SCOTUSBlog: Atlanta lawyer’s case is a ‘Petition to watch’
3:28 pm, September 12th, 2013
Among the cases to watch when the U.S. Supreme Court resumes conferencing later this month is a civil rights lawsuit being fought by Atlanta lawyer Philip Savrin.
Savrin represents members of the West Memphis, Ark., police department sued over the death of Donald Rickard, who lost control of his vehicle after being shot by police officers following a high-speed chase. A federal district court judge in Tennessee denied officers’ bid for qualified immunity from excessive force claims, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the ruling in November.
The certiorari petition filed by Savrin, a lawyer at Freeman Mathis & Gary who says he became involved in the case after the Sixth Circuit ruled, is scheduled to be considered by the high court at its Sept. 30 conference. In what Savrin calls an unusual move, the high court requested the record of the case, which includes video of the chase. The case, Plumhoff v. Rickard, has been identified by SCOTUSblog as a “Petition to watch,” meaning the petition raises issues that SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein thinks have a reasonable chance of being deemed worthy of review by the high court.
Savrin won a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case, Scott v. Harris, for a Coweta County police officer sued over injuries suffered by the plaintiff during a high-speed chase. Video of the chase was key to Savrin’s victory there; the 8-1 majority opinion said the Eleventh Circuit panel that heard that case should not have relied on the plaintiff’s version of events because it was contradicted by a videotape.
In his cert petition for the West Memphis officers, Savrin criticizes the Sixth Circuit’s attempts to distinguish the Scott decision, with Savrin contending the only significant different between the two cases is that at the time police used force in Scott, the suspect was driving at a high rate of speed, whereas Rickard had turned his car around and was trying to speed away. Savrin argued that an officer still had to step out of the way to avoid being hit by Rickard’s car, and, by then, Rickard had shown he was “determined to elude capture at all costs.” Memphis lawyer Gary Smith, who represents Rickard’s minor child, argues in his response, filed at the high court’s request, that the most important difference between the two cases is that Scott involved an officer ramming a suspect’s vehicle, while Rickard’s case involved gunfire by police.