Adams Stepner Attorneys, Jeff Mando and Jennifer Langen secured a favorable appellate decision in the case of Brown v. Fournier, 2017 Ky. App. Lexis 214 (Ky. App. Ct. 2017) on June 2nd, 2017. The decision, which is set to be published, affirmed a unanimous Jury Verdict in favor a former Harrodsburg police officer, which ASWD Attorney, Claire E. Parsons, secured during trial in the Mercer Circuit Court.In the two-day trial, Ms. Parsons successfully defended Officer Fournier against claims of battery and false imprisonment. Further, Ms. Parsons won a directed verdict denying a claim for punitive damages. On appeal, ASWD attorneys Jeff Mando and Jennifer Langen authored the briefs for the appellate court.
On appeal, the legal issues centered on the duty imposed upon citizens to disperse at an accident scene at the request of an officer, and the corresponding authority given to law enforcement to effectuate that request. Jeff Mando, when asked about the decision stated, “The ruling upholds the authority of police officers to order citizens to disperse at an accident scene.” The Court explained in its opinion, “Law and order would suffer a societally harmful breakdown if citizens believed it unnecessary to follow the reasonable and lawful commands of police officers, particularly those given to facilitate an officer’s conduct of his duties at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency.”
In issuing this decision, the Court rejected the Appellant’s argument that the Circuit Court’s jury instructions relating to the claims of battery and false imprisonment were erroneously and prejudicially published to the jury. In upholding the battery instruction, the Court dismissed the contention that that the Officer had no right to touch Appellant absent a lawful arrest or in self-defense. Taking a practical view of the situation, the Court instead recognized numerous situations where police officers may have to physically touch a citizen, like to prevent self-harm or when obstructing a pursuit, and declared Brown’s rule would, “compel an officer to arrest these citizens or face civil sanction. We will not put officers in such a predicament”. Jeff Mando in reference to the opinion explained, “The Court clarified that an officer is justified in using force, and cannot be liable for battery, unless the force used was excessive.”
With respect to the false imprisonment claim, the Court rejected the Appellant’s related argument that the Officer’s privilege to detain Brown only applied if committing a crime. Significantly, the Court endorsed an instruction that says “even if an arrest is unlawful, a defendant may avoid liability if he can show that he had a subjective good faith belief that his conduct was justified and that subjective belief was reasonable.” Mando again explained, “This clearly helps police officers by instructing a jury to look at a false imprisonment claim from an officer’s point of view.”
The Court in issuing its pro-law enforcement opinion quoted portions of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Graham v Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) stating:
“Courts must avoid substituting their personal notions of proper police procedure for the instantaneous decision of the officer at the scene. Courts must never allow the theoretical, sanitized world of their imagination to replace the dangerous and complex world that policeman face every day. What constitutes reasonable action may seem quite different to someone facing a possible assailant than to someone analyzing the question at leisure. The calculus of the reasonableness of an officer’s decision to use force, even absent an arrest or self-protection, must embody allowance for the fact that police 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.”
ASWD is proud to have achieved an excellent result for its client and to have another successful jury verdict upheld at the appellate level.