A federal appeals court has upheld the complaint of Debra Cruise-Gulyas, who sued a police officer Matthew Minard who had issued her a citation after she gave him the middle finger.
In a ruling filed this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said: “Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”
A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit said her gesture did not violate any identified law. Minard, it said, “clearly lacked authority to stop Cruise-Gulyas a second time.”
“Minard should have known better,” the opinion says.
It pointed to a 2013 ruling by another appeals court that said the “ancient gesture of insult” does not give police “a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.”
The police officer had argued that he was protected from legal action because of ‘qualified immunity’, the doctrine that the authorities cannot be sued if they are acting in good faith. I have written before about the abuse of this provision that police often use to avoid repercussions for their actions. Courts are taking an increasingly skeptical look at this defense, as they did in this case.
Minard’s attorneys had sought to have Cruise-Gulyas’ lawsuit thrown out, saying “qualified immunity” protected him from liability. The 6th Circuit said that protection doesn’t apply if an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights.
You can read the unanimous Appeals Court opinion here where they say that “Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”