Brower v. County of Inyo
489 U.S. 593 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593 (1989)

Brower v. County of Inyo

No. 87-248

Argued January 11, 1989

Decided March 21, 1989

489 U.S. 593


Petitioners' decedent (Brower) was killed when the stolen car he had been driving at high speeds to elude pursuing police crashed into a police roadblock. Petitioners brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in Federal District Court, claiming, inter alia, that respondents, acting under color of law, violated Brower's Fourth Amendment rights by effecting an unreasonable seizure using excessive force. Specifically, the complaint alleges that respondents placed an 18-wheel truck completely across the highway in the path of Brower's flight, behind a curve, with a police cruiser's headlights aimed in such fashion as to blind Brower on his approach. It also alleges that the fatal collision was a "proximate result" of this police conduct. The District Court dismissed for failure to state a claim, concluding that the roadblock was reasonable under the circumstances, and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that no "seizure" had occurred.


1. Consistent with the language, history, and judicial construction of the Fourth Amendment, a seizure occurs when governmental termination of a person's movement is effected through means intentionally applied. Because the complaint alleges that Brower was stopped by the instrumentality set in motion or put in place to stop him, it states a claim of Fourth Amendment "seizure." Pp. 489 U. S. 595-599.

2. Petitioners can claim the right to recover for Brower's death because the unreasonableness alleged consists precisely of setting up the roadblock in such a manner as to be likely to kill him. On remand, the Court of Appeals must determine whether the District Court erred in concluding that the roadblock was not "unreasonable." Pp. 489 U. S. 599-600.

817 F.2d 540, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 489 U. S. 600.

Page 489 U. S. 594

Primary Holding
During a high speed police chase, Brower died when he crashed a stolen car into an 18-wheel truck parked across a roadway by the police as a roadblock. Police allegedly parked the truck behind a curve with a police cruiser's headlights aimed so as to blind him on his approach. The use of a roadblock by the police to stop Brower's car constituted a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

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