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Kingsley v. Hendrickson: New Supreme Court Pretrial Detainee Excessive Force Decision

Kinsgley v. Hendrickson: What Standard Governs Pretrial Detainee Due Process Excessive Force Claims?

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and then reversed the Seventh Circuit in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. – (2015)(No. 14-6368), revg Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 744 F.3d 443 (7th Cir. 2014)(Judge Hamilton dissenting), a case involving the proper excessive force standard applicable to pretrial detainee claims brought under substantive due process. In this case, the plaintiff pretrial detainee alleged that the use of a taser against him constituted excessive force in violation of due process.

The Question Presented was “[w]hether the requirements of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force claim brought by a plaintiff who was a pretrial detainee at the time of the incident are satisfied by a showing that the state actor deliberately used force against the pretrial detainee and the use of force was objectively unreasonable.”

The Court’s Opinion

In an opinion by Justice Breyer, the Court rejected the subjective inquiry used by the district court—that there must be “an actual intent to violate [the plaintiff’s] rights or reckless disregard for his rights”–and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit. Instead, the Court declared that the proper standard in such pretrial detainee substantive due process cases was one of objective reasonableness, the same standard required by the Fourth Amendment for police officers making arrests in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The Court did not accept the defendant correctional officers’ contention that because this was a prison setting, under Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), the plaintiff pretrial detainee was required to prove that he was “punished” by them, meaning that at the least the defendants must have been subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable.

The Court went on to explain why this objective reasonableness standard would not unduly burden corrections officers. For one thing, the use of force must be determined from the perspective of a reasonable corrections officer at the time. For another, the objective reasonableness standard was workable and consistent with the pattern jury instructions used in several Circuits. For a third, the standard adequately protected corrections officers who acted in good faith because jail circumstances, including security and order, must be taken into account in making the objective reasonableness determination. Finally, the availability of qualified immunity to corrections officers provided an additional margin for error. See Chapter 8 of NAHMOD, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed. 2014)(West).

The Dissents

Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, dissented, arguing that “punishment” was required under due process and that the infliction of objectively unreasonable force, standing alone, was not sufficient for this purpose. They also questioned whether a pretrial detainee had a liberty interest in freedom form objectively unreasonable force. Justice Alito also dissented, maintaining that certiorari was improvidently granted. In his view, the Court should first determine whether a pretrial detainee can bring a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim before reaching the substantive due process claim involved in Kingsley.

Comments

Kingsley is a sound decision. It finally puts to rest the split in the circuits regarding the proper excessive force standard for pretrial detainees, an issue that had been percolating in the circuits for some time.

In addition, so long as relevant security factors are plugged into the objective reasonableness inquiry, pretrial detainees are not being unduly advantaged to the detriment of the need to maintain security and order.

Perhaps most important, it would have been fundamentally unfair for pretrial detainees, who by definition have not been convicted of anything, to be governed by a subjective inquiry of the sort the governs excessive force claims brought under the Eighth Amendment by those already convicted. Kingsley property treats pretrial detainees as free citizens in this context.

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Written by snahmod

June 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Carroll v. Carman: New Supreme Court Qualified Immunity Decision On Warrantless Entries

In its 2014 Term the Supreme Court handed down a qualified immunity per curiam decision dealing with warrantless entries into the home. The police officer emerged victorious.

Carroll v. Carman

In Carroll v. Carman, 135 S. Ct. 348 (2014)(per curiam), revg, Carman v. Carroll, 749 F.3d 192 (3rd Cir. 2014), a police officer was sued under § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment for entering plaintiffs’ property in July 2009 by going into their backyard and onto their deck without a warrant. The police officer argued that his entry was lawful under the “knock and talk” exception to the warrant requirement because he stayed on that portion of plaintiffs’ property that the general public was allowed to go on.

The Third Circuit held that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment since he did not go first to the front door as required (so the Third Circuit read its own precedent as saying) by the “knock and talk” exception. It also ruled that the officer violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law.

Reversing, the Supreme Court held that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity because clearly settled law did not exist at the time. Even assuming that a single Third Circuit decision could suffice for this purpose, the decision that the Third Circuit cited did not stand for the proposition that the Third Circuit said it did.

