SCOTUS Decides in Favor of Appellate Advocacy Center Client

June 22, 2015

This morning, the Supreme Court released its decision in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, a case dealing with how to evaluate excessive force claims made by pretrial detainees. Sarah O’Rourke Schrup, clinical assistant professor of law and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic's Appellate Advocacy Center, and Jeffrey Green, her co-instructor in Sidley Austin’s Supreme Court Clinic in the Center, were among those representing petitioner Michael Kingsley.

“[This is] an important and timely decision for those who are claiming abuse at the hands of law enforcement officials. It means that pretrial detainees can vindicate constitutional rights by showing that their jailers’ conduct was objectively unreasonable, instead of having to prove that the jailers acted sadistically and maliciously,” said Green, a partner at Sidley Austin.

After being arrested and taken to pretrial detention, Kingsley claims officers tased him and used excessive force in handcuffing him, even though he did not resist. The question before the Court, as summarized by UCLA Law Professor Richard Re is “should something like the subjective requirement applicable in Eighth Amendment prison cases also apply in connection with pre-trial due process claims of excessive force? Or, instead, should objective unreasonableness—regardless of the officers’ subjective state of mind—be sufficient to create a due process violation?"

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, and Sotomayor. The Court adopted the objective standard proposed by Kingsley’s lawyers as governing due-process-based excessive-force claims brought by pretrial detainees in lieu of the subjective-intent standard suggested by the jail guards. Thus, going forward, a detainee plaintiff may prevail on his excessive-force claim by showing only that the guard's actions were unreasonable under a totality of the circumstances, much like the objective standard governing Fourth Amendment claims.

Clinic students assisted Schrup and Sidley Austin lawyers with the petition for rehearing in the Seventh Circuit, the petition for a writ of certiorari, and multiple merit briefs. Alumni Steve Art (JD ’09) and Sarah Grady (JD ’12) from Loevy & Loevy wrote an amicus brief for former corrections officers that was cited favorably in the Court’s opinion.

“We achieved this result only because of the excellent collaboration between our faculty, students, and alums,” said Schrup.