Escondido v. Emmons US Supreme Court 7JAN2019 (Per Curiam)

This is yet another case of the Ninth Circuit denying qualified immunity using an incorrect analysis of the “clearly established” prong of the qualified immunity test.  In denying qualified immunity to two law enforcement officers (Toth and Craig), the Ninth Circuit’s entire analysis of the qualified immunity question consisted of the following:  “The right to be free of excessive force was clearly established at the time of the events in question.”

With respect to Sergeant Toth, the Ninth Circuit offered no explanation for its decision and the Supreme Court held that: “ The court’s unexplained reinstatement of the excessive force claim against Sergeant Toth was erroneous—and quite puzzling in light of the District Court’s conclusion that “only Defendant Craig was involved in the excessive force claim.” The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

As to Officer Craig, the court held that the Ninth Circuit also erred. The Court explained:

“As we have explained many times: “Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

“Under our cases, the clearly established right must be defined with specificity. “This Court has repeatedly told courts . . . not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality.”

“The Court of Appeals failed to properly analyze whether clearly established law barred Officer Craig from stopping and taking down Marty Emmons in this manner as Emmons exited the apartment. Therefore, we remand the case for the Court of Appeals to conduct the analysis required by our precedents with respect to whether Officer Craig is entitled to qualified immunity.”

Editor’s Note:   In recent years, the Ninth Circuit has repeatedly ignored the Supreme Court’s requirement that the “clearly established” prong not be defined at a high level of generality.  Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe the Ninth Circuit will heed this decision any more than they have the the others that preceded it.

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