UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
372 F.3d 294; 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 12033
October 30, 2003, Argued
June 18, 2004, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. (CA-02-582-A). Leonard D. Wexler, Senior District Judge.
DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded with instructions.
|PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellee personal representative sued appellants, five officers who handled the arrestee while in custody. Claims raised included one that each officer violated the arrestee's Due Process rights, i.e., was deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of physical harm. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria, denied summary judgment to appellant officers. They challenged the summary denial of qualified immunity.|
|OVERVIEW: Police officers arrested the individual on suspicion of being drunk in public. After processing him at a substation and placing a "spit mask" over his head, they placed the handcuffed individual in the back of a police van to transport him to a detention center where medical care was available for intoxicated detainees. En route, he vomited and later died. The claims boiled down to whether the officers violated the arrestee's Fourteenth Amendment rights as a pre-trial detainee through their deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of physical harm to him. The court laid out the two general requirements for liability under the deliberate indifference standard. Deliberate indifference was a very high standard--a showing of mere negligence would not meet it. The evidence did not establish that the officers knew the spit mask exposed him to a specific risk distinct from the general risks of which they were aware. Having ascertained the risk as the officers perceived it, the court determined that the evidence did not show that they responded with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of harm. Accordingly, the officers should have been granted qualified immunity.|
|OUTCOME: The court reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity and remanded with instructions to grant qualified immunity to each of the five officers.|
LexisNexis® Headnotes Hide Headnotes
Civil Procedure > Appeals > Appellate Jurisdiction > Collateral Order Doctrine
Civil Procedure > Appeals > Appellate Jurisdiction > Final Judgment Rule
Civil Rights Law > Immunity From Liability > Local Officials > Customs & Policies
|HN1||Under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291, the appellate court has jurisdiction to review final orders of district courts. Under the collateral order doctrine, a district court order is final, even if it does not terminate proceedings in the district court, so long as it conclusively determines the disputed question, resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and would be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Because qualified immunity is an immunity from suit, and not merely an immunity from liability, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial. Accordingly, a district court's order denying a defendant's claim of qualified immunity is a qualifying order under the collateral order doctrine and thus is reviewable immediately.|