One of the grayest areas of civil law is legal action under instances of authority misuse, or negligent action from law enforcement officers. While it is possible to take civil action against law enforcement, the law often protects agents of the state except for cases of extreme negligence or criminal wrongdoing on their part. When a person wishes to make claims against law enforcement there are often a few hurdles to clear before the case may begin. One particular case has highlighted this difficulty when a homeless man was denied the right to compensation after it was struck down in appeals by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
The Case for Christopher Maney
On an evening in 2010, Christopher Maney was the victim of an attack from a police dog. A police officer, Terrence Garrison, and his dog were in pursuit of a robbery suspect when the dog led him to an abandoned house. Maney, homeless at the time, was unrelated to the pursuit but when Garrison and the dog arrived at the abandoned house, Maney was attacked by the dog. Garrison realized that Maney was not the suspect, but allowed the dog to continue attacking Maney, and demanded that Maney shows his hands. Maney, however, was protecting himself against the dog attacking him. Garrison allowed the attack to continue for another ten seconds before finally ordering off the dog, and placing Maney in handcuffs.
Maney was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The dog had bit and torn away over two inches of flash on his head. In addition, deep bites on Maney’s arm and thigh led to serious bleeding, bruising and swelling, and even an arterial blood clot. After recovering, Maney opened a case against Garrison on the basis of his Fourth Amendment rights to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment classifies a dog bite as a seizure, and Maney’s case argued that he was bitten by the dog for an unreasonable amount of time.
Maney’s case was struck down in the 4th Circuit. According to the court’s ruling, Garrison had qualified immunity for his actions, because the precedents within the Fourth Amendment do not unambiguously prohibit an officer from prolonging a dog bite seizure until the suspect surrenders. Judges likened the attack to a “stop and frisk” action, which allows an officer to detain an individual on the basis of “reasonable suspicion.”
Qualified immunity does not only extend to police officers, at times other entities in the state can also be protected by this doctrine. When considering taking legal action against any state entity, this doctrine is one thing to be aware of. Another thing to keep in mind is that many times there is often a notice requirement for actions against the state or other government entity. This notice requirement can have a much shorter time frame than the statute of limitations so it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one has been injured, contact the legal professionals at Gilman & Bedigian today.