, and Count XVIII, for
The motions were filed as dismissal motions or, alternatively, summary judgment motions.
Because the motions are dependent upon evidentiary submissions, the Court previously
determined that they would be treated as motions for summary judgment. The Court set a schedule
for the completion of briefing and the plaintiffs’ submission of any evidence they wished to present
in opposition to the motions. (See Doc. 68).
discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. (Id. at 19-20). It is undisputed that the charges
included allegations that Mr. Angilau fired at two Deputy Marshals. (See Doc. 78 at 13 [Response
Angilau’s criminal trial commenced on April 18, 2014, with jury selection and opening
statements. (See Case No. 08-cr-758-TC, Doc. 1612, 1614). Due to heightened security concerns,
jurors were identified by number. Following jury selection and opening statements, the trial
reconvened for the government to commence presentation of its case the following Monday, April
21, 2014. The courtroom proceedings were captured on an audio recording and a surveillance
camera, and those recordings were preserved. The defendants have submitted those recordings of
the day (Doc. 37-3 [Exhibit A], 37-4 [Exhibit B], 37-5 [Exhibit C]). The summary judgment
record also includes still images from the video (Doc. 37-7 [Exhibit E, Disc 2] and 37-8 [Exhibit
F, Disc 2]) and twenty-four (24) second excerpts of the video with audio, which depict the seconds
immediately before, during, and after the events that are at issue in this case (Exhibit E, Disc 1;
Exhibit F, Disc 1). For purposes of the motions, plaintiffs have admitted that those recordings and
still images “are truthful, accurate, and authentic recordings of the events that transpired on April
21, 2014 that are the subject of [this] action.” (Doc. 78 at 13-14). The courtroom proceedings
were also transcribed (see Doc. 37-6 [Exhibit D]) and are an accurate and authentic recording of
the events at issue. (See Doc. 78 at 14).
Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Angilau was no longer a gang member, but was only a former
gang member, and they object to the Court taking judicial notice of Mr. Angilau’s underlying trial
proceedings. (See Doc. 78 at 12-13). Whether he was a gang member or former gang member is
not material to this Opinion. However, the Court may take judicial notice of the procedural posture
of the criminal trial at which the events at the center of this case occurred. See Fed. R. Evid. 201;
United States v. Ahidley, 486 F.3d 1184, 1192, n.5 (10th Cir. 2007). Plaintiffs’ own Complaint
references many aspects of the underlying proceedings. (See Doc. 2).
Mr. Angilau was in custody, but was unrestrained during trial. (See Doc. 78 at 13). V.T.,
a former TCG member, was the first witness at trial. Jurors were seated in the jury box to the left
front of the witness stand, from the witness’s perspective. (See id. at 15 [Response to 10]; Doc.
37-16; Doc. 37-10, Exhibit H). The presiding trial judge was seated on the bench immediately
above and to the right of the witness stand, from the witness’s perspective. V.T. was being
questioned by a federal prosecutor about the TCG. V.T. was wearing leg shackles, a belly chain,
and handcuffs while seated in the partially enclosed U-shaped witness stand, just feet from the jury
box in front and feet to the right of a rear exit door to the courtroom. (See Doc. 37-10, Exhibit H).
The front of the witness box was approximately fourteen feet, eight inches from the rear door of
the courtroom, and the back of the witness box is less than seven feet from the rear door of the
Deputy United States Marshal Jane Doe was stationed in the courtroom to provide order
and security during Mr. Angilau’s trial on April 21, 2014. Doe had previously worked on TCGrelated court proceedings and understood that safety had been a concern to the Marshal’s Service.
(Doc. 37-11). Doe was assigned to trial security and to the in-custody witness, V.T. (Id.). Doe
had been instructed that Angilau and V.T. must be kept apart. (See id.). Doe was acting within
the course and scope of employment and under color of law as a Deputy Marshal. (See Doc. 78 at
16-17 [Response to 16]). Doe was positioned between the witness stand, where V.T. was seated,
and the jury. (Doc. 37-11 at 4).
