418 F.3d 561 (6th Cir. 2005), 04-3045, Knott v. Sullivan

Docket Nº:04-3045.
Citation:418 F.3d 561
Party Name:Diane KNOTT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Mark SULLIVAN et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 09, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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418 F.3d 561 (6th Cir. 2005)

Diane KNOTT, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Mark SULLIVAN et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-3045.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 9, 2005

Submitted: July 26, 2005.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus, No. 02-01103—Gregory L. Frost, District Judge.


Douglas C. Boatright, Isaac, Brant, Ledman & Teetor, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Diane Knott, Glouster, Ohio, pro se.

Before: MOORE and COLE, Circuit Judges; WISEMAN, District Judge.[*]

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MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Diane Knott ("Knott") appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment in the underlying § 1983 action to Defendants-Appellees Mark Sullivan ("Sullivan"), Sheriff Vern Castle ("Castle"), Officer Steve Sedwick ("Sedwick"), Deputy Sheriff Allen Flickinger ("Flickinger"), Deputy Sheriff Brian Cooper1 ("Cooper"), Deputy Sheriff Carl Williams ("Williams"), Deputy Sheriff Jeff Gura ("Gura"), and Officer Rodney Smith ("Smith") (collectively, "Defendants"). The gravamen of Knott's suit is that the Defendants violated her Fourth Amendment rights by searching her automobile and her residential property without a search warrant. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM IN PART, REVERSE IN PART, and REMAND for further proceedings.


On September 19, 2001, Diane Knott's son, Eric, reported to the Athens County Sheriff s department that he had discovered the body of David Malcolm while looking for ginseng root in a wooded area. Defendant Flickinger, an Athens County Deputy Sheriff, was placed in charge of the investigation and went to wooded area where David Malcolm's body had been found. Eric was still present when Flickinger arrived at the scene, and Flickinger noticed that Eric was driving a blue 1988 Plymouth Horizon.

Flickinger then received a call that the body of David Malcolm's wife, Ruth, had been discovered at the Malcolm residence. Flickinger went to the Malcolm residence and was approached by two witnesses. One of the witnesses stated that at around 2:30 a.m. that morning, he had heard a woman's scream and a rifle shot and that he had seen a blue vehicle leave the Malcolm residence shortly thereafter. The witness also stated that the blue vehicle had a loud exhaust and that he thought he had seen Eric drive the same vehicle earlier in the day. The witness further noted that he had been to the David Malcolm murder scene and that he had seen the blue vehicle parked there. Flickinger contacted one of the officers at the David Malcolm site and was told that Eric and the blue vehicle were still at the scene. Pursuant to Flickinger's direction, the officer obtained Eric's permission to start the blue vehicle and confirmed that it had a loud exhaust. The vehicle was then impounded and taken to the Athens County Sheriff department's storage facility. A license-plate check revealed that the vehicle was owned by Diane Knott.

At approximately 1:00 p.m. on September 21, 2001, Defendants Castle, Flickinger, Gura, Smith, and Williams went to the Knott residence. Castle and Williams went to the back door of the Knott residence, Flickinger and Gura went to the front door, and Smith remained in the yard. Diane Knott opened the back door of the residence and told Castle and Williams that her sons Eric and Brian were not at home; the two officers returned to their vehicle and left the scene. Knott then went into the living room and discovered Flickinger and Gura, who had been let in by Knott's mother. Flickinger and Gura told Knott that they were looking for her sons, asked her what her sons looked like, and asked what vehicle they

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were driving. Gura then went back outside, and a few minutes later, Flickinger left the residence as well. Gura and Smith were later seen looking at a pile of ashes located in the Knotts' yard near the garage.

Later that day, Eric Knott was arrested. Upon returning home from the scene of Eric's arrest, Diane Knott discovered Defendants Castle and Williams pulling out of her driveway. Knott asked Castle why he had returned to her residence, and Castle responded that he was looking for the gun that was used in David Malcolm's murder. Castle told Knott to contact him if she located the gun, and Knott told Castle that he could search her residence if he wanted.

