506 U.S. 56 (1992), 91-6516, Soldal v. Cook County

Docket Nº:No. 91-6516
Citation:506 U.S. 56, 113 S.Ct. 538, 121 L.Ed.2d 450, 61 U.S.L.W. 4019
Party Name:Soldal v. Cook County
Case Date:December 08, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court

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506 U.S. 56 (1992)

113 S.Ct. 538, 121 L.Ed.2d 450, 61 U.S.L.W. 4019



Cook County

No. 91-6516

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 8, 1992

Argued Oct. 5, 1992




While eviction proceedings were pending, Terrace Properties and Margaret Hale forcibly evicted petitioners, the Soldal family, and their mobile home from a Terrace Properties' mobile home park. At Hale's request, Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff's Department deputies were present at the eviction. Although they knew that there was no eviction order and that Terrace Properties' actions were illegal, the deputies refused to take Mr. Soldal's complaint for criminal trespass or otherwise interfere with the eviction. Subsequently, the state judge assigned to the pending eviction proceedings ruled that the eviction had been unauthorized, and the trailer, badly damaged during the eviction, was returned to the lot. Petitioners brought an action in the Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Terrace Properties and Hale had conspired with the deputy sheriffs to unreasonably seize and remove their home in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Acknowledging that what had occurred was a "seizure" in the literal sense of the word, the court reasoned that it was not a seizure as contemplated by the Fourth Amendment because, inter alia, it did not invade petitioners' privacy.

Held: The seizure and removal of the trailer home implicated petitioners' Fourth Amendment rights. Pp. 61-72.

(a) A "seizure" of property occurs when "there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113. The language of the Fourth Amendment -- which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures of "their persons, houses, papers, and effects" -- cuts against the novel holding below, and this [113 S.Ct. 541] Court's cases unmistakably hold that the Amendment protects property even where privacy or liberty is not implicated. See, e.g., ibid.; Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350. This Court's "plain view" decisions also make untenable the lower court's construction of the Amendment. If the Amendment's boundaries were defined exclusively by rights of privacy, "plain view" seizures, rather than being scrupulously subjected to Fourth Amendment inquiry, Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321, 326-327, would not implicate that constitutional provision at all. Contrary to the Court of Appeals'

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position, the Amendment protects seizure even though no search within its meaning has taken place. See, e.g., Jacobsen, supra, 466 U.S. at 120-125. Also contrary to that court's view, Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, does not require a court, when it finds that a wrong implicates more than one constitutional command, to look at the dominant character of the challenged conduct to determine under which constitutional standard it should be evaluated. Rather, each constitutional provision is examined in turn. See, e.g., Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517. Pp. 61-71.

(b) The instant decision should not foment a wave of new litigation in the federal courts. Activities such as repossessions or attachments, if they involve entering a home, intruding on individuals' privacy, or interfering with their liberty, would implicate the Fourth Amendment even on the Court of Appeals' own terms. And numerous seizures of this type will survive constitutional scrutiny on "reasonableness" grounds. Moreover, it is unlikely that the police will often choose to further an enterprise knowing that it is contrary to the law, or proceed to seize property in the absence of objectively reasonable grounds for doing so. Pp. 71-72.

942 F.2d 1073 (CA7 1991), reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Edward Soldal and his family resided in their trailer home, which was located on a rented lot in the Willoway Terrace

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mobile home park in Elk Grove, Illinois. In May, 1987, Terrace Properties, the owner of the park, and Margaret Hale, its manager, filed an eviction proceeding against the Soldals in an Illinois state court. Under the Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Act, Ill.Rev.Stat., ch. 110, ¶ 9-101 et seq. (1991), a tenant cannot be dispossessed absent a judgment of eviction. The suit was dismissed on June 2, 1987. A few months later, in August, 1987, the owner brought a second proceeding of eviction, claiming nonpayment of rent. The case was set for trial on September 22, 1987.

Rather than await judgment in their favor, Terrace Properties and Hale, contrary to Illinois law, chose to evict the Soldals forcibly two weeks prior to the scheduled hearing. On September 4, Hale notified the Cook County's Sheriff's Department that she was going to remove the trailer home from the park, and requested the presence of sheriff deputies to forestall any possible resistance. Later that day, two Terrace Properties employees arrived at the Soldals' home accompanied by Cook County Deputy Sheriff O'Neil. The employees proceeded to wrench the sewer and water connections off the side of the trailer home, disconnect the phone, tear off the trailer's canopy and skirting, and hook the home to a tractor. Meanwhile, O'Neil explained to Edward Soldal that "`he was there to see that [Soldal] didn't interfere with [Willoway's] work.'" Brief for Petitioner 6.

[113 S.Ct. 542] By this time, two more deputy sheriffs had arrived at the scene, and Soldal told them that he wished to file a complaint for criminal trespass. They referred him to deputy Lieutenant Jones, who was in Hale's office. Jones asked Soldal to wait outside while he remained closeted with Hale and other Terrace Properties employees for over twenty minutes. After talking to a district attorney and making Soldal wait another half hour, Jones told Soldal that he would not accept a complaint because "`it was between the landlord and the tenant . . . [and] they were going to go ahead and continue to move

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out the trailer.'" Id. at 8.[1] Throughout this period, the deputy sheriffs knew that Terrace Properties did not have an eviction order and that its actions were unlawful. Eventually, and in the presence of an additional two deputy sheriffs, the Willoway workers pulled the trailer free of its moorings and towed it onto the street. Later, it was hauled to a neighboring property.

On September 9, the state judge assigned to the pending eviction proceedings ruled that the eviction had been unauthorized, and ordered Terrace Properties to return the Soldals' home to the lot. The home, however, was badly damaged.[2] The Soldals brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. They claimed that Terrace Properties and Hale had conspired with Cook County deputy sheriffs to unreasonably seize and remove the Soldals' trailer home. The District Judge granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the Soldals had failed to adduce any evidence to support their conspiracy theory and, therefore, the existence of state action necessary under § 1983.[3]

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, construing the facts in petitioners' favor, accepted their contention that there was state action. However, it went on to hold that

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the removal of the Soldals' trailer did not constitute a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment or a deprivation of due process for purposes of the Fourteenth.

On rehearing, a majority of the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, reaffirmed the panel decision.[4] Acknowledging that what had occurred was a "seizure" in the literal sense of the word, the court reasoned that, because it was not made in the course of public law enforcement, and because it did not invade the Soldals' privacy, it was not a seizure as contemplated by the Fourth Amendment. 942 F.2d 1073, 1076 (1991). Interpreting prior cases of this Court, the Seventh Circuit concluded that, absent interference with privacy or liberty, a "pure deprivation of property" is not cognizable under the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 1078-1079. Rather, petitioners' property interests were protected only by the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.[5]

[113 S.Ct. 543] We granted certiorari to consider whether the seizure and removal of the Soldals' trailer home implicated their Fourth Amendment rights, 503 U.S. 918 (1992), and now reverse.[6]

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The Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 30 (1963), provides in pertinent part 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. . . .

A "seizure" of property, we have explained, occurs when "there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984). In addition, we have emphasized that "at the very core" of the Fourth Amendment "stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home." Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961). See also Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 178-179 (1984); Wyman v. James, 400 U.S. 309, 316 (1971); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 601 (1980).

As a result of the state action in this case, the Soldals' domicile was not only seized, it literally was carried away, giving new meaning to the term "mobile home." We fail to see how being unceremoniously dispossessed of one's home in the manner alleged to have occurred here can be viewed as anything but a seizure invoking...

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