Qualified Immunity

A City Got Protections From Qualified Immunity After a Cop Killed a Man. SCOTUS Won't Hear the Case.

The decision will make it even more difficult for victims to hold the government accountable when their rights are violated.

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Since May of 2020, discussions of police reform have been a mainstay among different corners of American society: the chattering classes, the politicians, the protesters, the public at large. Central to that conversation has been qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that prohibits victims of government abuse from suing state actors unless the exact way their rights were infringed on has been addressed in a prior court ruling. Over the last year, Congress has moved from refusing to rectify the issue to considering reining it in significantly.

Yet those efforts took a blow Monday when the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a major case that promises to further obstruct people from holding the government accountable when their rights are violated.

In 2017, Euclid Police Department (EPD) Officer Matthew Rhodes shot and killed Luke Stewart, 23, shortly after waking him up in his car around 7 a.m. in Euclid, Ohio. Along with Officer Louis Catalani, Rhodes had attempted to forcefully eject Stewart from his vehicle. Neither officer announced they were law enforcement, nor was Stewart ever informed he was under arrest, as he had not committed any known crime.

After a brief struggle that lasted just over a minute, Rhodes shot Stewart five times.

A jury in civil court could deduce that Rhodes infringed on Stewart's constitutional rights, said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit last August. One would assume so. But the court then turned around and awarded the officer qualified immunity, barring Stewart's estate from suing.

This story isn't really about Rhodes, however. It's about Euclid, and the 6th Circuit's decision to extend qualified immunity protections to the city—a ruling that directly contradicts Supreme Court precedent.

"The Supreme Court is simply buying itself some time," says Anya Bidwell, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. "There is little doubt that the 6th Circuit is misreading the high court's precedent by extending qualified immunity protections to municipalities. And we are already seeing this unfortunate trend percolating through other circuit courts. It is just a matter of time before the Supreme Court will have to confront the issue."

In this case, Euclid received those protections even though the 6th Circuit admitted the city's police training materials were "tasteless" and "inappropriate," as well as "perhaps inadequate" for properly preparing officers for the field. Some examples: The city weaved in Chris Rock's comedy routine on racist cops who beat up black people—"Get a white friend!" he says—and included an image of a cop beating a suspect in the prone position with a satirical caption on use of force.

The Stewart estate was prohibited from approaching a jury in civil court over those "inadequate" materials, though, because it was not "clearly established" in prior case law that Rhodes' actions—when he shot Stewart multiple times after waking him up in the early morning hours—were unconstitutional.

Such is the whimsical standard so often applied by the courts when they are considering qualified immunity defenses. The doctrine has protected four cops who assaulted a man after pulling him over for broken lights, two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant, a cop who shot a 15-year-old who was about to go to school, two cops who beat up and arrested a man for the crime of standing outside of his own house, and a cop who shot a 10-year-old child while aiming at a nonthreatening dog.

In other words, Rhodes skirting accountability is business as usual. But applying that same logic to the city cuts against the Supreme Court's own guidance on the matter and will only further expand the difficulties victims face in trying to hold the government to account for misconduct. It's yet another avenue blocked off.

That decision—and the high court's demurral in considering it—could have major implications for how Congress addresses qualified immunity. Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) has been one of the few congressional Republicans willing to come to the table on the issue, proposing a compromise last month to hold cities liable for nefarious actions committed by officers in their individual capacities. Yet if the federal courts now consider those same cities eligible for qualified immunity by association, then that plan may be a dud.

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40 responses to “A City Got Protections From Qualified Immunity After a Cop Killed a Man. SCOTUS Won't Hear the Case.

  1. I shot a man in Euclid, just to watch him die.

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  2. Predicted it, those lazy fucks.

  3. Latest entry in the FYTW School of Jurisprudence.

  4. From last week, must be on vacation.

    1. Summer reruns.

  5. good gig.
    Lifetime guaranteed employment, and you get to choose if you want to do your job.

  6. As Republicans continue to fade at the national political level — and especially in successful, modern, educated, states — qualified immunity will approach its overdue demise. Hang in there, libertarians — the clingers won’t last much longer.

