SCOTUS: CA10 rule on recklessly causing an otherwise reasonable shooting rejected; QI applies

Tenth Circuit’s rule that officers can recklessly cause an otherwise reasonable shooting was not based on clearly established law. Thus, qualified immunity applies. City of Tahlequah v. Bond, 2021 U.S. LEXIS 5310 (Oct. 18, 2021) (per curiam)*:

A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed. 981 F. 3d, at 826. The Court began by explaining that Tenth Circuit precedent allows an officer to be held liable for a shooting that is itself objectively reasonable if the officer’s reckless or deliberate conduct created a situation requiring deadly force. Id., at 816. Applying that rule, the Court concluded that a jury could find that Officer Girdner’s initial step toward Rollice and the officers’ subsequent cornering of him in the back of the garage recklessly created the situation that led to the fatal shooting, such that their ultimate use of deadly force was unconstitutional. Id., at 823. As to qualified immunity, the Court concluded that several cases, most notably Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F. 3d 837 (CA10 1997), clearly established that the officers’ conduct was unlawful. 981 F. 3d, at 826. This petition followed.

We need not, and do not, decide whether the officers violated the Fourth Amendment in the first place, or whether recklessly creating a situation that requires deadly force can itself violate the Fourth Amendment. On this record, the officers plainly did not violate any clearly established law.

The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officers from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U. S. 223, 231 (2009). As we have explained, qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. District of Columbia v. Wesby, 583 U. S. ,_ (2018) (slip op., at 13-14) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U. S. 335, 341 (1986)).

We have repeatedly told courts not to define clearly established law at too high a level of generality. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U. S. 731, 742 (2011). It is not enough that a rule be suggested by then-existing precedent; the rules contours must be so well defined that it is clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Wesby, 583 U. S., at _ (slip op., at 14) (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U. S. 194, 202 (2001)). Such specificity is especially important in the Fourth Amendment context, where it is sometimes difficult for an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine, here excessive force, will apply to the factual situation the officer confronts. Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U. S. 7, 12 (2015) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Tenth Circuit contravened those settled principles here. …

Another case involving the use of non-deadly force effecting an arrest involving a knee in the back of a man on the ground who was reasonably feared to have a knife also gave qualified immunity to the officers. Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna, 2021 U.S. LEXIS 5311 (Oct. 18, 2021) (per curiam).*

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