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Supreme Court's Liberal Wing Prevails In Two Closely Divided Cases

The cases involved excessive force claims and hotel guest information. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's more liberal justices in the two 5-4 decisions.

Posted on June 22, 2015, at 11:49 a.m. ET

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WASHINGTON — Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with the Supreme Court's more liberal justices on Monday to make it easier for a person in pretrial detention to win a lawsuit claiming police used excessive force and, in a separate case, more difficult for hotel owners to be forced to turn over guest records.

The results came in a pair of 5-4 decisions released on Monday, one involving Michael Kingsley, who was arrested on a drug charge in Wisconsin in 2010, and the other involving a Los Angeles Municipal Code section to which a group of hotel owners objected.

In the Los Angeles case, a group of hotel owners sued over a municipal code that required hotels to turn over records about guests that it also was required to keep under the code. They sued because the code did not provide the hotel owners with an opportunity to challenge a request to turn over the record, a process called precompliance review.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court, holding that the requirement "is facially unconstitutional because it penalizes them for declining to turn over their records without affording them any opportunity for pre-compliance review."

In Kingsley's case, Kingsley alleged that county officers "slammed his head into the concrete bunk" prior to his trial on the drug charge and, while officers dispute that, no one disputes that, subsequently, one of the officers "applied a Taser to Kingsley's back for approximately five seconds."

Kingsley sued, alleging that the officers violated his rights through use of excessive force. The question before the justices was whether Kingsley and other people detained before a trial need to prove that the officer intended the force to cause harm — subjectively unreasonable — or just show that it did cause that harm unreasonably — objectively unreasonable.

If a subjective standard was used, a person detained before trial would need to show — as Wisconsin officials argued — that the use of force "was applied 'maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.'"

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court, though, that the objective standard applies, holding that "the [officer]'s state of mind is not a matter that [Kingsley] is required to prove."