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Surat v. Klamser.

No. 21-1284. 11/9/2022. D.Colo. Judge McHugh. Qualified Immunity—Summary Judgment—Disputed Issues of Material Fact.

November 9, 2022

Surat and her boyfriend Waltz were celebrating her birthday at a bar. Police officers Pastor and Klamser were dispatched to the bar in response to a reported disturbance involving Waltz. Officer Pastor spoke with Waltz, and Officer Klamser spoke with the bar’s bouncer. Surat approached Waltz and tried to leave the scene with him. Officer Klamser learned from the bouncer that Waltz was involved in the disturbance, and he told Officer Pastor that Waltz was not free to go. Officer Pastor began interviewing Waltz, and Surat tried to walk toward Waltz. Officer Klamser blocked Surat from obstructing Officer Pastor’s interview, placed Surat under arrest, and held her by her wrist. In response, Surat tried to pry Officer Klamser’s fingers from her arm and pawed at his arms. Officer Klamser then used a takedown maneuver to subdue Surat, and she sustained injuries as a result. Surat was convicted of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. She later filed a complaint in district court alleging that Officer Klamser violated her constitutional rights by subjecting her to excessive force during her arrest. Officer Klamser moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion.

As an initial matter on interlocutory appeal, Surat argued that the Tenth Circuit lacked jurisdiction because the district court denied Officer Klamser’s motion for summary judgment based on a finding of disputed issues of material fact. However, the Tenth Circuit has jurisdiction to review denials of summary judgment based on such finding by taking as true the facts that the district court concluded a reasonable jury could find in plaintiff’s favor to consider abstract questions of law. Here, Officer Klamser challenged the district court’s denial of qualified immunity based on his argument that the facts the district court determined a reasonable jury could find are inconsistent with the undisputed facts supporting Surat’s convictions. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit has jurisdiction over the appeal.

On the merits, Officer Klamser argued that the district court erred in denying his summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. He maintained that the court erred in denying him qualified immunity for throwing Surat to the ground during her arrest because (1) her convictions for resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer preclude this force from amounting to a constitutional violation; and (2) even if he used excessive force during the arrest, the law was not clearly established at the time such that every reasonable officer would know the level of force was unconstitutional. The use of the takedown maneuver to slam to the ground a nonviolent misdemeanant who poses no immediate threat to the officer or others based on minimal resistance to arrest is unreasonable and constitutes excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. Here, while Surat minimally resisted arrest, Officer Klamser’s alleged use of force against her was not proportionate, given her level of resistance. Although a reasonable jury could find that Officer Klamser used excessive force, Surat did not identify clearly established law that would have put every reasonable officer on notice that the conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, Officer Klamser is entitled to qualified immunity.

The motion to dismiss the appeal was denied. The denial of Officer Klamser’s motion for summary judgment was reversed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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