    1. Can I get a promise you equally annoying and retarded neolibs will fuck off too, or are you authoritarian faggots sticking around?

    2. This feels like sarcasm, but I’m not sure 🙂

    3. Just a quick question, RAK. What is the political makeup of the City of Euclid? Why does it seem that the abusers of QI are almost all in cities that those evil Republicans don’t control?

      1. If Kirkland could answer that question, his head might explode.

  7. Jesus fucking Christ.

    If a cop pulls over a shoots a SCOTUS judge to death and gets qualified immunity (because, hey, how many cases are there that concern shooting SCOTUS judges?), maybe, just maybe, the SCOTUS would take qualified immunity seriously.

    1. Even then they’d decide it so narrowly as to not give QI to a cop who murdered a district judge.

    2. Ya, seems that way. The cop who punched a NY judge in the throat got off scott free, though, so maybe not even then.

      If I ever become president, I won’t be able to engineer this, but I definately will eminent domain all their front lawns. Building fortifications to defend our Supreme Court justices from domestic terrorists is of pursuing national interest, you know. Granted, the funding will run out just after they finish tearing the ground up and erecting a fense. I do hope that doesn’t affect their views on the subject.

  8. The case is called Stewart v. City of Euclid, and Binion has misstated the court’s reasoning. The Sixth Circuit did not extend qualified immunity to the City. It instead held that there was insufficient evidence that the City deliberately failed to train its employees. That is not the same thing as qualified immunity.

    Here is the link to the case. The key language is at pages 11-12.

    https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/20a0263p-06.pdf

    1. This makes more sense.

      Ideology always trumps facts in opinion articles

    2. Eh… I think Binion is right. Note:

      >Here, Stewart’s rights were not clearly established in the precedent of this circuit or
      otherwise. Thus, violation of his rights cannot be the “known or obvious consequence”
      disregarded by the City of Euclid through its training program and the Monell claim fails.
      Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).

      Aside from Connick v Thompson being a very student fact pattern, the use of “clearly established” here raises the exact issue at hand. Monell holds that the municipality, unlike police or judges apparently, is a “person” under 42 USC 1893. The idea that a person is only liable under 1893 needs to be clearly established is QI. Here they quote their own precedent (Hagans v. Franklin Cty. Sheriff’s Office), which was also a terrible decision.

      So while it may not be a new doctrine in the 6th circuit, it is exactly what Binion is claiming. The 6 circuit has added QI standards to Monell claims by asserting that inadequate training must be deliberately aimed at infringing rights (which is an absurd standard) and that it cannot be deliberate if that right is not clearly established (which is QI).

      1. But only for the purpose of deciding whether the City deliberately disregarded a constitutional right. Abolishing QI will not amend or affect the court’s analysis of whether the City (as opposed to the officer) deliberately failed to train officers appropriately.

        QI does not apply to municipalities. If the Sixth Circuit had applied QI to exonerate the City, it would have been a major, major error.

        1. “But only for the purpose of deciding whether the City deliberately disregarded a constitutional right.”

          By importing “clearly established” into the Monell analysis of the constitutional right, the Sixth Circuit is giving municipalities the protection of qualified immunity. Because Stewart’s rights were not clearly established, the officer was protected by qualified immunity and the City could not be liable under Monell. Because Wright’s rights were clearly established, the officer was not protected by qualified immunity and the City could be held liable under Monell. If whether a city can be held liable under Monell hinges on whether the right at issue was clearly established, then the city is protected by qualified immunity.

          1. I am not sufficiently familiar with the case law the Sixth Circuit is citing to say that it “imported” QI analysis or was simply citing existing circuit precedent on “failure to train” cases. But even if the analysis is similar, I still think it is a stretch to say that the court granted QI itself to municipalities.

            1. Why? If a plaintiff has to prove that an officer violated a clearly established right to prevail on a Monell claim, how is that any different than saying that a plaintiff has to prove that an officer has to violate a clearly established right to overcome qualified immunity of an individual officer?

