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Case Number: 20-5109
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on appeal from the Northern District of Oklahoma
Plaintiff's Attorney: Kevin D. Adams
Defendant's Attorney: Scott B. Wood
Description: This case arises from the fatal shooting of Logan Wayne Simpson by Jon Little, a
patrol officer for the City of Bixby, Oklahoma. Tiffany Simpson, Mr. Simpson’s mother
and personal representative of his estate, sued Officer Little in his individual capacity
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force in violation of Mr. Simpson’s Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. Officer Little moved for summary judgment on qualified
immunity grounds. The district court denied the motion. Officer Little appeals.
Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm. First, we lack
interlocutory appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s conclusion that a jury
could find a constitutional violation because Officer Little challenges the factual basis for
the court’s determination. Second, we also lack jurisdiction to consider some of Officer
Little’s arguments regarding clearly established law, and we find his remaining
arguments lack merit.
A. Factual History
“[W]hen reviewing the denial of a summary judgment motion asserting qualified
immunity, we lack jurisdiction to review the district court’s conclusions as to what facts
the plaintiffs may be able to prove at trial.” Fancher v. Barrientos, 723 F.3d 1191, 1194
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(10th Cir. 2013). We therefore quote from the district court’s opinion as to the facts
relevant to this appeal. See id.
At approximately 5:09 a.m. on July 22, 2018 the Bixby Police
Department received a 9-1-1 call from Tiffany Simpson. Ms.
Simpson asked the dispatcher to send an ambulance and the
police to her mobile home located at 16409 South 84th East
Avenue. When asked why, she stated someone had attacked
her son with an “axe or something.” Ms. Simpson also
mistakenly reported to the dispatcher that “[s]omeone just
stole my son’s car. Like, I don’t know who all is here and
what’s going on.” Ms. Simpson stated “It’s white. It’s a
Toyota something.” She confirmed “It’s an SUV.” Actually,
Ms. Simpson’s sixteen-year-old son, Logan Simpson
(Simpson), was driving the SUV.
That morning, defendant Little was working in his capacity as
a patrol officer for the City of Bixby. Little was several miles
away when he started westbound toward the Simpsons’ home.
When Little was about a mile from the Simpson home, a
white SUV passed Little driving eastbound. Little turned
around and began following the SUV. Before Little could
catch up, Simpson turned south onto South 92nd East
Avenue. Little continued to follow Simpson, activating his
overheard [sic] lights which activated his dash camera.
Simpson continued south until he reached 176th Street where
he had to turn right and head westbound. As Simpson made
the turn, Little “bleeped” his siren. Little, still following
Simpson, activated his siren and left it on. Little announced
over the radio “Yeah, they are running.” Simpson continued
westbound until he reached the end of the street.
The dash camera video shows Simpson’s SUV reach the end
of the street, drive in to the grass, execute a three-point turn,
and proceed back down the street in the opposite direction.
During that time, Little exits his patrol car, draws his gun
from its holster, and begins giving loud verbal commands for
Simpson to “get on the ground” and “show me your hands.”
Little again yells for Simpson to “Get out of the car and get
on the ground!” Simpson does not comply and continues
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Little then fired 10 rounds at Simpson over the course of
about 2.5 seconds. Though the dash camera video does not
show where Little was standing in relation to the SUV when
the shots were fired, none of the bullets struck the front of the
vehicle. Instead, the bullet defects begin near the middle of
the driver’s side window and continue along the side of the
SUV, and two shots struck the rear of the vehicle. Little
announced over the radio “210, shots fired, 210, shots fired.”
Little’s radio call sign was “210.”
Other Bixby officers responded and located the SUV a couple
of blocks away from where the shooting took place. Simpson
had driven off the road, across a yard, and into a vacant field.
Little and the other officers approached the SUV, removed
Simpson, and began first aid.
Simpson died later that day from two gunshot wounds. The
bullets which struck Logan Simpson in his left hip came
through the driver’s door of the SUV and traveled “Left to
right; Back to front; Downward.”
