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Law School Case Brief

Estate of Redd v. Love - 848 F.3d 899 (10th Cir. 2017)

Rule:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reviews de novo a grant of summary judgment that is based on qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is both a defense to liability and a limited entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation. Once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish (1) a violation of a constitutional right (2) that was clearly established at the time of the violation. The Tenth Circuit may decide which of these two prongs to address first, and need not address both.

Facts:

In June 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation known as "Operation Cerberus," FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched 12 properties in and near three Utah cities—Blanding, Monticello, and Moab. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd's home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd's Estate (Estate) sued 16 named FBI and BLM agents and 21 unnamed agents under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd's FourthFifthSixthEighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants' motions to dismiss all of the Estate's claims except one—a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court's dismissal of the excessive-force claim. 

Issue:

Was the excessive-force claim properly dismissed?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the lead BLM agent's claim that he had qualified immunity. According to the Court, the records supported the district court's determination that a BLM agent who led other BLM agents in conducting a joint operation with FBI agents to locate and seize Native American artifacts that were illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States was immune from liability for the death of a doctor who committed suicide the day after his home was searched and he was arrested. The Court held that Agent Love did not use excessive force in violation of the doctor's rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because he directed other agents to detain the doctor, his wife, and his daughter while as many as 22 agents, who were wearing soft body armor and carrying guns, searched the house.

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