Ronald Joseph Mitchell, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Timothy Joseph Mitchell, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Justin Schlabach, Officer, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Michigan at Marquette. No. 2:15-cv-00016-Timothy
P. Greeley, Magistrate Judge.
G. Patel, FIEGER, FIEGER, KENNEY, & HARRINGTON, P.C.,
Southfield, Michigan, for Appellant.
Healy Zitterman, Susan D. MacGregor, KITCH DRUTCHAS WAGNER
VALITUTTI & SHERBROOK, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges
MERRITT, Circuit Judge.
Defendant-Appellee Justin Schlabach, an officer of the
Munising Police Department, shot and killed Timothy Mitchell
("Mitchell") following a lengthy and dangerous car
chase. The crucial facts at the scene of the shooting were
recorded on the officer's dashboard camera, and our
decision in this case turns in large measure on this
evidence. Plaintiff-Appellant Ronald Mitchell filed this
§ 1983 suit against Schlabach on behalf of
Mitchell's estate seeking damages for Schlabach's
alleged violation of Mitchell's right to be free from
excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. Schlabach moved
for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, and
the district court granted his motion. For the reasons
articulated below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district
this is an appeal from an award of summary judgment, we view
the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party-here, Mitchell's personal representative. Coble
v. City of White House, 634 F.3d 865, 868 (6th Cir.
2011). We also draw all reasonable inferences in his favor.
Id. However, we do not accept Plaintiff's facts
to the extent that they are "blatantly contradicted by
the record." Id. (quoting Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)) (internal quotation
marks omitted). There is no serious dispute about the facts
of this case because a camera on the officer's dashboard
captured most of the relevant event. What follows is an
account of the facts in the light most favorable to the
14, 2014, the 911 dispatch center in Alger County, Michigan
received a report that "Tim Mitchell" had assaulted
another individual named Kevin and that he was "headed
towards Christmas, " Michigan. The caller stated that
Mitchell had been drinking and was "swerving all over
the road." The dispatcher then contacted Schlabach-the
only officer on duty at the time-and notified him that
Mitchell was "pretty intoxicated" and had been
"involved in a verbal altercation."
identified Mitchell's car on a highway and followed it
into a parking lot. Mitchell brought his vehicle to a stop in
the parking lot, and Schlabach made a show of authority by
pulling his police cruiser up to the driver's side of
Mitchell's car. As soon as Schlabach came to a stop,
Mitchell sped back onto the highway in an effort to evade
arrest. Schlabach pursued Mitchell as he careened through
residential neighborhoods, around cars, and through stop
signs. Large portions of the chase involved Mitchell
traveling at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Inclement weather made the chase even more treacherous as it
was pouring rain throughout the entirety of the pursuit. At
one point, Mitchell "slammed on the brakes, " which
Schlabach interpreted as an attempt to either "ram
[him], or get [him] to break off th[e] pursuit."
Schlabach requested backup at several points, and the
dispatcher confirmed that at least two officers were en route
to provide assistance.
minutes into the car chase, Mitchell ran his car into a
roadside ditch in the middle of a national forest. Schlabach
parked his car 63.6 feet from Mitchell's car, where he
assessed the situation "to see what's [Mitchell]
doing next, where's he gonna go, does he have a weapon,
what's going on, is the vehicle in [sic] fire."
Mitchell exited the car, looked toward Schlabach's
vehicle, and then turned away while he pulled up his pants
and crouched toward the ground. Mitchell appeared to be
unarmed when he left his vehicle, and Schlabach did not
observe anything indicating that Mitchell had a weapon.
exited his vehicle into the pouring rain, drew his handgun,
and began slowly approaching Mitchell. Schlabach claims that
he gave loud, verbal commands as he approached Mitchell:
"Stop, get down, get down on the ground, get down on the
f-ing ground." In response, Mitchell turned around and
began walking toward Schlabach. Schlabach described Mitchell
as walking "aggressively"-that is, with
"[c]lenched fists, wide eyes, coming directly in my-
towards me, . . . refusing to listen to any of my direct
commands." And while the dash-cam video does not clearly
show Mitchell's facial expressions or whether his fists
were clenched, it leaves little room to doubt the hostility
of Mitchell's approach. Indeed, Mitchell headed straight
toward Schlabach with long, purposeful steps despite the fact
that Schlabach was pointing a gun directly at him. Mitchell
continued toward Schlabach even after Schlabach began backing
away in fear. Schlabach stated in a deposition that while
Mitchell was approaching him, "He told me I was gonna
have to f---ing shoot him, " which Schlabach took to
mean, "if I didn't shoot him, he was gonna kill me .
. . [w]ith his fists, with his feet, with my gun, with
anything he possibly could've gotten at the time."
took five hurried steps backward in an attempt to keep
distance between himself and Mitchell. After Mitchell had
pressed Schlabach all the way across the road and the gap
between the two had narrowed to "somewhere between 10
and 21 feet, " Schlabach fired a shot at Mitchell.
Mitchell hunched over slightly, but continued moving
purposefully toward Schlabach. Less than one second after
firing the first shot and after taking two more steps back,
Schlabach fired again. After the second shot, Mitchell
hunched over further and turned around. He staggered for
several steps back toward his vehicle before collapsing to
the ground. Schlabach then holstered his weapon and
handcuffed Mitchell. After running to turn off his siren,
Schlabach returned to see if Mitchell still had a pulse. An
autopsy later confirmed that Mitchell died from the two
gunshot wounds inflicted by Schlabach.
proceeding with our analysis, we note that the situation
escalated rapidly from the time Schlabach exited his car to
the time he shot Mitchell. While we needed two paragraphs to
describe what happened during the intervening time, it all
unfolded in less than twenty seconds. In such situations, we
are admonished to make an "allowance for the fact that
police officers are often forced to make split-second
judgments" when we review their actions for purposes of
qualified immunity. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386,
Mitchell, the personal representative of the decedent
Mitchell's estate, filed a complaint under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging that Schlabach violated Mitchell's
Fourth Amendment rights when he "unlawfully seized and
used unnecessary, unreasonable, excessive, and deadly force
against" Mitchell. Schlabach then filed a motion for
summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to qualified
immunity and that he did not violate Mitchell's civil
rights. The lower court granted Schlabach's motion,
finding that Schlabach was entitled to qualified immunity
both because the facts did not amount to a constitutional
violation and because any right that Schlabach might have
violated was not "clearly established" at the time
of the shooting.
argues on appeal that the district court committed two
reversible errors when it granted Schlabach's motion for
summary judgment: First, Plaintiff contends that the lower
court wrongly held that the allegations in his complaint did
not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Second,
Plaintiff argues that the lower court erred in holding that
the constitutional right in question was not "clearly
established" at the time of the shooting. Because we
agree with the district court's conclusions on both
issues, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
review an award of summary judgment on the basis of qualified
immunity de novo. Clay v. Emmi, 797 F.3d
364, 369 (6th Cir. 2015). As discussed above, we view the
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draw
all reasonable inferences in his favor. Coble, 634
F.3d at 868.
doctrine of qualified immunity protects "government
officials performing discretionary functions . . . from
liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known."
Miller v. Sanilac Cty., 606 F.3d 240, 247 (6th Cir.
2010) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982)). To determine if a defendant is entitled to
qualified immunity, we ask two questions: "First,
viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, has the plaintiff shown that a constitutional
violation has occurred? Second, was the right clearly
established at the time of the violation?" Id.
Government officials are protected by the doctrine of
qualified immunity unless the answer to both questions is
yes. See id.
Has Plaintiff Shown a ...