App., Vol. III at 687-89 (citations and footnotes omitted).
B. Procedural History
Ms. Simpson sued Officer Little in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
She alleged he used excessive force against Mr. Simpson in violation of the Fourth and
Officer Little moved for summary judgment. He argued he was entitled to
qualified immunity because his use of deadly force was (1) reasonable and therefore
constitutional and (2) did not violate clearly established law. The district court denied the
First, relying on the factors articulated in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
and Estate of Larsen ex rel. Sturdivan v. Murr, 511 F.3d 1255 (10th Cir. 2008), the court
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held that because “a reasonable jury could conclude Simpson posed no immediate threat
to Officer Little or others, the jury could also find that Officer Little’s use of deadly force
was objectively unreasonable and thereby violated Simpson’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
App., Vol. III at 697-98.
Second, the court determined that Ms. Simpson “satisfied her burden of showing
on summary judgment that Officer Little violated a clearly established constitutional
right” because our decision in Cordova v. Aragon, 569 F.3d 1183 (10th Cir. 2009), “put
officers on notice that using deadly force is unreasonable when a fleeing vehicle is not
bearing down upon the officer and the only threat is one posed by reckless driving.”
App., Vol. III at 700-01.
On appeal, Officer Little contends the district court’s inaccurate understanding of
the evidence led to erroneous conclusions that Officer Little (1) infringed Mr. Simpson’s
constitutional rights and (2) violated clearly established law. He also argues that the
district court committed legal errors on both elements of the qualified immunity analysis.
a. Qualified immunity
Under § 1983, a person acting under color of state law who “subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. When a § 1983 defendant raises a qualified immunity
defense, the plaintiff bears the burden of overcoming it. Sawyers v. Norton, 962 F.3d
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1270, 1282 (10th Cir. 2020). At summary judgment, the plaintiff must (1) raise a
genuine issue of material fact that the defendant violated a federal constitutional or
statutory right, and (2) show the right was clearly established at the time of the
defendant’s violative conduct. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Est. of
Jensen ex rel. Jensen v. Clyde, 989 F.3d 848, 854 (10th Cir. 2021).
b. Interlocutory appellate jurisdiction
We have appellate jurisdiction to review “all final decisions of the district courts
of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1291. “Orders denying summary judgment are
ordinarily not appealable final [decisions] for purposes of . . . § 1291.” Duda v. Elder,
7 F.4th 899, 909 (10th Cir. 2021) (quotations omitted) (alteration in original). But under
the collateral order doctrine, “final (and therefore appealable) decisions . . . include
decisions that are conclusive on the question decided, resolve important questions
separate from the merits, and are effectively unreviewable if not addressed through an
interlocutory appeal.” Sawyers, 962 F.3d at 1281 n.9 (quotations omitted).
The denial of qualified immunity to a public official is therefore “immediately
appealable under the collateral order doctrine to the extent it involves abstract issues of
law.” Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1198; see Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985);
Duda, 7 F.4th at 909. Abstract issues of law include whether the law was clearly
established at the time of the alleged violation. Lewis v. Tripp, 604 F.3d 1221, 1225
(10th Cir. 2010).
But we “lack jurisdiction at this stage to review a district court’s factual
conclusions, such as the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for a jury to decide,
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or that a plaintiff’s evidence is sufficient to support a particular factual inference.”
Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1199 (quotations omitted); see Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 307,
313 (1995). “[I]f a district court concludes that a reasonable jury could find certain
specified facts in favor of the plaintiff, the Supreme Court has indicated we usually must
take them as true—and do so even if our own de novo review of the record might suggest
otherwise as a matter of law.” Est. of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 409-10 (10th Cir.
2014) (quotations omitted).
In other words, “we must scrupulously avoid second-guessing the district court’s
determinations regarding whether [the appellee] has presented evidence sufficient to
survive summary judgment.” Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1199 (quotations omitted). “The
district court’s factual findings and reasonable assumptions comprise the universe of facts
upon which we base our legal review of whether defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity.” Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1242 (10th Cir. 2015) (quotations omitted).
