- Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 18th Jun 2001
Wordcount: 593 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: This case concerns whether an officer must ascertain the constitutionality of his or her actions before invoking qualified immunity.


In 1994, during a public event, Jeffrey Katz was detained for questioning by military police officer Kenneth Saucier. Katz, who was carrying banners, was deemed to have posed a security risk. Saucier and his colleague moved Katz to a more secluded location for their safety. According to Katz, the officers unconstitutionally used excessive force while handling him, causing him physical harm.

Katz then filed a suit against Saucier and other officials under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.


The main issue of the case was whether Saucier's actions were a violation of Katz's Fourth Amendment rights. The case also raised questions regarding the standards an officer needs to meet to invoke his or her right to 'qualified immunity'. The issue was whether an officer, in such a situation, needed to ascertain the constitutionality of his or her actions before invoking qualified immunity.


The Saucier v. Katz ruling has had significant implications for cases involving qualified immunity. The decision reinforced the importance of officers understanding their legal obligations with regard to civil rights, and it clarified the conditions under which officers could be entitled to immunity. The verdict emphasized that officers could only claim immunity if they reasonably did not know, or could not have reasonably known, that their actions violated an individual's rights.


The Supreme Court held in favour of officer Saucier. The court instituted the 'Saucier Test', stating that a two-step sequence should be employed to determine whether an officer qualified for immunity. Firstly, courts must decide whether the facts alleged show a constitutional right violation. If confirmed, the next step is to establish whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the misconduct.

Applying this test, the court reasoned that Saucier and his colleague had not violated Katz's Fourth Amendment rights, as they felt they were acting in the name of safety.


  • Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)
  • Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)
  • Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982)

Journalist Brief

The 2001 Saucier v. Katz case clarified the issue of 'qualified immunity' for government officials in relation to breaches of constitutional rights. Officer Saucier had been sued by Jeffrey Katz who felt his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was physically handled and moved by Saucier. The Supreme Court decided in Saucier's favour, creating the 'Saucier Test' which states officials can claim immunity only if they had no reasonable way of knowing their actions breached an individual's rights.


What is the main significance of the Saucier v. Katz case?

Answer: The significance of Saucier v. Katz lies in the creation of the 'Saucier Test', a two-step sequence to decide if an officer qualifies for immunity.

What are the steps in the 'Saucier Test'?

Answer: Firstly, whether the facts alleged show a constitutional right violation, and secondly, if the right was clearly established at the time of violation.

What does 'Qualified Immunity' mean?

Answer: 'Qualified immunity' protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff's rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a 'clearly established' statutory or constitutional right.

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