Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Family of Muslim Man Killed By L.A. Police Wins In 9th Circuit, But Not On Free Exercise Claim

Yesterday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued two opinions-- one published and the other unpublished-- in the case of an autistic 21-year old Muslim man-- Mohammad Usman Chaudhry-- who was shot and killed by Los Angeles police.  The coroner took custody of Chaudhry's body but did not notify his family of his death for 21 days. This prevented the family from burying Chaudhry in accordance with their religious beliefs.  In the published opinion in Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles (I), (9th Cir., May 19, 2014), the 9th Circuit gave a substantial victory to the family, reversing a number of the district court's rulings. Among other things, it reversed the dismissal of claims under state and federal civil rights laws, allowing the family to proceed  on 4th Amendment grounds, and on substantive due process grounds for loss of companionship. It also held that California's bar to pre-death pain and suffering claims does not apply to suits based on 42 USC Sec. 1983, reinstating the jury's $1 million award. It alsoFr held that plaintiffs introduced enough evidence to raise a jury question on whether the coroner's office was negligent in it attempts to locate Chaudhry's family.  In the unpublished opinion in Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles (II), (9th Cir., May 19, 2014), the 9th Circuit rejected the family's free exercise of religion claim, holding that "the Los Angeles Coroner Department’s policies for locating decedents’ families are generally applied and neutral with respect to religion." It also rejected plaintiffs' equal protection claim, finding no evidence of intent to discriminate on the basis of religion or race.