498 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2007), 06-15304, Bruce v. Beary

Docket Nº:06-15304.
Citation:498 F.3d 1232
Party Name:William H. BRUCE, III, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Kevin BEARY, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Orange County, Randall Root, in his individual capacity, Kenneth Glantz, in his individual capacity, Edward Kelly, in his individual capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:September 06, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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498 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2007)

William H. BRUCE, III, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Kevin BEARY, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Orange County, Randall Root, in his individual capacity, Kenneth Glantz, in his individual capacity, Edward Kelly, in his individual capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 06-15304.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 6, 2007

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         Howard S. Marks, Graham, Builder, Jones, Pratt & Marks, LLP, Winter Park, FL, James K. Green, James K. Green, P.A., West Palm Beach, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

         Ian D. Forsythe, Hilyard, Bogan & Palmer, P.A., Orlando, FL, for Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

         Before CARNES, WILSON, and HILL, Circuit Judges.

         HILL, Circuit Judge:

         Plaintiff, William H. Bruce, III, appeals the grant of summary judgments to all defendants in this Section 1983 civil rights action for damages resulting from the administrative search of plaintiff's place of business. For the following reasons, we shall vacate the judgments.


         In January of 2001, Zeeshan Shaikh complained to Randall Root of the Auto Theft Unit of the Orange County Sheriff's Department that he had purchased

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a car from defendant William H. Bruce, III, at his place of business, Wholesale Auto Advantage, Inc., an auto body repair shop and salvage yard (the "Premises"). 1 He told Root that the vehicle identification number ("VIN") plate did not match the confidential vehicle identification number ("CVIN") sticker on the car. 2 Root conferred with his supervisor, Kenneth Glantz. The two officers decided to conduct an administrative inspection of the Premises, as authorized by Florida Statute§ 812.055. The statute permits a warrantless physical inspection of salvage yards and repair shops (among other businesses) during normal business hours "for the purpose of locating stolen vehicles ...; investigating the titling and registration of vehicles ...; inspecting vehicles ... wrecked or dismantled; or inspecting records required [to be kept by such businesses]." Id.

         On January 15, 2001, at about 10:30 in the morning, Root, Glantz, and Edward Kelly led a group of approximately twenty officers to the Premises. The officers arrived in unmarked trucks and SUVs, and surrounded the entire Premises, blocking all exits. Some of the officers were dressed in SWAT uniforms--ballistic vests imprinted with SWAT in big letters, camouflage pants, and black boots. They entered the Premises with guns drawn--all were armed with Glock 21 sidearms; some carried Bennelli automatic shotguns. When the officers entered the Premises, they ordered the employees to line up along the fence. Vincent Lewis, who was working on a car, felt something touch his back and turned around to find an officer pointing a shotgun at him. The officers patted down and searched the employees. Pockets and purses were searched. The officers took at least Lewis's driver's license.3

         Judy Bass, the office manager, testified that she gave the officers paperwork showing that the car purchased by the complaining citizen had mismatched VINs because Bruce had purchased the car with the mismatched VINs from a government theft recovery program and was authorized to resell it that way. Root admitted receiving this paperwork during the search, but testified that it had "no bearing on his investigation."

         Bruce arrived at the Premises about ten minutes after the officers. Kelly told him that the officers were there to do an administrative records check. Another officer asked Bruce if he had the titles to all the cars that he had on the lot. Bruce gave the titles to the officer.4

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         Glantz told Bruce to sit in the lounge while they searched a desk in the hallway. In the desk drawer, containing mostly condiment packets, Root found a VIN plate. Glantz asked Bruce if he had any more loose VIN plates. Bruce produced a clear baggie from a locked briefcase in the office containing numerous VIN plates and VIN stickers. Glantz asked Bruce if there were any weapons in the briefcase and Bruce said "no."5 Kelly opened the briefcase and found twenty thousand dollars in cash, brass knuckles, a stun gun, and a loaded revolver.6 Root inspected the VIN plates from the briefcase and discovered one that appeared to be counterfeit.7 He also found a stack of business cards in the desk that advertised replication of factory VIN decals.

