Holding: An officer claimed that he reached for his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his firearm. The officer’s motion for summary judgment was denied on appeal as he challenged a factual issue.
for the Fourth Circuit
Frederick P. Henry,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
Defendant - Appellant.
from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at
Williams, Gregory, and Shedd, Circuit Judges.
Somerset County Deputy Sheriff Robert Purnell appeals the district court’s order denying his motion for summary judgment in Frederick P. Henry’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000) suit alleging excessive force during an arrest. Purnell asserted in his motion that he was entitled to qualified immunity. On appeal, Henry alleges that this court lacks jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal. We agree.
In his complaint, Henry asserted that Purnell, mistakenly believing Henry was fleeing from an arrest, shot Henry in the elbow. Purnell’s motion for summary judgment included Purnell’s affidavit, which alleged that when Henry ran away as Purnell was attempting to arrest him, Purnell “reached for [his] Taser. “ As he ran after Henry, Purnell “believed that [he] had unholstered [his] Taser and was holding it in [his] hand.” When he fired and heard the sound of a gunshot, Purnell realized he had grabbed the wrong weapon. Purnell argued that, because he reasonably (but mistakenly) believed that he was acting in accordance with constitutional mandates, he was entitled to qualified immunity. In response, Henry challenged Purnell’s allegations by noting that (1) there is a marked difference between the two weapons carried by Purnell, and (2) Purnell took approximately sixty seconds after shooting Henry to claim that the shooting was accidental.
The district court denied Purnell’s motion. Although the court determined that an accidental shooting would not give rise to a constitutional claim, the court noted that “Mr. Purnell’s assertions, both now and contemporaneously at the time of the incident, that he had drawn the wrong weapon do not establish that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. These assertions necessarily depend upon his credibility and therefore give rise to a genuine dispute of material fact.”
While interlocutory orders ordinarily are
not appealable, orders rejecting a defendant’s claim
of qualified immunity are, provided the denial rests on a purely legal
determination that the facts establish a violation of clearly established law.
Johnson v. Jones, 515
On appeal, Purnell argues that the record does not support the district court’s conclusion that a factual dispute exists regarding his intent, and that he is therefore entitled to qualified immunity.* Purnell’s argument, however, is not a legal one, but instead challenges the district court’s factual findings. We therefore lack jurisdiction over and dismiss the appeal. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the court and argument would not aid the decisional process.
* Purnell also argues that the district court did not find that such a factual dispute existed. We reject this argument. The district court found that Purnell’s “assertions [that he inadvertently drew his gun] necessarily depend upon his credibility and therefore give rise to a genuine dispute of material fact.”