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2 SCOTT v HARRIS, i Garner did not establish a magical on off switch that triggers. rigid preconditions whenever an officer s actions constitute deadly. force The Court there simply applied the Fourth Amendment s. reasonableness test to the use of a particular type of force in a par. ticular situation That case has scant applicability to this one which. has vastly different facts Whether or not Scott s actions constituted. deadly force what matters is whether those actions were reason. able Pp 8 10, ii In determining a seizure s reasonableness the Court balances. the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual s Fourth. Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental in. terests allegedly justifying the intrusion United States v Place 462. U S 696 703 In weighing the high likelihood of serious injury or. death to respondent that Scott s actions posed against the actual and. imminent threat that respondent posed to the lives of others the. Court takes account of the number of lives at risk and the relative. culpability of the parties involved Respondent intentionally placed. himself and the public in danger by unlawfully engaging in reckless. high speed flight those who might have been harmed had Scott not. forced respondent off the road were entirely innocent The Court. concludes that it was reasonable for Scott to take the action he did. It rejects respondent s argument that safety could have been assured. if the police simply ceased their pursuit The Court rules that a po. lice officer s attempt to terminate a dangerous high speed car chase. that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the. Fourth Amendment even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk. of serious injury or death Pp 10 13, 433 F 3d 807 reversed. SCALIA J delivered the opinion of the Court in which ROBERTS. C J and KENNEDY SOUTER THOMAS GINSBURG BREYER and ALITO. JJ joined GINSBURG J and BREYER J filed concurring opinions. STEVENS J filed a dissenting opinion, Cite as 550 U S 2007 1. Opinion of the Court, NOTICE This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the.
preliminary print of the United States Reports Readers are requested to. notify the Reporter of Decisions Supreme Court of the United States Wash. ington D C 20543 of any typographical or other formal errors in order. that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, No 05 1631, TIMOTHY SCOTT PETITIONER v VICTOR HARRIS. ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF. APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT, April 30 2007, JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court. We consider whether a law enforcement official can. consistent with the Fourth Amendment attempt to stop a. fleeing motorist from continuing his public endangering. flight by ramming the motorist s car from behind Put. another way Can an officer take actions that place a. fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death in order. to stop the motorist s flight from endangering the lives of. innocent bystanders, In March 2001 a Georgia county deputy clocked re. spondent s vehicle traveling at 73 miles per hour on a road. with a 55 mile per hour speed limit The deputy activated. his blue flashing lights indicating that respondent should. pull over Instead respondent sped away initiating a. chase down what is in most portions a two lane road at. speeds exceeding 85 miles per hour The deputy radioed. his dispatch to report that he was pursuing a fleeing. vehicle and broadcast its license plate number Peti. tioner Deputy Timothy Scott heard the radio communica. tion and joined the pursuit along with other officers In. the midst of the chase respondent pulled into the parking. 2 SCOTT v HARRIS, Opinion of the Court, lot of a shopping center and was nearly boxed in by the. various police vehicles Respondent evaded the trap by. making a sharp turn colliding with Scott s police car. exiting the parking lot and speeding off once again down a. two lane highway, Following respondent s shopping center maneuvering.
which resulted in slight damage to Scott s police car Scott. took over as the lead pursuit vehicle Six minutes and. nearly 10 miles after the chase had begun Scott decided to. attempt to terminate the episode by employing a Preci. sion Intervention Technique PIT maneuver which, causes the fleeing vehicle to spin to a stop Brief for. Petitioner 4 Having radioed his supervisor for permis. sion Scott was told to g o ahead and take him out, Harris v Coweta County 433 F 3d 807 811 CA11 2005. Instead Scott applied his push bumper to the rear of. respondent s vehicle 1 As a result respondent lost control. of his vehicle which left the roadway ran down an em. bankment overturned and crashed Respondent was, badly injured and was rendered a quadriplegic. Respondent filed suit against Deputy Scott and others. under Rev Stat 1979 42 U S C 1983 alleging inter, alia a violation of his federal constitutional rights viz. use of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure. under the Fourth Amendment In response Scott filed a. motion for summary judgment based on an assertion of. qualified immunity The District Court denied the motion. finding that there are material issues of fact on which the. issue of qualified immunity turns which present sufficient. disagreement to require submission to a jury Harris v. 1 Scott says he decided not to employ the PIT maneuver because he. was concerned that the vehicles were moving too quickly to safely. execute the maneuver Brief for Petitioner 4 Respondent agrees that. the PIT maneuver could not have been safely employed See Brief for. Respondent 9 It is irrelevant to our analysis whether Scott had. permission to take the precise actions he took, Cite as 550 U S 2007 3.
Opinion of the Court, Coweta County No 3 01 CV 148 WBH ND Ga Sept. 23 2003 App to Pet for Cert 41a 42a On interlocutory. appeal 2 the United States Court of Appeals for the Elev. enth Circuit affirmed the District Court s decision to allow. respondent s Fourth Amendment claim against Scott to. proceed to trial 3 Taking respondent s view of the facts as. given the Court of Appeals concluded that Scott s actions. could constitute deadly force under Tennessee v Garner. 471 U S 1 1985 and that the use of such force in this. context would violate respondent s constitutional right. to be free from excessive force during a seizure Accord. ingly a reasonable jury could find that Scott violated. respondent s Fourth Amendment rights 433 F 3d at, 816 The Court of Appeals further concluded that the law. as it existed at the time of the incident was sufficiently. clear to give reasonable law enforcement officers fair. notice that ramming a vehicle under these circumstances. was unlawful Id at 817 The Court of Appeals thus, concluded that Scott was not entitled to qualified immu. nity We granted certiorari 549 U S 2006 and now, In resolving questions of qualified immunity courts are. required to resolve a threshold question Taken in the. light most favorable to the party asserting the injury do. 2 Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere. defense to liability and like an absolute immunity it is effectively lost. if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial Mitchell v Forsyth. 472 U S 511 526 1985 Thus we have held that an order denying. qualified immunity is immediately appealable even though it is inter. locutory otherwise it would be effectively unreviewable Id at 527. Further we repeatedly have stressed the importance of resolving. immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation Hunter. v Bryant 502 U S 224 227 1991 per curiam, 3 None of the other claims respondent brought against Scott or any.
