Bill Helfand, Norman Giles Win Supreme Court Reversal

Lewis Brisbois Partners William S. Helfand and Norman R. Giles recently convinced the Supreme Court of the United States to grant a petition for a writ of certiorari and overturn a Fifth Circuit opinion in a suit alleging excessive police force.

Seventeen-year-old Ryan Cole and his parents sued three police officers after he engaged in an armed encounter with the police. Cole was hit twice by the officers during the incident, and Cole's gun — which he had pointed at his own head — discharged and hit his head. 

The family claimed that Officers Michael Hunter and Martin Cassidy violated Cole's Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to excessive force while Hunter, Cassidy, and Officer Carl Carson were accused of lying and concealing evidence in order to get Cole falsely charged with assault.

Carson filed a motion to dismiss while Hunter and Cassidy sought summary judgment, with all three officers asserting the absolute and qualified immunity defenses, which protect government officials from lawsuits so long as they are acting within the scope of their duties. The district court denied the motions, finding that the officers’ immunity couldn't be determined at that stage of the litigation.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit dismissed Hunter and Cassidy's appeal for lack of jurisdiction and affirmed the denial of Carson's motion to dismiss the due process claim based on alleged fabricated evidence but reversed the denial as to the Fourth Amendment and the so-called Brady violations regarding the suppression of evidence favorable to an accused.

In a one-sentence, per curium order, the Supreme Court vacated the Fifth Circuit's opinion and remanded the case in light of Mullenix v. Luna, a 2015 Supreme Court opinion holding that a police officer who shot a suspect during a police pursuit was entitled to qualified immunity. Helfand and Giles successfully participated in Mullenix as amici counsel before the Supreme Court in support of the state of Texas.

Cole's case now returns to the Fifth Circuit for further consideration.

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