We may, however, review the factual record de novo when (1) “the district court
at summary judgment fails to identify the particular charged conduct that it deemed
adequately supported by the record,” Lewis, 604 F.3d at 1225; (2) “the version of events
the district court holds a reasonable jury could credit is blatantly contradicted by the
record,” id. at 1225-26 (quotations omitted); see Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81
(2007); or (3) “the district court commits legal error en route to a factual determination,”
Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1232 (10th Cir. 2013).
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c. Summary judgment and standard of review
“Within this court’s limited jurisdiction, we review the district court’s denial of a
summary judgment motion asserting qualified immunity de novo.” Fancher, 723 F.3d at
1199. We apply “the same legal standard as the district court, . . . view[ing] the evidence
and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.” Schaffer v. Salt Lake City Corp., 814 F.3d 1151, 1155 (10th
Cir. 2016) (quotations omitted). “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
d. Fourth Amendment excessive force
To determine whether an officer used reasonable force under the Fourth
Amendment,1 we apply the three-part test from Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. at 396. See
Huff v. Reeves, 996 F.3d 1082, 1089 (10th Cir. 2021). Whether force was reasonable
turns on (1) “the severity of the crime at issue,” (2) “whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,” and (3) “whether [the suspect] is
actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Graham, 490 U.S. at
“The second Graham factor . . . is undoubtedly the most important and fact
intensive factor in determining the objective reasonableness of an officer’s use of force.”
1 The Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Fourth Amendment right to be free
from unreasonable searches and seizures against the states. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643,
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Pauly v. White, 874 F.3d 1197, 1216-17 (10th Cir. 2017) (citation and quotations
omitted). We rely on the four Estate of Larsen factors to assess the threat posed by the
suspect (the second Graham factor). Est. of Larsen, 511 F.3d at 1260. These factors are
“(1) whether the officers ordered the suspect to drop his weapon, and the suspect’s
compliance with police commands; (2) whether any hostile motions were made with the
weapon towards the officers; (3) the distance separating the officers and the suspect; and
(4) the manifest intentions of the suspect.” Id.
We apply the Graham factors “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the
scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” recognizing that “officers are often
forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and
rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Graham, 490 U.S at 396-97; see Vette v. K-9 Unit Deputy Sanders, 989 F.3d 1154, 1169
(10th Cir. 2021).
The district court denied Officer Little’s motion for summary judgment because
(1) issues of fact precluded finding that he did not violate Mr. Simpson’s constitutional
rights, and (2) Cordova v. Aragon, 569 F.3d 1183, clearly established the applicable law.
Mr. Simpson now asks us to revisit the district court’s factual determinations
undergirding both prongs of its qualified immunity analysis. On interlocutory review, we
lack jurisdiction to do so. See Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1199-1200. Exceptions that might
allow us to review the district court’s factual determinations do not apply because (1)
Officer Little has not shown that the record blatantly contradicts the district court’s
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factual analysis, and (2) the district did not commit legal error en route to making factual
determinations.2 Officer Little’s legal arguments implicitly invoking these exceptions are
unavailing. His jurisdictionally appropriate challenges to the district court’s analysis of
the second prong of qualified immunity also lack merit.
a. Constitutional violation
i. Officer Little’s factual challenges
Officer Little contends that his use of force did not violate Mr. Simpson’s
constitutional rights because a reasonable officer on the scene would have believed that
Mr. Simpson “posed a threat of harm to Defendant Little.” Aplt. Br. at 28. According to
Officer Little, the district court failed to recognize undisputed facts establishing the
reasonableness of his actions and improperly applied the Graham and Estate of Larsen
factors when analyzing the immediacy of the harm he faced.3 His arguments “depend
upon a challenge to the facts the district court concluded a reasonable jury could infer
based upon the evidence in the summary judgment record.” Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1199.
Officer Little asks us to disregard the district court’s factual determinations
regarding the second Graham factor—immediacy of the threat to the officer or others—
2 Officer Little makes no arguments touching on the third exception—that “the
district court at summary judgment fail[ed] to identify the particular charged conduct that
it deemed adequately supported by the record.” Lewis, 604 F.3d at 1225.
