518 F.3d 1233 (11th Cir. 2008), 07-10570, Bates v. Harvey

Docket Nº:07-10570.
Citation:518 F.3d 1233
Party Name:D'Anna BATES, Gary Bates, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Deputy Lee HARVEY, Defendant-Appellant, Sheriff Jimmy Thomas, Defendant.
Case Date:March 04, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1233

518 F.3d 1233 (11th Cir. 2008)

D'Anna BATES, Gary Bates, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Deputy Lee HARVEY, Defendant-Appellant,

Sheriff Jimmy Thomas, Defendant.

No. 07-10570.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

March 4, 2008

Page 1234

Jason C. Waymire, Terry Eugene Williams, Terry Williams & Associates, P.C., Buford, GA, for Harvey.

William J. Atkins, Eleanor Mixon Attwood, Parks, Chesin & Walbert, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Before TJOFLAT, HULL and WILSON, Circuit Judges.

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WILSON, Circuit Judge:

Lee Harvey, a deputy sheriff with the Pike County, Georgia Sheriff's Department ("Deputy Harvey"), appeals the denial of his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. In her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit, Plaintiff D'Anna Bates ("Mrs. Bates") claims that Deputy Harvey falsely arrested her after entering her home without a warrant to search for the subject of a civil commitment order, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.1 The district court concluded that Deputy Harvey was not entitled to qualified immunity because Mrs. Bates established that neither consent nor exigent circumstances justified Deputy Harvey's warrantless entry, search, and arrest in her home under then-clearly established law. Although we agree that Deputy Harvey deprived Mrs. Bates of her constitutional rights, we nonetheless conclude that Deputy Harvey is entitled to qualified immunity on Mrs. Bates's false arrest claim because at the time he acted, the law did not give a reasonable officer fair and clear warning that a civil commitment order does not present circumstances sufficiently exigent to excuse the warrantless entry and search of an unrelated third party's home. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's denial of Deputy Harvey's motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds and remand this case back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND2

On the morning of March 21, 2003, Mark and Wanda Wilson went before the Probate Court of Upson County, Georgia to request a civil commitment order for their 17-year old son, "J.T." They presented the court with a form affidavit supporting their request. By checking off the applicable boxes, the Wilsons alleged in the form affidavit that based on what they both had observed in the preceding 48 hours, J.T. was an alcoholic and drug dependent who required involuntary treatment and "who present[ed] a substantial risk of imminent harm to himself or others as manifested by either recent overt acts or recent expressed threats of violence which present a probability of physical injury to himself or to other persons ...." DMSJ (Exh. 1 at 1-2).3 In addition to the form affidavit, Mark Wilson told the court that "his son is a drug abuser [who] will not go to school, work[;] he says he does [not] care about anything." Id. at 5. Wanda Wilson stated that "her son needs help before he hurts himself or someone else." Id. The parents' sworn statements were recorded onto the last page of the affidavit, followed by form language stating that, "[t]he condition

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is so serious that he/she should be examined forthwith at an Emergency Receiving Facility according to law." Id. The affidavit set forth the parents' home as the young man's address. Based on the form affidavit, the Probate Court issued a civil commitment order to any peace officer in Upson County to take J.T. into custody and deliver him to West Central Georgia Regional, an emergency receiving facility. The Probate Court's order did not make any finding as to J.T., but simply recited the affidavits on file in the probate office alleging that J.T. presented a substantial risk of imminent harm to himself or others.

Sergeant David Walker ("Sergeant Walker") of the Upson County Sheriff's Office was charged with executing the civil commitment order later that morning. After the Probate Court issued the order, Wanda Wilson verbally informed Sergeant Walker that J.T. might be found at his friend's house, and she gave the officer an address in Pike County, Georgia. Sergeant Walker requested assistance from the Pike County Sheriff's Office, and Deputy Harvey agreed to help execute the commitment order by driving to the address with Sergeant Walker following in his own patrol car. Before heading out to the address, Deputy Harvey reviewed the civil commitment order and the attached form affidavit, which was eventually left in Sergeant Walker's patrol car. Sergeant Walker told Deputy Harvey that they were traveling to the Pike County address because J.T.'s mother believed that her son was spending the night at his friend's house. Both officers knew they were going to a third party's home to look for J.T.; neither officer attempted to obtain a search warrant.