other party are before this Court, 4 SCOTT v HARRIS. Opinion of the Court, the facts alleged show the officer s conduct violated a. constitutional right This must be the initial inquiry. Saucier v Katz 533 U S 194 201 2001 If and only if. the court finds a violation of a constitutional right the. next sequential step is to ask whether the right was. clearly established in light of the specific context of the. case Ibid Although this ordering contradicts o ur, policy of avoiding unnecessary adjudication of constitu. tional issues United States v Treasury Employees 513. U S 454 478 1995 citing Ashwander v TVA 297 U S, 288 346 347 1936 Brandeis J concurring we have. said that such a departure from practice is necessary to. set forth principles which will become the basis for a. future holding that a right is clearly established Sau. cier supra at 201 4 We therefore turn to the threshold. inquiry whether Deputy Scott s actions violated the. Fourth Amendment, 4 Prior to this Court s announcement of Saucier s rigid order of bat.
tle Brosseau v Haugen 543 U S 194 201 202 2004 BREYER J. concurring we had described this order of inquiry as the better. approach County of Sacramento v Lewis 523 U S 833 841 n 5. 1998 though not one that was required in all cases See id at 858. 859 BREYER J concurring id at 859 STEVENS J concurring in. judgment There has been doubt expressed regarding the wisdom of. Saucier s decision to make the threshold inquiry mandatory especially. in cases where the constitutional question is relatively difficult and the. qualified immunity question relatively straightforward See e g. Brosseau supra at 201 BREYER J joined by SCALIA and GINSBURG. JJ concurring Bunting v Mellen 541 U S 1019 2004 STEVENS J. joined by GINSBURG and BREYER JJ respecting denial of certiorari. id at 1025 SCALIA J joined by Rehnquist C J dissenting See also. Lyons v Xenia 417 F 3d 565 580 584 CA6 2005 Sutton J concur. ring We need not address the wisdom of Saucier in this case how. ever because the constitutional question with which we are presented. is as discussed in Part III B infra easily decided Deciding that. question first is thus the better approach Lewis supra at 841 n 5. regardless of whether it is required, Cite as 550 U S 2007 5. Opinion of the Court, The first step in assessing the constitutionality of Scott s. actions is to determine the relevant facts As this case. was decided on summary judgment there have not yet. been factual findings by a judge or jury and respondent s. version of events unsurprisingly differs substantially. from Scott s version When things are in such a posture. courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable. inferences in the light most favorable to the party oppos. ing the summary judgment motion United States v, Diebold Inc 369 U S 654 655 1962 per curiam. Saucier supra at 201 In qualified immunity cases this. usually means adopting as the Court of Appeals did here. the plaintiff s version of the facts, There is however an added wrinkle in this case exis. tence in the record of a videotape capturing the events in. question There are no allegations or indications that this. videotape was doctored or altered in any way nor any. contention that what it depicts differs from what actually. happened The videotape quite clearly contradicts the. version of the story told by respondent and adopted by the. Court of Appeals 5 For example the Court of Appeals. adopted respondent s assertions that during the chase. there was little if any actual threat to pedestrians or. other motorists as the roads were mostly empty and. respondent remained in control of his vehicle 433 F 3d. at 815 Indeed reading the lower court s opinion one gets. 5 JUSTICE STEVENS suggests that our reaction to the videotape is. somehow idiosyncratic and seems to believe we are misrepresenting. its contents See post at 4 dissenting opinion In sum the. factual statements by the Court of Appeals quoted by the. Court were entirely accurate We are happy to allow the. videotape to speak for itself See Record 36 Exh A available at. http www supremecourtus gov opinions video scott v harris rmvb and. in Clerk of Court s case file, 6 SCOTT v HARRIS, Opinion of the Court.
the impression that respondent rather than fleeing from. police was attempting to pass his driving test, T aking the facts from the non movant s viewpoint. respondent remained in control of his vehicle slowed. for turns and intersections and typically used his in. dicators for turns He did not run any motorists off. the road Nor was he a threat to pedestrians in the. shopping center parking lot which was free from pe. destrian and vehicular traffic as the center was closed. Significantly by the time the parties were back on the. highway and Scott rammed respondent the motor, way had been cleared of motorists and pedestrians al. legedly because of police blockades of the nearby inter. sections Id at 815 816 citations omitted, The videotape tells quite a different story There we see. respondent s vehicle racing down narrow two lane roads. in the dead of night at speeds that are shockingly fast We. see it swerve around more than a dozen other cars cross. the double yellow line and force cars traveling in both. directions to their respective shoulders to avoid being hit 6. We see it run multiple red lights and travel for consider. able periods of time in the occasional center left turn only. lane chased by numerous police cars forced to engage in. STEVENS hypothesizes that these cars had already pulled to. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Syllabus SCOTT v HARRIS CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT No 05 1631 Argued February 26 2007 Decided April 30 2007 Deputy Timothy Scott petitioner here terminated a high speed pursuit of respondent s car by applying his push bumper to the rear of the vehicle causing it to leave the road and crash Respondent

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