         Shortly thereafter, Bruce was arrested and charged with possession of loose VIN plates in violation of Fla. Stat. § 319.30(5)(b), 8 and with operating a "chop shop," in violation of Fla. Stat. § 812.16(2). 9

         At approximately 1:00 p.m., the officers began to thoroughly search the Premises. They went through every file, including tax, bookkeeping, and accounting records, and the office computer. They inspected all 150 plus vehicles on the lot--cutting some open with chain saws. These activities--including the detention of at least several employees--continued until after 6:00 p.m.

         During their search, the officers discovered two vans owned by Specialty Auto Rentals that had been reported stolen. Ms. Bass testified that she told Root that the vans were not stolen, that they were there for repairs for which the owners never paid, and offered documentation that Bruce had obtained mechanic's liens on the vans. She testified that the officer did not even look at the papers; he just threw them on the ground. Later, further proof of ownership of the vehicles on the Premises (some 150 vehicles had been purchased through the bankruptcy court) was offered and rejected.

         The officers found two other cars on the lot with suspicious identification. One had

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no VIN plate and the other had an altered VIN plate and sticker.

         At approximately 6:00 p.m., Root obtained a search warrant in order, he testified, to seize the records and other items at the Premises. Root's supporting affidavit averred that during the course of the administrative inspection, the officers found two vehicles that had been reported stolen and six other vehicles with missing or altered VIN plates. Root also attested that the officers found a briefcase that contained three VIN plates, seven VIN stickers, money, a stun gun, brass knuckles and a revolver, and, in the desk drawer, the business cards.10

         When Root returned to the Premises with the warrant, he and Glantz seized essentially all property on the Premises--including both business and personal files, tax records, and over 100 vehicle titles and registrations. They took the filing cabinets, copy machine and typewriter. They took the employees' personal tool belts and tools. Root testified that, in all, they seized seven pallets of Bruce's property.

         One month later, in February, the Sheriff's Office initiated a forfeiture proceeding as to the property, pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. After an evidentiary hearing, the Florida circuit court held that the defendants did not have probable cause to seize or retain any of Bruce's property, with the exception of the two vehicles mentioned above for which Bruce could produce no documentation at the hearing.11 The court ordered Sheriff Beary immediately to return to Bruce all of the remaining 150 plus vehicles, plus all of the various records, titles, VIN plates, and other property seized. In March, the Orange County state attorney dropped all criminal charges against Bruce.

         Beary did not, however, return Bruce's property. In May, Bruce and his lawyer at the time went to the Evidence Department of the Orange County Sheriff's Office and requested the return of the property, but Root informed Bruce that the Sheriff's Office would not return all of the property.12 Some time later, a Sheriff's Office truck delivered to the Premises some of the items taken during the raid. The truck driver had the officers' inventory list of property taken from the Premises, and several boxes of items were marked "do not return."13 Bruce testified in his deposition in this case that the Sheriff still retains seized items, including car titles, business records, tax files, insurance files, and other financial records.

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         In January of 2002, the Florida court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's order to return the property. Beary v. Bruce, 804 So.2d 579 (5th DCA 2002).

         In 2004, Bruce filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Sheriff Beary in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Orange County, and officers Randall Root, Kenneth Glantz and Edward Kelly in their individual capacities. Bruce alleges that the administrative inspection of his Premises constituted an unreasonable search and seizure and, therefore, violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgments to all defendants, holding that there were no constitutional violations and that, even if there were, Sheriff Beary and the officers have valid defenses to this lawsuit.

         We review these summary judgments de novo. Bailey v. Allgas, Inc., 284 F.3d 1237, 1242 (11th Cir. 2002). We shall first determine, based upon all facts fairly inferrable from the record, 14 whether the defendants violated Bruce's constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. If so, we shall then determine whether the law provides the Sheriff and the officers with defenses to liability for the violation. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001).


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