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USCA9 Unanimously Reversed on Excessive Force Claims

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The U.S. Supreme Court has once again unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on a criminal justice issue.  This time it was the Notorious Ninth's evasion of Supreme Court jurisprudence on police liability for allegedly excessive force.  In this case, police reasonably fired their weapons when a person in a shack they were searching pointed a gun at them.  It turned out to be a BB gun, but the officers did not know that at the time.

If law enforcement officers make a "seizure" of a person using force that is judged to be reasonable based on a consideration of the circumstances relevant to that determination, may the officers nevertheless be held liable for injuries caused by the seizure on the ground that they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force? The Ninth Circuit has adopted a "provocation rule" that imposes liability in such a situation.

We hold that the Fourth Amendment provides no basis for such a rule. A different Fourth Amendment violation cannot transform a later, reasonable use of force into an unreasonable seizure.

4 Comments

Interesting case. I read it as closing the door to typically bad Ninth Circuit results-oriented reasoning, but giving a Supreme Court stamp of approval in evaluating the conduct of police officers that created the situation:

"Thus, there is no need to dress up every Fourth Amendment claim as an excessive force claim. For example, if the plaintiffs in this case cannot recover on their excessive force claim, that will not foreclose recovery for injuries proximately caused by the warrantless entry. The harm proximately caused by these two torts may overlap, but the two claims should not be confused."

It seems as though (on remand) the officers should have QI on the proximate cause theory of liability.

I don't think it was clearly established (by Supreme Court precedent) that the warrantless entry of the shack was not justified by exigent circumstances or hot pursuit. The 9CA believed otherwise.

Perhaps this case will end up being a double smack down of that court?

Does QI have to be clearly established by S.CT precedent?

Not necessarily. But in the context of this Fourth Amendment issue (involving the hot pursuit or exigent circumstamces exceptions), I would say, yes, the officer's conduct must clearly be outside the scope of those exceptions (as established by the Court) in order for the 9CA to deny QI. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

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