3 According to Officer Little, the district court “did not give any consideration to
the factors found in Larsen with regard to Defendant Little’s use of deadly force, instead
focusing its analysis entirely on the three non-exhaustive Graham factors.” Aplt. Br.
at 28. This is wrong. The district court explicitly addressed each of the four Estate of
Larsen factors. See App., Vol III at 693-97.
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and adopt his version of events. He contends that Mr. Simpson “had tried to run over
him,” and that Mr. Simpson “had several other paths of escape away from Defendant
Little, but . . . headed towards Defendant Little’s position in the street.” Aplt. Br. at 5.
Officer Little also asserts that when he began shooting, the “SUV [was] coming towards
him” and “the vehicle [was] well in front of [him] when he decided to fire, engaged his
trigger and began pulling his trigger.” Id. at 5, 20. As to each of these factual
contentions, the district court found a reasonable jury could infer facts to conclude
The district court determined that a reasonable jury could determine that “Simpson
posed no immediate threat to Officer Little or others.” App., Vol III at 698. It noted that
“the dash camera video does not show Officer Little in the path of the SUV at any point,”
and a photo of the scene “show[s] tire marks and path [of Mr. Simpson’s vehicle] in the
grass.” Id. at 694. From this evidence, the court said a reasonable jury could find that
Mr. Simpson “attempted to avoid hitting Little by veering off the right side of the road.”
Id. When discussing Officer Little’s location when he fired his weapon, the court pointed
to evidence regarding where and at what angle the bullets struck the vehicle, indicating
Officer Little was not directly in the SUV’s path but “was standing to the side and to the
rear of the SUV when he fired.” Id. at 695. It concluded a reasonable jury could find Mr.
Simpson “posed no immediate danger to Officer Little or others when Little fired the
fatal shots.” Id. at 697.
The district court further said a reasonable jury could find that because “Simpson
posed no immediate threat to Officer Little or others, the jury could also find that Officer
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Little’s use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable and thereby violated Simpson’s
Fourth Amendment rights.” Id. at 698. Officer Little seeks to relitigate the factual
inferences the court made en route to that conclusion. But on interlocutory appeal we
cannot “second-guess the district court’s determinations regarding whether [Ms.
Simpson] has presented evidence sufficient to survive summary judgment.” Fancher,
723 F.3d at 1199 (quotations omitted).
ii. Exceptions to prohibition on interlocutory factual review
The exceptions that might permit us to reassess a district court’s factual
determinations on interlocutory review do not apply. We may review the district court’s
factual determinations de novo (1) if the record blatantly contradicts them, Lewis, 604
F.3d at 1225-26; or (2) if “the district court commit[ted] legal error en route to a factual
determination,” Pahls, 718 F.3d at 1232. Under a liberal reading of Officer Little’s
briefing, he argues that these exceptions apply. We disagree.
1) Blatant contradiction
Rather than argue that the record blatantly contradicts the district court’s factual
determinations, Officer Little contends the district court erred by not recognizing
undisputed facts supporting the reasonableness of his conduct. But Officer Little does
not identify any such facts. Thus, even assuming he were attempting to invoke the first
exception, it clearly does not apply.
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2) Legal error to determine a fact
Officer Little also makes two arguments that could be read as suggesting that the
district court committed legal error en route to factual determinations. Both are
First, he asserts that the district court’s factfinding violated Graham’s objectivity
requirement by adopting Ms. Simpson’s version of the events. He claims the court
“adopted Plaintiff’s version of facts that Simpson was ‘attempting to drive around (not
into Little),’” Aplt. Br. at 18 (quoting App., Vol. III at 694), and that “Little was not in
the direct path of the SUV based on Plaintiff’s perception of the events,” id. at 19.4
Officer Little misconstrues the district court’s order. The court quoted language
from Ms. Simpson’s brief that Mr. Simpson was “attempting to drive around (not into
Little)” to summarize her argument, not to adopt it. See App., Vol. III at 694. But when
it came to evaluating (1) whether Mr. Simpson made any hostile motions and (2) Mr.
