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11th Circuit upholds dismissal of excessive force claims against officers who fatally shot Black man 59 times

The federal appeals court ruled that Monteria Robinson can not assert a private right of action for money damages against task force officers for the death of her son.

ATLANTA (CN) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the dismissal of an excessive force claim for money damages brought by the mother of a 26-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by police officers.

The 11th Circuit ruled that Monteria Robinson can not assert an excessive force claim against officers under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In that case, the Supreme Court recognized a private right of action for damages against agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who violated the Fourth Amendment by performing a warrantless search of the plaintiff's home and arrested him without probable cause and by using unreasonable force.

But because Robinson's excessive force claim arises in a new context involving a U.S. Marshal Service joint task force of state and local officers, no Bivens remedy is available, the circuit judges concluded in their unanimous opinion on Tuesday.

"This case presents a new context because the Supreme Court has never recognized a cause of action for excessive force against officers operating as part of a USMS joint federal and state task force apprehending fugitives," U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor wrote.

Other than only three other cases, the Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to extend Bivens and has not recognized any other implied causes of action under the Constitution. It has warned that expanding the Bivens remedy is now a disfavored judicial activity because it impinges on “separation-of-powers principles.”

But while Robinson’s appeal was pending, the justices issued its Egbert v. Boule decision. The ruling found that any claim that isn't highly similar to the facts in Bivens and involves a different category of defendants provides a "new context" in which a damages claim can't proceed if there is any reason to think Congress might be better equipped to create a damages remedy.

"In addition, although Congress has more than once enacted legislation governing these fugitive-apprehension task forces, it has created no private right of action against task force members who commit constitutional violations," Pryor wrote.

"This congressional silence further counsels against creating a Bivens cause of action for money damages in this context," the Obama appointee added.

Robinson's claims were also dismissed due to the existence of alternative remedies and administrative processes to deter unconstitutional acts by task force officers, according to the ruling. The circuit judges said that Robinson could submit a grievance with the U.S. Marshall Service by filling out an online form or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.

They added that when such alternative remedies exist, no cause of action for damages is available even when the existing remedies do not provide complete relief.

Pryor wrote that recognizing a cause of action for money damages against a task force member could also impact cooperation among law enforcement agencies and the operation of such task forces.

"Allowing claims for damages against task force members could chill recruitment for the task forces, which could negatively affect their operations in apprehending fugitives at both the state and federal level," the judge wrote.

Last year, Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten dismissed Robinson's claims after holding that the officers were acting "under color of federal and not state law" because they were part of a federal task force and could not be sued for civil rights violations.

The 11th Circuit heard a previous appeal from Robinson in which it reversed the lower court's holding that the officers' use of force was not unreasonable under the circumstances.

Based on evidence from a cell phone video, the circuit judges found that officers Daniel Doyle and Eric Heinze were not entitled to qualified immunity on Robinson’s claim that they used excessive force when they continued to shoot her son after he was confirmed to be unconscious.

When the case returned to the lower court, a judge granted the officers' motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing based on Egbert that the excessive force claim against them was not “cognizable under Bivens.”

Pryor was joined on the three-judge circuit panel by Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee and Elizabeth Branch, a Trump appointee.

Nearly eight years ago, Robinson's son Jamarion was shot 59 times by officers while they were executing an arrest warrant issued by the Atlanta Police Department. When the task force of 16 officers from local law enforcement agencies forcibly entered Jamarion Robinson’s girlfriend’s apartment after receiving information that he was inside, he appeared at the top of the stairs and fired at least two rounds toward the officers.

He sustained 75 bullet wounds that either entered or exited his body according to a medical examiner’s report, while none of the officers were injured.

The warrant was issued after Jamarion allegedly pointed a gun and fired at officers who confronted him at a friend’s apartment complex after receiving concerns from his mother over her son’s whereabouts and mental state. His mother says she had informed police a month earlier that her son had poured gasoline on part of the floors in her home, and that he was hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia but had been unmedicated since his release at the beginning of the year.

Monteria Robinson has since started a foundation in her son's name with the intent to offer resources to families with mental health challenges and advocate for new police approaches to mental health concerns.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Law

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