Facts of the Case
Donald Rickard led police officers on a high-speed car chase that came to a temporary halt when Rickard spun out into a parking lot. Rickard resumed maneuvering his car, and as he continued to use the accelerator even though his bumper was flush against a patrol car, an officer fired three shots into Rickard’s car. Rickard managed to drive away, almost hitting an officer in the process. Officers fired 12 more shots as Rickard sped away, striking him and his passenger, both of whom died from some combination of gunshot wounds and injuries suffered when the car eventually crashed. Respondent, Rickard’s minor daughter, filed a
1. Did the Sixth Circuit err when it looked at whether subsequent case law supported the police’s actions rather than determining if the police’s actions were prohibited in 2004?2. Did the Sixth Circuit properly dismiss the police’s qualified immunity defense by finding that the police acted unreasonably?
Yes and yes. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion for the unanimous Court. The Court held that the requirement that a final decision be made by a district court prior to an appeal does not apply to motions for summary judgment when the motion is based on a claim of qualified immunity. Because the determination of qualified immunity is not merely a defense but actually immunity from the suit, it cannot be effectively reviewed after a final judgment at which point the protection from suit would have been “irretrievably” lost. The Court also held that the evidence showed that Rickard was still attempting to flee when the officers opened fire and that the officers reasonably could have believed that if the chase resumed Rickard would once again pose a deadly threat to others on the road. Furthermore, the total number of shots fired also did not qualify as excessive force. Therefore, if officers are justified in opening fire to end a threat to public safety, they are similarly justified in continuing to fire until the threat to public safety has ended.
- Citation: 572 US 765 (2014)
- Granted: Nov 15, 2013
- Argued: Mar 4, 2014
- Decided May 27, 2014