Nahmod Law

Certiorari Granted in Plumhoff v. Rickard: Excessive Force, High-Speed Police Pursuits and Scott v. Harris

Plumhoff v. Rickard: Certiorari Granted

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Plumhoff v. Rickard, No. 12-1117 (2014), an unpublished decision in Estate of Allen v. City of West Memphis, 509 Fed. App’x 388 (6th Cir. 2012).

Here are the questions presented:

“1. Whether the Sixth Circuit wrongly denied qualified immunity to Petitioners by analyzing whether the force used in 2004 was distinguishable from factually similar force ruled permissible three years later in Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007). Stated otherwise, the question presented is whether, for qualified immunity purposes, the Sixth Circuit erred in analyzing whether the force was supported by subsequent case decisions as opposed to prohibited by clearly established law at the time the force was used.”
“2.  Whether the Sixth Circuit erred in denying qualified immunity by finding the use of force was not reasonable as a matter of law when, under Respondent’s own facts, the suspect led police officers on a high-speed pursuit that began in Arkansas and ended in Tennessee, the suspect weaved through traffic on an interstate at a high rate of speed and made contact with the police vehicles twice, and the suspect used his vehicle in a final attempt to escape after he was surrounded by police officers, nearly hitting at least one police officer in the process.”

The Background: Scott v. Harris

In 2007, the Supreme Court held in Scott v. Harris that “a law enforcement official can, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, attempt to stop a fleeing motorist from continuing his public-endangering flight by ramming the motorist’s car from behind” even though the officer’s actions “place [the] fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.” In the case before it, the Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit which had affirmed the district court’s denial of officer’s qualifed immunity summary judgment motion. A videotape of the chase made abundantly clear, said the Court, that no jury could find that what the officer did— ramming the plaintiff motorist’s car and thereby seizing it — was objectively unreasonable.

In the course of its opinion the Supreme Court explained the relationship among Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985)(deadly force), Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)(excessive force in general) and the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement. It noted that “Graham did not establish a magical on/off switch that triggers rigid preconditions whenever an officer’s actions constitute ‘deadly force.’ Garner was simply an application of the Fourth Amendment’s ‘reasonableness’ test in a particular type of situation.”

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer concurred, while Justice Stevens dissented, arguing that the Court had usurped the jury’s function.

Comments

1. The Supreme Court will almost certainly reverse the Sixth Circuit and declare that the latter’s approach in this and similar cases is fundamentally inconsistent with Scott.

2. Note that Scott must be sharply distinguished from those high speed police pursuit cases in which there is no seizure, with the result that the substantive due process “purpose to do harm” standard governs, and not Fourth Amendment reasonableness standards. County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998).

More on the Fourth Amendment and excessive force can be found at sections 3:17-3:23 in  Nahmod, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed. 2013)(West Group).

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Written by snahmod

November 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm

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