April 23, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Denial of Qualified Immunity Affirmed in Excessive Force Case

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Roosevelt-Hennix v. Prickett on Thursday, May 16, 2013.

Officer Shane Prickett of the Florence City Police Department used a taser on Lara Roosevelt-Hennix while Roosevelt-Hennix’s hands were cuffed behind her back and she was seated in the back seat of a police car. Roosevelt-Hennix brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Prickett subjected her to excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Prickett asserted qualified immunity, which the district court denied, thus giving Pickett the right to this interlocutory appeal.

The district court did not set out which opposing set of facts it relied on in denying Pickett’s motion for summary judgment. Pickett asserted that Roosevelt-Hennix actively resisted an order to place her legs outside the police vehicle so he could “hobble” her; Roosevelt-Hennix asserted that she informed the officers she could not physically move her legs to the requested position due to a back condition. She also asserted that the officers did not attempt to help her move her legs before tasing her. After Pickett forcefully hobbled her, the plaintiff became paralyzed and required surgery the next day.

The Tenth Circuit found that Pickett’s counsel failed in his duty of candor to the court by making factual contentions unsupported by the record. The court also urged district courts to set out which facts they have assumed in deciding summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The court drew all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor in finding “sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude Roosevelt-Hennix informed the officers she was physically unable to comply with their request to move her feet outside the patrol vehicle. It likewise contains sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude the officers never attempted to aid Roosevelt-Hennix in moving her feet before applying the taser.” The denial of summary judgment was affirmed.

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