Justices deal loss to Grand Rapids man who challenged officers' immunity

February 25 - WASHINGTON - The US Supreme Court on Thursday inflicted a loss on a Grand Rapids man who was sued by the government after being beaten in 2014 in which police believed he was a fugitive.
In a unanimous decision by Judge Clarence Thomas, the judges concluded that the District Court's order to dismiss James King's claims against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act precluded his separate constitutional claims for violating his rights by officials .
The High Court joined the government, whose attorneys argued that the law's "Judgment Bar" provision prohibits claims against government employees based on the "same subject matter" that was the subject of a final judgment under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
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Government attorneys had argued that a decision in King's favor would have allowed plaintiffs to bring a lawsuit against the United States for summary judgment to lose on the grounds that government officials did not do what They were accused, and then claims against the government of prosecuting same employees with the same allegations of fact.
King's attorney, Patrick Jaicomo, had argued that there was no risk of duplicate litigation if the claims were made in the same lawsuit as King.
Jaicomo on Thursday highlighted a footnote in Thomas' statement referring a related topic back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The issue here is whether the provision of the judgment applies to dismissing claims from the same lawsuit.
"While today's decision looks like a blow to constitutional accountability, the reality is that the Supreme Court has raised the central issue in this case for the federal appeals court to reconsider," said Jaicomo.
"It is asking the US 6th Court of Appeals to consider whether centuries of common law should apply or be abandoned when it comes to constitutional violations committed by federal police.
"If so, our client James King, the innocent student who was suffocated and beaten by officers in 2014, can convincingly argue why he deserves a day in court."
The lawsuit arose out of an incident in 2014 when King, then a 21-year-old student at Grand Valley State University, was walking down the sidewalk in Grand Rapids.
Two plainclothes officers with a joint federal task force asked him to step off the sidewalk and interviewed him for identification.
King said he thought he was being ambushed and tried to run, then struggled after one of the officers attacked him and urged passers-by to call the police to help him before one of the officers put him in a stranglehold stuck.
"I was suffocating until I passed out," King said in an interview last year. "When I woke up, I was still suffocating and I bit my biceps, which was suffocating me. Then he hit my head. It's hard and fast and as often as he could."
King fit a general description of the fugitive the officers were looking for who had a warrant for a house invasion - a young white man with glasses between 5 feet 10 and 6 feet 3 inches tall. However, her photo of the refugee was years old.
Prosecutors are prosecuting King for defying arrest and assaulting a police officer.
A jury acquitted him months later, but he sued the government and officials under both Michigan law and federal civil rights law. They alleged that they used excessive force and carried out an inadequate search and seizure.
The district court found that one element of a claim under the federal tort law is the plaintiff finding that a government employee is liable under state law; However, Michigan law provides qualified immunity to government employees who commit willful acts but act in subjective good faith.
Attorneys for the officers who hit King argued that they had reasonable suspicions that King might be their fugitive and were entitled to stop him for an investigation.
mburke@detroitnews.com
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