Submitted: April 7, 2017
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Helena
GRUENDER, MURPHY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.
Perry sued multiple defendants employed by Woodruff County,
Arkansas and the City of McCrory for an arrest that occurred
on August 30, 2009. Perry alleged excessive-force,
illegal-arrest, and illegal-search claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and related tort claims under Arkansas law. The
district court denied summary judgment to a number of
defendants who took part in the incident, including City of
McCrory Police Officer Margo Wolfe. Wolfe appealed, claiming
that the district court erred when it concluded that she was
not entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons discussed
below, we affirm.
night of August 30, 2009, Perry drove to his local carwash to
clean his truck. Wolfe, who was off-duty and at her
apartment, saw Perry from her back steps and called dispatch
to investigate, as she believed that he was acting
suspiciously. Woodruff County Deputy Sheriff Bruce Golden
responded, arrived at the carwash, and parked behind
Perry's truck. Perry approached Golden and asked if
everything was alright. When Golden responded affirmatively,
Perry returned to cleaning his truck. As Perry prepared to
leave the carwash, Golden approached and asked Perry for his
license and registration. Perry obliged without incident, and
Golden checked for outstanding warrants. After finding no
outstanding warrants, Golden returned Perry's documents
but directed him to wait to talk with another officer. Perry
questioned Golden about why another officer needed to talk to
him but complied with the order.
thereafter, City of McCrory Police Lieutenant Booker
Pennington, Woodruff County Deputy Sheriff Rowland Clark, and
Wolfe arrived on scene. Clark asked Golden if he had searched
Perry for weapons. Golden conducted a pat-down and recovered
a multi-tool knife in Perry's possession. Clark then
approached Perry and instructed him to "spread
eagle" for another pat-down. Perry complied but
questioned the justification for the search. Perry testified
that he did not act aggressively towards Clark or threaten
Clark's safety. Perry also testified that, without any
provocation, Clark stepped behind Perry, wrapped his arm
around Perry's neck, lifted Perry off his feet, and
knocked Perry to the ground, face first. Wolfe was twenty
feet away, and she testified that she saw Perry turn in an
aggressive manner as if he were about to swing at Clark.
After witnessing Clark take Perry to the ground, she ran
over, secured Perry's right hand, and forced her knee
into his back to subdue him. Golden proceeded to handcuff
Perry. Pennington, who was Wolfe's superior, told the
other officers that Perry was not a threat, but when
Pennington tried to remove the handcuffs, Clark stopped him
and said that he had no authority to do so because "this
[was] a county thing now." Perry testified that
throughout the episode, he cried out for help and asked
officers why he was being arrested but did not threaten the
officers' safety or resist arrest. Perry was then charged
with a number of crimes including possessing a weapon,
resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. All charges
eventually were dismissed.
result of the incident, Perry suffered lacerated tendons in
his knees, a bulged disc in his neck, constant back problems,
nerve damage, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He brought
this suit against Wolfe and other defendants, stating federal
and state law claims. The district court denied summary
judgment and allowed the majority of Perry's claims to
proceed. Wolfe appealed, claiming that the district court
erred in ruling that she was not entitled to qualified
the collateral order doctrine, we have authority to hear an
interlocutory appeal of a denial of qualified immunity.
Ehlers v. City of Rapid City, 846 F.3d 1002, 1008
(8th Cir. 2017). We are limited, however, to reviewing
questions of law, not factual disputes, and thus, "we
review a district court's qualified immunity
determination on summary judgment de novo, viewing
the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and
drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor."
Id. (alterations and quotation omitted).
immunity protects law enforcement officers from liability for
civil damages so long as their conduct does not violate
clearly established constitutional or statutory rights of
which a reasonable person would have known. Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). An officer loses
the shield of qualified immunity if (1) the facts alleged,
taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show the
officer's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory
right; and (2) that right was clearly established at the time
of the purported misconduct. Saucier v. Katz, 533
U.S. 194, 201 (2001); Ehlers, 846 F.3d at 1008. A
constitutional or statutory right is clearly established when
the contours of the right are "sufficiently clear [such]
that a reasonable official would understand that what he is
doing violates that right." Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). While "general
statements of law are not inherently incapable of giving fair
and clear warning to officers, " White v.
Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (quotation omitted),
the Supreme Court has cautioned lower courts against defining
clearly established rights "at a high level of
generality, " see id. (quotation omitted).
Fourth Amendment Violation
we determine whether Wolfe's conduct violated Perry's
Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive
force. In determining whether a particular use of force was
excessive, we consider whether it was objectively reasonable
under the circumstances, "rely[ing] on the perspective
of a reasonable officer present at the scene rather than the
'20/20 vision of hindsight.'" Carpenter v.
Gage, 686 F.3d 644, 649 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)). The
proper application of this standard "requires careful
attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular
case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether
the suspect poses ...