Graham v. Connor et al.
Decided on May 15, 1989; 490 US 386


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Police's use of force

B. Legal Question Presented:

What constitutional standard governs a free citizen's claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of his person?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Petitioner Graham, a diabetic, asked his friend, Berry, to drive him to a convenience store to purchase orange juice to counteract the onset of an insulin reaction. Upon entering the store and seeing the number of people ahead of him, Graham hurried out and asked Berry to drive him to a friend's house instead. Respondent Connor, a city police officer, became suspicious after seeing Graham hastily enter and leave the store, followed Berry's car, and made an investigative stop, ordering the pair to wait while he found out what had happened in the store. Respondent backup police officers arrived on the scene, handcuffed Graham, and ignored or rebuffed attempts to explain and treat Graham's condition. During the encounter, Graham sustained multiple injuries. He was released when Connor learned that nothing had happened in the store.

Graham filed suit in the District Court. The District Court granted respondents' motion for a directed verdict at the close of Graham's evidence, applying a four-factor test for determining when excessive use of force gives rise to a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Court of Appeals affirmed."

On certiorari the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals judgment.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Fried, Assistant Attorney General Reynolds, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Clegg, David L. Shapiro, Brian J. Martin, and David K. Flynn; and for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven R. Shapiro.

H. Gerald Beaver argued the cause for petitioner. On the briefs was Richard B. Glazier.

Lacy H. Thornburg, Attorney General of North Carolina, Isaac T. Avery III, Special Deputy Attorney General, and Linda Anne Morris, Assistant Attorney General, filed a brief for the State of North Carolina as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Mark I. Levy argued the cause for respondents. On the brief was Frank B. Aycock III.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"All claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force - deadly or not - in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other 'seizure' of a free citizen are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's 'objective reasonableness' standard, rather than under a substantive due process standard.

(a) The notion that all excessive force claims brought under 1983 are governed by a single generic standard is rejected. Instead, courts must identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged application of force and then judge the claim by reference to the specific constitutional standard which governs that right.

(b) Claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other 'seizure' of a free citizen are most properly characterized as invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right 'to be secure in their... against unreasonable seizures,' and must be judged by reference to the Fourth Amendment's 'reasonableness' standard.

(c) The Fourth Amendment 'reasonableness' inquiry is whether the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation... The test applied by the courts below is incompatible with a proper Fourth Amendment analysis."

The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals judgment.

Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con
(Unanimous Decision for Petitioner/Appellant)

  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined concurring opinion)
  • Marshall,T. Pro (Joined concurring opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Court of Appeals'Judgment; the Supreme Court vacated in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.