319 F.3d 1115 (9th Cir. 2003), 01-35677, Ganwich v. Knapp

Docket Nº:01-35677, 01-35694.
Citation:319 F.3d 1115
Party Name:Sandy GANWICH; Linda Hornbeck; Kila Hornbeck; Bryan Hornbeck; Tracy Ingram, individually and on behalf of her minor children; Treia Ingram; Reina Ingram; Harold W. Jones, aka Pete Jones; Mike Knox; Kimberly Sadler, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Ronald KNAPP, Defendant, and Pierce County, Washington; Deborah Heishman, Defendants-Appellants. Sandy Ganwich
Case Date:February 11, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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319 F.3d 1115 (9th Cir. 2003)

Sandy GANWICH; Linda Hornbeck; Kila Hornbeck; Bryan Hornbeck; Tracy Ingram, individually and on behalf of her minor children; Treia Ingram; Reina Ingram; Harold W. Jones, aka Pete Jones; Mike Knox; Kimberly Sadler, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Ronald KNAPP, Defendant,


Pierce County, Washington; Deborah Heishman, Defendants-Appellants.

Sandy Ganwich; Linda Hornbeck; Kila Hornbeck; Bryan Hornbeck; Tracy Ingram, individually and on behalf of her minor children; Treia Ingram; Reina Ingram; Harold W. Jones, aka Pete Jones; Mike Knox; Kimberly Sadler, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Ronald Knapp, Defendant-Appellant,


Pierce County, Washington; Deborah Heishman, Defendants.

Nos. 01-35677, 01-35694.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 11, 2003

        Argued and Submitted Sept. 12, 2002.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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        Daniel R. Hamilton, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Tacoma, WA, for defendants-appellants Pierce County and Deborah Heishman.

        Timothy K. Ford and Maria C. Fox, MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless, Seattle, WA, for the plaintiffs-appellees.

        Daniel L. Judge and Michael P. Lynch, Asst. Attorneys General, Olympia, WA, for defendant-appellant Ronald Knapp.

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, Robert J. Bryan, District Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. CV-00-05566-RJB.

        Before BEEZER, GOULD and BERZON, Circuit Judges.

        GOULD, Circuit Judge.

        When law enforcement officers investigate an organization suspected of criminal wrongdoing, they may not ignore the civil rights of the organization's employees. Although officers are entitled to act vigorously to gain information and to prevent the flight of the culpable, our Constitution requires that officers heed employees' rights in the process. This appeal raises such issues. We must decide whether law enforcement officers violated employees' Fourth Amendment rights by detaining them incommunicado without probable cause and using the threat of continued detention to coerce them to submit to interrogations. Considering the facts in the light most favorable to the employees,1 we hold that the officers violated the employees' clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.2


        Most of the plaintiffs in this civil rights lawsuit are former employees of Ear-Tec

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Hearing Aid Specialists, a business that was under investigation for various fraudulent practices harmful to consumers. These employees were Sandy Ganwich, Linda Hornbeck, Tracy Ingram, Harold W. Jones, Mike Knox, and Kimberly Sadler.

        On the morning of December 23, 1999, law enforcement officers arrived at the Ear-Tec offices in Puyallup, Washington, to serve a search warrant.3 Soon thereafter, the officers corralled the plaintiffs in the Ear-Tec waiting room. The officers told the plaintiffs that they were not under arrest, but that they would be held in the waiting room until they submitted to individual interviews with police investigators in a back room. The officers prevented the plaintiffs from leaving the waiting room, from going to the restroom unattended, from retrieving their personal possessions, from making telephone calls, and from answering the office telephone when it rang.

        The officers detained the plaintiffs in this severely restrained status for time periods ranging from one hour and forty-five minutes to four hours and forty-five minutes. They released the plaintiffs only after the plaintiffs submitted to tape-recorded interrogations.

        When one of the plaintiffs, Linda Hornbeck, declined to make a statement after being brought to the back room, police detained her for another two and a half hours in the waiting room. They then brought her to the back room for questioning a second time. Hornbeck, concluding that she would not be released until she made a statement, submitted to the interrogation.

