The case is Salazar-Limon v. Houston, issued on April 24. In this case, a Houston police officer shot the plaintiff in the back. While the plaintiff claimed the officer shot him as he tried to walk away from a confrontation with the officer, in contrast, the officer said the plaintiff turned toward him and reached for his waistband, as if for a gun, before the officer fired a shot. The lower courts said the officer is entitled to qualified immunity, dismissing the suit. Justice Sotomayor says the lower courts had actually resolved disputed factual issues in favor of the officer, contrary to the rules governing summary judgment. She says the parties' accounts "flatly contradict each other," necessitating a trial.
The Supreme Court did not vote to take this case, exercising its discretion in denying certiorari. But this case did not escape Justice Sotomayor's notice, who dissents from the certiorari denial by laying out the disputed facts and reminding the Court about the rules governing summary judgment that require a trial when the facts are disputed. She writes:
Only Thompson and Salazar-Limon know what happened on that overpass on October 29, 2010. It is possible that Salazar-Limon did something that Thompson reasonably found threatening; it is also possible that Thompson shot an unarmed man in the back without justification. What is clear is that our legal system does not entrust the resolution of this dispute to a judge faced with competing affidavits. The evenhanded administration of justice does not permit such a shortcut.
Our failure to correct the error made by the courts below leaves in place a judgment that accepts the word of one party over the word of another. It also continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this Court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases. The erroneous grant of summary judgment in qualified-immunity cases imposes no less harm on “‘society as a whole,’" than does the erroneous denial of summary judgment in such cases.Justices Thomas and Alito write in support of the Court's decision not to take the case, stating that "whether or not one agrees with the grant of summary judgment in favor of Officer Thompson, it is clear that the lower courts acted responsibly and attempted faithfully to apply the correct legal rule to what is at best a marginal set of facts" They add that "this Court applies uniform standards in determining whether to grant review in cases involving allegations that a law enforcement officer engaged in unconstitutional conduct." In the end, these Justices write: "regardless of whether the petitioner is an officer or an alleged victim of police misconduct, we rarely grant review where the thrust of the claim is that a lower court simply erred in applying a settled rule of law to the facts of a particular case. The case before us falls squarely in that category."