Tests used by court to determine if a public officer or employee is entitled to “qualified immunity” when he or she is being sued for damages in a civil action
Lawson v. Hilderbrand et al, USCA, 2nd Circuit, 15-653-cv [Summary Order*]
Timothy Hilderbrand and his co-defendants appealed a United States District Court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment on their theory that they were entitled to qualified immunity on “Lawson’s search and seizure claims” in the first count of his complaint.**
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, citing Harlow v Fitzgerald, 457 US 800, said that qualified immunity may be claimed by public officers and employees in civil suits seeking damages “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
The court then explained that although an appeal of a denial of a motion for summary judgment typically is not permitted as that decision is not a “final judgment,” the collateral order doctrine permits an immediate appeal of a denial of a motion for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity “where the district court denied the motion as a matter of law.”*** However, such an appeal is available to defendants only the defendants “accept as true [the] plaintiff’s version of the facts for purposes of the appeal.”
According to the decision, police entered Duncan Lawson’s home with his consent. When that consent was revoked, the Second Circuit said that “it was objectively reasonable” for the police officers to believe that “exigent circumstances made their continued presence in the house, and their confinement of the residents to the living room, lawful.”
The Second Circuit said that “When a government official charged with violating federal constitutional rights seeks summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity, the Court may first consider whether there was a “violation of clearly established law before turning to the more difficult question whether the relevant facts make out a constitutional question at all.”
In this instance the court concluded that “the lack of clearly established law” barring the actions the police officers involved entitles them to qualified immunity for their actions.
In contrast, certain public officials are entitled to “absolute immunity.” Absolute immunity is typically limited to judges, prosecutors, legislators, and the highest executive officials when acting within their authority. Absolute immunity also has been granted to lawyers in some situations.
* Rulings by summary order do not have precedential effect. Citation to a summary order filed on or after January 1, 2007, is permitted and is governed by federal rule of appellate procedure 32.1 and the 2nd Circuit’s Local Rule 32.1.1. When citing a summary order in a document filed with the Second Circuit, a party must cite either the federal appendix or an electronic database (with the notation “summary order”). A party citing a summary order must serve a copy of it on any party not represented by counsel.
** Lawson v. Hilderbrand, 88 F. Supp. 3d 84
*** The doctrine allows appeals from interlocutory rulings (i.e., rulings preceding a final judgment) so long as those rulings conclusively decide an issue separate from the merits of the case [See Cohen v Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541].
The 2nd Circuit’s decision is posted on the Internet at: