qualified immunity

Ortiz v. Jordan

Issues 

Can an appellate court review a denial of summary judgment when the party failed to appeal the denial before trial or failed to renew a motion for judgment as a matter of law after the jury verdict?

 

After being assaulted while serving time in a federal prison, Michelle Ortiz sued two prison guards for constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on a defense of qualified immunity, and the case went to trial. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Ortiz, but the Sixth Circuit reversed on the basis of qualified immunity. Ortiz argues that the Sixth Circuit did not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal based on qualified immunity because the issue, originally raised on summary judgment, was not preserved for appeal after final judgment was entered at trial. Jordan argues that by filing a motion for summary judgment, the issue was preserved. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will give guidance to litigants on how to preserve for appeal an issue that was the subject of a denied summary judgment motion.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

May a party appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits if the party chose not to appeal the order before trial?

Petitioner Michelle Ortiz (“Ortiz”) is a former prisoner of the Ohio Reformatory for Women. While in prison for stabbing her abusive husband, Ortiz was sexually assaulted by prison guard Douglas Schultz (“Schultz”) on two consecutive days: November 8 and November 9, 1996. The day after the first assault, Ortiz spoke with Paula Jordan (“Jordan”), acting case manager of the prison. Jordan said that it was Schultz’s last day at the prison, and that Ortiz should simply stay around other inmates so that Schultz wouldn’t hav

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District of Columbia v. Wesby

Issues 

What is the scope of probable cause for trespass under the Fourth Amendment, and was this law so clearly established prior to the arrests involved as to entitle the police officers to qualified immunity?  

The Supreme Court will decide whether a police officer has probable cause to arrest a suspect for trespassing under the Fourth Amendment when the owner of a house says that the suspects do not have authority to enter and the officers find circumstantial evidence of trespass, but the suspects claim that they thought that they had authority to be there. Additionally, the Court will decide whether, if the officers did not have probable cause to arrest the suspects in this case, the law of probable cause for trespass was unclear enough to entitle the officers to qualified immunity. Petitioners District of Columbia, et al. argue that an officer, in order to be able to make timely probable cause determinations, should not be required to exactly determine the criminal intent of a suspect; at the very least, the District of Columbia argues, officers should not be required to rely on a suspect’s claims of an innocent mental state. The District of Columbia also argues that the law was not “clearly established” in this area and so the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Respondents Theodore Wesby, et al. argue that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest the suspects for trespassing because the suspects indicated that they thought that they had permission to be in the home and, thus, the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity. This case will address the scope of the probable cause standard for trespass claims under the Fourth Amendment and will clarify the standard for qualified immunity.  

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Police officers found late-night partiers inside a vacant home belonging to someone else. After giving conflicting stories for their presence, some partiers claimed they had been invited by a different person who was not there. The lawful owner told the officers, however, that he had not authorized entry by anyone. The officers arrested the partiers for trespassing. The questions presented are:

  1. Whether the officers had probable cause to arrest under the Fourth Amendment, and in particular whether, when the owner of a vacant home informs police that he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ questionable claims of an innocent mental state.
  2. Whether, even if there was no probable cause to arrest the apparent trespassers, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established in this regard.

Early in the morning on March 16, 2008, Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) officers responded to a complaint of illegal activity occurring in a vacant house. See Wesby v. District of Columbia, 765 F.3d 13 at 3–4 (D.C. Cir. 2014). When the officers entered the house, they saw “scantily-clad” women who they believed were “stripping” for other guests of the party.

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Messerschmidt v. Millender

Issues 

Under what circumstances are police officers granted qualified immunity from civil lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an illegal search if they relied on a facially valid warrant later determined to be invalid and overbroad?

Should the Court reconsider the standard that the presumption that an officer acted reasonably by obtaining a warrant can be rebutted by showing that the warrant was “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence unreasonable”?

 

Petitioner, detective Curt Messerschmidt, obtained and executed a warrant to search Respondent Augusta Millender’s residence. Millender sued Messerschmidt and other law enforcement officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Messerschmidt and other officers violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by executing an invalid search warrant and unreasonably searching her home. The court determined that the warrant was unconstitutionally overbroad. Messerschmidt contends that he is nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity from civil liability because he relied on a warrant and acted in good faith. Millender, on the other hand, maintains that the officers’ reliance on the warrant was unreasonable, and therefore, they are not entitled to qualified immunity. The decision will determine the scope of qualified immunity for officers who have, in good faith, relied on warrants later determined to be invalid.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

This Court has held that police officers who procure and execute warrants later determined invalid are entitled to qualified immunity, and evidence obtained should not be suppressed, so long as the warrant is not "so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable." United States v. Leon , 468 U.S. 897, 920, 923 (1984); Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 344-45 (1986).

