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In § 1983 civil rights case involving plaintiff who was shot by third party while allegedly being forced to assist law enforcement under threat, Eleventh Circuit rules that alleged threats did not rise to the level of constitutional violations

In King v. Pridmore, No. 18-14245, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, affirmed a summary judgment entered by the district court for the defendant law enforcement officers in a § 1983 case brought by a plaintiff who claimed that he was forced against his will to assist and accompany the police in the apprehension of an armed suspect, resulting in the plaintiff being shot by the suspect five times. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the officers’ alleged threat to the plaintiff that if he did not cooperate in finding the armed suspect they would “throw some charges on him” and that “you gonna start f**king us over, we’ll f**k you over,” did not rise to the level of a 13th or 14 Amendment violation that would disqualify the officers for qualified immunity. The Court also concluded that even assuming there was a constitutional violation, the right that was violated was not “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. The Court observed that for a right to be clearly established, the contours of the right must be so clear that a reasonable official judged by an objective standard would know that he was violating that right. See Corbitt v. Vickers, 929 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th Cir. 2019). The Court quoted from its previous decision in Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2012) to explain the three ways in which whether a right was clearly established can be ascertained: “First, the plaintiffs may show that a materially similar case has already been decided. Second, the plaintiffs can point to a broader, clearly established principle that should control the novel facts of the situation. Finally, the conduct involved in the case may so obviously violate the constitution that prior case law is unnecessary. Under controlling law, the plaintiffs must carry their burden by looking to the law as interpreted at the time by the United States Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or the [relevant State Supreme Court.” After concluding that the first two exceptions did not apply, the Eleventh Circuit stated: “It cannot be maintained that all objectively reasonable officers in their position would have known—with obvious clarity— that what they said, in context, would necessarily be understood as a threat of false criminal charges and physical violence in violation of the Constitution. While King may have subjectively interpreted the officers’ words to that effect, that is categorically not the standard that we must apply.”