Release Date:  June 18, 2019
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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On Monday, June 17, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, en banc, reversed an order of the District Court and ordered Dorian Johnson’s suit against Officer Darren Wilson, the City of Ferguson, and the former Chief of Police dismissed. Johnson was the companion of Michael Brown in the notorious 2014 incident when Officer Wilson shot and killed Brown in self defense. Johnson was with Brown following an earlier convenience store robbery on August 9, when he and Brown were ordered out of the middle of the street by Wilson. Johnson later claimed that Brown had his hands up at the time of the shooting. Riots ensued. A subsequent investigation by the U. S. Department of Justice found that Johnson’s story was false and that Brown had attacked Officer Wilson. In spite of this, Johnson sued.

In Johnson v. City of Ferguson, Johnson claimed that when Officer Wilson stopped him and Brown in the middle of the street and ordered them to the sidewalk, he had unlawfully seized Johnson in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Both Officer Wilson and the City of Ferguson asked the Federal District Court to dismiss the suit, but the court denied their motions. They appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals where a divided panel also refused to dismiss the case.

The Eighth Circuit later agreed to reconsider the panel’s denial en banc, meaning the entire court would review the case. The National Police Association asked CJLF to submit an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on their behalf, encouraging the Eighth Circuit to dismiss Johnson’s lawsuit.

In the brief, Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger argued that, even assuming Johnson’s allegations of the facts, he was not seized by Officer Wilson when he and Brown were told to leave the street and go to the sidewalk. Officer Wilson was acting in the scope of his duties in ordering Johnson and Brown to stop walking down the middle of the street, which is against the law. Officer Wilson’s order did not prevent either man from continuing on the sidewalk. By Johnson’s own admission, he was not ordered to stop and was not prevented from leaving, which he did when he ran. The Foundation cited its 1991 U. S. Supreme Court victory in California v. Hodari D. as support.

The appeals court agreed, deciding that Johnson was never seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, citing the holding in Hodari D. Johnson was simply ordered to stop walking down the middle of the street, which is illegal, and move to the sidewalk where pedestrians are supposed to walk.

“A ruling upholding Johnson’s lawsuit would have invited similar suits against police officers across the country for doing nothing more than basic law enforcement,” said Scheidegger.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.