City of Los Angeles v. Lyons

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City of Los Angeles v. Lyons
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 2, 1982
Decided April 20, 1983
Full case nameCity of Los Angeles v. Lyons
Citations461 U.S. 95 (more)
103 S. Ct. 1660; 75 L. Ed. 2d 675; 51 U.S.L.W. 4424
Case history
PriorReversed, 656 F.2d 417 (9th Cir. 1981)
A plaintiff must show a sufficiently plausible threat of future injury to possess standing to sue.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityWhite, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
DissentMarshall, joined by Brennan, Blackmun, Stevens
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. III

City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983), was a United States Supreme Court decision holding that the plaintiff, Adolph Lyons, lacked standing to challenge the city police department's use of chokeholds.


In 1976, Adolph Lyons was stopped by four white officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for driving with a broken tail light. The unarmed 24-year-old was ordered to leave his vehicle by officers with guns drawn and to spread his legs and put his hands on top of his head. After being frisked, Lyons put his hands down. That prompted one officer to grab his hands and slam them against his head.

When Lyons complained that holding his car keys was causing him pain, a police officer put him in a chokehold until he lost consciousness. He woke up lying face down in the road with soiled underwear and blood and dirt in his mouth. The officers gave him a traffic citation and sent him on his way.[1]

Seven years later, he sought both compensatory damages for the chokehold and declaratory and injunctive relief against the LAPD's chokehold policy (he introduced evidence from 1975 to 1983 that 16 people, including 12 African-Americans, had been killed by the LAPD using chokeholds.[1]


In an opinion authored by Justice White, the Court held 5-4 that Lyons had failed to allege a sufficiently-plausible threat of future injury to have standing over an injunction. Lyons, however, had standing for his damages action since it was retrospective and the injury, being subjected to the chokehold, was concrete and particular. The decision helped to establish the principle that a plaintiff must meet a standing requirement for each form of relief sought.

Dissenting opinion[edit]

Justice Marshall's dissent argued that the majority's test would immunize from review any widespread policy that deprives constitutional rights when individuals cannot show with certainty that they would be subject to a repeat violation.[2] He also argued that the Court's traditional rule did not distinguish different forms of relief for standing purposes.


Based on Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow Lyons' case is related to what is believed to be biased action towards certain races, in this case African-Americans. She asserts that it is hard for people of color like Lyons to prevail in the judicial process, like during the Jim Crow era. According to Alexander, one of the causes of such issues is the presence of implicit bias in the criminal justice system, including the courts and police officers. In support of Alexander's argument, Georgetown Law provides Professor Charles Lawrence noted, "The purposeful intent requirement found in Supreme Court equal protection doctrine, and in the court's interpretation of antidiscrimination laws disserved the value of equal citizenship expressed in those laws because many forms of racial bias are unconscious."[3] As specified above, since Lyons' case involves legal system, unconscious bias may produce negative outcomes for African-Americans.[4][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Millhiser, Ian (4 Dec 2014). "How The Supreme Court Helped Make It Possible For Police To Kill By Chokehold". ThinkProgress. Retrieved 12 Dec 2014.
  2. ^ Gilson, Dave (4 Dec 2014). "Thurgood Marshall Blasted Police for Killing Black Men With Chokeholds". Mother Jones. Retrieved 12 Dec 2014.
  3. ^ Lawrence, Charles R. III (2008). "Unconscious Racism Revisited: Reflections on the Impact and Origins of "The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection".
  4. ^ The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander, The New Press, New York 2010, ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7
  5. ^ The New Jim Crow, p. 128-129

External links[edit]