1. Under these standards, are officers entitled to qualified immunity where they obtained a facially valid warrant to search for firearms, firearm-related materials, and gang-related items in the residence of a gang member and felon who had threatened to kill his girlfriend and fired a sawed-off shotgun at her, and a district attorney approved the application, no factually on point case law prohibited the search, and the alleged over breadth in the warrant did not expand the scope of the search?

2. Should the Malley/Leon standards be reconsidered or clarified in light of lower courts' inability to apply them in accordance with their purpose of deterring police misconduct, resulting in imposition of liability on officers for good faith conduct and improper exclusion of evidence in criminal cases?

Shelly Kelly decided to end her romantic relationship with Jerry Ray Bowen, but she feared that Bowen might become physically violent. See Millender v. Messerschmidt, 620 F.3d 1016, 1020 (9th Cir.

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County of Los Angeles v. Mendez

Issues 

Does a police officer violate the Fourth Amendment when the officer uses reasonable force in response to a hazardous situation the officer created, and does an injured individual’s actions that give rise to the need for use of force constitute an intervening, superseding event that severs the causal relationship between the police officers’ conduct and the individual’s injuries?

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether a police officer’s conduct leading up to her use of force against a citizen is relevant to the inquiry of whether that force was reasonable, and if so, what the limits are on holding that officer liable. The deputies of the County of Los Angeles argue that no liability should attach to their decision to open fire on Angel and Jennifer Mendez, because they were responding to the Mendezes’ threatening behavior. The Mendezes argue that the deputies provoked their threatening behavior, so they should be liable for opening fire on the Mendezes. The parties disagree as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule, which would hold the deputies liable under the Fourth Amendment, conforms to Supreme Court precedent. A win for the deputies could promote police officer safety and help preserve the integrity of the qualified immunity doctrine by keeping standards of behavior clear. A win for the Mendezes could preserve the balance of protections for police officers and citizens and provide better incentives for officer reasonableness during every stage of an investigation.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. The Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule holds officers liable under the Fourth Amendment for objectively reasonable force, vitiates qualified-immunity protections, and permits tort liability in the absence of proximate cause. Should this Court reject the provocation rule and continue to analyze police use of force under the established legal framework set out in Graham?
  2. The Court of Appeals held alternatively that the Deputies were liable for the shooting “under basic notions of proximate cause.” Did the court err in holding that the failure to secure a warrant proximately caused the shooting, particularly where the Deputies shot in reasonable self-defense after one of the Plain-tiffs pointed a gun at them and the outcome would not have changed if the Deputies had a warrant?

On October 1, 2010, a group of police officers and deputies were searching for a wanted parolee in a California neighborhood. See Mendez v. Cty. Of Los Angeles, 815 F.3d 1178, 1184–85 (9th Cir. 2016); Brief for Petitioners, County of Los Angeles et al.

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Hernández v. Mesa

Issues 

Should the availability of constitutional rights for aliens not on United States soil turn on practical factors beyond the formal geographic location of international borders and, if so, may an alien injured on foreign territory by an officer standing in the United States bring a Bivens claim? Additionally, may a federal officer’s conduct be shielded by qualified immunity based on facts unknown to the officer at the time of his conduct?

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution allows parents of a Mexican citizen with no significant ties to the United States to sue a U.S. Border Patrol Agent who shot and killed their son on the Mexican side of the culvert separating the two countries while the agent was standing in the United States. The parents of the deceased teen argue that the Court should extend extraterritorial jurisdiction for practical reasons, that the border patrol agent should not be shielded by qualified immunity because he did not know the facts necessary to justify his force at the time he used it, and that the Court should allow them to bring a Bivens claim because it is the only available remedy. The border patrol agent counters that the Court should not extend jurisdiction to an area not under U.S. control, that he should be shielded by qualified immunity because a reasonable officer in his circumstances could have inferred the facts necessary to justify his use of force, and that the family is not entitled to bring a Bivens claim because the rights they claim were not clearly established at the time he acted. To the parents, defeat would foreclose any possibility to recover; to the Government, defeat would obstruct its foreign operations by implicating Fourth Amendment concerns in international security operations. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Does a formalist or functionalist analysis govern?

2. May qualified immunity be granted or denied based on facts—such as the victim’s legal status—unknown to the officer at the time of the incident?