Minutes after V.T. began to testify about the TCG, Angilau looked over his shoulder, rose
up from his seat at the defense table, moved behind his defense attorney’s chair, and grabbed a pen
or pencil off the table.3 Armed with the writing instrument, Angilau ran by the prosecutor and
reached the witness box in less than two seconds. The court reporter, seated next to the witness
stand, backed the reporter’s chair away from the area of the witness stand as Angilau approached.
(Exhibit E, F at 9:23:39-41). An unknown person yelled “whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa” as Angilau
bounded toward the witness stand, but Mr. Angilau did not stop. (See Exhibit E, F at 9:23:37-38;
Exhibit D at p. 32, lines 13-14). Doe saw that Angilau was rushing at V.T. with a sharp, pointed
object in his right hand. (Doc. 37-11 at 5). Angilau jumped over the witness stand, hands first,
with an arm raised in a striking motion. While he was airborne with his feet off the floor, and with
pen in hand, he swung his extended right hand up in a violent, aggressive manner toward V.T.
(Doc. 78 at 17 [Response to 17]; id. at 24 [asserting that the video “shows Angilau diving over the
front barrier of the witness stand toward the witness V.T., apparently with a pen in hand”]).
Angilau’s right hand moved as if he was prepared to stab V.T. (Id. at 17 [Response to 18]).
Plaintiffs do not dispute that Angilau “attempted to attack the witness” (see Doc. 78 at 13), and
that fact is obvious from the video and series of still images of the incident. (Exhibits E, F).
In an effort to avoid Angilau’s attack, V.T. jumped up and backed out of the witness box,
toward the rear door of the courtroom. During Angilau’s attempted attack on V.T., Doe fired four
shots from Doe’s duty-issued gun, in rapid succession. (Exhibits E, F at 9:23:40-42). Each shot
hit Mr. Angilau. Doe did not have any other weapon. (Doc. 37-17). Other law enforcement
officials ran to the area of the witness stand where the shooting occurred, and an unknown person
Throughout the briefing, plaintiffs take inconsistent positions as to whether Angilau was
armed with a pen or pencil, at times denying that a “pen” was used, and at other times expressly
acknowledging that Angilau was armed with a pen. (Compare Doc. 78 at 16 [arguing it may not
have been a pen] with id. at 17 [admitting that Angilau “swung his extended right hand up in [a]
violent, aggressive manner at V.T. . . with pen in hand”]; and id. at 31 [alleging that “Angilau was
‘armed’ with a ball-point pen”]).
or persons yelled at Mr. Angilau to “drop the pen, drop the pen out of your hand, drop it out of
your hand.” (See id.; Exhibits E, F at 9:23:49-52). All of Doe’s shots were fired less than two
seconds after Angilau began to cross over the witness stand, and all shots were fired while Angilau
was airborne or moving.4 Both the audio (Exhibit C) and the video with aligned audio (Exhibit E,
F) establish that all four shots were fired in less than one and one-half seconds, as measured from
the first shot to the last. (See Exhibit C at 37:15 to 37:17; Exhibits E, F at 9:23:40 to 9:23:42).
Plaintiffs state that they dispute the timing of the shots, but they admit that those recordings and
still images “are truthful, accurate, and authentic recordings” of the courtroom proceedings on
April 21, 2014. (Doc. 78 at 13-14).5
Summary Judgment Standards
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact
is ‘genuine,’ that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for a
nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The courts thus determine “whether the evidence
Plaintiffs object to the description of Angilau as being “in motion” and contend that the
phrase is “vague and ambiguous.” (Doc. 78 at 18). The Court disagrees. Angilau’s legs and/or
arms were in motion during the few seconds of the video during which shots were fired. During
that time, V.T. also continued to move away from Angilau. (See Exhibits E, F, at 9:23:40-42).
Although plaintiffs admit that the recordings are accurate and authentic recordings of the
events, they re-urge their assertion that discovery “would have been helpful.” (Doc. 78 at 14).
The Court addressed that argument in a prior Order, noting that plaintiffs had conferred with an
expert and had received the audio and video months earlier, but had failed to conduct any forensic
review to challenge or counter the alignment of the video and audio. (Doc. 68). The Court
permitted plaintiffs an additional month to provide any such evidence (see id. at 7), but they failed
to do so. Moreover, throughout the proceedings, plaintiffs have themselves relied upon the aligned
video with audio. (See, e.g., Doc. 78 at 4, 24-25, 28-30; Doc. 2 at ¶ 32).
presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that
one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. All justifiable and reasonable inferences
from the evidence are to be drawn in the non-movant’s favor. Id. at 255.
