White v Pauly was a case in which a police officer (White) arrived to a scene where two armed men began firing at the officers present. The arriving officer shot and killed one of the armed men without first issuing a warning.

The District Court denied qualified immunity to the officers, and a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit upheld the denial, stating that “a reasonable officer in White’s position would believe that a warning was required despite the threat of serious harm.”

The United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the lower courts and  issued an opinion criticizing the lower courts for their recent history of incorrectly analyzing qualified immunity. The published opinion states, “[qualified] immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” Furthermore, the opinion establishes that qualified immunity should only be denied when there is an earlier case with similar facts in which immunity was denied.

George Hills recommends that all of our public entity clients who provide police services familiarize themselves with the results of this case.

Note: All quotations are from the Supreme Court’s published opinion (found here) unless otherwise notated.