The Court went on: “The Third Circuit’s decision is even more perplexing in comparison to the decisions of other federal and state courts, which have rejected the rule the Third Circuit adopted here.” However, the Court emphasized that it was not deciding the constitutional merits here but only qualified immunity.

Comment

What is interesting to me about this decision is the Court’s non-deferential approach to the Third Circuit’s understanding of its own precedent. The Court may also have signaled that it disagreed with the Third Circuit’s rule on the merits, although it said that it did not decide the constitutional merits.

 

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Written by snahmod

June 17, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

San Francisco v. Sheehan: New Supreme Court Qualified Immunity Decision Dealing with Shooting the Mentally Disturbed (ADA Issue Not Reached)

In its 2014 Term, the Supreme Court handed down a qualified immunity decision dealing with the shooting of a mentally disturbed woman. As has become the norm in recent qualified immunity cases before the Court, the police officers prevailed.

San Francisco v. Sheehan

San Francisco v. Sheehan, 135 S. Ct. 1765 (2015), involved the near-fatal shooting of a mentally disturbed woman in a group home in August 2008. When the officers initially entered her room, she grabbed a kitchen knife and told them to leave, which they did. After conferring, they then re-entered her room by forcing open the door and blinding her with pepper spray. However, she continued to resist with her knife, so they shot her repeatedly.

Although the Supreme Court had granted certiorari to decide whether the Americans with Disabilities Act required the officers to “accommodate” the plaintiff’s disability, the Court did not address that question because it was not properly raised by San Francisco. Instead, reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Court ruled that the officers were protected by qualified immunity from § 1983 Fourth Amendment liability because there was no clearly established law prohibiting this conduct.

The Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s contrary qualified immunity holding that its precedents would have placed “any reasonable, competent officer on notice that it is unreasonable to forcibly enter the home of an armed, mentally ill suspect who had been acting irrationally and had threatened anyone who entered when there was no objective need for immediate entry.”

But even assuming that was true, the Court continued, no precedent clearly established that there was not “an objective need for immediate entry” here. “[A]n officer could not know that reopening [plaintiff’s] door to prevent her from escaping or gathering more weapons would violate the Ninth Circuit’s test, even if all the disputed facts are viewed in respondent’s favor.”

Justices Scalia and Kagan concurred in part and dissented in part, maintaining that the Court should not have addressed the qualified immunity issue.

Comment

The Supreme Court did not defer to the Ninth Circuit’s understanding of its own Fourth Amendment precedents  as to the general rule in such cases.

Similarly, the Court did not defer to the Ninth Circuit’s application of its “objective need for immediate entry” criterion.

 

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Written by snahmod

June 17, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2014 in review

Happy New Year to all of my readers.

WordPress sent me this summary of 2014 views of nahmodlaw.com.

One thing I found of interest was the fact that many views were of older posts on First Amendment, constitutional law and section 1983. I intended this blog to have educational durability and that seems to be the case, which is gratifying.

I thank you all.

Sheldon Nahmod

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by snahmod

January 1, 2015 at 10:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

All My Videos: Constitutional Law, Section 1983 and SCOTUS

My videos–some lengthy, some relatively brief–on constitutional law (including the First and Second Amendments), section 1983 and the Supreme Court, are now available in one place on Youtube right here:  https://www.youtube.com/user/ChicagoKentLaw/playlists?sort=dd&shelf_id=12&view=50

Check them out and let me know what you think. Email me: snahmod@kentlaw.edu.

Thanks to Chicago-Kent techies for setting this up and thanks to you for visiting my blog.

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Written by snahmod

July 29, 2014 at 10:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Short Video on Lane v. Franks

I blogged on January 20, 2014, about Lane v. Franks, the public employee free speech case currently before the Supreme Court, scheduled to be argued on April 28, 2014.

Here is a five-minute video on the case: http://youtu.be/3bKstfw0jRM

I hope you find it informative.

 

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Written by snahmod

April 25, 2014 at 10:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by snahmod

December 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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