Saturday, January 21, 2017


United States Supreme Court
White v. Pauly, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 5 (U.S. Jan. 9, 2017)
Two police officers went to Daniel Pauly’s house to investigate a road-rage incident that had occurred earlier that night. The officers made verbal contact with Daniel Pauly and his brother, Samuel, who remained inside the house. A third officer, Ray White, arrived at Pauly’s house several minutes later. As Officer White approached the house, someone from inside yelled, "We have guns," and then Daniel Pauly stepped out the back door and fired two shotgun blasts. A few seconds later, Samuel Pauly opened a window and pointed a handgun in Officer White’s direction. Officer White shot and killed Samuel Pauly.
Pauly’s estate filed a lawsuit against the officers, claiming the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force against him.

The District Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the officers qualified immunity. The officers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Court, which decided the case without oral arguments from the parties, vacated the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case.
First, the court noted that qualified immunity is appropriate when an officer’s conduct does not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known. Qualified immunity was designed to protect "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Second, the court reiterated that "clearly established law" should not be defined "at a high level of generality," but instead it must be "particularized" to the facts of the case. Third, the Court stated that the lower court failed to identify a case where an officer acting under similar circumstances as Officer White was held to have violated the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the Court found that the lower court relied upon Graham v. Connor, Tennessee v. Garner, and other use of force cases, which only outline excessive force principles at a general level. The court added that this was not a case where it was obvious that there was a violation of clearly established law under Garner and Graham. Finally, the court found that Officer White arrived to scene late, and it was not clearly established that the Fourth Amendment requires an officer to second-guess the earlier steps already taken by fellow officers in situations like the one Officer White faced here.

While the Court vacated the Tenth Circuit’s judgment, the Court recognized that Pauly’s estate could still prevail after the case was remanded. Specifically, the Court commented that Pauly’s estate could claim that Officer White witnessed deficient performance by the other officers and should have realized that corrective action was necessary before he used deadly force. The Court took no position on this potential claim, as neither the District Court nor the Tenth Circuit had addressed the issue.

For the Court’s opinion:



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