Luer v. Clinton, No. 18-3512 (8th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against two police officers after plaintiff found the officers, guns drawn, searching their home without a warrant at 3:00 a.m. The district court denied the officers qualified immunity and granted plaintiff and his wife partial summary judgment on their claims that the officers unlawfully entered and searched their home and its curtilage, concluding that the circumstances were insufficient to create an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity for some but not all their actions on the night in question. The court concluded that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity for their entry into plaintiffs' curtilage under the community caretaker function. In this case, the officers had reason to believe that an intoxicated thief was in the vicinity, and an open garage door was a likely place where he could enter and perhaps damage property. Furthermore, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity under the community caretaker exception because an open door into a home late at night, when no one had responded to their repeated knocking at the outside doors, arguably warranted a limited protective entry. However, the community caretaker exception cannot justify the severe, warrantless intrusion into the home in this case where the officers observed no signs of criminal activity; the officers were responding to a call from a cab driver reporting that a petty thief had run, not that a burglar was on the prowl, and reasonable officers acting as community caretakers should have left the home. The court explained that it was clearly established by controlling Fourth Amendment precedents that the officers' full blown search of the entire home without a warrant was objectively unreasonable. The court remanded for further proceedings.