The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Koch v. City of Del City on Wednesday, November 2, 2011.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. In 2004, Petitioner assumed control over the property and care of an elderly woman, Gladys Lance. Ms. Lance’s niece became concerned about her aunt’s welfare and, in 2005, when she could no longer locate Ms. Lance, she obtained an order from an Oklahoma state court appointing her as Ms. Lance’s special guardian. Several days later, Respondent, an officer of the Del City Police Department, was told by his supervisor that a “pickup” order had been issued for Ms. Lance, and that he should go to Ms. Koch’s residence to check on Ms. Lance. When he did, he encountered Petitioner on her front doorstep. He asked Petitioner where Ms. Lance was located, but Petitioner refused to tell him, instead telling him to leave her property and talk to her attorney. When Petitioner persisted in her non-responsiveness and turned to leave, Respondent arrested her for obstruction. Petitioner sued the officer and the city, alleging claims for false arrest and excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent, concluding that he was entitled to qualified immunity.
The Court agreed with the district court’s conclusions. The Court held that, only in this case, “a reasonable officer could believe that [Petitioner] had information regarding Ms. Lance’s location, that under the circumstances [Petitioner] was required to convey this information, and thus that her refusal to do so constituted obstruction.” Additionally, the evidence indicates on its face that Petitioner’s “injuries were de minimis. [Petitioner] therefore cannot make out an excessive-force claim, and thus cannot show that [the officer] violated a constitutional right.”