Simpson’s manifest intentions—the second and fourth Estate of Larson factors—the
court relied on video and photographic evidence in the record. Id.
As for Officer Little’s location relative to Mr. Simpson at the time of the shooting,
the court did not rely on Ms. Simpson’s version of events, as Officer Little contends.
Instead, the court gave a detailed account of the evidence regarding the location and
angle of bullet holes in the SUV and the trajectory of the bullets that struck Mr.
4 Ms. Simpson, the plaintiff, was not present during the incident, so there is no
evidence regarding her perception of the events.
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Simpson.5 It concluded that the evidence supported Ms. Simpson’s view that Officer
Little “was standing to the side and to the rear of the SUV when he fired.” Id. Although
Officer Little contends that “the evidence disprove[s] this theory . . . ,” Aplt. Br. at 19, he
does not explain why this is so. He has provided no reason to conclude that the district
court committed a legal error in analyzing the Graham factors.
Second, Officer Little contends the district court erred by relying on decisions
published after the incident. We disagree. He cites Plumhoff v. Rickard, 572 U.S. 765
(2014), which states, “[a]n official sued under § 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity
unless it is shown that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was
‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.” Id. at 778. Plumhoff could
plausibly be read as requiring that courts must consider only the law in existence at the
time of the defendant’s conduct when assessing the first prong of qualified immunity.
But this court has never adopted such a reading and has instead relied on “new” law when
assessing whether a defendant’s actions amounted to a constitutional violation. See, e.g.,
A.M. v. Holmes, 830 F.3d 1123, 1159 (10th Cir. 2016). The district court therefore did
not err in relying on Estate of Smart by Smart v. City of Wichita, 951 F.3d 1161 (10th Cir.
2020), and Reavis Estate of Coale v. Frost, 967 F.3d 978 (10th Cir. 2020) on the first
prong of qualified immunity.
5 For instance, the court noted that “all the bullets struck the side and rear of the
vehicle” and that the fatal shots struck Mr. Simpson “with a trajectory of back to front.”
App., Vol. III at 695.
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* * * *
On the issue of whether there was a constitutional violation, we lack jurisdiction to
review Officer Little’s challenges to the district court’s factual determinations regarding
the immediacy of the threat posed by Mr. Simpson.
b. Clearly established law
As to the clearly established law prong of qualified immunity, Officer Little again
challenges the factual findings of the district court, arguing that “[a]s a consequence of
the [c]ourt’s improper analysis of this case as to the reasonableness of Defendant Little’s
conduct based in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him, the [c]ourt’s
qualified immunity analysis under the second prong is erroneous as well.” Aplt. Br.
at 32. On interlocutory review, we may consider only the abstract legal issue of whether
the law was clearly established. See Est. of Valverde ex rel. Padilla v. Dodge, 967 F.3d
1049, 1058 (10th Cir. 2020). We therefore lack jurisdiction to review some of Officer
Little’s arguments because he disputes the district court’s factual determinations “rather
than raising a legal challenge to the denial of qualified immunity based on those facts.”
Duda, 7 F.4th at 916 (quotations omitted) (alterations in original). His other arguments,
which raise legal issues we can consider, lack merit.
i. Cordova v. Aragon
The district court determined that Cordova v. Aragon, 569 F.3d 1183, provided
clearly established law. Cordova involved a car chase during which a truck driver ran red
lights, drove straight at police, attempted to ram the defendant police officer’s car, and
drove the wrong way down the highway. 569 F.3d at 1186. Eventually, the defendant
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officer exited his vehicle and attempted to halt the truck using “stop sticks.” Id. at 1187.
The truck drew close, heading in the officer’s direction. Id. The officer, fearing he was
about to be run over, fired at the truck while trying to move out of the way. Id. Some
shots hit the side of the truck. One struck the driver in the back of the head, killing him.
