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Wood v. Moss

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: May 27, 2014
Case #: 13-115
Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-115_gdil.pdf

Qualified Immunity: There is no "clearly established" law that ensures that groups with different viewpoints are positioned similarly when presidential safety is at issue.

Prior to a presidential visit, Respondents organized a demonstration to show their opposition to presidential policies. Their demonstration being precleared by local law enforcement, Respondents gathered alongside the motorcade route. They were mirrored by pro-presidential demonstrators across the street. When the President spontaneously stopped for dinner, Respondents moved their demonstration down the block to a location within eyesight of the outdoor patio where the President was dining. The pro-presidential demonstrators stayed in position; a two-story building blocked their view of the patio.  Petitioners, secret service agents charged with the President's safety, ordered local law enforcement to move Respondents out of weapons range of the patio. They did so. When the President departed, only the pro-presidential demonstrators were visible to the motorcade.

Respondents sued for damages claiming that Petitioners violated the First Amendment by engaging in viewpoint discrimination. Petitioners moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil liability unless the official violates a "clearly established" statutory or constitutional right. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss, stating that the prohibition against viewpoint discrimination is "clearly established." The Ninth Circuit agreed.

The Court today reverses. There is no previous decision that would put Petitioners on notice that they must ensure that groups with different viewpoints are situated similarly when engaging in crowd control. Petitioners are entitled to qualified immunity.