3. May the claim in this case be asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971)?

On June 7, 2010, a group of Mexican teenagers were playing below a bridge leading to the United States border—in a channel that separated Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. See Hernández v. Mesa, 757 F.3d 249, 255 (5th Cir. 2014); Brief for Petitioners, Jesus C. Hernández et al.

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Filarsky v. Delia

Issues 

Whether a private attorney retained by the government is entitled to the defense of qualified immunity when the attorney is working with government employees in an internal affairs investigation.

 

After petitioner Steve Filarsky, a private attorney retained by the City of Rialto to conduct an internal affairs investigation, prompted City officials to order respondent Nicholas Delia, a local firefighter, to consent to a warrantless search of his home, Delia brought a civil rights claim against both Filarsky and the City, alleging, among other things, a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The district court granted a motion by Filarsky and the officials to dismiss the case on qualified immunity grounds, but the Ninth Circuit reversed in part, ruling that Filarsky, as a private attorney, could not enjoy immunity. Other circuit courts, however, have granted qualified immunity to private lawyers retained by the government. The Supreme Court must resolve the circuit split.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether a lawyer retained to work with government employees in conducting an internal affairs investigation is precluded from asserting qualified immunity solely because of his status as a “private” lawyer rather than a government employee.

Firefighter Delia claimed to feel sick after helping to clean up a toxic spill. See Delia v. City of Rialto, 621 F.3d 1069, 1071 (9th Cir.

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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Camreta v. Greene; Alford v. Greene

Issues 

1. Prior to questioning a child regarding possible sexual abuse, must law enforcement agents first obtain a warrant, or are they permitted to proceed without a warrant, provided that the public interest in conducting the investigation outweighs any impact that the questioning has on the liberties of the individual?

2. Is the Supreme Court authorized to review the legal basis of a lower court opinion that objected to the petitioners’ actions, even though the court ultimately decided in favor of the petitioners on qualified immunity grounds?

 

When the Oregon Department of Human Services received a report of alleged abuse against a nine-year old child, a caseworker and police officer decided to interview the child at school, without parental consent or a warrant. After the charges against the child's father, Mr. Greene, were dropped, the child’s mother, Mrs. Greene, sued the caseworker and officer for violating her daughter's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search or seizure, arguing that probable cause is a necessary prerequisite to interviewing children about their alleged sexual abuse because such interviews may cause irreparable harm to the children when the allegations are unfounded. The caseworker and officer argue that reasonableness is the proper standard because it would be difficult to obtain probable cause when the child is often the only witness to the abuse. The Court's decision will likely clarify whether probable cause or reasonableness is the proper standard for interviewing a child who is the alleged victim of abuse without parental consent.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Camreta

1. The state received a report that a nine-year-old child was being abused by her father at home. A child protection caseworker and law enforcement officer went to the child's school to interview her. To assess the constitutionality of that interview, the Ninth Circuit applied the traditional warrant/warrant-exception requirements that apply to seizures of suspected criminals. Should the Ninth Circuit, as other circuits have done, instead have applied the balancing standard that this Court has identified as the appropriate standard when a witness is temporarily detained?

2. The Ninth Circuit addressed the constitutionality of the interview in order to provide "guidance to those charged with the difficult task of protecting child welfare within the confines of the Fourth Amendment[,]" and it thus articulated a rule that will apply to all future child-abuse investigations. Is the Ninth Circuit's constitutional ruling reviewable, notwithstanding that it ruled in petitioner's favor on qualified immunity grounds?

Alford

Does the Fourth Amendment require a warrant, a court order, parental consent, or exigent circumstances before law enforcement and child welfare officials may conduct a temporary seizure and interview at a public school of a child whom they reasonably suspect was being sexually abused by her father?

In 2003, Nimrod Greene was arrested after F.S., a seven-year old child, informed his parents and investigators that Mr. Greene had inappropriately touched him twice. See Greene v. Camreta, 588 F.3d 1011, 1016 (9th Cir.

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Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd

Issues 

1. Does the former Attorney General have either absolute or qualified immunity when making the determination of whether to apply for a material witness arrant?

2. Does the person seeking a material witness warrant have to actually intend to obtain further testimony from the subject of the warrant?