Deputy Doe’s Motion
Doe moves for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity. Where a summary
judgment motion is premised upon an assertion of qualified immunity, “the burden shifts to the
plaintiff to show that: (1) the defendant violated a constitutional right and (2) the constitutional
right was clearly established.” Thomson v. Salt Lake County, 584 F.3d 1304, 1312 (10th Cir. 2009)
(citations omitted). As with all motions for summary judgment, the Court will construe the facts
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. However, “a plaintiff’s version of the facts
must find support in the record,” id., and “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one
of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court
should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary
judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
A claim of excessive force is analyzed under the “objective reasonableness” standard
applicable to Fourth Amendment claims. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). Under
that standard, the question is “whether the [officer’s] actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light
of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or
motivation.” Id. at 397. Whether force was reasonable “must be judged from the perspective of a
reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight” because “officers
are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and
rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham,
490 U.S. at 396-397.
In determining the objective reasonableness of an officer’s use of force, the courts balance
“the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the
countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Id. at 396. That balancing includes consideration
of the totality of the circumstances, including non-exclusive factors such as the severity of the
crime, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and
whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee. See id.; Thomson, 584 F.3d
at 1313. In addition, the Supreme Court has considered the suspect’s own culpability in bringing
about the officer’s use of force. See Scott, 550 U.S. at 384 (“We think it appropriate in this process
to take into account not only the number of lives at risk, but also their relative culpability. It was
respondent, after all, who intentionally placed himself and the public in danger by unlawfully
engaging in the reckless, high-speed flight that ultimately produced the choice between two evils
that [the officer] confronted. . . . By contrast, those who might have been harmed had [the officer]
not taken the action he did were entirely innocent.”).
Plaintiffs here argue that Doe’s use of deadly force was unreasonable. The use of deadly
force is reasonable where an officer in the defendant officer’s position would have had probable
cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm to others. Thomson, 584 F.3d at
1313; Plumhoff v. Rickard, __ U.S. __, 134 S. Ct. 2012, 2021 (2014); see also Scott, 550 U.S. at
386. Having carefully reviewed the video of Mr. Angilau’s swift flight from counsel table, his
vault over the witness stand with pen in hand, and his attempt to violently attack the shackled
witness, the Court has little difficulty determining that Doe’s use of force to immediately stop
Angilau’s attack was objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. An officer in
Doe’s position would have had probable cause to believe that Angilau posed a threat of serious
physical harm to others. The entire incident was only seconds-long. Angilau, who was in custody,
fled the defense table, reached the witness stand in less than two seconds, and did not cease his
progress. Doe saw Angilau rushing V.T. with a sharp, pointed object in hand. Angilau’s rapid
movement and attack placed Doe in a position of having to make a split-second decision. Doe did
not carry any other weapons. Both Doe and V.T. were effectively boxed into a corner between the
witness stand and the jury box, which left no room to safely escape any continuing attack by
Angilau without also placing others in the courtroom in danger. While Angilau’s attack was
directed at the witness, there were other innocent bystanders (the presiding trial judge, court
reporter, jurors, and Doe) in harm’s way if Angilau’s attack had not been immediately stopped.
