Howse v. Hodous: Qualified Immunity

Date Filed: 04/01/2020

House v. Hodous

Challenging Qualified Immunity

On July 28, 2016, Shase Howse was standing on his front porch attempting to unlock his door. He had not committed any crime. A man, who unbeknownst to Mr. Howse was a detective in the Cleveland Police Department, passed by in an unmarked car and repeatedly asked Mr. Howse if this was his house. Mr. Howse responded affirmatively. After he was asked a second time if this was his home, he relied “yes, what the f—?” The detective, Brian Middaugh, then commented that Howse had a “bad attitude,” exited his vehicle, and without any provocation from Mr. Howse, told him to put his hands above his head as he was under arrest. Mr. Howse repeatedly protested that he lived at the home, but Detective Middaugh threw him to the ground and then punched him twice in the neck. Mr. Howse remained non-violent throughout the encounter and never attempted to hit Detective Middaugh. Mr. Howse was arrested and charged with assault and battery of a police officer. Although the charges were eventually dismissed, Mr. Howse was forced to spend three days in jail. Mr. Howse filed suit against multiple defendants, including Detective Middaugh, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated.   

A federal district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. On April 1, 2020, LDF and co-counsel, attorney James Hardiman, filed a petition for rehearing en banc in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.   

The petition for re-hearing en banc argued that the Sixth Circuit panel was wrong to grant qualified immunity to Detective Middaugh. LDF argued that the Sixth Circuit did not address relevant evidence in their qualified immunity analysis, and that the panel’s decision conflicted with significant circuit precedent that clearly established that an officer cannot use more force than necessary to arrest a suspect who is not resisting arrest. Moreover, LDF stated that precedent makes clear that an officer cannot use a leg sweep or other takedown maneuver to subdue a nonviolent person. LDF further argued that the panel incorrectly required Mr. Howse to provide a case with nearly identical facts to prove that the violation of his rights was clearly established. Instead, the Supreme Court only requires that the law provides “fair warning,” to defendants that their conduct is unconstitutional. LDF further asserted that the panel improperly disposed of Mr. Howse’s malicious prosecution claim.  

The petition for certiorari reiterated many of the arguments made in the earlier petition,  asserting that the Supreme Court should hear Mr. Howse’s case because the Sixth Circuit’s holding deviated from Supreme Court precedent. Specifically, the Sixth Circuit failed to view the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Mr. Howse, and failed to recognize that general statements of law provide clear notice of Fourth Amendment violations in obvious cases. Additionally, LDF argued that the Court of Appeals’ holding on Mr. Howse’s malicious prosecution claim contravenes Supreme Court precedent and created a circuit split on an important federal law issue.