Plumhoff v. Rickard

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Qualified Immunity
  • Date Filed: May 27, 2014
  • Case #: 12-1117
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined, in which Ginsburg, J., joined as to the judgment and Parts I, II, and III– C, and in which Breyer, J., joined except as to Part III–B–2.
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) A party may immediately appeal the denial of a summary judgment motion when it is based on a qualified immunity claim. (2) Qualified immunity applies to officials sued under § 1983 unless the claimant shows that the official violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.

Petitioner was involved in a high-speed pursuit and officer-involved shooting instigated by Respondent’s father, who later died as a result of the incident. Respondent filed a § 1983 claim alleging that Petitioner’s use of lethal force violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied Petitioner’s motion for a summary judgment on the basis that they had qualified immunity under § 1983. Petitioner appealed the motion's denial, which was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit as a question of fact of whether Respondent’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and reversed the Sixth Circuit decision. It held that, generally, denial of a summary judgment motion is not immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 unless the claim is based upon qualified immunity, and immunity is a question of law and not of facts, since those legal questions are within the “core responsibility of appellate courts.” As to the legal question raised, qualified immunity is presumed unless an official violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. Whether the right is “clearly established” must be “beyond debate,” identifiable within a “controlling authority” or by a “robust ‘consensus of cases of persuasive authority.’” The Court found no Fourth Amendment violation under this analysis.

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