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Monday, May 21, 2007

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit rules in Indiana police chase case

In Steen v. Myers (ND Ind., Theresa L. Springmann, Judge), a 14-page opinion, Judge Kanne writes:

The plaintiffs in this combined appeal represent the interests of a young man who was killed and a young woman who was rendered disabled in a motorcycle accident that occurred during a police chase. They brought suit in the state courts of Indiana, combining both federal and state law claims. The defendants removed the cases to the federal court. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the federal claims and remanded the state law claims to the state courts. The plaintiffs appeal. We affirm.
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent 4th amendment decision in a police chase case, Scott v. Harris, is cited once in this opinion, on p. 7. The 7th Circuit concludes: "In the end, we agree with the district court that no reasonable jury could find that Myers violated the appellants’ Fourth Amendment rights." Per the 14th amendment issues, the opinion states:
The parties agree that our consideration of § 1983 claims in the context of a police chase of a motorcycle is largely controlled by the Supreme Court’s holding in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998). * * *

The parties’ arguments on the Fourteenth Amendment claim are more robust, and we turn now to that question. Lewis establishes a heavy burden for a plaintiff to bear when making a § 1983 claim based on the Fourteenth Amendment. “To this end, for half a century now we have spoken of the cognizable level of executive abuse of power as that which shocks the conscience.” Lewis, 523 U.S. at 846. The district court found that the conduct in question did not rise to the level of shocking the conscience and entered summary judgment for the defendants. * * *

III. CONCLUSION. The Supreme Court has set the bar awfully high in pursuing a Fourteenth Amendment claim that arises out of a police chase. There might be questions on this record as to whether Myers was negligent, reckless, or even deliberately indifferent to the safety of Hilbert and Philebaum, but under the standard set forth in Lewis those questions are reserved to the state courts and the law of tort. Under a standard that requires conscience shocking behavior and an intent to cause harm unrelated to a legitimate government interest, the district court was correct that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Accordingly, the decision of the district court is AFFIRMED.

For background on police case cases in Indiana, start with this May 1st ILB entry.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 21, 2007 09:57 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions