8th Circuit Rules Double Amputee's Rights Were Violated

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Police officers may not enjoy qualified immunity protection following the Eighth Circuit's reversal of a lower court's dismissal of a 2012 case. In a 2-1 decision, the controversy has been remanded back to the lower federal district court.

The plaintiff in this case was a double amputee who sustained physical injuries and also claimed his encounter with the police injured him mentally.

The Incident

The plaintiff is Leroy Duffie who, one late September evening in 2011, was pulled over in his late 90s Astro van as he traveled southbound on a Nebraska highway. The police officers pulled Duffie over because they were looking for a man who'd reportedly brandished a handgun while sitting in a van that matched Duffie's.

Police ordered Duffie out of his vehicle at gunpoint. Duffie fell out of his vehicle and one of his prosthesis fell off, causing him to chip his teeth and tear one of his rotator cuffs. Duffie sued for damages and claimed his constitutional rights were violated.

District Dismissal

The lower federal court dismissed the case against the police officers, ruling that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity protections because the facts were not clear that they intended to harm Duffie and that any mistakes were made in good faith.

But the appellate court heard Duffie's theory that a right was violated on search and seizure grounds. The search of the van was improper for a variety of reasons: First, the description of the young man who brandished the weapon did not match the description of Leroy Duffie. Secondly, the mere report of someone carrying a handgun does not by itself create reasonable suspicion to search a person or a vehicle because Nebraska observes open-carry laws.

Ordering a man out of his vehicle at gunpoint under these facts, the court said, was a clear violation of constitutional rights -- the stake through qualified immunity's heart.

Duffie demands $600,000 in damages.

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