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Cerisier v. City of New York

Arguing that qualified immunity does not cover a police officer pulling a gun on a driver who posed no threat during a routine traffic stop.

Case Information: Cerisier v. City of New York, 2d Cir. 22-1756 (United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, brief filed November 23, 2022)

At Issue: A public schoolteacher sued for violations of his constitutional rights after a New York Police Department officer pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop. The officer stated—without any foundation—that the defendant, who is Black, could have been “committing a crime, murder, or anything like that.”  However, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding the officer was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not make verbal threats while his gun was drawn and pointed at the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed.

Our Brief: We ask the Court to reverse the lower court’s grant of summary judgment. The district court’s decision regarding the scope of qualified immunity has profound implications that stretch well beyond the harm the appellant suffered when he was threatened with a loaded gun during a routine traffic stop.

First, we argue that the qualified immunity doctrine’s balancing test incorporates the harm that police misconduct causes to the public interest. Next, we explain why brandishing a gun during a routine traffic stop without any threat or misconduct from the appellant was excessive force that any reasonable officer should have recognized as a constitutional violation. We further detail how police misconduct causes severe and substantial harm to the public interest by diminishing community trust in law enforcement and increasing gun violence. 

The district court’s conclusion is also inconsistent with precedent in other circuits, where courts have found on many occasions that brandishing a firearm is sufficient force to trigger a constitutional violation and overcome the qualified immunity bar.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.


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