- Did the Sixth Circuit wrongly deny qualified immunity to police officers by basing its decision on subsequent case law rather than clearly established law at the time the police officers used force?
- Did the Sixth Circuit err in denying qualified immunity by finding the use of force was not reasonable as a matter of law when police officers were involved in a high-speed pursuit of a suspect who, when surrounded, tried to escape by nearly hitting some of the officers?
Around midnight on July 18, 1994, West Memphis police officer Joseph Forthman stopped a white Honda Accord for a broken headlight. Donald Rickard was the driver of the Honda and Kelly Allen, the passenger. After noticing an indentation in the windshield and Rickard’s erratic behavior, Forthman requested that Rickard step out of the vehicle. Rickard instead fled, leading to a high-speed pursuit by several officers across state lines into Memphis, Tennessee. After crashing into several vehicles, Rickard’s Honda was shot at fifteen times as he was driving away from the officers in a final attempt to escape. Rickard lost control and hit a building resulting in fatal injuries to both driver and passenger. The District Court for the Western District of Tennessee denied the police officers’ motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment. The United States Supreme Court will consider whether the Sixth Circuit correctly relied upon case law decided subsequent to the officer’s actions or whether the court was required to consider only case law clearly prohibiting the use of lethal force at the time the event occurred. The Supreme Court will also decide whether the Sixth Circuit erred in denying qualified immunity as a matter of law. The Court’s decision will implicate the limits on the use of force by peace officers as they carry out their duties and the rights of suspects to be free from excessive force.
- Whether the Sixth Circuit wrongly denied qualified immunity to the petitioners by analyzing whether the force used in 2004 was distinguishable from factually similar force ruled permissible three years later in Scott v. Harris. 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.
- 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 the 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.
Around midnight on July 18, 1994, West Memphis Police Officer Joseph Forthman initiated a traffic stop of a white Honda because it had an inoperable headlight. See Allen v. City of W. Memphis, 509 Fed. Appx. 388, *389 (6th Cir. 2012). Donald Rickard and Kelly Allen were driver and passenger, respectively.