San Francisco v. Sheehan, 575 U. S. ____ (2015)

Issues: , ,



United States Supreme Court
135 S.Ct. 1765 (2015)


No. 13-1412
Argued: March 23, 2015????Decided: May 18, 2015


Respondent Sheehan lived in a group home for individuals with mental illness. After Sheehan began acting erratically and threatened to kill her social worker, the City and County of San Francisco (San Francisco) dispatched police officers Reynolds and Holder to help escort Sheehan to a facility for temporary evaluation and treatment. When the officers first entered Sheehan’s room, she grabbed a knife and threatened to kill them. They retreated and closed the door. Concerned about what Sheehan might do behind the closed door, and without considering if they could accommodate her disability, the officers reentered her room. Sheehan, knife in hand, again confronted them. After pepper spray proved ineffective, the officers shot Sheehan multiple times. Sheehan later sued petitioner San Francisco for, among other things, violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) by arresting her without accommodating her disability. See 42 U.?S.?C. ?12132. She also sued petitioners Reynolds and Holder in their personal capacities under 42 U.?S.?C. ?1983, claiming that they violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The District Court granted summary judgment because it concluded that officers making an arrest are not required to determine whether their actions would comply with the ADA before protecting themselves and others, and also that Reynolds and Holder did not violate the Constitution. Vacating in part, the Ninth Circuit held that the ADA applied and that a jury must decide whether San Francisco should have accommodated Sheehan. The court also held that Reynolds and Holder are not entitled to qualified immunity because it is clearly established that, absent an objective need for immediate entry, officers cannot forcibly enter the home of an armed, mentally ill person who has been acting irrationally and has threatened anyone who enters.


1.?The question whether ?12132 “requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody,” Pet. for Cert. i, is dismissed as improvidently granted. Certiorari was granted on the understanding that San Francisco would argue that Title II of the ADA does not apply when an officer faces an armed and dangerous individual. Instead, San Francisco merely argues that Sheehan was not “qualified” for an accommodation, ?12132, because she “pose[d] a direct threat to the health or safety of others,” which threat could not “be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services,” 28 CFR ??35.139(a), 35.104. This argument was not passed on by the court below. The decision to dismiss this question as improvidently granted, moreover, is reinforced by the parties’ failure to address the related question whether a public entity can be vicariously liable for damages under Title II for an arrest made by its police officers. Pp.?7-10.

2.?Reynolds and Holder are entitled to qualified immunity from liability for the injuries suffered by Sheehan. Public officials are immune from suit under 42 U.?S.?C. ?1983 unless they have “violated a statutory or constitutional right that was ‘?”?’clearly established’?”?’ at the time of the challenged conduct,” Plumhoff v. Rickard, 572 U.?S. ___, ___, an exacting standard that “gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.?S. ___, ___. The officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they opened Sheehan’s door the first time, and there is no doubt that they could have opened her door the second time without violating her rights had Sheehan not been disabled. Their use of force was also reasonable. The only question therefore is whether they violated the Fourth Amendment when they decided to reopen Sheehan’s door rather than attempt to accommodate her disability. Because any such Fourth Amendment right, even assuming it exists, was not clearly established, Reynolds and Holder are entitled to qualified immunity. Likewise, an alleged failure on the part of the officers to follow their training does not itself negate qualified immunity where it would otherwise be warranted. Pp.?10-17.

Certiorari dismissed in part; 743 F.?3d 1211, reversed in part and remanded.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.?J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which KAGAN, J., joined. BREYER, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.