A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last spring could give a boost to alleged victims of excessive force by police in their efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable, the National Law Journal reports. In the aftermath of recent police shootings, lawyers have viewed high court precedents as obstacles that only benefit police. Tolan v. Cotton, an unsigned opinion on May 5, could point the other way, making it easier for alleged victims to fend off summary dismissal of their civil rights lawsuits against police.
Tolan admonished lower court judges that when police in such cases seek to dismiss lawsuits against them, disputed facts and inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the citizen making the claim. “Courts may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment,” the high court ruled, adding that “a judge’s function at summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Since the facts of episodes like those involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner are often in dispute, the Tolan decision could give individuals claiming civil rights violations a better chance of getting past summary dismissal motions. Tolan has been invoked in 500 federal cases since May.