Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial Of Summary Judgment On Qualified Immunity Claim

In a March 27,2007 opinion, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of a motion for summary judgment brought by City of Fort Wayne police officers based on qualified immunity. The court noted that "Governmental actors performing discretionary functions are entitled to qualified immunity and are 'shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known," citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The court noted that "typically, cases in which we have affirmed the grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds to police officers involve arrests in which a witness, most commonly the putative victim, provides sufficient support to justify the officer's decision." The court noted that "in the present case, there are no witnesses offering testimony to support the officers' version of the Washingtons' arrests. Both Clara Washington and Leon Washington deny any physical altercation which would qualify as domestic battery under Indiana law, and they claim that they told the officers they were simply play-fighting." The court also stated that "however implausible the Washingtons' account might seem, it is not our place to decide who is telling the truth. Where the parties present two vastly different stories - as they do here - it is almost certain that there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute."