Scott v. Harris

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Opinion [Justice Scalia]
Concurrence [Justice Ginsburg]
Concurrence [Justice Breyer]
Dissent [Justice Stevens]




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 05–1631. Argued February 26, 2007—Decided April 30, 2007

Deputy Timothy Scott, petitioner here, terminated a high-speed pursuit of respondent’s car by applying his push bumper to the rear of the vehicle, causing it to leave the road and crash. Respondent was rendered quadriplegic. He filed suit under 42 U. S. C. §1983 alleging, inter alia, the use of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied Scott’s summary judgment motion, which was based on qualified immunity. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on interlocutory appeal, concluding, inter alia, that Scott’s actions could constitute “deadly force” under Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U. S. 1; that the use of such force in this context would violate respondent’s constitutional right to be free from excessive force during a seizure; and that a reasonable jury could so find.

Held: Because the car chase respondent initiated posed a substantial and immediate risk of serious physical injury to others, Scott’s attempt to terminate the chase by forcing respondent off the road was reasonable, and Scott is entitled to summary judgment. Pp. 3–13.

(a) Qualified immunity requires resolution of a “threshold question: Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right?” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U. S. 194, 201. Pp. 3–4.

(b) The record in this case includes a videotape capturing the events in question. Where, as here, the record blatantly contradicts the plaintiff’s version of events so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a summary judgment motion. Pp. 5–8.

(c) Viewing the facts in the light depicted by the videotape, it is clear that Deputy Scott did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 8–13..

(i) Garner did not establish a magical on/off switch that triggers rigid preconditions whenever an officer’s actions constitute “deadly force.” The Court there simply applied the Fourth Amendment’s “reasonableness” test to the use of a particular type of force in a particular situation. That case has scant applicability to this one, which has vastly different facts. Whether or not Scott’s actions constituted “deadly force,” what matters is whether those actions were reasonable. Pp. 8–10..

(ii) In determining a seizure’s reasonableness, the Court balances the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests allegedly justifying the intrusion. United States v. Place, 462 U. S. 696, 703. In weighing the high likelihood of serious injury or death to respondent that Scott’s actions posed against the actual and imminent threat that respondent posed to the lives of others, the Court takes account of the number of lives at risk and the relative culpability of the parties involved. Respondent intentionally placed himself and the public in danger by unlawfully engaging in reckless, high-speed flight; those who might have been harmed had Scott not forced respondent off the road were entirely innocent. The Court concludes that it was reasonable for Scott to take the action he did. It rejects respondent’s argument that safety could have been assured if the police simply ceased their pursuit. The Court rules that a police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death. Pp. 10–13.

433 F. 3d 807, reversed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., and Breyer, J., filed concurring opinions. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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