Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit

PETITIONER: Leatherman
RESPONDENT: Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit
LOCATION: Superior Court of the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 91-1657
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 507 US 163 (1993)
ARGUED: Jan 12, 1993
DECIDED: Mar 03, 1993

Brett A. Ringle - on behalf of the Respondents
Richard Gladden - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 1993 in Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 91-1657, Charlene Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit.

Mr. Gladden.

Richard Gladden:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In this case, the petitioners challenge what's known as the Fifth Circuit's heightened pleading requirement, which that court applies in civil rights cases brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C., section 1983 with respect to allegations against local governmental entities wherein plaintiffs allege that the local governmental entity has failed to adequately train, allegations similar to those presented in City of Canton v. Harris.

It's the petitioners' contention that the heightened pleading requirement violates the system of notice pleading set out in rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and alternatively, to the extent that a heightened pleading requirement is permissible under rule 8, petitioners go further and state that they believe that that violates the rule's enabling act, title 28 U.S.C., section 2072(b).

Before going much further, I would like to briefly outline for the Court the procedural and factual background which led to this case.

The case originally arose out of a search of the Leatherman residence which occurred in May of 1989.

In that case, governmental officers, under the control of the Tarrant County narcotics task force, secured a search warrant for their premises and upon entering the premises shot and killed two of their dogs, and after discovering, just within moments, that there was no narcotics laboratory within the premises, proceeded to lounge about in the front of the yard, basically just kind of enhancing and aggravating the anxiety that the family was already experiencing.

Mrs. Leatherman and her son Travis were there on the premises at the time the dogs were shot... or at the end of the driveway, some 100 feet away.

They filed a lawsuit in State court pursuant to section 1983 alleging a violation of the Fourth Amendment with respect to the manner in which the search was conducted by the officers and the shooting of their dogs, which they considered to be an unreasonable seizure of their effect, the dog being the effect in question.

The petitioner... the Leatherman petitioners' former counsel filed the case in State court and was unable, prior to filing it in State court, to get access to any documents to identify the individual officers.

He made numerous attempts to try to secure documents which would more particularly describe what customs they may have and what prior incidents might have occurred similar to this.

He was unable to do so.

Following the filing of his complaint and our petition in State court, the respondents immediately removed the case to Federal court, and immediately thereafter filed a motion to dismiss on 12(b) or for summary judgment.

The petitioner... the Leatherman petitioners' former counsel had not been admitted to practice in Federal court and while he was trying to locate other counsel to handle the case, the court initially acted on the motion to dismiss and dismissed the case.

Following my becoming involved in the case, I moved the court to vacate the dismissal and allow the petitioners to replea their complaint, if possible to conform to the technical pleading requirements that the court in the Fifth Circuit or courts in the Fifth Circuit apply, specifically the heightened pleading requirement.

During the course in time in which we were drafting the amended complaint, our office became aware of another incident also involving the Tarrant County drug task force wherein the officers had displayed similar lack of supervision with respect to the entry of the residence unannounced, clubbing of an elderly gentleman, remaining on the premises some hour and a half to 2 hours after determining that there was no drugs on the premises or drug laboratory on the premises.

I came to the conclusion that there was a consistent pattern there, and for that reason, pursuant to 20(a), rule 20(a), I added this separate incident, together with the Leathermans' lawsuit.

William H. Rehnquist:

Rule 20(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure?

Richard Gladden:

Yes, Chief Justice.

William H. Rehnquist:

What does that provide?

Richard Gladden:

Chief Justice, if I recollect, it says that you have a common transaction in question element.

If you have a pattern of actions by the same identified source and you have common legal questions or common factual questions, the rules permit a joinder of what would otherwise seem to be separate incidences if you have a common factual question or a common legal question.

William H. Rehnquist:

This was a motion to--

Richard Gladden:

Well, it was... we just amended the complaint.

I know the district court was uncertain at the time it acted or entered its decision as to what legal authority.

The issue had never been raised by the respondents, and therefore it had never been briefed.

In any event, following the amended complaint being filed, the respondent, TCNICU, who I'll just call the drug task force, filed virtually the identical motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, and at that time attached some unverified police reports and such like that that allowed us to get a little bit more information, but still not enough to recognize on an evidentiary basis sufficient facts to perhaps defend a motion for summary judgment.

At that time, I filed a motion to stay action on the motion for summary judgment pursuant to rule 56(f) because there had not been sufficient discovery from my position to feel comfortable with the court acting on it at that time, and that was also briefed in the district court in response to their motion for summary judgment.

In response... discovery or motion for... excuse me... production of documents, the respondent drug task force filed a motion for a protective order, and they claimed, I believe, four different privileges, including executive privilege, why they shouldn't have to disclose any documents in connection with the operation of their drug task force.