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Qualified Immunity-Excessive Force

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 27, 2024//

Qualified Immunity-Excessive Force

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 27, 2024//

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Charles Brumitt v. Sam Smith

Case No.: 23-1321

Officials: Sykes, Chief Judge, and Kirsch and Pryor, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Qualified Immunity-Excessive Force

Brumitt, while intoxicated and lying on a utility box, was struck by Evansville Police Department Sergeant Sam Smith. Smith punched Brumitt four times in the face, rendering him unconscious. Brumitt subsequently sued Smith under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Smith had employed excessive force, thus violating his Fourth Amendment rights. Smith, in turn, sought summary judgment, contending that his use of force was objectively reasonable and that he was entitled to qualified immunity.

The district court rejected Smith’s motion for summary judgment, determining that unresolved factual disputes precluded a definitive ruling on the reasonableness of Smith’s actions and his entitlement to qualified immunity. It affirmed that Brumitt’s asserted right—to be free from force once subdued—was well-established. Smith appealed this decision.

The Seventh Circuit found that Brumitt had not sufficiently demonstrated that Smith had violated a clearly established right. The appellate court emphasized that no precedent clearly mandated that an officer must reassess their use of force within a timeframe of fewer than four seconds. Consequently, Smith was deemed entitled to qualified immunity. The court directed the case to be remanded with instructions to render judgment in favor of Smith on the Fourth Amendment claim.

Reversed and remanded.

Decided 05/20/24

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