Saucier v. Katz - Oral Argument - March 20, 2001

Saucier v. Katz

Media for Saucier v. Katz

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 18, 2001 in Saucier v. Katz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 2001 in Saucier v. Katz

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in number 99-1977.

Saucier against Katz.

Mr. Clement.

Paul D. Clement:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Qualified immunity has an important role to play in Fourth Amendment unreasonable force cases just as it does in Fourth Amendment unreasonable search cases and in other constitutional contexts.

The decision below effectively merged the qualified immunity and Fourth Amendment tests in the case of unreasonable force cases.

The court reasoned that because both tests are framed in terms of objective reasonableness, the qualified immunity test had nothing to add to the underlying Fourth Amendment test.

This Court rejected a virtually indistinguishable line of reasoning in Anderson against Creighton and with good reason.

The Fourth Amendment and qualified immunity tests are distinct and serve different purposes.

The Fourth Amendment test governs primary conduct.

It looks at the force used and asks whether that force was reasonable.

The qualified immunity test by contrast looks at the preexisting law and asks whether that preexisting law would have put a reasonable officer on notice that his or her conduct was unlawful.

Qualified immunity thus recognizes that even competent officers will make reasonable mistakes and government officials should not be held personally liable when they make reasonable judgment calls just because their judgment turns out to be mistaken.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Could you tell me how the test works?

I take it qualified immunity is presented initially to the trial judge as a basis for dismissing and then if he rules, is the jury also instructed about qualified immunity?

Paul D. Clement:

Well in many cases, once the case is... the issue of qualified immunity is brought before the judge, the judge can rule on whether there's a qualified immunity protection in the case and there'll be no issue that needs to go to the jury in that case.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Now suppose he overrules the qualified immunity defense, does the jury then determine both qualified immunity and, in this case, whether or not the force was reasonable?

Paul D. Clement:

It would depend on the circumstances of the case.

In some cases, the judge may want to try to isolate the factual issues that are at stake in the qualified immunity context and just have the jury focusing on those factual situations.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

In other words, a bifurcated trial.

Paul D. Clement:

Well that may actually end up being the only issue that jury really needs to focus on.

If I could give you an example, in a recent Tenth Circuit case called Cruz against City of Laramie, the Tenth Circuit decided that the use of a hog-tie restraint was unreasonable when used with an individual who exhibited signs of diminished capacity.

In that same opinion, they reserved the question about whether that restraint was unreasonable when used on an individual who did not exhibit signs of diminished capacity.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

I mean the reason I'm asking is that, if the jury hears both questions, I want to know what the instructions sound like, and whether or not the jury can make this distinction.

Paul D. Clement:

In many cases, I think the jury will not really, if there's no liability... I'm sorry, if there's no issue about injunctive relief, it may just be a situation where the court can simply decide what the clearly-established law is and instruct the jury on that clearly-established law and then the jury can make its determination.

To pick up the example from the Tenth Circuit case, if in a subsequent decision, the Tenth Circuit extended its rule and applied the rule to all individuals, saying the hog-tie restraint is never reasonable, I think because the court had previously expressly reserved the question of whether the hog-tie restraint was reasonable when applied to an individual who did not exhibit signs of diminished capacity.

In that case, the issue for the jury would be whether or not the individual who was arrested exhibited signs of diminished capacity and that would really be the only issue the jury needed to decide because if the individual had exhibited signs of diminished capacity, under the court's prior decision in Cruz, that... that conduct would be not only unlawful but clearly established.

On the other hand, if the jury decided that the individual had not exhibited signs of diminished capacity, then in that instance, although the conduct was unlawful, by virtue of this hypothetical second decision, the conduct would not be clearly established and there'd be no liability in that situation.

David H. Souter:

So you're saying the only situation in which the two increase in effect will be exactly the same, is the situation in which the general standard has, by course of judicial decision, been reduced down to a kind of pinpoint specific rule for certain cases, e.g., hog-tie cases.

And in the case in which immunity is claimed, the facts in that case are precisely duplicative of the facts, which have been found to result in this pinpoint rule.