Justia.com Opinion Summary:
Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against officers of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department, claiming the officers unlawfully entered her home and detained her in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the officers, concluding the officers did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights and were therefore entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that it was reasonable for the officers to conclude their warrantless entry into plaintiff's home was lawful under the emergency aid exception or the community caretaker exception. The court further held that the officer's brief two-minute detention of plaintiff was lawful. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
Civil case - civil rights. Based on the facts known to the defendant officers, it was reasonable for them to conclude that their warrantless entry into plaintiff's home was lawful under either the emergency aid exception or the community caretaker exception, and the district court did not err in granting their motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity; as the officers' entry was lawful, their brief detention of plaintiff was also lawful.
United States Court of Appeals
FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
Joan Lorraine Burke,
* Appeal from the United States
* District Court for the Eastern
* District of Missouri.
Curtis Sullivan, in his individual
capacity; Robert Bell, in his individual *
capacity; Andrea Nack, Deputy, in her *
Submitted: March 15, 2012
Filed: May 3, 2012
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, SMITH and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
RILEY, Chief Judge.
Joan Burke brought this action under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1983 against Deputy Curtis
Sullivan, Deputy Andrea Nack, and Corporal Robert Bell (collectively, officers) of the
St. Charles County (Missouri) Sheriffâs Department, claiming the officers unlawfully
entered her home and detained her in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments. The district court1 granted summary judgment in favor of the officers,
concluding the officers did not violate Burkeâs constitutional rights and were therefore
entitled to qualified immunity. Burke appeals, and we affirm.
Burke lives with her son, Jeffrey Burke (Jay), in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri.
On June 27, 2009, Jay attended a party at a neighborâs house where he became
intoxicated. When the hosts of the party asked Jay to leave, Jay refused. Later in the
evening, a partygoer made a comment about Jay while Jay was lying on a couch. Jay
jumped off the couch, ripped off his shirt, and started screaming and threatening to
âbeat everybody up.â Several people tried to restrain Jay, but he continued to yell,
curse, and threaten to fight people. Jay also threw a liquor bottle and another object
across the room.
Sometime later, Burke awoke and heard voices and noise coming from outside
her home. Burke also heard someone call her sonâs name. Burke went outside to
investigate. Approaching one of the hosts of the party, Burke asked what was
happening. The host told Burke about the problems with Jay, and Burke agreed to talk
to Jay. Burke asked her son to leave. Jay refused. Burke then grabbed Jay by the left
arm and told him to leave. Jay twisted away from Burke and broke her hold on his
arm, causing Burke to fall and hit her head on a wall. Burke returned home without
The Honorable Catherine D. Perry, Chief Judge, United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Our recitation of the facts is based on the facts set forth in the Defendantsâ
Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts in Support of Defendantsâ Motion for
Summary Judgment, which Burke admitted were true for the purposes of the motion.
After Burke left, a guest named Jamey LaRose approached Jay, wrapped his
arms around Jay, and tried to drag him outside. A struggle ensued. During the
struggle Jay bit LaRose on the wrist between two and four times. Each bite was
forceful enough to draw blood. During the struggle, Jay kicked or punched a table,
which broke. The party guests then forced Jay out of the house. Jay ran across the
street and went into Burkeâs residence.
At 12:42 a.m., in response to a call reporting a domestic disturbance, Deputies
Sullivan and Nack and Corporal Bell arrived at the party. During their initial
investigation, Deputies Sullivan and Nack learned Jay: had become highly intoxicated;
was asked to leave the party; would not listen to Burke when she tried to get him to
go home and was verbally abusive to Burke; forcefully pushed Burke against a wall;
got into a physical altercation with one of the guests; kicked and broke a table; was
known to use illegal drugs and may have been under the influence of illegal drugs; and
went into Burkeâs house across the street immediately before the officers arrived.
Deputies Sullivan and Nack observed LaRoseâs bleeding bite wounds.