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Respondent Abdullah al-Kidd as a material witness in a terrorism case. Al-Kidd sued the former United States Attorney General, Petitioner John Ashcroft, alleging that he used the material witness statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3144, as a pretext to hold and investigate al-Kidd as a terrorism suspect in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Ashcroft asserted absolute immunity, claiming that the use of a material arrest warrant constituted a prosecutorial function. He also claimed qualified immunity, on the grounds that there was no established constitutional violation for using a material arrest warrant at the time of the arrest. Al-Kidd contends that Ashcroft is not entitled to either form of immunity because the arrest had an investigative function and no reasonable official could believe that a material witness warrant would authorize the arrest of a suspect without any intent to use the suspect as a witness. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Ashcroft was entitled to neither absolute nor qualified immunity. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine the protection available to government officials by resolving the issue of when the government can use material witness warrants in making arrests.

 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether the court of appeals erred in denying petitioner absolute immunity from the pretext claim.

2. Whether the court of appeals erred in denying petitioner qualified immunity from the pretext claim based on the conclusions that (a) the Fourth Amendment prohibits an officer from executing a valid material witness warrant with the subjective intent of conducting further investigation or preventively detaining the subject; and (b) this Fourth Amendment rule was clearly established at the time of respondent's arrest.

Abdullah Al-Kidd is a United States citizen. See Brief for Respondent, Abdullah Al-Kidd at 1. After September 11, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) began investigating various terrorist activities. See Brief for Petitioner, John Ashcroft at 3.

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources 

 The Washington Post, Robert Barnes: Supreme Court to Decide whether Ashcroft can be Sued by Detained Citizen (Oct. 18, 2010)

· The New York Times, Adam Liptak: Justices to Hear Appeal over Liability for Detention (Oct. 18, 2010)

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San Francisco v. Sheehan

Issues 

What is the scope of reasonable police officer action under Title II of the ADA and the Fourth Amendment when dealing with armed and violent, mentally ill individuals?

The Supreme Court will determine whether the ADA requires police officers, when attempting an arrest, to reasonably accommodate a violent and armed, mentally ill suspect. San Francisco argues that Sheehan, the suspect in this case, posed a direct threat to others and, accordingly, the ADA did not apply. Moreover, San Francisco contends that, at the least, the officers did not violate a clearly established right and, thus, are protected from liability by qualified immunity. Sheehan counters that she posed a threat only to people that entered her room and that the officers’ action violated her clearly established right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The Court’s ruling will have an effect on the safety of the public, the mentally ill, and law enforcement officers. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.
  2. Whether it clearly established that even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within.

In 2008, Respondent Teresa Sheehan, who has a mental illness, was a resident at the Conrad House, a group home in San Francisco for the mentally ill. See Sheehan v. San Francisco, 743 F.3d 1211, 1217 (9th Cir. 2014). After a social worker, Heath Hodge, entered Sheehan’s room without her permission to check on her, Sheehan told Hodge to leave and threatened him after stating that she had a knife.

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Additional Resources 

  • Lyle Denniston: Court to rule on disability rights, mercury pollution, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 25, 2014).
  • Jessie Lorenz: SF appeal threatens protections for the disabled, The San Francisco Examiner (Jan. 20, 2015).
  • Richard Wolf: Justices to decide rights of disabled during arrests, USA Today (Nov. 25, 2014).

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Lane v. Franks

Issues 

  1. Does the First Amendment permit the government to retaliate against a public employee for sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary work duties?
  2. Does qualified immunity preclude a claim for damages in this action?

Lane is the former director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth Program (“CITY”) at Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”); Steve Franks is the former president of CACC. As director of CITY, Lane conducted an audit and discovered that state representative Susan Schmitz was on CITY’s payroll, but had not come to work at the office or performed any work outside the office for CITY. Lane terminated Schmitz’s employment after she refused to report to work. After Schmitz’s termination at CITY, the FBI investigated her for mail fraud and fraud concerning a program receiving federal funds. Lane was subpoenaed and testified at both of Schmitz’s criminal trials. Lane testified that Schmitz had not been reporting to work at CITY, and was only receiving paychecks. Following Schmitz’s criminal trials, Franks terminated Lane. Lane sued Franks in his official and individual capacities, alleging that Franks violated Lane’s First Amendment rights by terminating Lane in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that because Lane’s speech was made in his official capacity as CITY’s director, he failed to state a claim for retaliation. The Supreme Court’s decision will clarify the scope of the First Amendment as it relates to protecting testifying public employees from retaliation by their employers.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Is the government categorically free under the First Amendment to retaliate against a public employee for truthful sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities?
  2. Does qualified immunity preclude a claim for damages in such an action?

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Facts

Petitioner Edward Lane is the previous Director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth Program (“CITY”) at Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”), and Respondent Steve Franks is the former president of CACC. See Lane v. Central Alabama Community College, 523 Fed. Appx. 709, 710 (11th Cir.

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