According to the plaintiffs, the severity of the crime was “mild,” no one was at risk when
the last three shots were fired, and Angilau was not resisting or evading officers. (Doc. 78 at 25,
31-33). Contrary to the plaintiffs’ assertions, the word “mild” simply cannot be used to describe
the situation in which an in-custody defendant leaves counsel table, grabs a pen from the table,
runs across the courtroom, and leaps over the witness stand making a stabbing motion to attack an
adverse witness who is shackled and in close proximity to other innocent bystanders. The
circumstances also reflect that Angilau was attempting to attack the witness while evading the
physical control and custody of the United States Marshal Service and any other courtroom
officials. The attack was unsuccessful because of the shots that Doe fired, which stopped Angilau
from harming the witness or others within the zone of danger.6
Plaintiffs attempt to downplay the danger posed by a pen or pencil. The defendants have
cited numerous authorities for the proposition that many objects, including pens and pencils, can
be utilized as weapons. (See Doc. 36 at 26-27). The Court agrees, particularly in light of the
violent and forceful stabbing motion that Angilau was using as he jumped over the front of the
The plaintiffs also argue that, even if the initial use of deadly force was permissible, Doe
acted unreasonably in firing more than one shot at Angilau. The Supreme Court has rejected a
similar argument, noting, “It stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a
suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the
threat has ended.” Plumhoff, 134 S. Ct. 2022 (officers acted reasonably in using deadly force,
including firing a total of 15 shots). In Plumhoff, the Court noted that all 15 shots in that case were
fired during a 10-second span and officers had not “initiated a second round of shots after an initial
round had clearly incapacitated [the fleeing suspect].” Id. The video and audio of Angilau’s attack
and the shooting establish that Doe first fired Doe’s service weapon less than one second after
Angilau began to cross over the witness stand, and all four of Doe’s shots were fired in rapid
succession, in less than one and one-half seconds, from the first to the last shot, while Angilau was
airborne postured to attack or was still in motion. As in Plumhoff, there was no second round of
shots after Angilau was clearly incapacitated.
The Court also considers Mr. Angilau’s culpability. Angilau intentionally fled the defense
table to attack the witness with a pen, and his actions placed the witness, as well as other innocent
bystanders just feet away, in harm’s way. The attack was entirely unprovoked. It was thus Angilau
whose actions required Doe to make a split-second choice whether to end the attack or risk that
Angilau would seriously harm V.T. or others in the courtroom. See Scott, 550 U.S. at 384 (“It was
respondent, after all, [whose actions] ultimately produced the choice between two evils that [the
The plaintiffs argue that the last three shots were fired into Angilau’s back after he was on
the floor, not moving and “likely disabled,” and was “no longer any danger to the witness.” (See
Doc. 78 at 4-7). In the Complaint, the plaintiffs similarly alleged that, “[a]fter dropping [Angilau]
to the ground with the first gunshot, [Doe] approached the witness box and shot [Angilau] three
more times in the back, from close range. [Angilau] was no longer a threat when shots 2, 3 and 4
were fired.” (Doc. 2 at 8, ¶ 25; see also id. at 17, ¶ 54 [alleging that Doe “essentially stood over
and shot [Angilau] in the back three additional times as [he] was lying face down”]). The plaintiffs
also assert that, at the time of the first shot, “halfway between 9:23:40 and 9:23:41 . . . the attempted
attack on V.T. is over, and V.T. is out of harm’s way, as Angilau lands on the floor in a heap” after
Doe’s first shot. (Doc. 78 at 24).
The video and audio refute plaintiffs’ strained construction of the facts. Doe fired all four
shots in under two seconds. There is no discernable pause and restart of the shooting. The four
shots were fired in swift succession. Plaintiffs’ claim that Doe should have made a judgment at
the halfway mark between one second and the next (“halfway between 9:23:40 and 9:23:41”) is
asking the Court to view Doe’s actions with “20/20 vision of hindsight,” which is not permissible.
See Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-397.
Rather, the Court must view Doe’s actions from the
“perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene . . . often forced to make split-second judgments
– in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that
is necessary in a particular situation.” Id.
The plaintiffs’ argument that V.T. was “safe and out of the way” is also inconsistent with
the video and with plaintiffs’ admission that V.T. was only “approximately seven feet away” from
the witness stand “when shots 2-4 were fired.” (Doc. 78 at 20, ¶ 24). Although V.T. was moving
out of the way, he was shackled, and there was little area for him to continue to retreat from the
witness stand in that corner of the courtroom. The claims in the Complaint – that Doe took one
shot, then approached the witness stand and stood over Angilau, firing three more shots into his
back from close range – are also directly contradicted by the video. Doe was moving away while
firing the shots at Angilau. (See Exhibits E, F at 9:23:40-42).
