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All My Constitutional Law Posts to 10-12-15

This is Part II of the All My Posts Series to 10-12-15. Part I, also posted today, deals with Section 1983.

Please search within the post for any cases, topics and the like that you are interested in.

PART II: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

All My Videos: Constitutional Law, Section 1983 and SCOTUS

Know Your Constitution (1): The Structure of Government

Know Your Constitution (2): Myths About the Constitution

Know Your Constitution (3): Myths About the Supreme Court

Know Your Constitution (4): What Is Equal Protection?

Know Your Constitution (5): Free Speech and Hate

Know Your Constitution (6): What Is Procedural Due Process?

Know Your Constitution (7): What Is Substantive Due Process/Right of Privacy?

Know Your Constitution (8): What is State Action?

A Short Video on Equal Protection Basics

Class-of-One Equal Protection Claims: Uncertainty in the Seventh Circuit

Marbury v. Madison: Some Additional Lessons

McCulloch v. Maryland: Exegesis and Constitutional Education

The Commerce Clause

The Dormant Commerce Clause

Brown v. Board of Education

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action and Fisher v. University of Texas: A Video Discussion

The Fisher Case on Affirmative Action and the Shelby County Case on Voting Rights: Two of a Kind

The Equal Protection Clause and Fundamental Interests

Supreme Court Decisions, 2007-2008: A Video Presentation

Supreme Court Review: 2009 Term (video)

Anti-SLAPP Statutes in Federal Courts

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: The Commerce Clause and Constitutional Trust

Individual Mandate Upheld–Medicaid Expansion Upheld (Mostly)

The Health Care Act Decision: A Video Discussion

The Constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: A Video Presentation

Gun Control, the Second Amendment and Section 1983 After McDonald v. Chicago

The Second Amendment and Gun Control: Unanswered Questions

DeShaney in the Circuits: Affirmative Duties and Danger-Creation

DeShaney in the Circuits (II): Affirmative Duties and Danger-Creation

DeShaney in the Circuits (III): The Fifth Circuit En Banc Holds the Line

DeShaney in the Circuits (IV): The Seventh Circuit’s Reformulation

DeShaney in the Circuits (V): The Third and Tenth Circuits Weigh In

DeShaney in the Circuits (VI): Some Recent Decisions

Oyez’s Fourth Amendment Deep Dive

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

Written by snahmod

October 12, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Constitutional Law

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

DeShaney in the Circuits (VI): Some Recent Decisions

I have blogged previously about how the Supreme Court’s controversial DeShaney decision has fared in the circuits. DeShaney held that as a general matter governments have no affirmative substantive due process duty to protect persons from private harm. The first post was on 8-22-11; the second was on 6-1-12; the third was on 5-20-13; the fourth was on 6-6-13 and the most recent was on August 28, 2014.

Here are four 2014 DeShaney-related decisions from the Fifth and Eighth Circuits and the Supreme Court of New Jersey. I came across these cases when preparing the 2015 Update to my treatise, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed. West).

Fifth Circuit: Lance v. Lewisville Independent School District

Where a fourth grade special needs student who had been bullied locked himself inside the school nurse’s bathroom and then took his own life, his parents and his estate sued the school district under § 1983 and substantive due process. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the school district. The Fifth Circuit rejected the application of the special relationship theory, the state danger-creation theory and the caused-to-be-subjected theory. No special relationship between the decedent and the school district existed in the case pursuant to the en banc decision of the Fifth Circuit in Doe ex rel Magee, 675 F.3d 849 (5th Cir. 2012)(en banc). Also, there was no genuine issue of material fact in dispute regarding the state-created danger theory even if that theory were to be applied: the school district did not affirmatively place the decedent in danger, there was no evidence that the school district knew that decedent’s suicide was imminent and the plaintiffs did not show that the school district created a dangerous environment for the decedent. Finally, the caused-to-be subject theory has not been adopted by the Fifth Circuit. Lance v. Lewisville Independent School District, 2014 WL 805452 (5th Cir. 2014).

