710 F.3d 49 (2nd Cir. 2013), 11-4404-CV, Winfield v. Trottier

Docket Nº:11-4404-CV.
Citation:710 F.3d 49
Opinion Judge:DENNIS JACOBS, Chief Judge:
Party Name:Marie WINFIELD and Jason Winfield, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Daniel TROTTIER, Defendant-Appellant, Aimee Nolan, State of Vermont, Defendants.
Attorney:Michael B. Kimberly, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, DC, for Appellees. Megan J. Shafritz, Assistant Attorney General, (Jana M. Brown on the brief) for, William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, for the State of Vermont for Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, POOLER and HALL, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 06, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 49

710 F.3d 49 (2nd Cir. 2013)

Marie WINFIELD and Jason Winfield, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Daniel TROTTIER, Defendant-Appellant,

Aimee Nolan, State of Vermont, Defendants.

No. 11-4404-CV.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

March 6, 2013

Argued: Oct. 5, 2012.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Michael B. Kimberly, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, DC, for Appellees.

Megan J. Shafritz, Assistant Attorney General, (Jana M. Brown on the brief) for, William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, for the State of Vermont for Appellant.

Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, POOLER and HALL, Circuit Judges.

DENNIS JACOBS, Chief Judge:

Daniel Trottier (" Trottier" ), a Vermont State Police officer, appeals from an order entered in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Reiss, J. ), denying his motion for qualified immunity in a claim brought by motorist Marie Winfield (" Winfield" ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Trottier violated her Fourth Amendment rights when, while searching her car with her consent during a traffic stop, he read a piece of her mail.

At issue is the scope of Winfield's consent to the search of her car, which is determined by looking at what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between Trottier and Winfield. We conclude that, while the scope of Winfield's consent was not limited to a search for any particular object of contraband, it did not extend to the text of her mail. However, since this right was not clearly established at the time of the search, Trottier is entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore reverse.

BACKGROUND

The district court found that the following facts were undisputed. On May 26, 2007, Winfield was driving north on Interstate 89 in Vermont, en route to visit her father in Montreal. Trottier, a state trooper, stopped her for driving twenty miles per hour over the limit, and was inspired to search the car by certain things he deemed suspicious: The passenger, Winfield's son Jason, avoided making eye contact with him; and Winfield was eating a Powerbar " in what he regarded as a hurried manner." Winfield v. Trottier, No. 5:08-cv-278, 2011 WL 4442933, at *1 (D.Vt. Sept. 21, 2011).

As Trottier was waiting for verification of Winfield's identity, he approached the car and asked, " Ms. Winfield, you don't have to if you don't want to, but while we're waiting, would you mind coming back here for a minute [behind the car] and talk[ing] to me for a second?" She got out and walked with Trottier to the back of her car while State Trooper Aimee Nolan arrived on the scene, as backup.

The following exchange ensued:

TROTTIER: Listen, is there anything in there I should know about? You seemed awfully nervous when I was talking with you.... Your hand was shaking and you're— you had, like, a leg tremor going on. No?

WINFIELD: Not that I know of.

TROTTIER: Oh, Okay. Not that you know of, or there's nothing? It just kind of, you know, piqued my interest there.

WINFIELD: Really?

TROTTIER: Because when I was talking with you, you were shaking; your voice was shaking.

Winfield explained that she was " probably tired" because her daughter's high school graduation was the previous night. The conversation continued:

TROTTIER: Okay. Okay. There's nothing in there I should know about is there? No guns or money?

WINFIELD: You can look if you want.

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TROTTIER: Oh you don't mind? Do you mind? No— no large sums of money in there or— no? Okay.

WINFIELD: Be my guest.

TROTTIER: Okay.

WINFIELD: You can look.

TROTTIER: Okay. Here. Hold on one second.

WINFIELD: Inside my trunk?

TROTTIER: Okay.

WINFIELD: I don't know [inaudable]—

TROTTIER: Here. Do me a favor, okay?

WINFIELD: I don't have anything.

TROTTIER: What's that?

WINFIELD: No, I don't have anything in there. My—

TROTTIER: Okay. Oh, just stay over here for a second. I don't want you to get run over. Do you mind?

WINFIELD: I was just going to pop my trunk.

TROTTIER: Oh, that's okay. Do you mind if I look through— do— do you mind? You don't mind? Okay. Do me a favor. Stand over here for me. You don't have anything on you we should know about, do you? No guns or bombs or anything like that?

WINFIELD: [Inaudible.]

TROTTIER: No? Okay.

Id. at *2-3.

After patting down Jason (with his consent), Trottier searched the car. Trottier, who admits he was not looking for anything in particular, found an envelope addressed either to or from a court, opened it,1 and read what was inside. It was a court document pertaining to the arrest of Winfield's husband " for possession," and a letter that Winfield had written to a judge. Id. at *3 n. 4. After finishing the search and finding nothing, he issued a speeding citation and the Winfields proceeded on their way.

The Winfields sued, alleging, inter alia, violations of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The district court concluded that " no reasonable understanding of the exchange between Ms. Winfield and Trooper Trottier could be construed as consent for Trooper Trottier to read Ms. Winfield's mail, regardless of to whom or from whom [the mail] was addressed." Id. at *10. The court denied qualified immunity because " [i]t was well-established at the time of the search that ‘ [i]t is a violation of a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights for a consensual search to exceed the scope of the consent given.’ " Id. at *11 (quoting United States v. McWeeney, 454 F.3d 1030, 1034 (9th Cir.2006)) (second alteration in original).

DISCUSSION

The Court reviews de novo a decision on a motion for summary judgment. Mario v. P & C Food Mkts., Inc., 313 F.3d 758, 763 (2d Cir.2002); see also Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292, 300 (2d Cir.2003). Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Miller, 321 F.3d at 300. In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the Court is " required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment [was granted]."

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Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir.2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).

I

" Qualified immunity protects officials from liability for civil damages as long as ‘ their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’ " Gilles v. Repicky, 511 F.3d 239, 243 (2d Cir.2007) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). In deciding qualified...

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