The Supreme Court overruled two decisions and handed law enforcement big wins in a pair of cases over the “qualified immunity,” issue. The justices reversed two federal appeals courts that had allowed excessive force lawsuits to go forward against officers in separate cases in California and Oklahoma.
“As we have explained, qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law,’” the justices wrote. The Court summarized the two cases:
City of Tahlequah v. Bond (20-1668) (Per Curiam) Officers Girdner and Vick are entitled to qualified immunity in this excessive force action brought under 42 U. S. C. §1983; the Tenth Circuit’s contrary holding is not based on a single precedent finding a Fourth Amendment violation under similar circumstances.
Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna (20-1539) (Per Curiam) Officer Rivas-Villegas is entitled to qualified immunity in this excessive force action brought under 42 U. S. C. §1983; the Ninth Circuit’s holding that Circuit precedent “put him on notice that his conduct constituted excessive force” is reversed.
The court wrote:
“The other decisions relied upon by the Court of Appeals are even less relevant. As for Sevier, that decision merely noted in dicta that deliberate or reckless preseizure conduct can render a later use of force excessive before dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
To state the obvious, a decision where the court did not even have jurisdiction cannot clearly establish substantive constitutional law.
“Regardless, that formulation of the rule is much too general to bear on whether the officers’ particular conduct here violated the Fourth Amendment.
“Suffice it to say, a reasonable officer could miss the connection between that case and this one.
“Neither the panel majority nor the respondent have identified a single precedent finding a Fourth Amendment violation under similar circumstances.
The officers were thus entitled to qualified immunity. The petition for certiorari and the motions for leave to file briefs amici curiae are granted, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed,” the court wrote.
SCOTUS granted requests by police officers in separate cases from California and Oklahoma for legal protection under a doctrine called "qualified immunity" from lawsuits accusing them of using excessive force https://t.co/3zuSaPRm36— Reuters Legal (@ReutersLegal) October 18, 2021
The decisions indicate that the justices still think lower courts are denying qualified immunity too frequently in excessive force cases involving police, having previously chided appeals courts on that issue in recent years, reports @andrew_chung_ https://t.co/3zuSaPzKEw pic.twitter.com/3AOovqyM0e— Reuters Legal (@ReutersLegal) October 18, 2021