Eighth Circuit: Montgomery v. City of Ames and Gladden v. Richbourg

The plaintiff sued a city, police officers and others alleging a substantive due process violation arising out of the shooting of the plaintiff by a third person who broke into her house and shot her three times. She alleged that the defendants created the danger that the assailant would attack her through their deliberate indifference. Montgomery v. City of Ames, 2014 WL 1387033 (8th Cir. 2014). Ruling for the defendants on this issue, the Eighth Circuit noted that the assailant was subject to a protective order, stemming from his conviction for domestic-abuse assault, which prohibited him from being near the plaintiff and from contacting her. However, it determined that the police officer who spoke with the assailant about the plaintiff’s allegations, but did not arrest him despite plaintiff’s warnings, did not act with the requisite deliberate indifference to her safety. There were conflicting accounts about whether the assailant had in fact violated the protective order, and this meant a reasonable jury could not conclude that the officer acted recklessly or in a conscience shocking manner just because he did not arrest the assailant before an investigation the next day.

In Gladden v. Richbourg, 2014 WL 3608521 (8th Cir. 2014), the decedent died of hypothermia after police officers, who had determined that he was mildly intoxicated, took him from a restaurant in a city to an isolated off-ramp outside the city at the county line even though he had asked the officers to take him to his sister’s house in the next county. The decedent’s due process rights were not violated, according to the Eighth Circuit. There was no special relationship because the harm suffered did not occur in police custody. Also, the officers did not act with the requisite reckless/conscience shocking state of mind under the danger creation theory because, even though it was bitterly cold, decedent was only mildly intoxicated, appeared functional to the officers throughout, and thus appeared able to make his way to a guard shack a short distance from where he was dropped off.

Supreme Court of New Jersey: Gormley v. Wood-El

In Gormley v. Wood-El, 2014 WL 2921824 (S. Ct. N.J. 2014), the plaintiff attorney, assigned to represent an involuntarily committed patient at a psychiatric hospital, was brutally attacked by her client in the hospital’s unsupervised day room, “a place where psychotic patients milled about and where violence frequently erupted.” The Supreme Court of New Jersey, ruling for the attorney in her § 1983 claim against hospital officials and others, held that the plaintiff had a substantive due process right to be free from state created dangers and that this right was clearly established in September 2005, when the attorney was attacked and seriously injured. The plaintiff was a member of a discrete class of victims subject to foreseeable harm in the volatile day room created by the defendants. Also, the defendants exercised total control over the plaintiff and the day room meeting and they knew of the special dangers that the client might pose to the unsuspecting plaintiff. Further, there was sufficient evidence of deliberate indifference constituting conscience shocking conduct. Among other things, expert testimony indicated that the level of violence in this psychiatric hospital was unique. Justice LeVecchia, joined by Justice Patterson, dissented, 2014 WL 2921824, *20, arguing that the plaintiff did not make out a substantive due process claim and that the defendants in any event did not violate clearly established law.

Comment

As I and others have frequently noted, DeShaney issues typically arise in tragic circumstances, and these cases are no exception. Plaintiffs attempt to end-run the DeShaney no affirmative duty rule by using either the special relationship theory or the danger-creation theory or both.

However, it remains difficult for plaintiffs to prevail even on these theories, as the Fifth and Eighth Circuit cases demonstrate. Only in Gormley did the danger-creation theory work in combination with the special relationship theory by virtue of the total control exercised by the hospital officials over the plaintiff attorney, as found by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

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Written by snahmod

April 10, 2015 at 11:54 am

DeShaney in the Circuits (V): The Third and Tenth Circuits Weigh In

I have blogged previously about how the DeShaney decision has fared in the circuits. The first time was on 8-22-11; the second time was on 6-1-12; the third time was on 5-20-13; and the most recent was on 6-6-13.

Here are two DeShaney-related decisions from the Third and Tenth Circuits, and some comments. I came across these cases when preparing the 2014 Update to my treatise, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed. West).

Third Circuit: Henry v. City of Erie

The decedents’ estates sued a city’s housing authority and others alleging that they created the danger that led to decedents’ deaths by fire in Section 8 housing through their approval and subsidization of an apartment even though the apartment did not comply with Section 8’s housing standards because it lacked a smoke detector and a fire escape ladder. Henry v. City of Erie, 728 F.3d 275 (3rd Cir. 2013).