The officers went to Burkeâs residence, knocked loudly on the front door, but
heard no response. Deputy Sullivan requested that the officersâ dispatch operator
contact Burkeâs residence by telephone. The dispatch operator responded there was
no answer.3 At the same time, Corporal Bell and Deputy Nack entered Burkeâs
backyard through a gate in the fence. Corporal Bell approached the rear door of the
residence and shined his flashlight through the windows on the first and second floors
The parties agree a thunderstorm had knocked out the power to Burkeâs
neighborhood. There are conflicting accounts as to whether the telephone in Burkeâs
home actually rang, but Burke admitted â[d]ispatch advised Deputy Sullivan over the
radio that there was no answer.â
of the residence. Corporal Bell also attempted to gain the attention of anyone inside
by shouting. Although there was no response, Corporal Bell could hear a dog barking.
Burke, inside the house, heard voices in her backyard, but paid no attention to them.
The officers then entered Burkeâs residence through the rear door. The officers
announced their presence and Burke responded. The officers told Burke to put down
any weapons and come down the stairs with her hands up. Burke responded, âI donât
have any weapons, but I have a 100 pound dog that Iâm struggling to hold onto.â
Corporal Bell told Burke if she let go of the dog he would shoot it. Burke then
secured the dog and went downstairs. Burke and the officers engaged in a verbal
exchange,4 and the officers left. Fewer than two minutes elapsed from the time Burke
first responded to the officers to the time the officers left her residence.
On April 7, 2010, Burke filed a Â§ 1983 claim, alleging the officers conducted
an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights by
entering her home without a warrant and briefly detaining her. In February 2011,
Burke moved for summary judgment on liability, and the officers moved for summary
judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. On July 27, 2011, the district court
denied Burkeâs motion and granted the officersâ motion for summary judgment,
concluding the officersâ warrantless entry into Burkeâs home was constitutional under
either the emergency aid exception or the community caretaker exception to the
warrant requirement. Burke now appeals the district courtâs grant of summary
We review a district courtâs decision to grant summary judgment on the basis
of qualified immunity de novo, Borgman v. Kedley, 646 F.3d 518, 522 (8th Cir. 2011),
and will affirm if, viewing the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving
The content of this conversation is disputed, but is immaterial to our analysis.
party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Morrison Enters., LLC v. Dravo Corp., 638
F.3d 594, 602 (8th Cir. 2011). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (amended in 2010).
Under the qualified immunity doctrine, âgovernment officials performing
discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar
as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights
of which a reasonable person would have known.â Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982). Officials are not liable for incorrect decisions made in âgray areasâ
of the law. Ambrose v. Young, 474 F.3d 1070, 1077 (8th Cir. 2007).
To defeat âa defense of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show: (1) the facts,
viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate the deprivation of a
constitutional or statutory right; and (2) the right was clearly established at the time
of the deprivation.â Howard v. Kansas City Police Depât., 570 F.3d 984, 988 (8th Cir.
2009); see also Smook v. Minnehaha Cnty., 457 F.3d 806, 813 (8th Cir. 2006) (âTo
defeat a claim of qualified immunity, the contours of an alleged constitutional right
must be âsufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is
doing violates that right.ââ (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640
(1987))). We may examine the two steps of a qualified immunity analysis in any
order. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. ___, ___, 129 S. Ct. 808, 818 (2009). At
step one, we do not detect any constitutional or statutory right deprivation in this case.
Generally, ââ[s]earches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior
approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth
Amendmentâsubject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated
exceptions.ââ United States v. Claude X, 648 F.3d 599, 602 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)). The district court found two such
exceptions applicable here: the emergency aid exception and the community caretaker
The emergency aid and community caretaker exceptions are similar in nature,
but not identical.5 Under the emergency aid exception, law enforcement âofficers may
enter a residence without a warrant when they have âan objectively reasonable basis
for believing that an occupant is . . . imminently threatened with [serious injury].ââ
Ryburn v. Huff, 565 U.S. ___, ___, 132 S. Ct. 987, 990 (2012) (quoting Brigham City
v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 400 (2006)). This is because â[t]he need to protect or preserve
life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent
an exigency or emergency.â Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 403 (quoting Mincey v.
Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978) (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also
Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 118 (2006) (â[I]t would be silly to suggest that the
police would commit a tort by entering [a residence] . . . to determine whether violence
(or threat of violence) is about to (or soon will) occur.â). Under the community
caretaker exception, â[a] police officer may enter a residence without a warrant . . .
