TCAA, in conjunction with the Texas Municipal League, files amicus briefs and comments in support of cities on many issues. To keep up to date on the status of these issues, go to https://www.tml.org/DocumentCenter/View/1546/AmicusBriefUpdate_031720.
Qualified Immunity: Kaufman County v. Winzer,No. 19-889, in the United States Supreme Court. TML and TCAA joined the TML Intergovernmental Risk Pool, the Mississippi Municipal Service Company, the Texas Association of Counties, and the National Association of Police Organizations as Amici Curiae to defend the doctrines of qualified and municipal immunity.
In the case, the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office received several reports of an armed man firing a pistol and destroying mailboxes in a residential neighborhood in Terrell, Texas. Callers described him as a black male wearing a brown shirt. The man fired at the first officers to arrive, but the officers did not initially return fire due to the presence of bystanders. The man then disappeared from sight. As more officers arrived, they confirmed the shooter was wearing a brown shirt and they established a defensive position.
A few minutes later, Gabriel Winzer – who was wearing a blue jacket – rode a bicycle within sight of the officers. Seeing that Winzer had a gun, the officers opened fire. He did have a gun, although it turned out to be a toy. It also turned out that he was not the suspect. The Fifth Circuit granted immunity to the shooting deputy, but did not do so for his employer the county.
Amici are concerned about the outcome of the case because they represent the interests of law enforcement officers and governmental employers. The legal issue in the case concerns whether law enforcement officers and counties or municipalities may be held civilly liable for actions taken by officers in the line of duty. Amici thus support Petitioners’ request that the U.S. Supreme Court grant certiorari in order to address the proper analysis for municipal liability and correct the Fifth Circuit’s incomplete analysis, which focused entirely on qualified immunity and omitted a discussion of municipal liability.
The two doctrines are distinct but related, and resolution of both is necessary for the proper disposition of this case. The qualified immunity and municipal liability analyses share a common question: whether a violation of constitutional rights occurred. Contrary to the panel majority’s conclusion, no such violation was present on the undisputed facts of this case. Amici recognizes that error correction is not the Court’s function, and certiorari is not warranted for that purpose alone. Rather, the Court should grant certiorari to address a more fundamental issue: the interplay between qualified immunity and municipal liability.
Qualified immunity, on the one hand, requires inquiry into whether there was a “clearly established” constitutional violation. Municipal liability, on the other hand, requires inquiry into whether a policy or custom caused a constitutional violation. By holding that the shooting deputy was entitled to qualified immunity, the panel necessarily should have held that there was no municipal liability. The brief was filed on February 18, 2020.