__ U.S. __ (2014), 12-1117, Plumhoff v. Rickard
|Citation:||__ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 188 L.Ed.2d 1056, 82 U.S.L.W. 4394|
|Opinion Judge:||ALITO JUSTICE|
|Party Name:||OFFICER VANCE PLUMHOFF, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. WHITNE RICKARD, A MINOR CHILD, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS SURVIVING DAUGHTER OF DONALD RICKARD, DECEASED, BY AND THROUGH HER MOTHER SAMANTHA RICKARD, AS PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND|
|Attorney:||Michael Mosley argued the cause for petitioners. John F. Bash argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court. Gary K. Smith argued the cause for respondent.|
|Judge Panel:||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.|
|Case Date:||May 27, 2014|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued March 4, 2014
[134 S.Ct. 2013] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Reversed and remanded.
SYLLABUS [134 S.Ct. 2014] Donald Rickard led police officers on a high-speed car chase that came to a temporary halt when Rickard spun out into a parking lot. Rickard resumed maneuvering his car, and as he continued to use the accelerator even though his bumper [134 S.Ct. 2015] was flush against a patrol car, an officer fired three shots into Rickard's car. Rickard managed to drive away, almost hitting an officer in the process. Officers fired 12 more shots as Rickard sped away, striking him and his passenger, both of whom died from some combination of gunshot wounds and injuries suffered when the car eventually crashed.
Respondent, Rickard's minor daughter, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, alleging that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court denied the officers' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, holding that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment and was contrary to clearly established law at the time in question. After finding that it had appellate jurisdiction, the Sixth Circuit held that the officers' conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. It affirmed the District Court's order, suggesting that it agreed that the officers violated clearly established law.
1. The Sixth Circuit properly exercised jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which gives courts of appeals jurisdiction to hear appeals from " final decisions" of the district courts. The general rule that an order denying a summary judgment motion is not a " final decision[n]," and thus not immediately appealable, does not apply when it is based on a qualified immunity claim. Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 311, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238. Respondent argues that Johnson forecloses appellate jurisdiction here, but the order in Johnson was not immediately appealable because it merely decided " a question of 'evidence sufficiency,'" id., at 313, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238, while here, petitioners' qualified immunity claims raise legal issues quite different from any purely factual issues that might be confronted at trial. Deciding such legal issues is a core responsibility of appellate courts and does not create an undue burden for them. See, e.g., Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686. Pp. 5-7.
2. The officers' conduct did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 7-15.
(a) Addressing this question first will be " beneficial" in " develop[ing] constitutional precedent" in an area that courts typically consider in cases in which the defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565. Pp. 7-8.
(b) Respondent's excessive-force argument requires analyzing the totality of the circumstances from the perspective " of a reasonable officer on the scene." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443. Respondent contends that the Fourth Amendment did not allow the officers to use deadly force to terminate the chase, and that, even if they were permitted to fire their weapons, they went too far when they fired as many rounds as they did. Pp. 8-12.
(1) The officers acted reasonably in using deadly force. A " police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death." Scott, supra, at 385, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686. Rickard's outrageously reckless driving--which lasted more than five minutes, exceeded 100 miles per hour, and included the passing of more than two dozen other motorists--posed a grave public safety risk, and the record conclusively disproves that the chase was over when Rickard's car came to a temporary standstill and officers began shooting. Under
[134 S.Ct. 2016] the circumstances when the shots were fired, all that a reasonable officer could have concluded from Rickard's conduct was that he was intent on resuming his flight, which would again pose a threat to others on the road. Pp. 9-11.
(2) Petitioners did not fire more shots than necessary to end the public safety risk. It makes sense that, if officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, they need not stop shooting until the threat has ended. Here, during the 10-second span when all the shots were fired, Rickard never abandoned his attempt to flee and eventually managed to drive away. A passenger's presence does not bear on whether officers violated Rickard's Fourth Amendment rights, which " are personal rights [that] may not be vicariously asserted." Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 174, 89 S.Ct. 961, 22 L.Ed.2d 176. Pp. 11-12.
3. Even if the officers' conduct had violated the Fourth Amendment, petitioners would still be entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. An official sued under § 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless it is shown that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was " 'clearly established'" at the time of the challenged conduct. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149. Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 201, 125 S.Ct. 596, 160 L.Ed.2d 583, where an officer shot at a fleeing vehicle to prevent possible harm, makes plain that no clearly established law precluded the officer's conduct there. Thus, to prevail, respondent must meaningfully distinguish Brosseau or point to any " controlling authority" or " robust 'consensus of cases of persuasive authority,'" al-Kidd, supra, at ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149, that emerged between the events there and those here that would alter the qualified-immunity analysis. Respondent has made neither showing. If anything, the facts here are more favorable to the officers than the facts in Brosseau ; and respondent points to no cases that could be said to have clearly established the unconstitutionality of using lethal force to end a high-speed car chase. Pp. 12-15.
509 Fed.Appx. 388, reversed and remanded.
The courts below denied qualified immunity for police officers who shot the driver of a fleeing vehicle to put an end to a [134 S.Ct. 2017] dangerous car chase. We reverse and hold that the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment. In the alternative, we conclude that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they violated no clearly established law.
Because this case arises from the denial of the officers' motion for summary judgment, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the daughter of the driver who attempted to flee. Wilkie v . Robbins, 551 U.S. 537, 543, n. 2, 127 S.Ct. 2588, 168 L.Ed.2d 389 (2007). Near midnight on July 18, 2004, Lieutenant Joseph Forthman of the West Memphis, Arkansas, Police Department pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Donald Rickard was the driver of the Accord, and Kelly Allen was in the passenger seat. Forthman noticed an indentation, " 'roughly the size of a head or a basketball'" in the windshield of the car. Estate of Allen v. West Memphis, 2011 WL 197426, *1, (WD Tenn., Jan. 20, 2011). He asked Rickard if he had been drinking, and Rickard responded that he had not. Because Rickard failed to produce his driver's license upon request and appeared nervous, Forthman asked him to step out of the car. Rather than comply with Forthman's request, Rickard sped away.
Forthman gave chase and was soon joined by five other police cruisers driven by Sergeant Vance Plumhoff and Officers Jimmy Evans, Lance Ellis, Troy Galtelli, and John Gardner. The officers pursued Rickard east on Interstate 40 toward Memphis, Tennessee. While on I-40, they attempted to stop Rickard using a " rolling roadblock," id., at *2, but they were unsuccessful. The District Court described the vehicles as " swerving through traffic at high speeds," id., at *8, and respondent does not dispute that the cars attained speeds over 100 miles per hour. 1 See Memorandum of Law in Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment in No. 2:05-cv-2585 (WD Tenn.), p. 16; see also Tr. of Oral Arg...
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