In Flores v. County of Los Angeles, published July 14, 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit against the defendant county and its sheriff (in an individual capacity) arising out of an incident in which, at a courthouse vehicle inspection area a sheriff's deputy allegedly touched and fondled the plaintiff without her consent. The plaintiff alleged that the county and sheriff were liable for the alleged sexual assault under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 for failing to implement proper training to ensure that deputies do not sexually assault women they come into contact with at the vehicle inspection area. She also alleged that a different deputy's 2006 conviction for sexual assaults that took place in 2004 and 2005 in a different area put the defendants on notice that training needed improvement.
The 9th Circuit ruled that the plaintiff had failed to state a plausible claim for municipal or supervisor's liability. To establish liability, plaintiff would have to plead and prove facts establishing that both the county and its official were deliberately indifferent to the need to train the deputies. Deliberate indifference requires a conscious or deliberate choice to fail to train. Generally, to show that training is inadequate, a plaintiff must plead and prove facts showing a pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees. The one isolated instance the plaintiff alleged was insufficient. The claim also did not fall into the narrow range of circumstances in which no pattern is necessary because the unconstitutional consequences of failure to train were patently obvious. Sexual assault violates the law, and everyone is presumed to know the law.
Moreover, the court ruled, the claim is not plausible on its face. The plaintiff's sole factual allegation is that the sheriff's department's manual does not instruct deputies not to sexually assault women. The deputies are peace officers sworn to uphold a law that prohibits such assaults. If the threat of prison time does not sufficiently deter sexual assault, it is not plausible to assume that a specific instruction will deter that behavior. Failure to include the instruction is therefore not deliberate indifference.