Ripson v. Alles is a case that is mostly about qualified immunity. It is also partly about what constitutes negligence on the part of a police officer.
Michael Ripson was a father in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife over their two year-old daughter. The ex-wife, acting on complaints from the daughter, informed Alles, an assistant police chief, that Ripson was sexually abusing the daughter. Alles eventually arrested Ripson. Ripson sued, claiming that he should not have been arrested. Alles countered with the argument that he had qualified immunity as a public servant and asked for summary judgment against Ripson’s claim. Ripson also sued Alles’ boss, Chief Klave. The court denied both officers’ requests for summary judgment.
The appeals court said that Alles should not have been granted summary judgment because he did not have qualified immunity. An officer has qualified immunity so long as a reasonable officer would have thought they had probable cause to make an arrest. The court held that Alles had arrested Ripson in circumstances (among them, the fact that medical examination turned up no evidence of sexual abuse of the daughter) in which no reasonable officer would have felt they had probable cause.
The appeals court also held that Klave was entitled to summary judgment. They ruled that he did not have a sufficient part in the arrest to be held liable. There was no evidence that he had known what Alles was doing. The mere fact that he was Alles’ supervisor did not mean he could be held liable for Alles’ actions.