In Cordova, we accepted the district court’s finding that the officer “was not in
immediate danger” at the time of the shooting. Id. Because the threat to the officer was
not “actual and imminent” when he pulled the trigger, we could not say that the
defendant’s use of force was reasonable. Id. at 1190. Instead, we held that a “substantial
but not imminent risk imposed on innocent bystanders and police by a motorist’s reckless
driving” did not justify a use of force “that is nearly certain to cause the motorist’s
death.” Id. at 1189.
ii. Officer Little’s factual challenges
We have jurisdiction to consider “whether the facts that the district court ruled a
reasonable jury could find, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show a
violation of clearly established law under [Cordova].” Duda, 7 F.4th at 916 (quotations
omitted). But some of Officer Little’s arguments dispute those facts. Because our
interlocutory jurisdiction “is premised on our accepting the facts we must assume to be
true at this stage of the proceedings,” id. (quotations omitted), we lack jurisdiction to
review several of Officer Little’s clearly-established-law arguments.
According to Officer Little, the facts in Cordova are distinguishable from those in
this case. He argues that in Cordova “it was undisputed there was no imminent threat of
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danger to the officers,” Aplt. Br. at 35, whereas here he “is challenging the [district
court’s] finding that Defendant Little was not in imminent danger,” id. at 36. As
discussed above, however, the district court determined that a reasonable jury could find
“that Little was not in immediate danger when he fired the two fatal shots as Simpson
passed by and drove away.” App., Vol. III at 695.
After trying to distinguish Cordova, Officer Little analogizes to several cases
including Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne, 847 F.3d 1203 (10th Cir. 2017), and Clark v.
Bowcutt, 675 F. App’x 799 (10th Cir. 2017) (unpublished), which, he contends, establish
that his conduct was reasonable. In both Carabajal and Clark, we determined that the
defendant officers’ use of force was reasonable because the officers were directly in front
of an approaching vehicle when they fired on the drivers. See Carabajal, 847 F.3d at
1206, 1209-10; Clark, 675 F. App’x at 800-01, 804. The facts in Carabajal and Clark
resemble Officer Little’s proffered version of the events here. But analogizing to these
cases, Officer Little implicitly disputes the district court’s factual conclusion that a
reasonable jury could find “Little was not in the direct path of the SUV.” App., Vol. III
at 694. “Rather than accept these facts,” Officer Little’s “clearly-established-law
argument implicitly disputes them.” Duda, 7 F.4th at 916.
Officer Little’s attempts to distinguish Cordova dispute “facts we must assume to
be true at this stage of the proceedings.” Fancher, 723 F.3d at 1200. We lack
jurisdiction to consider Officer Little’s clearly-established-law arguments that are “an
intertwining of disputed issues of fact and cherry-picked inferences, on the one hand,
with principles of law, on the other hand.” Duda, 7 F.4th at 916 (quotations omitted).
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iii. Officer Little’s jurisdictionally appropriate challenges
Officer Little makes three jurisdictionally appropriate challenges to the district
court’s analysis of the clearly-established-law prong of qualified immunity. All are
First, Officer Little contends the district court should have granted summary
judgment in his favor because Ms. Simpson did not sufficiently brief the second qualified
immunity prong before the district court. In making this argument, Officer Little
mischaracterizes the record, stating that “[t]he only citation [in Ms. Simpson’s summary
judgment brief] with regard to established law is a discussion of Tennessee v. Garner and
a single sentence from Reavis.” Aplt. Br. at 34-35. In fact, Ms. Simpson’s summary
judgment brief explicitly noted that Reavis relied on Cordova and quoted relevant
language from Reavis in several instances. See App., Vol. I. at 163.
In opposition to summary judgment, Ms. Simpson presented a satisfactory
argument as to why Garner and Cordova clearly established that Officer Little’s use of
force was unreasonable. Although Reavis came after the shooting here, it recognized the
law was clearly established before the shooting. Reavis, 967 F.3d at 995; see also Soza v.
