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Court Lets Stand Judgment Against California City in Blood Sample Case

December 2, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to free a California city from having to pay damages to a man forced to give a blood sample after he was arrested for drunken driving.

The court, without comment, let stand the $2,500 judgment Timothy Hammer won against the city of Newport Beach.

Hammer’s lawsuit against the city said the police violated his civil rights.

At issue was whether a 1989 Supreme Court decision should be applied retroactively to a 1985 incident involving Hammer. The 1989 ruling said people who sue over alleged police brutality need prove only that the officers acted unreasonably.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applied the 1989 ruling retroactively.

In other action, the court:

- Refused to reinstate a $50 million award to the families of passengers killed when a Korean Air Lines jet was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983.

The court, without comment, let stand a ruling that shields international airlines from huge damages awards in air disasters.

- Let stand a ruling that forces a Nashville music company to pay $843,000, plus interest, in royalties to singers B.J. Thomas and Gene Pitney and to the Shirelles singing group.

The court, without comment, rejected arguments that the royalties award was too large.

- Let stand a ruling that said businesses accused of offering workers phony profit-sharing plans may be sued for securities fraud.

The court, without comment, refused to kill a $191 million lawsuit by some 500 former employees of an Oklahoma trucking company who said they were duped into taking a pay cut to join a sham stock-buying plan their employer offered.

- Turned down appeals by 22 states contesting the federal government’s right to keep money owed to individuals who have failed to claim it.

The court, without comment, let stand a ruling that the federal government may take custody of the money.

In the blood sample case, Hammer was arrested for drunken driving in June 1985 by Armando Zatarain, a Newport Beach policeman, after Hammer failed a series of field sobriety tests.

Zatarain told Hammer he would be required to take one of three chemical tests - blood, breath or urine - to determine his blood alcohol level. Hammer refused to take any of the tests.

A 1966 Supreme Court decision ruled that police could force a hospitalized suspect to undergo a blood test if the suspect refused to take a breath test. That case did not involve any physical force by police because the suspect offered no resistance to the taking of his blood.

After Zatarain took Hammer to a hospital emergency room to obtain a blood sample, Hammer again refused to undergo a blood test.

Hammer testified that the officer grabbed his shoulders and held him down in the chair after telling a hospital technician to complete the blood test.

Something of a wrestling match then developed between Zatarain and Hammer, who was handcuffed to a plastic chair.

Two other officers were called into the room, and Hammer was told he would be pinned on the floor, if necessary, to complete the blood test.

Hammer said that at that point he consented to a breath test but that Zatarain insisted on the blood test and once again held him in the chair while a blood sample was taken.

Hammer sued Zatarain, the hospital, Chief of Police Charles Gross and the city later in 1985. A federal jury awarded him damages against Zatarain, Gross and the city, but the judge overturned the awards.

The 9th Circuit court reinstated the $2,500 in compensatory damages Hammer won against Newport Beach.

The appeals court, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision, ruled that the police officers’ use of force against Hammer could be found by the jury to be unreasonable.

″The question is not whether the force was necessary to accomplish a legitimate police objective; it is whether the force used was excessive in light of all the relevant circumstances,″ the appeals court said.

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for Newport Beach said Hammer’s victory ″vividly demonstrates the utter confusion facing the courts, public entities, their police chiefs and police officers when confronted with a recalcitrant drunk driver who refuses to submit to a sobriety test.″

The appeal was supported in a ″friend-of-the-court″ brief submitted by 11 states, numerous California counties and cities, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and various law enforcement groups.

The 11 states are California, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

The case is Newport Beach vs. Hammer, 91-270.

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