Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Chemerinsky on recent 4aqi Supreme Court case Ryburn v. Huff

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Law professor and scholar Edwin Chemerinsky on the recent per curium Supreme Court decision in Ryburn v. Huff:

[I]n the recent Ryburn ruling, the court found qualified immunity based on the absence of a case on point. A rumor circulated in a high school that a student there had threatened violence. The police went to the boy’s home to investigate. The boy and his mother came out of the house and answered the police questions. The officer asked permission to enter the home, and the mother refused. When the mother entered the home, the police officer followed without permission and against her wishes. The officer said that his experience was that parents usually allow officers in their home when asked for consent. The police found no weapons or other contraband and ultimately concluded that the rumors about the boy were unfounded.

The 9th Circuit rejected qualified immunity. The Supreme Court, in a per curiam opinion, reversed. Once more, the court stressed the absence of decisions on point and said: “No decision of this court has found a Fourth Amendment violation on facts even roughly comparable to those present in this case.” The court said that its precedents had allowed police to enter a home when there was a fear of violence.

But those decisions had allowed police to enter when there was reason to believe that there might be violence in the home; here it was a only a rumor and there was no basis for suspicion other than the occupant of the home not wanting the police to enter.

The court, of course, has not overruled Pelzer. But it is notable that in neither of these cases is it cited; nor does the court focus on, what should be the central inquiry underPelzer: Did the officer have fair notice that the conduct violated the Constitution? Requiring that the plaintiff have a case on point to overcome qualified immunity will create an obstacle for civil rights plaintiffs in many cases.



Written by Burgers Allday

February 13, 2012 at 6:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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