Demsich, --- F.4th ---- (10th Cir. 2021), 2021 WL 4203054, at *3 n.3 (“This court has
recognized that a case decided after the incident underlying a § 1983 action can state
clearly established law when that case ruled that the relevant law was clearly established
as of an earlier date preceding the events in the later § 1983 action.” (citing McCowan v.
Morales, 945 F.3d 1276, 1287, 1289 (10th Cir. 2019)). We therefore reject Officer
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Second, Officer Little contends the district court “erred by relying on the
generalized holding in Tennessee v. Garner, as clearly established law in denying
Defendant Little qualified immunity.” Aplt. Br. at 34. This argument misunderstands the
district court’s opinion. The court summarized Garner’s holding that “where the suspect
poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from
failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so.” App., Vol. III
at 698 (quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11 (1985)). But it then relied on
Cordova, a factually analogous case applying Garner, to rule that the law was clearly
established. See id. at 699-700.
Third, to the extent Officer Little makes a jurisdictionally appropriate argument in
attempting to distinguish Cordova without challenging the district court’s factual
determinations, he does so in a single, conclusory sentence. He asserts that Cordova is
distinguishable because it “involved a high speed chase that lasted sixteen minutes and
covered about eight miles of highways, which the suspect was traveling at approximately
40 miles an hour, and the chase had never concluded when officers shot the individual.”
Aplt. Br. at 36.
Despite these minor factual differences, Cordova clearly established the law here.
“A clearly established right is one that is sufficiently clear that every reasonable official
would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Mullenix v. Luna, 577
U.S. 7, 11 (2015) (per curiam) (quotations omitted). “A Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit
decision on point or the weight of authority from other courts can clearly establish a
right,” Halley v. Huckaby, 902 F.3d 1136, 1144 (10th Cir. 2018), but a case directly on
Appellate Case: 20-5109 Document: 010110595746 Date Filed: 10/26/2021 Page: 19
point is not required so long as “existing precedent [has] placed the statutory or
constitutional question beyond debate,” White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 551 (2017)
(per curiam) (quotations omitted); see York v. City of Las Cruces, 523 F.3d 1205, 1212
(10th Cir. 2008) (explaining that clearly established law “does not mean that there must
be a published case involving identical facts; otherwise we would be required to find
qualified immunity wherever we have a new fact pattern” (quotations omitted)); Weigel
v. Broad, 544 F.3d 1143, 1154 (10th Cir. 2008) (“We do not think it requires a court
decision with identical facts to establish clearly that it is unreasonable to use deadly force
when the force is totally unnecessary to restrain a suspect or to protect officers, the
public, or the suspect himself.”).
Though the facts in Cordova and this case are not identical, the relevant question
is whether Cordova provided “fair warning” to a reasonable officer in Officer Little’s
position that his actions violated the Fourth Amendment. See Janny v. Gamez, 8 F.4th
883, 913 (10th Cir. 2021). It did. Cordova clearly established that officers may not use
lethal force against a driver who does not pose an immediate threat to officers or third
parties. See Cordova, 569 F.3d at 1190. And as the district court determined, a
reasonable jury could find that Mr. Simpson “posed no immediate threat to Officer Little
or others.” App., Vol. III at 698. In the wake of Cordova, Officer Little was therefore on
notice that such conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Differences in the speeds at
which the driver in Cordova and Mr. Simpson were traveling or the durations of the car
chases do not alter this conclusion—“a prior case need not be exactly parallel to the
conduct here for the officials to have been on notice of clearly established law.”
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Est. of Smart, 951 F.3d at 1168 (quotations omitted); see Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730,
* * * *
We lack jurisdiction to consider some of Officer Little’s arguments regarding
clearly established law. We reject the others. We therefore affirm the district court’s
ruling on the second prong of qualified immunity.
Outcome: III. CONCLUSION
We lack jurisdiction to consider (1) Officer Little’s arguments as to whether he
committed a constitutional violation and (2) some of his arguments as to whether he
violated clearly established law. To the extent he has presented proper arguments on
clearly established law, we reject them and affirm the district court’s judgment.
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