Lewis v. City of Edmond.
No. 21-6081. 9/16/2022. W.D.Okla. Judge Baldock. 42 USC § 1983—Claim of Excessive Force—Fourth Amendment—Motion for Summary Judgment—Qualified Immunity.
September 16, 2022
Lewis was at his girlfriend’s house when she noticed he was acting strangely. An altercation ensued, and a neighbor called 911. Lewis removed his clothing and fled on foot before officers arrived. He eluded police for about an hour. Sergeant Box and defendant Officer Scherman spotted Lewis in a yard. Lewis did not comply with their commands and instead forced his way into a nearby residence.
Box followed Lewis inside the residence. Lewis turned and charged at Box. Box deployed his taser twice without effect. When Scherman entered the residence, he observed “Lewis pummeling Box.” Lewis then turned toward Scherman, whom the district court described as an “undersized officer.” Scherman drew his firearm. As Lewis advanced in the close confines, Scherman shot Lewis four times in the front of his body. The district court found that “after Scherman first shot Lewis, Lewis no longer continued to barrel toward him.” Lewis later died, and his estate brought claims against the City of Edmond and Scherman under 42 USC § 1983.
Scherman filed a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, and he appealed. While Scherman did not challenge the district court’s finding that his use of force was objectively unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment, he maintained that the law at the time of the incident was not clearly established to provide fair warning to a reasonable officer that the conduct was unconstitutional. Because Scherman raised the defense of qualified immunity, plaintiffs had the burden of demonstrating that the constitutional violation was clearly established on the date of the incident, April 29, 2019.
The Supreme Court has instructed courts not to define clearly established law too generally and has repeatedly stressed the importance of specificity in Fourth Amendment excessive force claims. Based on this standard, the Tenth Circuit determined that the district court erred in denying Scherman’s qualified immunity defense because none of the pre-April 29 cases cited by the district court or plaintiffs squarely governed—that is, none of the cases held that an officer violated the Fourth Amendment while acting under circumstances similar to those faced by Scherman.
The district court’s judgment denying qualified immunity was reversed.