Battling over the interpretation of a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a split federal appeals panel has declared that when a defendant in a civil rights case has shown that he or she is entitled to qualified immunity, there is no reason to decide the plaintiff’s constitutional claim.

The division within the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was sparked by a footnote in the Supreme Court’s decision in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 118 S.Ct. 1708, which stated that the “better approach” in such cases was to first reach the constitutional issues.

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