That evening, Diane and her husband Brett Knott were interviewed by Defendant Sedwick at the Athens County Sheriff's office. Diane Knott was interviewed first, and after the conclusion of her interview, she left the Athens County Sheriff's office. During Brett Knott's interview, the Athens County Sheriff's department received a telephone call reporting that men with guns were on the Knotts' property. After being told of the telephone call, Brett Knott signed a written consent-to-search form authorizing the search of his residence. Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 68 (consent form signed by Brett Knott on September 21, 2001 at 22:35 (i.e., 10:35 p.m.) authorizing search of 8768 St. Rt. 78, Glouster, Ohio). Defendant Cooper, along with Deputy Sheriffs Cottrill, Taylor, Heater, and Fick went to the Knott residence to investigate the call.

Some time later, Flickinger prepared a warrant and affidavit to search the vehicle impounded at the scene where David Malcolm's body was discovered. However, the vehicle description, license plate number, and vehicle identification number in the affidavit and search warrant referred, not to the 1988 Plymouth Horizon that had been impounded, but rather to a 1984 Dodge Hatchback owned by Knott's husband, Brett Knott. Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 58 (Search Warrant) (identifying vehicle to be searched as "the automobile of Brett Knott, 1984 Dodge HB, Located at the ACSO garage, being described as 1984 Dodge HB Lic # BGC2270 Vin # 1B3BZ18C7ED338807"); J.A. at 59 (Search Warrant Affidavit) (same); see also J.A. at 9 (Compl. ¶18) (listing 1988 Plymouth Horizon's vehicle identification number as 1P3BM1805JY223924 and license plate number as CPJ4005). On September 27, 2001, Athens Court of Common Pleas Judge L. Alan Goldsberry authorized the search warrant, and the 1988 Plymouth Horizon was searched. According to Knott's complaint, the Athens County Sheriff's department held the 1988 Plymouth Horizon for approximately one year and caused in excess of $3,500.00 in damage to the vehicle.

Eric Knott was eventually charged in the deaths of David and Ruth Malcolm. During the criminal proceedings against Eric, Judge Goldsberry (who had issued the vehicle search warrant) ruled that evidence obtained from the search of the 1988 Plymouth Horizon had to be suppressed because the 1988 Plymouth Horizon was not the vehicle identified in the search warrant. Record ("R.") 7, Exhibit 1 at 5 (July 10, 2002 Athens County Court of Common Pleas Decision on Motion to Suppress Evidence Seized From 1988 Plymouth Automobile and Journal Entry) (concluding that "the warrant, as obtained, clearly did not authorize the search of a 1988 Plymouth and the Court finds no cause for invoking the good faith, reasonable reliance exception to the exclusionary rule, as it was manifestly unreasonable for officers to use a warrant specifically describing one vehicle to search a completely different vehicle").

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In November 2002, Diane Knott filed the instant § 1983 action against Defendants Castle, Williams, Smith, Gura, Cooper, Sedwick, and Flickinger alleging that they engaged in unconstitutional searches and seizures of her vehicle and residence. Knott also filed suit against Defendant Mark Sullivan, the Athens County Commissioner. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and the district court below granted the Defendants' motion. Knott now appeals.


A. Standard of Review

We review the district court's order granting the Defendants' motion for summary judgment de novo. Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir. 2005). Summary judgment is proper if, when drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Johnson, 398 F.3d at 873. Thus, summary judgment in favor of the Defendants is not proper if the Defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, or if there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether 1) Knott was "'depriv[ed] of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, and 2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law.'" Johnson, 398 F.3d at 873 (quoting Ellison v. Garbarino, 48 F.3d 192, 194 (6th Cir. 1995)).

B. Vehicle Search

In their motion for summary judgment, the Defendants asserted that they should not face § 1983 liability for the search of Knott's 1988 Plymouth Horizon because the search was conducted pursuant to a valid warrant, albeit one containing some errors in the vehicle's description.2 The district court agreed, and entered summary judgment in favor...

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