Donald Rickard led police officers on a high-speed car chase that came to a temporary halt when Rickard spun out into a parking lot. Rickard resumed maneuvering his car, and as he continued to use the accelerator even though his bumper was flush against a patrol car, an officer fired three shots into Rickards car. Rickard managed to drive away, almost hitting an officer in the process. Officers fired 12 more shots as Rickard sped away, striking him and his passenger, both of whom died from some combination of gunshot wounds and injuries suffered when the car eventually crashed.
Respondent, Rickards minor daughter, filed a 42 U. S. C. §1983 action, alleging that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court denied the officers motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, holding that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment and was contrary to clearly established law at the time in question. After finding that it had appellate jurisdiction, the Sixth Circuit held that the officers conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. It affirmed the District Courts order, suggesting that it agreed that the officers violated clearly established law.
1. The Sixth Circuit properly exercised jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. §1291, which gives courts of appeals jurisdiction to hear appeals from "final decisions" of the district courts. The general rule that an order denying a summary judgment motion is not a "final decision[n]," and thus not immediately appealable, does not apply when it is based on a qualified immunity claim. Johnson v. Jones,
2. The officers conduct did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 7-15.
(a) Addressing this question first will be "beneficial" in "develop[ing] constitutional precedent" in an area that courts typically consider in cases in which the defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, Pearson v. Callahan,
(b) Respondents excessive-force argument requires analyzing the totality of the circumstances from the perspective "of a reasonable officer on the scene." Graham v. Connor,
(1) The officers acted reasonably in using deadly force. A "police officers 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." Scott, supra, at 385. Rickards outrageously reckless driving--which lasted more than five minutes, exceeded 100 miles per hour, and included the passing of more than two dozen other motorists--posed a grave public safety risk, and the record conclusively disproves that the chase was over when Rickards car came to a temporary standstill and officers began shooting. Under the circumstances when the shots were fired, all that a reasonable officer could have concluded from Rickards conduct was that he was intent on resuming his flight, which would again pose a threat to others on the road. Pp. 9-11.
(2) Petitioners did not fire more shots than necessary to end the public safety risk. It makes sense that, if officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, they need not stop shooting until the threat has ended. Here, during the 10-second span when all the shots were fired, Rickard never abandoned his attempt to flee and eventually managed to drive away. A passengers presence does not bear on whether officers violated Rickards Fourth Amendment rights, which "are personal rights [that] may not be vicariously asserted." Alderman v. United States,
3. Even if the officers conduct had violated the Fourth Amendment, petitioners would still be entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. An official sued under §1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless it is shown that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was " clearly established " at the time of the challenged conduct. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U. S. ___, ___. Brosseau v. Haugen,
509 Fed. Appx. 388, reversed and remanded.
Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined, in which Ginsburg, J., joined as to the judgment and Parts I, II, and III-C, and in which Breyer, J., joined except as to Part III-B-2.
Opinion of the Court
572 U. S. ____ (2014)