Early one August morning, Christina Jones had begun her job reading meters for Commonwealth Edison. Jones is African-American. On this particular day, her job took her to Braidwood, Illinois. Braidwood, a small town about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, has an almost exclusively white population. Apparently, a "concerned citizen" thought that she was something other than a meter reader and called the police. [According to her complaint:] Officer Clark was the first to arrive and question her. Although she wore numerous articles of clothing with her employer's logo and provided two separate pieces of identification, Clark would not let her go. When he asked for her date of birth, she stepped away and started to call her supervisor on her cell phone. At that point, Officer Kaminski arrived. He screamed at her, knocked the phone out of her hand, cuffed her hands behind her back, threw her against the car, and arrested her. She was charged with obstructing a peace officer and released on bond. The charges were later terminated in her favor. Jones brought suit, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. Judge Andersen (N.D. Ill.) concluded that disputed issues of fact precluded resolution either of the merits or defendants' request for qualified immunity. Defendants appeal.
In their opinion, Judges Wood, Evans, and Sykes affirmed. The Court first addressed its appellate jurisdiction. Although the "collateral orders" exception to the finality rule does apply to the appeal of qualified immunity denials, it does so only in so far as the appeal raises an issue of law. Even in a case, like this, where there are disputed issues of fact, defendants can (and these defendants have) get their appeal if they limit it to plaintiffs version of the facts. Comfortable with its jurisdiction, the Court turned to the merits. Qualified immunity has two prongs: was there a constitutional deprivation and were the constitutional rights at issue clearly established. With respect to the second prong, the constitutional right at issue here -- the right to be free from an arrest without probable cause -- was certainly clearly established. Therefore, the only question for the Court on the merits is whether Clark and Kaminski violated Jones' rights. The Court appeared to have little difficulty in answering that question affirmatively (again, on Jones' version of the facts). The Court noted that there was nothing in the record that would provide reasonable suspicion that she was engaged in unlawful activity. Their initial detention of her was therefore a constitutional deprivation. In addition, her actual arrest was a constitutional violation. Since the officers had no reason to detain her in the first place, anything supporting probable cause to arrest her must have occurred after her detention. Her post-detention conduct does not support probable cause either for disorderly conduct or for obstructing a peace officer. With respect to the former, she acted professionally at all times. With respect to the latter, the offense requires a physical act rather than just an argument with a policeman. The officers are therefore not entitled to qualified immunity on this record.