        Also present at Ear-Tec when the officers served the search warrant were the four plaintiff children, ranging in age from seven to twelve years old, who had come to Ear-Tec with their parents for an office Christmas party. The officers refused to permit the children to leave the waiting room and prevented the children's parents from calling their spouses to retrieve the children. After about forty-five minutes, the officers permitted the children to leave with the adult daughter of another Ear-Tec employee.

        If we credit the plaintiffs' affidavits, as we must at this stage, none of them had any knowledge of their employer's allegedly fraudulent trade and billing practices. Indeed, only two of the plaintiffs had worked at Ear-Tec more than two months.

        The plaintiffs filed suit against Pierce County and two officers, Ronald Knapp and Deborah Heishman, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They allege that the incommunicado detention and coerced interrogations violated their Fourth Amendment rights and that denying them the use of a telephone violated their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights.4 The defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs' rights had not been violated in any respect and that, even if there was a violation, the officers possessed qualified immunity from suit. The district court denied the defendants' summary judgment motions. This appeal followed.

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        Before deciding the constitutional issues, we first must determine whether we have jurisdiction.

        It is settled that a district court's denial of qualified immunity is an immediately appealable final decision under the collateral order doctrine. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Nevertheless, the plaintiffs argue that we lack jurisdiction to review the denial of qualified immunity because the district court's ruling occurred before the completion of discovery and expressly left the qualified immunity question open for reconsideration after the completion of discovery.5 We reject that argument.

        The Supreme Court in Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 308, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996), held that a government officer could raise the qualified-immunity defense both before and after discovery, and that an order rejecting the defense at either stage is a "final" judgment subject to immediate appeal. The qualified immunity defense gives government officials a right not merely to avoid standing trial, but also to avoid the burdens of "such pretrial matters as discovery . . ., as [i]nquiries of this kind can be peculiarly disruptive of effective government." Id. (emphasis added) (internal quotations omitted).

        Forcing the defendant officers to undergo discovery, without the possibility of appeal to us, would erode any qualified immunity to the burdens of discovery the officers might possess. We hold that the district court's denial of the officers' pre-discovery qualified immunity motion was an immediately appealable final judgment.6

        We turn to the main issues in this appeal.


        Whether the defendant officers are entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity depends on a two-step inquiry. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). First, we inquire whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the facts alleged show the officers' conduct violated a constitutional right, Id. Second, if the officers violated a constitutional right, we inquire whether that right was "clearly established" when viewed in the context of the case. Id.


        We begin with the adult plaintiffs' claims that the officers detained them in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

        The Fourth Amendment says that the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const., Amend. IV. "Its central requirement is one of reasonableness." Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330, 121 S.Ct. 946, 148 L.Ed.2d 838 (2001) (internal quotations omitted). Although some police conduct is per se unreasonable (such as making an

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arrest without probable cause), other police conduct is judged using a balancing approach. Some seizures are so much less intrusive than a traditional arrest that they may be reasonable, in light of the government's strong opposing interests in crime prevention and detection and in police officers' safety. See, e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) (permitting a temporary stop and limited search for weapons based on less than probable cause).

        This appeal fits within the category of cases in which it is appropriate to balance governmental and individual interests. The officers' seizure 7 of the plaintiffs was not based upon probable cause,8 so the seizure was invalid unless special circumstances, on balance, justified it.

        "[W]e balance the privacy-related and law enforcement-related concerns to determine if the intrusion was reasonable." McArthur, 531 U.S. at 331, 121 S.Ct. 946. We conclude that, although it was reasonable to detain the plaintiffs on the Ear-Tec premises during the search of the building, it was not at all reasonable to condition the plaintiffs' release on their submission to interrogation.

        Detaining the plaintiffs in the Ear-Tec waiting room during the search of the premises served important law enforcement interests. It prevented any of the Ear-Tec employees from fleeing in the event that incriminating evidence was found. It minimized the risk of harm to officers by ensuring that none of the employees...

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