Ruling against the estates, the Third Circuit reasoned that they did not plausibly allege that the defendants’ acts were close enough in time and succession to the ultimate harm: there was a lengthy period of time as well as “intervening forces and actions.” Also, the estates did not allege that the defendants caused the fire or increased decedents’ susceptibility to it. Moreover, the defendants were not responsible for installing a smoke detector or fire escape. “[T]here were too many links in the causal chain after defendants acted and before tragedy struck.” The Third Circuit concluded with the observation that it was declining to expand the state-created danger exception.

Comment: Even though the Third Circuit acknowledged the state-created danger exception to DeShaney, it nevertheless ruled on what seem to be proximate cause grounds (with a hint of causation in fact) that the estates did not  state section 1983 substantive due process claims. This was a way of avoiding the need to decide whether an affirmative duty existed in the first place.

Tenth Circuit: Estate of B.I.C. v. Gillen

Grandparents sued a social worker for damages under the substantive due process state danger-creation theory for her deliberate indifference to extensive evidence of abuse that allegedly led to the death of their granddaughter at the hands of the natural father’s girlfriend (later convicted of murdering the granddaughter). The granddaughter was living with the natural father and his girlfriend at the time. The Tenth Circuit found that the plaintiffs satisfied the requisite showing of affirmative conduct and private violence here.

For one thing, the plaintiffs showed that the defendant’s “inaction” was based on her animus; that is, there was a deliberate decision to ignore based on a decade-long animosity to the family. For another, there were affirmative acts such as the defendant’s refusal to return police phone calls, her refusal to accept photos showing injury, her lying about being in the father’s home, her telling the plaintiffs that allegations of abuse were not her issue but rather for law enforcement and her claiming that these allegations were unsubstantiated. Moreover, the defendant’s conduct was conscience-shocking. Finally, the defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity because she violated clearly settled law in fall 2007. Estate of B.I.C. v. Gillen, 702 F.3d 1182 (10th Cir. 2012). Judge Matheson concurred, 702 F.3d, at 1192, arguing that the court should not have addressed the question whether the defendant’s alleged intentional inaction constituted “affirmative conduct.”

Thereafter, the Tenth Circuit granted the defendant’s petition for rehearing in part, denied en banc review, ordered the original opinion to be withdrawn and substituted an amended version that affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. Estate of B.I.C. v. Gillen, 710 F.3d 1168 (10th Cir. 2013). In this amended opinion, the Tenth Circuit dealt only with the requirement of conscience shocking conduct and found it here, but remanded to the district court to determine whether other elements on a danger-creation claim, including affirmative conduct, were present.

Comment: The Tenth Circuit was obviously uncomfortable with the broad scope of its prior decision on the state-created danger issue. On rehearing, it therefore addressed only the easier state of mind issue, namely conscience shocking, and had little difficulty finding it here, particularly in light of the defendant’s previously displayed animus. However, in remanding, it wanted to get additional evidence on the affirmative conduct requirement for the state-created danger exception to DeShaney so as to be sure the claim involved more than failure to act.

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Written by snahmod

August 27, 2014 at 11:52 am

Plumhoff v. Rickard: New Supreme Court Section 1983 Fourth Amendment/Qualified Immunity Decision

Deadly Force (Firing Shots) and High Speed Police Chases

On May 27, 2014, the Supreme Court handed down Plumhoff v. Rickard (PDF), 572 U.S.  — (2014) (No. 12-1117), a new Fourth Amendment/qualified immunity decision involving the use of deadly force–firing shots–and high speech chases.

The Plaintiff’s Claim in Plumhoff

Plumhoff involved a high speed chase—it began when an officer pulled over a driver because his car had only one operating headlight–in which police officers shot the driver and a passenger, both of whom died as a result of the shots and the consequent crash. The driver, on whose behalf his daughter filed a § 1983 claim alleging excessive force, made several arguments. First, the police officers who fired at the driver’s car in an attempt to terminate the chase violated the Fourth Amendment. Second, the police officers who fired a total of fifteen shots at the car violated the Fourth Amendment because this was excessive. Finally, the defendants violated clearly settled Fourth Amendment law.

