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California Court of Appeal Reaffirms Immunity for Police Pursuits

Client Alert

On August 23, 2017, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District addressed the requirements for a public agency employing peace officers to be entitled to immunity from liability under Vehicle Code Sec. 17004.7 for the conduct of officers during vehicle pursuits.  In Ramirez v. City of Gardena, the Court held in part that an agency’s pursuit policy may meet the standards of Sec. 17004.7 if it “provide[s] guidance to officers concerning factors to consider, even if [it] also leaves room for the exercise of individual discretion . . . .” 

Agency Impact: Public agencies employing peace officers should review their pursuit policies to ensure that they comply with Vehicle Code Sec. 17004.7 and adequately address each of the twelve required considerations of subdivision (c).  Additionally, public agencies should ensure that their pursuit policies are adequately promulgated within their agencies and that written certification or acknowledgment is confirmed by their peace officers. 

Vehicle Code Sec. 17004.7: Under this Section, immunity is applicable when a public agency “adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicle pursuits complying with subdivisions (c) and (d) . . . .”  Subdivision (c) enumerates twelve minimum considerations that pursuit policies must address, such as driving tactics, traffic conditions, and the role of supervisors.  Subdivision (d) addresses the requirement for regular and periodic training.  Whether an agency has complied with Sec. 17004.7 is a question of law for the courts. 

Ramirez v. City of Gardena: In Ramirez, the plaintiff sued the City of Gardena in State court after her son died from injuries sustained in a collision resulting from a Pursuit Intervention Technique (“PIT”) maneuver by Gardena police.  Following summary judgment in favor of the City, the plaintiff challenged the City’s entitlement to immunity under Sec. 17004.7 by arguing that the City’s pursuit policy did not sufficiently address the considerations of subdivision (c) because it did not specify the criteria for employing a PIT maneuver.  Gardena’s pursuit policy instructed that “forcible stop tactics . . . shall only be used as a last resort in order to stop a fleeing violator in keeping with Department guidelines regarding use of force and pursuit policy.”  The policy further stated that the PIT maneuver “can be used to stop a pursuit, as soon as possible, with Watch Commander approval, if practical.”  The Court held that Gardena’s policy sufficiently addressed the PIT maneuver and held that a pursuit policy complies with Sec. 17004.7 if it provides some guidance on each of the twelve considerations.  Policies may leave room for individual discretion, but should provide sufficient guidance for officers to exercise their discretion only after weighing relevant factors and interests. 

For further information, please contact Glen Tucker, G. Ross Trindle, III, Marsha Yasuda, or Juliette Tran from Aleshire & Wynder, LLP’s Public Safety Group at (949) 223-1170.

Disclaimer:  Aleshire & Wynder, LLP legal alerts are not intended as legal advice.  Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein.  Please seek legal advice before acting or relying upon any information in this communication.