from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:16-cv-13081-Sean F.
Cox, District Judge.
C. Clark, GIARMARCO, MULLINS & HORTON, PC, Troy,
Michigan, for Appellants.
M. Loeb, Farmington Hills, Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: MERRITT, THAPAR, and READLER, Circuit Judges.
READLER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
qualified immunity doctrine serves to shield public
officials-oftentimes, police officers-from liability and
harassment for reasonable acts undertaken in the line of
duty. As the doctrine affords a public official immunity from
the costs of litigation, federal courts have an obligation to
weigh the issue as early as practicable, and certainly no
later than summary judgment. By the same token, where the law
is settled and the record is murky as to whether an official
has acted reasonably when judged against that settled legal
standard, the claims are often left for resolution at trial.
appears to be such a case. In the proceedings below, three
City of Taylor (Michigan) police officers were accused by
Plaintiff Nicholas Coffey of violating his constitutional
rights while arresting him for attempted larceny. The
officers believe they are entitled to qualified immunity
regarding the events surrounding the arrest. In a
well-reasoned opinion, the district court found that material
questions of fact permeated the case, and therefore denied
summary judgment to the officers. Following an independent
review of the record, we AFFIRM the district
caller to 911 reported that two men had approached her parked
car, and that one of them tried to break in. Officers Adam
Carroll, Michael Pranger, and James Pilchak were dispatched
to the scene. The 911 caller gave the officers a lead in
tracking the purported burglars. Mother Nature did the rest.
Because the attempted break in took place with fresh snow on
the ground, the officers could track prints in the snow
revealing the men's escape. The incriminating trail of
snowprints led the officers to the home of Nicholas Coffey.
the home, David Coffey, Coffey's father, told the
officers that Coffey and his friend, Drew Jerrell, were
inside. But, says David Coffey, he never gave the officers
permission to enter the home. The officers, however, say that
David Coffey did consent to them entering the home, and they
did so. What happened outside the home, and the events that
ensued inside, are at the crux of this dispute. And these
facts, like the case more broadly, are deeply disputed.
the lone point of agreement is this: When the officers found
Coffey, he was asleep on a loveseat. According to Coffey, he
was sleeping there after a long night and morning of
drinking. Coffey's father says that the officers tried to
wake Coffey by poking him in the chest, and that when poking
proved unsuccessful, one of the officers punched Coffey in
the face and yelled "stop resisting." Making
matters worse, Coffey says, as he was waking, the officers
flipped him onto his stomach and handcuffed him. Coffey says
he did not resist the arrest. Nonetheless, he explains, the
officers used his face to open the storm door as they dragged
him out of the house. The officers then placed Coffey in the
backseat of the police car. The encounter left him with
injuries to his ear, mouth, nose, and chin.
officers describe these events differently. Officer Carroll,
they say, upon discovering Coffey asleep on the loveseat,
tapped Coffey on the shoulder a few times. When Coffey woke
up, the officers say he grabbed Officer Carroll's finger
and twisted it. The officers claim they attempted to arrest
Coffey, but that he fought, kicked Officers Pranger and
Pilchak, and pulled his arms away. When the officers
eventually restrained Coffey, they handcuffed him and placed
him in the backseat of a police car.
spent the next two nights in jail, at which point the county
prosecutor approved a felony arrest warrant. After a
preliminary hearing, at which Officers Carroll and Pranger
testified, the trial court bound over Coffey. Eventually,
Coffey was tried for three counts of assaulting a police
officer. The jury acquitted him of the charges.
then turned the tables. Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he
filed his own action against the officers and the City of
Taylor. Coffey alleged that the officers, under the
supervision of the City, violated Coffey's constitutional
rights by engaging in conduct amounting to unlawful entry,
excessive force, and malicious prosecution. By stipulation,
the suit against the City was dismissed, and the claims
against the officers proceeded through discovery.
discovery, the officers moved for summary judgment on the
basis of qualified immunity. The district court granted parts
of their motion and denied other parts. The court found there
existed a material dispute of fact over whether the officers
unlawfully entered Coffey's home, whether the officers
used excessive force when arresting him, and whether Officers
Carroll and Pranger influenced or participated in the
decision to prosecute Coffey for assaulting a police officer.
But the district court found no issue of material fact as to
whether Officer Pilchak (unlike the other two officers)
influenced or participated in the decision to prosecute
Coffey, primarily because Pilchak did not testify at
Coffey's preliminary hearing. Accordingly, the district
court entered judgment in Pilchak's favor on Coffey's
officers appealed the district court's order partially
denying their motion for summary judgment. Coffey has not
done the same with respect to the district court's
partial grant of summary judgment to Officer Pilchak.
turning to the merits of the appeal, we must first consider
our jurisdiction. Unlike our practice with respect to most
interlocutory appeals, we have jurisdiction to hear
interlocutory appeals by government officials challenging a
denial of qualified immunity. See Mitchell v.
Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 527 (1985). But, generally
speaking, those appeals must sound in law, not fact. After
all, it is equally true that at this intermediate step, other
than in instances where the plaintiff's version of the
facts is "blatantly contradicted" by the record
such that it is "demonstrably false," we do not
have jurisdiction to resolve on an interlocutory basis
disagreements over the district court's reading of the
factual record. Diluzio v. Village of Yorksville,
796 F.3d 604, 609 (6th Cir. 2015).
must ask at the outset, is this appeal one of law, which we
can hear now, or one of fact, which, save for a narrow band
of cases, we cannot? At times, the officers' arguments
take aim at the factual record. For example, they argue their
conduct was justified because Coffey resisted arrest, a fact
Coffey contests. As Coffey's version of the events is not
blatantly contradicted by the record, these fact-based
arguments are not appropriate for our interlocutory
other arguments present "a series of strictly legal
questions." Phelps v. Coy, 286 F.3d 295, 298-99
(6th Cir. 2002). For instance, does Coffey's
unlawful-entry claim fail because the officers entered
Coffey's home while in hot pursuit? Stanton v.
Sims, 571 U.S. 3, 6 (2013) ("[F]ederal and state
courts nationwide are sharply divided on the question whether
an officer with probable cause to arrest a suspect for a
misdemeanor may enter a home without a warrant while in hot
pursuit of that suspect."). Is the evidence supporting
Coffey's excessive-force claim inadmissible because it is
not based on personal knowledge? See Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(4) ("An affidavit or declaration used to support
or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set
out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that
the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the
matters stated."). And does Coffey's
malicious-prosecution claim fail because he did not show that
the officers influenced or participated in the decision to
prosecute him? See Fox v. DeSoto, 489 F.3d 227, 237
(6th Cir. 2007) (citing McKinley v. City of
Mansfield, 404 F.3d 418, 444-45 (6th Cir. 2005),
cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1090 (2006)). Because
"these are the kind of questions that may be raised by
interlocutory appeal . . . [, ] we have jurisdiction"
here. Phelps, 286 F.3d at 298-99; see also
Livermore ex rel Rohm v. Lubelan, 476 F.3d 397, 403 (6th
Cir. 2007). We will, however, entertain the officers'
arguments only to the extent they challenge the district
court's legal determinations. We "must ignore the
defendant's attempts to dispute the facts" as read
by the district court. Bunkley v. City of Detroit,
902 F.3d 552, 560 (6th Cir. 2018) (internal citations