The Court’s Opinion on the Fourth Amendment Merits

In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit that had ruled for the daughter. The Court found that the police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment just because they used deadly force to terminate the chase. Relying on Scott v. Harris, the Court pointed out that here, as in Scott, the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment in terminating a high speed chase posing a grave public safety risk through the use deadly force. The chase lasted over five minutes with speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour; the driver’s outrageously reckless driving put many other vehicles at risk; and even though the driver’s car had come to a temporary halt, that did not end the chase because he continued pushing down on the accelerator in an attempt to escape. At that point an officer fired three shots but the driver continued to drive away. This was followed by an additional twelve shots, with the driver never abandoning his attempt to flee until the crash. The Court emphasized that the officers did not need to stop shooting until it was clear to them that the threat to public safety had ended.

The Passenger

As to the presence of a passenger in the front seat of the car, this was largely irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment issue posed by this case: it was not the passenger’s Fourth Amendment rights that were implicated, it was those of the driver. “[The passenger’s] presence in the car cannot enhance [the driver’s] Fourth Amendment rights.” In this connection, the Court observed in passing that there was disagreement in the circuits as to whether a passenger in this situation even had a Fourth Amendment claim. In addition, if such a passenger pursued a substantive due process claim, he or she would have to prove that the officer had a purpose to cause harm unrelated to the legitimate object of arrest, per County of Sacramento v. Lewis.

Qualified Immunity

Finally, the Court ruled that in any event, the officers did not violate clearly settled Fourth Amendment law as of July 18, 2004, the date of the events in question. The Court’s decision in Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194 (2004), had ruled that a police officer did not violate clearly settled Fourth Amendment law when she fired at a fleeing vehicle to prevent harm to officers she believed were nearby and to protect other citizens. The events in Brosseau occurred in February 1999 and there were no intervening decisions that constituted controlling or persuasive authority that changed this qualified immunity determination.

Justice Ginsburg joined the Court’s opinion as to the judgment and to three parts of the opinion, while Justice Breyer joined the Court’s opinion except as to one part.

Comments

Plumhoff was not a surprising decision. It followed from Scott v. Harris, but expanded that decision to expressly include shooting a fleeing driver who poses a grave risk to officers or public safety. In other words, there is no Fourth Amendment obligation on the part of police officers in these situations to refrain from firing shots, at least while the chase and the danger to others are ongoing.

Plumhoff also emphasized the need for judges doing Fourth Amendment analysis to put themselves in the place of police officers making split second decisions.

It is further worth noting the Court’s insistence that the clearly settled law inquiry not be conducted at too high a level of generality but rather at a fairly fact specific level in Fourth Amendment excessive force cases especially.

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Written by snahmod

May 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Section 1983 Gun Liability and The Child Safety Lock Act

When one thinks of guns and section 1983, the Second Amendment immediately comes to mind. Indeed, I previously blogged about this developing connection. See The Second Amendment and Gun Control: Unanswered Questions and Gun Control, the Second Amendment and Section 1983 After McDonald v. Chicago.

However, in the course of preparing the 2014 Update to my treatise, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed.), I came across an interesting Third Circuit case involving potential liability under section 1983 and the Child Safety Lock Act of 2005 (PDF, see § 5).

Estate of Arrington v. Michael, 738 F.3d 599 (3rd Cir. 2013)

In this case, the estate of a young woman, shot eight times and killed by the defendant police officer’s son who had used his father’s service-issued Smith & Wesson handgun, sued the police officer under section 1983 alleging a substantive due process violation. The decedent had obtained a temporary protection from abuse order against the officer’s son, which the officer knew about and discussed with his son.

