Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)

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SAUCIER v. KATZ et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 99-1977. Argued March 20, 2001—Decided June 18, 2001

Respondent Katz, president of respondent In Defense of Animals, filed a suit pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, against, inter alios, petitioner Saucier, a military policeman. Katz alleged, among other things, that Saucier had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force in arresting him while he protested during Vice President Gore's speech at a San Francisco army base. The District Court declined to grant Saucier summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. In affirming, the Ninth Circuit made a two-part qualified immunity inquiry. First, it found that the law governing Saucier's conduct was clearly established when the incident occurred. It therefore moved to a second step: to determine if a reasonable officer could have believed, in light of the clearly established law, that his conduct was lawful. The court concluded that this step and the merits of a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim are identical, since both concern the objective reasonableness of the officer's conduct in light of the circumstances the officer faced at the scene. Thus, it found, summary judgment based on qualified immunity was inappropriate.


1. A qualified immunity ruling requires an analysis not susceptible of fusion with the question whether unreasonable force was used in making the arrest. The Ninth Circuit's approach cannot be reconciled with Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U. S. 635. A qualified immunity defense must be considered in proper sequence. A ruling should be made early in the proceedings so that the cost and expenses of trial are avoided where the defense is dispositive. Such immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial, not a defense from liability. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 526. The initial inquiry is whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged, for if no right would have been violated, there is no need for further inquiry into immunity. However, if a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the next, sequential step is whether the right was clearly established. This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the case's specific context, not as a broad general proposition. The relevant, dispositive inquiry is whether it would be clear to a rea-

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