Armstrong v. Hutcheson, et al
|September 13, 2023
|Amicus Brief Writers
|Narendra Ghosh S. Luke Largess Carlos E. Mahoney
|4th Circuit Court of Appeals
|Rehearing denied Oct. 11, 2023
Plaintiff sued law enforcement officials for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff’s ex-wife came to his home (where she did not live) and represented to law enforcement that she still lived there and had resumed her relationship with Plaintiff. Based upon this false information, law enforcement officials escorted the ex-wife into the house, conducting a warrantless search and temporarily seizing Plaintiff’s person.
The trial court granted summary judgment, holding that the officers’ actions were objectively reasonable. Plaintiff appealed, and the Fourth Circuit (Quattlebaum, J.) affirmed 2-1, with Judge Diaz dissenting. In affirming summary judgment, the court held that the question of the objective reasonableness of an officer’s actions is a purely legal question that should never be decided by a jury.
On short notice, NCAJ and the National Police Accountability Project jointly filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiff’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc. The brief argues that the court’s decision that objective reasonableness is not for the jury is directly in contradiction to prior 4th Circuit precedent, and that other circuits that have addressed the issue have agreed. In fact, many have pattern jury instructions specific to the issue. Furthermore, the authorities cited by the majority, including precedent of the Supreme Court of the United States, do not stand for the proposition that reasonableness is never a jury question. Finally, because both the majority and the dissent agreed that there were no issues of material fact to be determined, the court’s statements with regard to reasonableness not being a jury question were wholly unnecessary to the determination of the case. If there was no factual issue, there was no reason to have a jury trial and therefore no reason to address this issue to decide the case. Thus, that portion of the decision was wholly advisory. Nonetheless, the 4th Circuit denied rehearing.