Without reaching the merits, the Third Circuit reversed the district court and dismissed the complaint. It ruled that the officer was protected from all civil liability resulting from the use of a gun, including section 1983 liability, by the Child Safety Lock Act of 2005 (CSLA), 18 U.S.C. § 922(z)(3). Under its terms, the unlawful use of a gun by a third person does not result in civil liability for the owner where “access was gained by the person not so authorized [to have access to it and] the handgun had been made inoperable by use of a secure gun storage or safety device….”

Here, the officer took reasonable precautions to ensure that nobody, including his son, would have access to his gun within the meaning of the CSLA. Indeed, the son had great difficulty in eventually accessing the gun. Among other things, the officer had locked the gun with a police department issued gun lock, had hidden the key and had kept the magazine and ammunition separate from the gun, which was itself hidden. Thus, he was fully protected from liability.

Comments

Had the substantive due process merits been reached, the officer likely would still have prevailed on any one of several grounds.

1. The officer’s conduct may not have constituted state action. He was not required as a police officer to take his weapon home; it was only “preferred.”

2. Even if there was state action, the officer may not have been deliberately indifferent to the physical safety of the decedent, the state of mind required for substantive due process violations.

3. His conduct may not have been the proximate cause of the decedent’s death because of the intervening criminal act of his son and the officer’s own conduct which made it very difficult for his son even to access his gun.

4. There is the threshold question in this case of the very existence of an affirmative due process duty. Unless the officer somehow created the danger to the decedent, he may have had no duty to her.

In any event, the effect of the CSLA, according to this Third Circuit decision, is to amend section 1983 by providing a new statutory defense in such cases going beyond absolute and qualified immunity.

 

Written by snahmod

May 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Know Your Constitution (6): What Is Procedural Due Process?

This is another in a series of posts written about the Constitution in everyday language, with a minimum of legal jargon. Previous posts introduced the Constitution, rebutted some commonly held myths about the Constitution,  addressed the Equal Protection Clause and considered free speech and hate speech.

This and subsequent posts will deal with the meaning of the Due Process Clauses that appear in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. These have virtually identical language.

The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to the federal government (“No person … shall …be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to state and local governments (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

Distinguishing Between Procedural Due Process and Substantive Due Process

This post deals with procedural due process which focuses on fair and timely procedures. It is far less complicated and controversial than substantive due process which focuses on  government regulation of conduct such as abortion, sexual conduct and certain family matters.

Life, Liberty and Property Interests

Procedural due process may be implicated whenever the government threatens to take a life, liberty or property interest from an individual.

The meaning of  a “life” interest is self evident. The meaning of property and liberty interests is more tricky. As a general matter, both are brought into existence by state and local law. However, whether they constitute property and liberty interests for procedural due process purposes is a matter of federal constitutional law.

For example, a mere expectation of continued employment by a terminable-at-will public employee is not a property interest because there is no “legitimate claim of entitlement.” In contrast, if that public employee has a contract and is terminated in the middle of that contract period without any kind of a hearing, then that may constitute a property interest triggering procedural due process protections.

Although it is too complicated to get into here, liberty interests may include an individual’s interest in not being imprisoned (from the tort of false imprisonment), in not having his or her physical integrity interfered with (from the tort of battery) and in not having his or her privacy invaded (from the tort of privacy)

What Kind of Hearing and When?

Once it is shown that government threatens to deprive a person of a life, liberty or property interest, then certain procedural protections may kick in.

Ordinarily (except when there is a true emergency), a pre-deprivation hearing of some kind is required. Moreover, that pre-deprivation hearing must have minimal procedural protections: the government must provide notice of the accusations against the individual, it must present evidence against him or her and the individual must have an opportunity to respond. Not surprisingly, procedural due process requires an impartial decision-maker at some point in the proceedings.

The best example of a pre-deprivation hearing with maximum procedural protections is a criminal trial. In contrast, pre-deprivation hearings directed at property interests do not necessarily have to be conducted by judges. Very often administrative proceedings are sufficient for procedural due process purposes so long as they provide the minimum protections described above: notice, the government’s evidence, the opportunity to respond and an impartial decision-maker.

Next: Substantive Due Process

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Written by snahmod

February 7, 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in Constitutional 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

DeShaney in the Circuits (IV): The Seventh Circuit’s Reformulation

My last post was on DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189 (1989), and the Fifth Circuit‘s restrained approach to affirmative duties.

