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Scott v. Harris

Supreme Court of the United States

February 26, 2007, Argued ; April 30, 2007, Decided

[No. 05-1631]

Opinion

 [*374]  [**1772]  Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider whether a law enforcement official can, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, attempt to stop a fleeing motorist from continuing his public-endangering flight by ramming the motorist's car from behind. Put another way: Can an officer take actions that place a fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death in order to stop the motorist's flight from endangering the lives of innocent bystanders?

In March 2001, a Georgia county deputy clocked respondent's vehicle traveling at 73 miles per hour on a road with a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. The deputy activated his blue flashing lights indicating that respondent should pull over. Instead, respondent sped away, initiating a chase down what  [*375]  is in most portions a two-lane road, at speeds exceeding 85 miles per hour. The deputy radioed his  [****7] dispatch to [**1773]  report that he was pursuing a fleeing vehicle, and broadcast its license plate number. Petitioner, Deputy Timothy Scott, heard the radio communication and joined the pursuit along with other officers. In the midst of the chase, respondent pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center and was nearly boxed in by the various police vehicles. Respondent evaded the trap by making a sharp turn, colliding with Scott's police car, exiting the parking lot, and speeding off once again down a two-lane highway.

Following respondent's shopping center maneuvering, which resulted in slight damage to Scott's police car, Scott took over as the lead pursuit  [***691] vehicle. Six minutes and nearly 10 miles after the chase had begun, Scott decided to attempt to terminate the episode by employing a "Precision Intervention Technique ('PIT') maneuver, which causes the fleeing vehicle to spin to a stop." Brief for Petitioner 4. Having radioed his supervisor for permission, Scott was told to "'[g]o ahead and take him out.'" Harris v. Coweta Cty., 433 F.3d 807, 811 (CA11 2005). Instead, Scott applied his push bumper to the rear of respondent's vehicle.1  As a result, respondent lost control  [****8] of his vehicle, which left the roadway, ran down an embankment, overturned, and crashed. Respondent was badly injured and was rendered a quadriplegic.

Respondent filed suit against Deputy Scott and others under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, inter alia, a violation of his federal constitutional rights, viz. use  [*376]  of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.  In response, Scott filed a motion for summary judgment based on an assertion of qualified immunity.  The District Court denied the motion, finding that "there are material issues of fact on which the issue of qualified immunity turns which present sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury." Harris v. Coweta Cty., No. 3:01-CV-148-WBH, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27348 (ND Ga., Sept. 23, 2003),  [****9] App. to Pet. for Cert. 41a-42a.  On interlocutory appeal,2 the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision to allow respondent's Fourth Amendment claim against Scott to proceed to trial.3 Taking respondent's view of the facts as given, the Court of Appeals concluded that Scott's actions could constitute "deadly force" under Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1985), and that the use of such force in this context "would violate [respondent's] constitutional right to be free from excessive force during a seizure.  [**1774]  Accordingly, a reasonable jury could find that Scott violated [respondent's] Fourth Amendment rights." 433 F.3d at 816.  The Court of Appeals further concluded that "the law as it existed [at the time of the incident], was sufficiently clear to give reasonable law enforcement officers 'fair notice' that ramming a vehicle under these circumstances was unlawful." Id., at 817.  The Court of Appeals thus concluded that Scott was not entitled to qualified immunity. We granted certiorari, 549 U.S. 991, 549 U.S. 991, 127 S. Ct. 468, 166 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2006), and now reverse.

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550 U.S. 372 *; 127 S. Ct. 1769 **; 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 ***; 2007 U.S. LEXIS 4748 ****; 75 U.S.L.W. 4297; 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 225

TIMOTHY SCOTT, Petitioner v. VICTOR HARRIS

Subsequent History:  [****1] On remand at, Remanded by Harris v. Coweta County, 489 F.3d 1207, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 15099 (11th Cir. Ga., June 25, 2007)

Prior History: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT.

Harris v. Coweta County, 433 F.3d 807, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 28484 (11th Cir. Ga., 2005)

Disposition: Reversed.

CORE TERMS

chase, motorists, pursuit, fleeing, court of appeals, videotape, speeding, pedestrians, driving, deadly force, qualified immunity, terminate, video, car chase, the Fourth Amendment, traveling, pulled, constitutional question, Highway, flight, sirens, lives, use deadly force, serious injury, ramming, seizure, joined, innocent bystander, high-speed, courts

Civil Rights Law, Immunity From Liability, Local Officials, Individual Capacity, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, General Overview, Burdens of Proof, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Criminal Law & Procedure, Seizure of Persons, Scope of Protection