The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for two qualified immunity cases of interest to county, state and local governments.
On March 4, the high court will hear arguments in Plumhoff v. Rickard, a case that will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high-speed chase.
Oral arguments will be heard in Wood v. Moss on March 26. The case centers on whether U.S. Secret Service agents unconstitutionally discriminated against protesters opposed to President George W. Bush by moving them a block farther from Bush than Bush supporters during an event at a Jacksonville, Ore. restaurant in 2004 (see "Three qualified immunity cases reach high court," County News, Dec. 16, 2013).
Qualified immunity matters to counties because county employees can be sued for money damages in their individual capacities if they violate a person's constitutional or federal statutory rights. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) has filed amicus briefs in both cases on behalf of NACo and other government organizations.
In SLLC's Plumhoff brief, it argues that the high court should rule that law enforcement officers retain qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment force claims so long as it can be argued that the force was reasonable. In evaluating immunity, a court must adopt the inferences that a reasonable officer could arguably draw from the facts, regardless of whether those inferences are factual or legal.
In the Wood brief, SLLC encourages the court to tour downtown Jacksonville, Ore. using Google Maps Street View. What the justices will discover, SLLC argues, is that there is a parking lot adjacent to the outdoor patio of the Jacksonville Inn, the restaurant where Bush had stopped, which the anti-Bush protesters would have had direct access to had they not been moved a block away.
Pro-Bush demonstrators had no direct access to the inn where they were gathered because the side of the building they were facing was totally blocked by another building. The 9th Circuit denied the agents qualified immunity.
SLLC's brief also argues that when the safety of a U.S. president is a stake, police may consider the content of speech. In ruling against Secret Service, the 9th Circuit focused on whether agents engaged in so-called viewpoint discrimination rather than clearly establishing that the anti-Bush protesters could not be moved farther away.
Finally, the brief argues that the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question too generally without consideration of the facts.
The court is expected to issue opinions in both cases by June 30.Hero 1