The US Supreme Court of granted certiorari Monday in Brownback v. Douglas, a case concerning excessive force by police.
James King was stopped by two undercover officers from a federal-state joint task force in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014. The officers, one an FBI agent and one a local police officer, attempted to arrest King, whom they had mistaken for a fugitive. King resisted arrest and was then punched by the officers.
After assault charges were dropped against King, he brought charges against the officers, as well as the federal government. The claims against the officers were brought under 42 USC § 1983 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents (1971), and the claims against the government were brought under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA).
The federal government argued that when the district court dismissed the FTCA claim it prompted a “judgment bar.” However, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that because the FTCA claim was dismissed for failure to state a claim, the lower court had not decided the case on the merits. Thus, the “judgment bar” did not prevent King from bringing separate claims against the officers. The Sixth Circuit held that King could not bring a § 1983 claim against the officers because it applied to state officials, and the task-force was overseen by the FBI, leaving him only with a Bivens claim.
Under Bivens, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the officers had not violated King’s constitutional rights. The Supreme Court will only decide the case only on the Bivens claim.