Headline: Summary judgment in favor of the police reversed citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s warning in Scott v. Harris that attempting to decide excessive force cases at summary judgment requires courts to “slosh our way through the factbound morass of ‘reasonableness,'” with predictably messy results.
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law; Civil Procedure
(1) Whether the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment warrantless entry claim where defendant expressly refused entry to his home by “put[ting] the dead bolt on” and attempting to “slam the door” on the officers. Further, do domestic abuse cases create a per se emergency justifying warrantless entry.
(2) Did the district court erroneously grant summary judgment, holding that police officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, based on conflicting testimony and an inconclusive video.
Brief Summary: Plaintiff brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Asotin, the City of Clarkston and four police officers alleging warrantless entry and excessive use of force in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights when the officers forcibly entered his home without a warrant and tasered him. The district court granted summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds in favor of the officers.
On de novo review, the panel held that the warrantless entry was unreasonable and violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights because there were no circumstances or factors present that would justify officers conducting a warrantless entry. The panel rejected the defendants’ argument that express refusal of consent is limited to verbal refusal. The panel held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity under the consent exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement where a reasonable officer would have understood that no means no where plaintiff put the dead bolt on and attempted to slam the door on the officers.
Further, the conflicting and chaotic evidence offered by both the plaintiff and the defendants did not justify the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable jury could find evidence of excessive force. Therefore, the panel remanded the case for to trial for the trier of fact to decide.