ON WRITS OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT Court Below: 588 F.3d 1011
Nearly a decade ago, petitioner Camreta, a state child protective ser-vices worker, and petitioner Alford, a county deputy sheriff, interviewed then 9-year-old S. G. at her Oregon elementary school about allegations that her father had sexually abused her. They did not have a warrant or parental consent to conduct the interview. S. G. eventually stated that she had been abused. Her father stood trial for that abuse, but the jury failed to reach a verdict and the charges were later dismissed. S. G.'s mother, respondent here (hereinafter S. G.), subsequently sued Camreta and Alford on S G.'s behalf for damages under 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging that the in-school interview breached the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable seizures. The District Court granted summary judgment to the officials. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals first ruled that seizing S. G. absent a warrant, court order, parental consent, or exigent circumstances violated the Constitution. But the court further held that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity from damages liability because no clearly established law had warned them of the illegality of their conduct. The court explained that it had chosen to rule on the merits of the constitutional claim so that officials would be on notice that they could not dispense with traditional Fourth Amendment protections in this context. Although the judgment entered was in their favor, Camreta and Alford petitioned this Court to review the Ninth Circuit's ruling that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. S. G. declined to cross-petition for review of the decision that the officials have immunity.
1. This Court generally may review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of government officials who have won final judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Pp. 4--14.
(a) The relevant statute confers unqualified power on this Court to grant certiorari "upon the petition of any party." 28 U. S. C. §1254(1). That language covers petitions brought by litigants who have prevailed, as well as those who have lost, in the courts below. Pp. 4--5.
(b) An appeal brought by a prevailing party may satisfy Article III's case-or-controversy requirement. To comply with that requirement, litigants must demonstrate a "personal stake" in the suit. Summers v. Earth Island Institute,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kagan
Almost a decade ago, a state child protective services worker and a county deputy sheriff interviewed a girl at her elementary school in Oregon about allegations that her father had sexually abused her. The girl's mother subsequently sued the government officials on the child's behalf for damages under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, claiming that the interview infringed the Fourth Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed, ruling that the officials had violated the Constitution by failing to obtain a warrant to conduct the interview. But the Court of Appeals further held that qualified immunity shielded the officials from monetary liability because the constitutional right at issue was not clearly established under existing law.
The two officials sought this Court's review of the Ninth Circuit's ruling on the Fourth Amendment. We granted their petitions to examine two questions. First, may government officials who prevail on grounds of qualified immunity obtain our review of a court of appeals' decision that their conduct violated the Constitution? And second, if we may consider cases in this procedural posture, did the Ninth Circuit correctly determine that this interview breached the Fourth Amendment?
We conclude that this Court generally may review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of a government official granted immunity. But we may not do so in this case for reasons peculiar to it. The case has become moot because the child has grown up and moved across the country, and so will never again be subject to the Oregon in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality is at issue. We therefore do not reach the Fourth Amendment question in this case. In line with our normal practice when mootness frustrates a party's right to appeal, see United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U. S. 36, 39 (1950), we vacate the part of the Ninth Circuit's opinion that decided the Fourth Amendment issue.
In February 2003, police arrested Nimrod Greene for suspected sexual abuse of a young boy unrelated to him. During the investigation of that offense, the boy's parents told police that they suspected Greene of molesting his 9-year-old daughter S. G. The police reported this information to the Oregon Department of Human Services, which assigned petitioner Bob Camreta, a child protective services caseworker, to assess S. G.'s safety. Several days later, Camreta, accompanied by petitioner James Alford, a Deschutes County deputy sheriff, went to S. G.'s elementary school and interviewed her about the allegations. Camreta and Alford did not have a warrant, nor had they obtained parental consent to conduct the interview. Although S. G. at first denied that her father had molested her, she eventually stated that she had been abused. Greene was indicted and stood trial for sexually abusing S. G., but the jury failed to reach a verdict and the charges were later dismissed.
Respondent Sarah Greene, S. G.'s mother, subsequently sued Camreta and Alford on S. G.'s behalf*fn2 for damages under 42 U. S. C. §1983, which authorizes suits against state officials for violations of constitutional rights. S. G. alleged that the officials' in-school interview had breached the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable seizures.*fn3
The District Court granted summary judgment to Camreta and Alford, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals first ruled that the interview violated S. G.'s rights because Camreta and Alford had "seize[d] and interrogate[d] S. G. in the absence of a warrant, a court order, exigent circumstances, or parental consent." 588 F. 3d 1011, 1030 (2009) (footnote omitted). But the court further held that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity from damages liability because no clearly established law had warned them of the illegality of their conduct. Id., at 1031--1033.
The Ninth Circuit explained why it had chosen to rule on the merits of the constitutional claim, rather than merely hold that the officials were immune from suit. By addressing the legality of the interview, the court said, it could "provide guidance to those charged with the difficult task of protecting child welfare within the confines of the Fourth Amendment." Id., at 1022. That guidance came in no uncertain terms: "[G]overnment officials investigating allegations of child abuse," the court warned, "should cease operating on the assumption that a 'special need' automatically justifies dispensing with traditional Fourth Amendment protections in this context." Id., at 1033.
Although the judgment entered was in their favor, Camreta and Alford petitioned this Court to review the Ninth Circuit's ruling that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. S. G. declined to cross-petition for review of the decision that the officials have immunity. We granted certiorari. 562 U. S. ___ (2010).
We first consider our ability to act on a petition brought by government officials who have won final judgment on grounds of qualified immunity, but who object to an appellate court's ruling that they violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Camreta and Alford are, without doubt, prevailing parties. The Ninth Circuit's decision shielded them from monetary liability, and S. G. chose not to contest that ruling. So whatever else follows, they will not have to pay S. G. the damages she sought. The question we confront is whether we may nonetheless review the Court of Appeals' holding that the officials violated the Constitution.
The statute governing this Court's jurisdiction authorizes us to adjudicate a case in this posture, and S. G. does not contend otherwise. The relevant provision confers unqualified power on this Court to grant certiorari "upon the petition of any party." 28 U. S. C. §1254(1) (emphasis added). That language covers petitions brought by litigants who have prevailed, as well as those who have lost, in the court below. See E. Gressman, K. Geller, S. Shapiro, T. Bishop, & E. Hartnett, Supreme Court Practice 87 (9th ed. 2007) (hereinafter Stern & Gressman).
S. G., however, alleges two impediments to our exercise of statutory authority here, one constitutional and the other prudential. First, she claims that Article III bars review because petitions submitted by immunized officials present no case or controversy. See Brief for Respondent 31--39. Second, she argues that our settled practice of declining to hear appeals by prevailing parties should apply with full force when officials have obtained immunity. See id., at 24--27. We disagree on both counts.
Article III of the Constitution grants this Court authority to adjudicate legal disputes only in the context of "Cases" or "Controversies." To enforce this limitation, we demand that litigants demonstrate a "personal stake" in the suit. Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 555 U. S. 488, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 4) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U. S. 388, 395--397 (1980). The party invoking the Court's authority has such a stake when three conditions are satisfied: The petitioner must show that he has "suffered an injury in fact" that is caused by "the conduct complained of" and that "will be redressed by a favorable decision." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560--561 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted). And the opposing party also must have an ongoing interest in the dispute, so that the case features "that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues." Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U. S. 95, 101 (1983) (internal ...