The video completely contradicts plaintiffs’ argument that Angilau stopped posing a
danger within less than one second of launching himself over the witness stand while making a
stabbing motion with a pen in hand. Plaintiffs’ construction of the evidence also ignores the
presence of the nearby judge, jurors, and other court personnel who were in potential danger if
Angilau were to continue his attack or turn his attention to others nearby. The Court cannot adopt
the plaintiffs’ version of the facts, because the video evidence clearly contradicts plaintiffs’
version. See Scott, 550 U.S. at 378-80 (where a party’s version of the facts is blatantly contradicted
by a video, “so that no reasonable jury could believe [the contradicted version of facts], a court
should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary
judgment”); Thomas v. Durastanti, 607 F.3d 655, 659 (10th Cir. 2010) (a court need not adopt the
plaintiffs’ version of the facts where “there is clear contrary video evidence of the incident at
issue,” even where the video “did not capture everything”); Green v. Post, 574 F.3d 1294, 1296,
n.4 (10th Cir. 2009) (stating material facts differently than the district court, based upon the
Circuit’s review of a video) (citing Scott, 550 U.S. at 378-79).
Under the totality of the circumstances, Doe’s use of deadly force against Angilau was
objectively reasonable and did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. Doe is thus entitled to
Clearly Established Law
Even had the plaintiffs presented evidence supporting a Fourth Amendment claim for
excessive force, Doe would still be entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity,
because the law was not clearly established at the time of the shooting that Doe’s conduct was
unlawful. The Supreme Court has set a high bar to prove clearly established law, which requires
that “existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”
Mullenix v. Luna, __ U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 305, 308 (2015). “Put simply, qualified immunity protects
‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Id. (quoting Malley v.
Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986)). “[I]f a reasonable officer might not have known for certain
that the conduct was unlawful – then the officer is immune from liability.” Ziglar v. Abbasi, __
U.S. __, 137 S. Ct. 1843, 1867 (2017).
The district courts are “not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality,
since doing so avoids the crucial question whether the official acted reasonably in the particular
circumstances that he or she faced.” Plumhoff, 134 S. Ct. at 2023 (internal citation omitted). Thus,
the Supreme Court has held that the general excessive force standards set forth in Tennessee v.
Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) and Graham, 490 U.S. 386 do not by themselves create clearly
established law outside “an obvious case.” White v. Pauly, __ U.S. __, 137 S. Ct. 548, 552 (2017)
(quoting Brosseau v. Haughen, 543 U.S. 194, 199 (2004)). This is not a case where it is “obvious”
that Doe’s use of force violated the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, to establish that Doe’s
conduct violated clearly established law, the plaintiffs must “identify a case where an officer acting
under similar circumstances as [Deputy Doe] was held to have violated the Fourth Amendment.”
White, 137 S. Ct. at 552. Satisfying the clearly established law component of the qualified
immunity analysis ordinarily requires a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit opinion on point or the
clearly established weight of authority from other circuits must point in one direction. Pompeo v.
Bd. of Regents of Univ. of New Mexico, 852 F.3d 973, 981 (10th Cir. 2017).
In support of their argument that the law was clearly established that Doe’s actions violated
Angilau’s Fourth Amendment rights, the plaintiffs cite the general excessive force principles from
Graham and Garner. (Doc. 78 at 10-11). They also cite Zia Trust Co. ex rel. Causey v. Montoya,
597 F.3d 1150 (10th Cir. 2010) for the proposition that the law “was clearly established in 2015
that a police officer could not use deadly force, if deadly force was not reasonably necessary.”
(Doc. 78 at 10-11).7 The plaintiffs’ reliance on the general legal statements from Graham, Garner
and Zia Trust is misplaced. First, as noted, the Supreme Court has rejected the use of Garner and
Graham for clearly established law except in cases involving “obvious” Fourth Amendment
violations. See White, 137 S. Ct. at 552. The Court is not authorized to define clearly established
law at such a “high level of generality.” See White, 137 S. Ct. at 552 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd,
563 U.S. 731, 742 (2011)). Second, the facts in Zia Trust bear no resemblance to the circumstances
that Deputy Doe faced in the Utah courtroom. In Zia Trust, it was “not clear that [the decedent
had] manifested an intent to harm [the officer] or anyone else” nearby. 597 F.3d at 1155. In
contrast, it is undisputed that Angilau was attempting to attack a witness in a federal trial.
