54 F.3d 1437 (9th Cir. 1995), 93-56248, Murdock v. Stout

Docket Nº:93-56248, 93-56643.
Citation:54 F.3d 1437
Party Name:Clyde MURDOCK; Linda Murdock; Jeffrey Murdock, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Ed STOUT; City of Fontana; Jacobson, Police Officer # 193; Walby, Police Officer # 222; and Robins, Police Officer # 307, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 26, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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54 F.3d 1437 (9th Cir. 1995)

Clyde MURDOCK; Linda Murdock; Jeffrey Murdock, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Ed STOUT; City of Fontana; Jacobson, Police Officer # 193;

Walby, Police Officer # 222; and Robins, Police

Officer # 307, Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 93-56248, 93-56643.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 26, 1995

Argued and Submitted Feb. 8, 1995.

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Stephen Yagman, Yagman & Yagman, Venice, CA, for plaintiffs-appellants.

David D. Lawrence and Carol D. Janssen, Franscell, Strickland, Roberts & Lawrence, Pasadena, CA, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

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Before: BEEZER and NOONAN, Circuit Judges, and EZRA, District Judge. [*]

Opinion by Judge BEEZER; dissent by Judge NOONAN.

BEEZER, Circuit Judge:

We consider whether exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry and search of a house along with the brief seizure of an occupant by police officers investigating a suspected burglary.

Clyde Murdock, Linda Murdock, and Jeffrey Murdock (collectively "Murdock") appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Ed Stout, the City of Fontana, California, and Fontana Police Officers Mark Jacobson, Dave Walby and Darren Robins (collectively "Fontana") in Murdock's 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action alleging a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The district court concluded that the police officers acted reasonably when they entered Murdock's house without a warrant and briefly detained him while investigating a possible burglary. We have jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291, and we affirm.


The facts are undisputed. On March 23, 1992, Robert Keck called the Fontana Police Department to report what he believed was suspicious activity in his neighborhood. Keck informed the Fontana police dispatcher that a passerby had told him that he saw a young person run from a neighbor's house across the street, enter an automobile and drive away. The house, identified by Keck as 13767 Lighthouse Court, was, according to the passerby, dark. The dispatcher, believing that a "possible burglary or other crime had occurred" contacted three police officers by radio. 1

Fontana Police Officers Jacobson, Walby, and Robins arrived at the house to investigate shortly before 8:30 p.m. The officers observed that the windows were secure and the garage door was closed. Officers Jacobson and Robins proceeded to the rear of the house, where they noticed a sliding door open approximately 8 to 10 inches. Inside, a television was on "at a low setting" and the lights were "dim." Officer Jacobson twice announced his presence by shouting, "Fontana Police. Anybody home?" The announcement was sufficiently loud for Officer Walby to hear it across the street. No one responded. The telephone then rang several times. No one answered, and an answering machine was activated.

At this point, Officers Jacobson and Robins entered the house through the open door. Using their flashlights, and with their guns drawn, they searched the living room and kitchen. The officers discovered several cans of beer on a table near the television. The officers then entered the bedroom. They observed a man, later identified as Clyde Murdock, lying on the bed partially covered by some type of blanket. Officer Jacobson announced that he was a police officer. Because the man's hands were hidden under the blanket, Officer Jacobson immediately demanded that the man show his hands. Murdock began yelling at the officers. Officer Jacobson eventually removed the blanket, discovering that Murdock was fully clothed and was wearing shoes.

Officer Robins then let Officer Walby in the house. As Murdock had yet to be identified, Walby and Robins continued to search the house for "possible suspects or other persons." They found nothing. While this additional search was being performed, Murdock

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refused to answer Officer Jacobson's questions regarding his name and address.

When Walby and Robins returned to the bedroom, the officers conducted a pat down search of Murdock. 2 Murdock was then identified by his driver's license. He continued to act belligerently toward the officers and demanded their badge numbers. The officers provided Murdock with their badge numbers and left the Murdock residence, stopping at Keck's house to inform him that no burglary or other crime had occurred.

Murdock later called Fontana Police Headquarters to complain about the incident. A police sergeant explained the reason for the intrusion. Murdock did not request an investigation.

Murdock filed a section 1983 action seeking money damages of 20 million dollars. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Fontana's motion, concluding that the officers acted reasonably when they conducted a warrantless search of the house and briefly seized Murdock. Murdock appeals.

Murdock later sought sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against Fontana because it initially included a claim for photocopying expenses in its bill of costs. Fontana withdrew its request after Murdock objected to the claim. The district court declined to impose sanctions. Murdock also appeals this decision.


We review de novo a district court's determination of the validity of a warrantless entry into a residence. United States v. Lai, 944 F.2d 1434, 1441 (9th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1062, 112 S.Ct. 947, 117 L.Ed.2d 116 (1992). We also review de novo a grant of summary judgment. Jesinger v. Nevada Fed. Credit Union, 24 F.3d 1127, 1130 (9th Cir.1994).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." A warrantless search or seizure carried out in a private residence is presumptively unreasonable. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 748-49, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 2096-97, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984); Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 2042-43, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971). Indeed, the protection of individuals from unreasonable government intrusion into their houses remains at the very core of the Fourth Amendment. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 589-90, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1381-82, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980); see also United States v. United States Dist. Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 2134, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972) (physical entry of the home is "chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed").

Police entry into a house without a warrant is not, however, always unreasonable. Instead, a number of purportedly "well-delineated" exceptions permit law enforcement officers to conduct constitutionally reasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). Because a warrantless search is presumed to be unreasonable, Fontana bears the burden of establishing the applicability of any exception.

Here, Fontana invokes the "exigent circumstances exception" to the search warrant requirement. The exigency exception, unlike other more discrete counterparts such as consent searches or searches incident to arrest, is in fact more of a residual group of factual situations that do not fit into other established exceptions. See Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment Secs. 6.5-6.6 (2d ed. 1987). The critical commonality shared by exigency cases is the need for quick action in an emergency situation. United States v. Warner, 843 F.2d 401, 403 (9th Cir.1988) (noting that presence of exigent circumstances necessarily

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implies insufficient time to obtain a warrant).

We have defined exigent circumstances as:

"those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry ... was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts."

Lai, 944 F.2d at 1442 (quoting United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 (9th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824, 105 S.Ct. 101, 83 L.Ed.2d 46 (1984)). We evaluate the reasonableness of a warrantless entry in view of the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of the police officers at the time of the entry. United States v. Lindsey, 877 F.2d 777, 781 (9th Cir.1989).

Although exigent circumstances relieve the police officer of the obligation of obtaining a warrant, they do not relieve an officer of the need to have probable cause to enter the house. Lai, 944 F.2d at 1441; United States v. Valles-Valencia, 811 F.2d 1232, 1236 (9th Cir.), amended, 823 F.2d 381 (1987). One commentator has noted, however, that an analysis of probable cause in exigency cases "must be applied by reference to the circumstances then confronting the officer, including the need for prompt assessment of sometimes ambiguous information concerning potentially serious consequences." LaFave Sec. 6.6(a), at 698. 3

To determine if the officers had probable cause to enter Murdock's house, we examine the totality of the circumstances known to the officers at the time they entered. Lai, 944 F.2d at 1441 (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2332, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983)). Probable cause requires only a fair probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing that such activity occurred. Gates, 462 U.S. at 244, 103 S.Ct. at 2335.

When the three Fontana police officers arrived at the house, they knew that...

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