CA9: Excessive force claims don’t require damages

Plaintiff showed a prima facie case of excessive force in violation of clearly established law, even without damages, to go forward. Cortesluna v. Leon, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 33792 (9th Cir. Oct. 27, 2020):

And although a knee on the back is a lesser personal intrusion than beanbag rounds, it still constitutes a meaningful personal intrusion when it causes injury. LaLonde v. County of Riverside, 204 F.3d 947, 952 (9th Cir. 2000). In evaluating reasonableness, we may consider the presence and severity of a plaintiff’s injuries, but injuries are not required. Felarca v. Birgeneau, 891 F.3d 809, 817 (9th Cir. 2018). This court long ago recognized that a plaintiff asserting a claim of excessive force “is not required to show a significant injury.” Wilks v. Reyes, 5 F.3d 412, 416 (9th Cir. 1993), as amended on denial of reh’g (Oct. 28, 1993); see also Morales v. Fry, 873 F.3d 817, 820-21 (9th Cir. 2017) (discussing this circuit’s requirement under Floyd v. Laws, 929 F.2d 1390, 1402-03 (9th Cir. 1991), that a court award nominal damages where a jury finds for a plaintiff on an excessive-force claim but awards no damages). If the use of force is excessive and there is a case on point that alerted the officer to the unconstitutionality of his conduct (an issue to which we will turn next), there is no added requirement for a specific level of damage or injury. Here, Plaintiff alleges that he now suffers ongoing neck and back pain, headaches, and emotional distress on account of Rivas-Villegas’ actions. That is sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact that requires resolution by a jury. The credibility and weight of Plaintiff’s evidence are for the jury, not us, to decide. Because we must view all the evidence in Plaintiff’s favor, Rivas-Villegas used excessive force.

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