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Drunk in parking lot cannot sue arresting officers, even if she wasn't "operating" vehicle

Beverly Nettles-Nickerson left theTap Room bar in Okemos, stumbled to her Hummer, started it, but apparently either passed out or decided she shouldn't drive away.  In the meantime, a customer seated on the bar patio observed  Nettles-Nickerson's attempted exit and called the police.  They arrived to find her resting, apparently asleep, in her vehicle with the motor running.  After consulting one another, they administered sobriety tests, which she flunked, and a PBT.  The latter was double the legal limit for "operating under the influence" and the woman was arrested. 

The District Court judge concluded she wasn't "operating" her vehicle and dismissed the criminal action.  The drunk woman then sued the cops for wrongful arrest.  Apparently her judgment isn't that good even when sober.

The Federal Court upheld the lower court's dismissal of Nettles-Nickerson's civil rights lawsuit, finding that the officers were immune from liability.  It noted that Michigan cases defining "operation" include operation of the vehicle in a parking lot and that the arresting officers made a reasonable judgment with regard to "probable cause to arrest."  In this precise situation, officers are granted limited immunity, and need not accurately predict a Judge's ruling, where the law is not settled. 

Since the driver was "in actual physical control" of the vehicle, even though it was motionless, she had violated the OUIL statute if " the operator [has put] the a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision [like parking it alongside the road, for example]" until the risk is eliminated.  As the Court concluded its opinion, "This is a paradigm case for qualified official immunity."

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