Monday, September 10, 2018
Ninth Circuit Reinstates Action by Man Taken From House, Handcuffed, Forced to Ground
Judges Say Summary Judgment Was Improperly Granted to Sheriff’s Deputies Who Responded to Call From Woman Saying Husband Was Drunk
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a summary judgment in favor of four Fresno sheriff’s deputies who, responding to a woman’s claim to a dispatcher that her husband was drunk and breaking things, made a warrantlless entry into the couple’s house when the man would not come outside, brought him out, handcuffed him, forced him to the ground, and later arrested him.
Reversal of the judgment by Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto of the Eastern District of California came in a memorandum opinion filed Thursday.
The plaintiff, Dennis Maric, sued Fresno County sheriff’s deputies Jon Alvarado, Todd Burk, John Robinson, and Fernando Maldonado. After Oberto granted summary judgment to the defendants on most of Maric’s claims, the plaintiff’s excessive force and assault and battery claims went to jury trial, which Maric lost.
He appealed the summary judgment as to unlawful entry unlawful arrest, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as unlawful entry and false imprisonment, under California law.
Responding to the call on March 18, 2010, the deputies arrived at the Marics’s house, and the plaintiff answered the door. Behind him, the deputies saw Maric’s wife and two children sitting on the couch, with no sign of distress other than the children’s frowns.
Maric refused to allow the deputies into the house. In response, they grabbed and restrained Maric and entered the dwelling.
Maric’s wife informed the deputies that her husband had two firearms, which they located and confiscated. She also requested a restraining order against him, which the deputies were able to obtain for her in about 20 minutes.
It was disputed whether Maric’s wife, during the 911 call, had expressed any fear for her life or if the dispatcher had relayed that information to the deputies.
The deputies arrested Maric for resisting a peace officer and for child endangerment. He was subsequently charged with two counts of child endangerment, but the charges were eventually dismissed.
Exigent Circumstances Claimed
The deputies argued that they were permitted to enter the house without a warrant owing to exigent circumstances, declaring that they had probable cause to believe the children were in jeopardy. A three-judge panel—comprised of Circuit Judges Carlos T. Bea and Morgan Christen, joined by District Court Judge Mary A. McLaughlin of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sitting by designation—rejected the contention.
When the defendants arrived, the opinion notes, the wife, Mary Maric, and children appeared unharmed. There was, the opinion declares, a triable issue of fact as to whether probable cause existed to believe Maric had committed misdemeanor child endangerment.
Even if probable cause did exist, the judges said, the defendants have not shown “exigent circumstances.” The opinion explains:
“The warrantless entry into a home is presumptively unreasonable…, and it is the officers’ burden to demonstrate that the entry was necessary. Defendants did not adduce evidence sufficient to remove any triable issue of fact that Mary or the children were in any immediate danger, or that Defendants would not have been able to obtain a warrant in a timely manner. Indeed, the evidence indicates the contrary: after Mary requested a protective order, Defendants were able to obtain one within approximately twenty minutes. Defendants proffered no evidence to prove a warrant to search the home or to seize Maric would have taken longer.”
The officers also claimed the warrantless entry was justified based on probable cause to believe Maric was obstructing an officer. However, the opinion cites a California case indicating that declining to grant entry to officers lacking a warrant is not a criminal offense.
Given that the deputies “have not proffered evidence that indisputably demonstrates they had probable cause to believe that Maric” was guilty of either child endangerment or obstructing an officer, the opinion says, summary judgment was improperly granted on the Fourth Amendment claims, as well as the “corollary unlawful entry claims pursuant to the California Constitution.”
With respect to the claim for false imprisonment, under California law, the opinion says:
“It is uncontested that Marie was confined by the police officers for ‘an appreciable length of time’: Defendants admit that Maric was pulled from his home, handcuffed, kept on the ground in front of his home for approximately twenty minutes, and then taken to Fresno County Jail. Defendants’ defense to the tort is that they had a ‘lawful privilege’ to detain Maric….Marie adduced evidence sufficient to demonstrate that there exists a triable issue of fact as to whether Defendants had probable cause to arrest him.”
While California Penal Code §840 generally prohibits an arrest on a misdemeanor charge between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., Oberto found applicable an exception where “[t]he officer has probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense in the officer’s presence,” citing Maric’s refusal to admit the deputies.
“The district court was incorrect,” the opinion says. “Neither the district court, nor Defendants, cite any law which indicates that a person must acquiesce to a police officer’s request that he leave his own home.”
The case is Maric v. Alvarado, No. 14-15863.
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