Appellate Clinic Wins Fourth Circuit Appeal in Excessive-Force Case

Congratulations to WashULaw’s Appellate Clinic! A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has unanimously ruled in favor of WashULaw’s Appellate Clinic’s client, holding that the district court’s summary judgment was improper.

On appeal in the Fourth Circuit, the court appointed WashULaw’s Appellate Clinic to represent the client. Clinic students Alice Gorman, Patrick Northrup, Marc Poissonnier, Zachariah Taylor, Jacob Cogdill, Ashvanika Dodwani, and John Whitney briefed the case, under Professor Steve Alagna’s supervision. Jacob Cogdill argued the appeal in Richmond, Virginia in May.

John (Jack) Whitney, Jacob Cogdill, and Ashvanika Dodwani

The Clinic successfully revived a civil-rights lawsuit for a clinic client who alleged he was subjected to excessive force while he was a pretrial detainee in Virginia. The client had sued the officers involved in the incident, testifying that one officer choked him unconscious while others stood by and watched, failing to intervene. The jail’s surveillance video captured the incident. The district court entered summary judgment for the officers, finding that the officers did not violate the Eighth Amendment. The client appealed.

In a published opinion issued on July 8, 2024, the Fourth Circuit agreed with the clinic’s argument that the district court’s reasoning “upends basic summary judgment principles and warrants reversal,” and the district court applied the wrong substantive legal standard to the client’s excessive-force claim.  The case will now proceed again in the district court, where the client will have an opportunity to prove his case before a jury. The case is captioned Simmons v. Whitaker, No. 22-6233.