              I get that they aren’t explicitly saying that they are doing it, but I don’t see any functional difference between what they are doing and what they would do if they were explicitly granting municipalities qualified immunity.

              1. Because this applies only to cases in which it is alleged that the municipality failed to properly train the officer. If the municipality is accused of actively committing a constitutional violation in its own right, (e.g., having a policy or police department rule requiring officers to drag people out of cars during vehicular stops), it gets no immunity regardless whether the right was “clearly established” or not.

                1. Which is the only aspect of Monell at issue in this case, and probably the most common way to assert municipal liability in excessive force cases (although in Wright the plaintiff was allowed to proceed against Euclid on three different grounds). Constitutional violations seem to be a foreseeable result of loosing improperly trained officers on the public, so I don’t see any reason to provide more protection for failure to train cases.

        2. I’m not ignoring your argument, but jph12 addressed it. Regardless of what they call it, they are giving the city QI in effect. It appears merely that this article should have been written in 2011 for the Hagans decision.

      2. I agree.

        And clearly the City of Euclid has problems. In another recent case with a similar fact pattern, Wright v. City of Euclid, No. 19-3452 (6th Cir. 2020), the Sixth Circuit allowed the Monell claim against the City to proceed, in part because the training manual included the cartoon and Chris Rock skit joking about police brutality. Because the court also rejected the officer’s qualified immunity claim, however, there’s no real discussion of whether municipalities get the back door protection from qualified immunity at issue in this case.

    3. Thank you Number 2. Seems many who bitch about qualified immunity don’t understand it.

      1. Having read the opinion now, I can’t understand why the court referred to “clearly established” rights. A jury should be make a determination whether a person’s constitutional rights were violated (clearly established or otherwise) after being instructed on the constitutional prohibition and hearing the evidence of the alleged infringement. The fact that it hadn’t happened in a similar way in the past has nothing to do with whether it was a violation per se.

        Anyway, the panel used 2 extra words it didn’t need to use.

        1. “Clearly established rights” are what qualified immunity requires plaintiffs to prove to make their case against an individual officer, which is why Binion says that the Sixth Circuit gave the city the protection of qualified immunity.

  9. https://reason.com/2021/05/21/qualified-immunity-police-supreme-court-luke-stewart-euclid-ohio-sixth-circuit/

    Original post on the subject. I recommend at reading dph12’s posts in the thread.

    1. “At least reading”, you fucking putz of an autocorrect.

    2. Maybe just the first one. He goes on to defend Binion from criticism (even his own) because, as best as I can surmise, people who claimed no understanding of QI don’t like Binion.

      1. Bless your heart.

  10. Along with Officer Louis Catalani, Rhodes had attempted to forcefully eject Stewart from his vehicle. Neither officer announced they were law enforcement, nor was Stewart ever informed he was under arrest, as he had not committed any known crime.

    After a brief struggle that lasted just over a minute, Rhodes shot Stewart five times.

    Good Lord. Why exactly were they trying to remove Stewart from the car? This is ridiculous. If this gets QI, then QI needs to be curbed.

    1. QI = “some people, e.g., cops, bureaucrats, politicians, have special privileges citizens don’t have, sacrificing rights of all to protect rights of all”. Does this law contradict itself? Is it immoral/impractical? Does it violate the spirit of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”?
      Answer: “The Law is the law”, meaning the law is based on force, NOT reason, rights, choice. But, it does protect the ruling elite from accountability while they exploit the ruled (citizen).

  11. The Judicial System ‘advances’ its power by establishing procedures to avoid decision making. Who do you think can and would change this? Quid Pro Joe?

  12. Questions: Will the LEO get his “throw-down” back? Will the press follow up with witnesses? Why didn’t they at the scene? Why is there no body cam footage to document? Will we hear the forensic report, e.g., gun prints/DNA?

  13. If the courts continue in their failure to curb this Qualified Immunity rubbish, a pissed off citizenry might take matters into their own hands, which would not be an especially desirable situation. Hopefully, the courts will awaken before that unhappy juncture is reached, though looking at the self chosen slumber that the courts have seemingly opted for, one wonders.

Comments are closed.