Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether an appellate court, reviewing a judgment according public officials qualified
In April 1987, police officers in Idaho learned that Charles Elder was wanted by Florida authorities. They set out to arrest Elder, but did not obtain an Idaho arrest warrant. The officers planned to apprehend Elder at his workplace, in a public area where a warrant is not required. See United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 418, n. 6 (1976). Finding that Elder had already left his jobsite, the officers surrounded the house in which he resided and ordered him to come out. Elder suffered epileptic seizures during the episode, and an officer instructed him to crawl out of the house to avoid injury from falling. Elder, instead, walked through the doorway, immediately suffered another seizure, and fell on the concrete walk in front of the house. He sustained serious brain trauma and remains partially paralyzed.
Alleging that the warrantless arrest violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable seizure, Elder sued the arresting officers for damages under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. The doctrine of qualified immunity shields public officials like respondents from damages actions unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law. The District Court analyzed Elder's case in three steps. Had the arrest occurred inside the house, that court recognized, clear law would come into play: absent exigent circumstances, an arrest warrant would have been required. See 751 F.Supp. 858, 860 (Idaho 1990) (citing Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980)). If the same clear law governed
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit noticed precedent in point missed in the District Court: United States v. Al-Azzawy, 784 F.2d 890 (CA9 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1144 (1986). Al-Azzawy, the Court of Appeals observed, involved a suspect seized outside his surrounded home. The Al-Azzawy decision, published over a year before Elder's arrest, "might have alerted a reasonable officer to the constitutional implications of putting a suspect under arrest after he had come outside his house pursuant to an order to exit." 975 F.2d 1388, 1391-1392 (1991).
Elder could not benefit from the rule reaffirmed in Al-Azzawy, the Court of Appeals believed, because that precedent had been unearthed too late. For the conclusion that cases unmentioned in the District Court could not control on appeal, the Court of Appeals relied on Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984), in particular, on this statement from Davis: "A plaintiff who seeks damages for violation of constitutional or statutory rights may overcome the defendant official's qualified immunity only by showing that those rights were clearly established at the time of the conduct at issue." Id., at 197 (emphasis added).
Although typing the qualified immunity inquiry "a `pure questio[n] of law,'" 975 F. 2d, at 1392 (quoting Romero v. Kitsap County, 931 F.2d 624, 627-628 (CA9 1991)), the Court of Appeals read Davis to require plaintiffs to put into the district court record, as "legal facts," the cases showing that the right asserted was "clearly established." 975 F. 2d, at 1394. Just as appellants forfeit facts not presented to the court of first instance, the Ninth Circuit reasoned, so, in the peculiar context of civil rights qualified immunity litigation, a plaintiff may not benefit on appeal from precedent neither he nor the district court itself mentioned in the first instance: "[T]he plaintiff's burden in responding to a request for judgment based on qualified immunity is to identify the universe of statutory or decisional law from which the [district] court can determine whether the right allegedly violated was clearly established." Id., at 1392. We granted certiorari, 509 U.S. 921 (1993).
The central purpose of affording public officials qualified immunity from suit is to protect them "from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S., at 806. The
In thinking its rule compelled by this Court's instruction, the Ninth Circuit misconstrued Davis v. Scherer. The Court held in Davis that an official's clear violation of a state administrative regulation does not allow a § 1983 plaintiff to overcome the official's qualified immunity. Only in this context is the Court's statement comprehensible: "A plaintiff who seeks damages for violation of constitutional or statutory rights may overcome the defendant official's qualified immunity only by showing that those rights were clearly established . . . ." Davis v. Scherer, 468 U. S., at 197 (emphasis added). Davis, in short, concerned not the authorities a court may consider in determining qualified immunity, but this entirely discrete question: Is qualified immunity defeated where a defendant violates any clearly established duty, including one under state law, or must the clearly established right be the federal right on which the claim for relief is based? The Court held the latter. Id., at 193-196, and n. 14; see 984 F.2d 991, 995 (CA9 1993) (Kozinski, J., dissenting from denial of reh'g en banc).
We leave it to the Court of Appeals to consider, in light of all relevant authority, including Al-Azzawy, whether the respondent officers are entitled to prevail on their qualified immunity defense. We express no opinion on that ultimate issue, nor do we consider whether the officers' alternate plea of exigent circumstances is tenable.
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For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
A brief of amici curiae urging affirmance was filed for the State of Hawaii et al. by Robert A. Marks, Attorney General of Hawaii, and Steven S. Michaels, Deputy Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Charles M. Oberly III of Delaware, Larry EchoHawk of Idaho, Roland W. Burris of Illinois, Robert T. Stephan of Kansas, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Ernest D. Preate, Jr., of Pennsylvania, Jefferey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Jeffrey L. Amestoy of Vermont, Joseph B. Meyer of Wyoming, and Malaetasi Togafau of American Samoa.