Monday, April 30, 2007

Today's qualified immunity opinion

In Scott v. Harris, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a vote of 8-1, concluded that a Georgia law enforcement officer was entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the section 1983 claim brought against him by a driver who was left paralyzed after the deputy ran him off the road to end a high-speed chase.

The case is interesting in part because the Court concluded that the video of the chase shows that the appeals court opinion is unsupportable, and the video is accessible on the court's website with the opinion. (Wonder what they'll do with that in the U.S. reports?)

And, there is some talk about the chicken and egg problem of qualified immunity. Justice Breyer in his concurring opinion says it should not be necessary for the courts addressing qualified immunity to always answer first the question of whether or not the defendant has violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights, before proceeding to the question of whether the plaintiff's rights were clearly established. Norm Pattis mentions this issue in this post, from his attendance earlier in April at the Georgetown University Law Center's section 1983 litigation conference, which I have attended a few times in the past. Norm said that Professor Chemerinsky had suggested that "The case of Morse v. Frederick, as yet undecided, could shed new light on qualified immunity. In this case, a student was suspended for posting a sign that read 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' along a parade route. Chemerinsky wonders whether this case will yield a more aggressive qualified immunity standard which encourages courts to decide the immunity issues without reaching the underlying merits of the claims."

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