In this case, the defendant officers’ summary judgment motion was denied on several bases, including a grant of qualified immunity, when the Court found that the officer violated the state constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act after arresting Mr. Harris based on facts and evidence deemed “suspect,” “irrational” and “not based in fact” by the Court. On this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court will consider whether denials of qualified immunity as part of summary judgment motions are appealable on an interlocutory basis, that is, an order that does not finally determine a cause of action, but decides an intervening matter like qualified immunity. Where those denials are appealable before the case is finally decided, law enforcement defendants can force plaintiffs who have experienced harm to engage in costly appellate practice, coercing settlements for pennies on the dollar.
The ACLU-NJ argues that as both a matter of law and policy, the Court should not allow interlocutory appeals of qualified immunity denials – and certainly not interlocutory appeals as of right. Specifically, as a judicial doctrine with no basis in the constitution or a civil rights legal framework, qualified immunity must yield to the guaranteed and legally grounded rights of the individual.