Shortly after 9 a.m., Mrs. Bates's 14-year-old step-daughter, "S.B.," answered the officers' knock on the back door to the Bates residence. The officers asked S.B. if J.T. was in the house, and she told them that he wasn't.4 The officers then asked who else was present in the house, and before S.B. could answer, the officers asked if they could come in and search the house. When S.B. responded "I don't know," the officers walked inside. Deputy Harvey and Sergeant Walker immediately proceeded to the hallway where the bedrooms were located and opened the door to the bedroom where Mrs. Bates's 18-year-old step-daughter, "H.B.," was lying in bed. The officers asked H.B. whether J.T. was in the house, and she responded that she didn't know. H.B. testified that the officers then asked if they could look around, to which she replied "something to the effect of I guess so." H.B. Dep. at 7-8. The officers proceeded to another bedroom belonging to Mrs. Bates's 19-year-old son, "C.L.," where they found C.L. and J.T. asleep. The officers woke up the two boys and Sergeant Walker stood by as J.T. dressed. Both young men followed the officers' directions.

From her bathroom, Mrs. Bates heard a male voice she did not recognize shouting, "Is this you? Is this you?" Hearing loud voices and banging, Mrs. Bates came out of her bedroom to investigate. She immediately saw Deputy Harvey standing at C.L.'s doorway, yelling at C.L. and demanding to know if the license found on a dresser belonged to him. Mrs. Bates demanded to see a search warrant, and Deputy Harvey replied that he had a court order. Mrs. Bates asked to see the order. Rather than produce the civil commitment order, however, Deputy Harvey tried to explain how the commitment order authorized the officers to enter her home. Mrs. Bates insisted that the officers must leave her house immediately if they could

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not show her a search warrant. Deputy Harvey told Mrs. Bates that Sergeant Walker left the civil commitment order in his patrol car, but neither officer made any attempt to retrieve the order. Deputy Harvey warned Mrs. Bates that he would arrest her for obstruction of justice if she continued to impede the officers' execution of the civil commitment order.

The verbal exchange between Deputy Harvey and Mrs. Bates continued for about a minute, with Mrs. Bates demanding that the officers show her a search warrant or leave her home. Deputy Harvey suddenly approached Mrs. Bates, grabbed her hand, and twisted her arm around to her back until she fell to the floor as he attempted to place her in handcuffs. One handcuff caught onto his watch, forcing Deputy Harvey to release Mrs. Bates, who ran to the bathroom. Before she could close the bathroom door, Deputy Harvey reached Mrs. Bates, grabbed her by the shoulder, spun her around and struck her in the face. Mrs. Bates fell to the floor. Deputy Harvey grabbed Mrs. Bates by her feet and dragged her across the bathroom floor out into the hallway, while she screamed and kicked, trying to escape. While her children stood by watching the scene unfold, Sergeant Walker joined in, putting his knee into Mrs. Bates's back as he and Deputy Harvey pulled her arms in opposite directions. At this moment Gary Bates entered the front door to find the two officers pinning his wife face-down on the floor.

When the officers saw Gary Bates, they stood up, one on each side of Mrs. Bates, and lifted her from the floor while still holding on to her arms. As they stood, Deputy Harvey glanced out the window and saw J.T. running across the field behind the Bates's home. When Sergeant Walker asked whether Mrs. Bates was under arrest, Deputy Harvey responded, "not at this time. We need to find [J.T.]" Harvey Dep. at 79. Other officers, who were already on their way to the Bates residence in response to Deputy Harvey's earlier call for back up, joined in the search for J.T. Deputy Harvey ordered another officer to remain with Mrs. Bates before dashing out the side door in pursuit of J.T. Sergeant Walker also remained in the home for some time before leaving to participate in the search.

Mrs. Bates slipped the one handcuff, which was not fully clasped, off her wrist. Although the officers remained in the house, Mrs. Bates moved freely about, showered and called her sister for legal advice. Gary Bates asked Sheriff Jimmy Thomas, whom he knew personally, to come to their home and discuss the morning's events. Deputy Harvey and the other officers eventually called off their search and allowed plain clothes officers to continue looking for J.T. Another officer found J.T. a few hours later on a nearby roadway.

After chasing for J.T., Deputy Harvey returned to the Bates residence to effect the arrest of Mrs. Bates for obstruction of justice. Mrs. Bates was speaking with Gary Bates by his truck in the driveway. Upon seeing Deputy Harvey, Mr. and Mrs. Bates...

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