FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS Hon. William G. Young, U.S. District Judge
Ankers White, Special Assistant Attorney General, and Charles
W. Anderson Jr., Sentencing Counsel, Department of
Correction, on brief for appellants.
Valentine Underwood on brief pro se.
Torruella, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
plaintiff refused to exit a prison recreation cage to be
brought to a new cell, prison officials used oleoresin
capsicum ("pepper spray"), physical force, and
handcuffs to secure his compliance with the officials'
orders. Plaintiff subsequently brought this lawsuit under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the use of excessive force in
violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
prison officials eventually moved for summary judgment,
contending that, at the very least, they were entitled to
qualified immunity. See Gray v. Cummings, 917 F.3d
1, 10 (1st Cir. 2019) ("[G]overnment official[s] may
invoke the defense of qualified immunity when [their]
actions, though causing injury, did 'not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.'") (quoting
Conlogue v. Hamilton, 906 F.3d 150, 154 (1st Cir.
2018)). After the district court denied the motion, the
prison officials appealed.
record contains two versions of the relevant interaction
between plaintiff and prison officials as they attempted to
move him from the recreation cage. One version is the
plaintiff's description of what happened. The other
version is a videotape of the interaction taken by prison
officials. No one disputes the authenticity of the video
evidence. Nor is there any claim that it was doctored in any
way. The two versions conflict in several apparently crucial
respects. Under plainly controlling law, the district
court's job was to decide whether the video evidence
"blatantly contradicted" the plaintiff's
version of events, in which case the court's next job was
to determine if, viewing the facts in the light depicted by
the video evidence, the prison official violated
plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007) (quoting Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)); id. at 380-81
("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one
of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no
reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt
that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion
for summary judgment.").
district court conceded that the video evidence was
"compelling," but opted to reject the teaching of
Scott, explaining that it preferred the contrary
view expressed in both Justice Stevens's Scott
dissent, see id. at 395 (Stevens, J., dissenting)
(opining that the Court improperly "usurped the
jury's factfinding function"), and in what the
district court described as an "academic consensus"
favoring the dissent.
proceeding, the district court failed to fulfill its
obligation to follow the law as set forth in controlling
precedent. Id. at 380 (majority opinion);
Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203, 238 (1997) (noting
that the district courts are bound by Supreme Court decisions
"unless and until this Court reinterpreted the binding
precedent"). Because the denial of the qualified
immunity defense was predicated on this error of law, it is
appealable. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672
(2009) (holding that an order denying a dispositive motion
that "turned on an issue of law and rejected the defense
of qualified immunity" was a final decision for purposes
of 28 U.S.C. § 1291). We therefore vacate the district
court's denial of the motion for summary judgment, and
remand the case to another district court judge for
further proceedings consistent with the law. See United