of a woman’s victory in a lawsuit involving the actions of police
officers was “frivolous,” a federal court said Tuesday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sanctioned the city and
ordered it to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and “double costs”
incurred in the appeal. The amount isn’t known yet.
The court also ordered City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli’s office to
make the City Council aware of the sanction and to provide council
members and City Manager Eric Anderson with copies of its order as
well as the court’s November opinion upholding the jury verdict.
Anderson said he’ll hire an independent counsel to study whether
the city attorney’s staff acted properly within the scope of their
duties in the case.
Pauli said her office appealed the case to protect the right of
police to make a mistake in discharging their duties.
Pauli did not ask the City Council for permission to appeal the
Although she sometimes gives council members a “heads up” on
sensitive or controversial legal matters, that wasn’t done on the
appeal in this case, she said.
Councilman Mike Lonergan said he’d like for council members “to
at least get a briefing” in such matters.
The sanctions stem from the decision to appeal a $138,000 jury
award to Susan Frunz for damages she suffered in November 2000 when
police broke into her home.
The 9th Circuit upheld a March 2005 verdict in the case last
Frunz sued the city because three police officers broke into her
home, pointed a gun in her face, treated her like a suspect and
searched her house. During the encounter, they ordered her to the
floor, told her to shut up and handcuffed her.
They had no warrant. They made no arrests, and they didn’t file a
During a trial in U.S. District Court, the city argued the
officers rightfully entered the home without a warrant because they
thought a burglary was in progress.
A neighbor claimed a restraining order barred Frunz from entering
the house. The police didn’t check to see if that was true before
they barged in.
Frunz, who was getting divorced at the time, couldn’t convince
police she’d been awarded the property.
When the federal court issued its ruling upholding the jury
verdict in November, it gave the city two weeks to file legal papers
explaining why its appeal wasn’t frivolous.
Only misguided optimism would have led Tacoma to appeal the
unanimous jury verdict, the court said at the time.
The order issued Tuesday said the city misstated some of the
testimony from its case in the appeal and the legal precedent on
which the city relied didn’t apply.
“We explained our reasoning, and provided a correct recitation of
the facts,” the court’s order said. Although the city was given an
opportunity “to explain or retract the earlier misstatement,” city
attorneys did not do that, the order added. “Instead, they twice
Until her staff meets with the plaintiff’s attorneys, Pauli won’t
know what the fees and costs will amount to.
Frunz’s attorney, Hugh McGavick of Olympia, could not be reached
for comment. Kris.firstname.lastname@example.org
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659