Burnikel v. Fong

886 F.3d 706 (8th Cir. 2018)



The Eighth Circuit analyzes excessive force claims in the context of seizures under the Fourth Amendment, applying its reasonableness standard. The Fourth Amendment requires the court to ask, based on the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. Circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the officers' conduct include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.


Plaintiff filed a suit against defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims of excessive force and municipal liability, as well as state tort claims. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the officers' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity where plaintiff established that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.


Did the use of clearly excessive force during an arrest violate the arrestee's 4th Amendment rights?




Here, the officers delivered repeated strikes, punches, and blows to plaintiff while the latter pleaded them to stop, as he was not resisting arrest nor doing anything out of the ordinary. Therefore, a reasonable officer would have understood that the amount of force employed against plaintiff was excessive, as was their action in purposefully dropping plaintiff face-first onto the sidewalk after he had been subdued and handcuffed. The court held that “when a person is subdued and restrained with handcuffs, a 'gratuitous and completely unnecessary act of violence' is unreasonable and violates the Fourth Amendment."

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.