The plaintiffs also cite a general statement of law from Cordova v. Aragon, 569 F.3d 1183,
1192 (10th Cir. 2009) that “deadly force is justified only if a reasonable officer in the officer’s
position would have had probable cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm
to himself or others.” (Doc. 78 at 34) (quoting Cordova, 569 F.3d at 1192). Pursuant to the
Supreme Court’s pronouncement, such general statements of Fourth Amendment law do not
satisfy the “clearly established law” requirement of identifying “a case where an officer acting
under similar circumstances as [Doe] was held to have violated the Fourth Amendment.” White,
137 S. Ct. at 552 (emphasis added). Moreover, the Court has determined based on the undisputed
evidence and the clear video evidence in the case that Doe’s use of deadly force was objectively
The applicable date is April 21, 2014, the date on which Angilau was shot.
reasonable because a reasonable officer in Doe’s position would have had probable cause to
believe that Angilau posed a threat of serious physical harm to others in the courtroom.
Doe is entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims.
United States of America’s Motion
The plaintiffs assert a claim for negligence against the United States under the Federal Tort
Claims Act (FTCA). (Doc. 2 at 11). The plaintiffs’ negligence claim is premised upon the same
facts as their excessive force claim against Jane Doe. (See Doc. 2 at 12-13).
“[T]o establish governmental liability under the FTCA, a plaintiff must establish that the
injury at issue was ‘caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the
Government . . . under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable
to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.’”
Gallardo v. United States, 752 F.3d 865, 870 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Harvey v. United States,
685 F.3d 939, 947 (10th Cir. 2012)); see 28 U.S.C. § 2675. State law applies to resolve questions
of substantive liability under the FTCA. See Gallardo, 752 F.3d at 870.
Both the United States and the plaintiffs request that the Court apply the standards found
in Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-404. (Doc. 78 at 40; Doc. 37 at 18; see also Doc. 2 at 12). Pursuant to
the statute, an officer is justified in using deadly force when “the officer reasonably believes that
the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or
another person.” Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-404(1)(c). That standard is very similar to the standards
applied to deadly force under the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., Thomson, 584 F.3d at 1313 (“An
officer’s use of [deadly] force is reasonable only if a reasonable officer in [his or her] position
would have had probable cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm to
themselves or to others.”).
The Court has already determined that the undisputed facts establish that Doe’s use of
deadly force was reasonable because a reasonable officer in Doe’s position would have had
probable cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm to others in the
courtroom. (See supra, pp. 7-11). There is simply no genuine dispute of material fact on the issue
of whether Jane Doe, or a reasonable officer in Doe’s position, would reasonably believe that
Angilau posed a threat of serious physical harm to others. It is undisputed that Angilau grabbed a
pen (or pencil) from counsel table, ran to the witness stand, leapt over it, and was using the
instrument in a violent, stabbing manner in an attempt to attack a witness who was restrained by a
belly chain and hand and leg shackles. It is also undisputed that several additional innocent
bystanders – including the presiding judge, the jury, and a court reporter, as well as Jane Doe –
were just feet away from Angilau. Angilau was in custody, but he essentially had escaped custodial
control for those seconds during which he was executing his plan to assault the witness. His attack
was stopped by the shots that Jane Doe rapidly fired, in less than one and one-half seconds. The
plaintiffs have not presented any evidence that would establish the existence of a genuine dispute
of material fact regarding the reasonableness of Doe’s use of deadly force. That force was
reasonable under the undisputed evidence of this case.
The evidence in this case is “so one-sided that [the United States] must prevail as a matter
of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Thus, the United States is entitled to summary judgment
on the FTCA claim.8
For this reason, it is unnecessary to address the government’s separate discretionary
function exception argument.
The defendants’ motions for summary judgment (Doc. 36 and 37) are granted.9 A separate
Judgment will be entered forthwith.
SO ORDERED this 9th day of March, 2018.
In their Complaint, plaintiffs named as additional defendants “John and Sally Does 2-10.”
(Doc. 2 at 1). However, the Complaint does not contain any factual allegations against any John
Doe or Sally Doe, such defendants are not identified on the docket in this case, and the plaintiffs
have not manifested any intent to prosecute any claims against any defendants other than the
United States of America and Jane Doe. Any claims by the plaintiffs against unidentified John
and Sally Does are hereby dismissed.
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