PrawfsBlawg / 2017-04-25 22:04
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Salazar-Limon and the expansion of summary judgment
On Monday, SCOTUS denied cert in Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston, a § 1983 action arising from an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed person. The Fifth Circuit granted summary judgment in favor of the officer, seeming to credit the officer’s version of events over the plaintiff’s version, even without video. It also touched on the "he was reaching for his waistband" defense that has become a mainstay in these cases. The case was carried over six times before cert was denied–apparently, because Justice Sotomayor was writing a dissent from denial of cert for herself and Justice Ginsburg, which prompted a concurrence in denial of cert by Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas. I am quoted in an Atlantic piece on the case.
The officer testified that he saw the plaintiff turn and reach for his waistband as if for a gun. The plaintiff testified that the officer yelled for him to stop as he was walking away, then shot him immediately–at most a few seconds–after the command. But the plaintiff did not explicitly deny reaching for his waistband, and for both lower courts and Justice Alito, that showed there was no dispute. That the stories told by the officer and the plaintiff contradicted one another, in other words, was not sufficient. The plaintiff had to deny the direct evidence (reaching for the waistband) and could not rely on the competing inference (if what the plaintiff said was true, he did not reach for his waistband) to get past summary judgment. If taken seriously, this could represent a dramatic expansion of summary judgment…….