What is law enforcement qualified immunity?

06th May 2021

Recently we posted a blog discussion on excessive force and what constitutes it under the current law.  In this blog post we take up the defense that law enforcement has to a civil lawsuit alleging excessive force.

“[Q]ualified immunity is immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Estate of Miller, ex rel. Bertram v. Tobiasz, 680 F.3d 984, 988 (7th Cir. 2012) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The plaintiff’s burden is that there must be a showing that, “not only that her constitutional rights were violated, but that any reasonable official under the circumstances would have realized that her rights were being violated.” Easterling v. Pollard, 528 F. App’x 653, 656-657 (7th Cir. 2013).  “To be clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct, the right’s contours must be ‘sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood what he is doing violates that right,’ and ‘existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.’” Rabin v. Flynn, 725 F. 3d 628, 632 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Humphries v. Milwaukee Cnty. 702 F. 3d 1003, 1006 (7th Cir. 2012). The burden the plaintiff must carry to establish the right can be “either by identifying a ‘closely analogous case that established a right to be free from the type of force the police officers used on him’ or ‘by showing that the force was so plainly excessive that, as an objective matter, the police officer would have been on notice that they were violating the Fourth Amendment.’” Findlay v. Lindermon, 722 F. 3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2013)(quoting Chelios v. Heavenor, 520 F.3d 678, 695 (7th Cir. 2008).

The takeaway is that the officer’s actions will be analyzed under a reasonableness standard. Qualified immunity will attach if, under the totality of the circumstances, his or her actions are judged to be reasonable.