[when] the officer has a reasonable belief that an emergency exists requiring his or her
attention.â United States v. Quezada, 448 F.3d 1005, 1007 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing
Mincey, 437 U.S. at 392-93). âThe Supreme Court has held that reasonable belief . . .
is a less exacting standard than probable cause.â Id.
The district court found âthe officers were justified in entering Burkeâs home
and briefly detaining her.â Because the instant matter concerns a claim of qualified
immunity, not a motion to suppress evidence, we need not reach the issue of whether
the officers violated the dictates of the Fourth Amendment. âThe relevant question .
. . is the objective (albeit fact-specific) question whether a reasonable officer could
have believed [the officersâ] warrantless [entry] to be lawful, in light of clearly
Because we hold the officers reasonably could have believed both exceptions
applied, it is unnecessary to delineate the historical and analytical differences between
these two exceptions; however, for a full discussion of the differences between these
two exceptions see 3 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure Â§Â§6.5(d), 6.6(a) (4th ed.
established law and the information the . . . officers possessed.â Anderson, 483 U.S.
Based on the several facts known to the officers, it was reasonable for them to
conclude their warrantless entry into Burkeâs home was lawful under either the
emergency aid exception or the community caretaker exception. Jay had become
highly intoxicated. Jay refused to leave the neighborâs party. Jay would not cooperate
with Burke when she tried to take him home and was verbally abusive to Burke. Jay
forcefully pushed Burke against a wall. Jay was involved in a physical altercation
with one of the party guests, seriously biting him. Jay kicked and broke a table. Jay
was known to use illegal drugs and may have been under the influence of illegal drugs.
Jay went into Burkeâs house across the street immediately before the officersâ arrival.
There was no response when the officers attempted to contact Burke by knocking on
her door, shouting, shining a flashlight inside, and telephoning the residence. Burke,
who had been thrown against a wall by Jay, was now in the home alone with a violent
suspect. When viewed collectively, these facts could lead a reasonable police officer
to conclude there was either a threat of violence or an emergency requiring attention.
See Ryburn, 565 U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 990-91 (â[I]t is a matter of common sense
that a combination of events each of which is mundane when viewed in isolation may
paint an alarming picture.â).
Contrary to Burkeâs assertion, Smith v. Kansas City, Mo. Police Department,
586 F.3d 576 (8th Cir. 2009) does not dictate a different result. In Smith, we
determined a police officer was not entitled to qualified immunity when the officer
entered the home of an unarmed domestic violence suspect without a warrant. Id. at
580-81. In reaching our decision, we gave significant weight to the fact the officer
had no information any victim or potential victim was inside the home. See id. (âThe
presence of a domestic violence suspect . . . does not alone justify [the officerâs]
warrantless entry.â). In Burkeâs case, the officers had specific information a potential
victim, Burke, was inside the home with Jay, the violent suspect, whose erratic
behavior generated the domestic disturbance call. Jay had already been involved in
violent encounters with Burke and LaRose. Given these facts, it was reasonable for
the officers to conclude their warrantless entry into Burkeâs home was lawful. See
Winters v. Adams, 254 F.3d 758, 763 (8th Cir. 2001) (â[P]olice officers are not only
permitted, but expected, to exercise what the Supreme Court has termed âcommunity
caretaking functions.ââ (quoting United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1560 (10th Cir.
In addition, our court did not decide Smith until November 2009, over four
months after the officers entered Burkeâs home. As such, Smith was not part of the
established law when the officers entered Burkeâs home.
Lastly, as Burke conceded at oral argument, if the officersâ entry into Burkeâs
home was lawful, the officersâ brief detention of Burkeâless than two minutesâwas
lawful. See United States v. Spotted Elk, 548 F.3d 641, 651 (8th Cir. 2008) (âWhen
police have lawfully entered the house in response to exigent circumstances, they may
conduct a protective sweep, or cursory inspection.â); Samuelson v. City of New Ulm,
455 F.3d 871, 877 (8th Cir. 2006) (recognizing community caretaker âfunctions
include seizing a citizen âin order to ensure the safety of the public and/or the
individual, regardless of any suspected criminal activityââ (quoting Winters, 254 F.3d
We affirm the well-reasoned opinion and the judgment of the district court.