Washington Law Review

Comment

Arriving at Clearly Established: The Taser Problem and Reforming Qualified Immunity Analysis in the Ninth Circuit

June 01, 2014 | 89 Wash. L. Rev. 491

Abstract:  Federal law allows private citizens to bring civil suits against government officials who violate their constitutional rights while acting under the color of state law. The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from liability when their conduct does not violate clearly established constitutional rights. When determining whether a right was clearly established at the time of a particular injury, the Ninth Circuit purportedly looks to whatever decisional law is available to inform its analysis. This Comment examines recent Taser-related cases to show that, in practice, courts in the Ninth Circuit actually take two divergent approaches. Some look only to binding, factually similar precedent, while others are willing to look outside of a case’s factual context and rely on both published and unpublished cases from across the country. This inconsistency creates three major problems: inconsistent outcomes for litigants, confusion for district courts and government officials, and a propensity for defining clearly established law at an impermissibly high level of generality. This Comment argues that adopting the three-part framework articulated by the Eleventh Circuit would mitigate each of these issues and bring much needed clarity to the law of qualified immunity in the Ninth Circuit.

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