So I thought it might also be useful to mention the Seventh Circuit‘s recent attempt at reformulating some of the doctrinal aspects of affirmative duties.

The Seventh Circuit’s Slade opinion

Slade v. Bd. of School Directors of City of Milwaukee, 2012 WL 6701869, *1 (7th Cir. 2012), involved the drowning of a public school student at a class outing. His parents and estate then brought a § 1983 substantive due process claim against various defendants.

The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Posner, affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants because there was at most gross negligence, which was insufficient as a matter of substantive due process.

In the course of his discussion, however, Judge Posner restated the applicable substantive due process test as follows: “A state does not deprive a person of his life in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment merely by failing to prevent his dying, but does violate the amendment if the death was caused by the reckless act of an employee of the state acting within the scope of his or her employment.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by snahmod

June 6, 2013 at 11:25 pm

The Second Amendment and Gun Control: Unanswered Questions

Background

As most everyone knows by now, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court (5-4, opinion by Justice Scalia) for the first time found an individual Second Amendment right to possess a handgun in one’s home for self-defense.  Accordingly, it struck down a District of Columbia prohibition on the possession of usable handguns in the home. Thereafter, and not surprisingly, the Court (again 5-4) held in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010), that the Second Amendment, through incorporation, applies fully to the states and local governments. See my post of November 8, 2010: Gun Control, the Second Amendment and Section 1983 After McDonald v. City of Chicago.

Heller‘s Dicta on Permissible Regulations

In Heller, Justice Scalia asserted that the Court’s decision did not mean that there were no limitations on this Second Amendment right. He listed the following kinds of governmental regulations that were still permissible.

1. Prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill

2. Prohibitions on the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as school and government buildings

3. Imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms

4. Prohibitions, historical in nature, on the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons” such as M-16 rifles.

Unanswered Questions

No constitutional right is absolute. So one question in the Second Amendment setting is what the level of scrutiny is. The Court in Heller ducked the issue, pointing out that whatever the standard, the District of Columbia’s prohibition could not stand. On the other hand, the Court stated that the standard is more than rational basis. That’s all we know at this point.

The level of scrutiny is surely relevant to the Court’s dicta on permissible regulations, particularly with regard to restrictions on, and qualifications for, gun ownership and also with regard to those “sensitive places” where the carrying of firearms may be prohibited.

The Court also did not discuss the question whether the Second Amendment right to possess firearms for self-defense applies outside the home. There is already a split in the circuits on this.

A Circuit Split On Carrying

The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Posner, held that the Second Amendment does indeed apply outside the home. It therefore struck down an Illinois statute prohibiting carrying a loaded gun, concealed or not. Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012)(2-1), petition for en banc rehearing denied. In contrast, the Tenth Circuit, in a concealed weapon decision less than a week old as of this writing, ruled that the carrying of concealed weapons is not protected by the Second Amendment. Peterson v. Martinez, No.  11-1149 (10th Cir. 2-22-13). See also Kachalsky v. County of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2nd Cir. 2012), which upheld a New York statute that required an applicant for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public to show “proper cause,” such as a need for self-defense greater than that of the general public.

The question whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home may therefore be taken up by the Court in the coming 2013 or 2014 Term.

Comment: An Analogy to Roe v. Wade

In addition to the practical importance of getting answers to these questions, I think it will be fascinating from a jurisprudential and historical perspective to see how the Court goes about articulating the scope of the Second Amendment post-Heller. While not everyone will appreciate the analogy, Heller reminds me of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), another controversial decision where the Court ruled for the first time that a women has a substantive due process right to terminate her pregnancy, a right that some believe the Court “made up.” In the years following Roe, the Court spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to articulate the scope of this right. Indeed, Roe remains a doctrinal battlefield forty years later.

It remains to be seen how much time and energy the Court (and dedicated organizations and litigants) will have to devote to the Second Amendment in order to set out its scope adequately.

Written by snahmod

February 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Constitutional Law