815 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 2016), 13-56686, Mendez v. Cnty. of Los Angeles

Docket Nº:13-56686, 13-57072
Citation:815 F.3d 1178
Opinion Judge:GOULD, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:ANGEL MENDEZ; JENNIFER LYNN GARCIA, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT, Defendants, and CHRISTOPHER CONLEY, Deputy; JENNIFER PEDERSON, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees
Attorney:Thomas C. Hurrell, Melinda Cantrall (argued), Hurrell Cantrall LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees. David Drexler, Sherman Oaks, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
Judge Panel:Before: Ronald M. Gould and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges, and George Caram Steeh III,[*] Senior District Judge. Opinion by Judge Gould.
Case Date:March 02, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 1178

815 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 2016)

ANGEL MENDEZ; JENNIFER LYNN GARCIA, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,

v.

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT, Defendants, and CHRISTOPHER CONLEY, Deputy; JENNIFER PEDERSON, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees

Nos. 13-56686, 13-57072

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 2, 2016

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California December 8, 2015.

As Corrected March 2, 2016.

Page 1179

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1180

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1181

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1182

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1183

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 2:11-cv-04771-MWF-PJW. Michael W. Fitzgerald, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Civil Rights

The panel (1) affirmed the district court's bench trial judgment finding that Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity for a warrantless entry and were liable for the damages arising from the shooting that followed, (2) dismissed as moot plaintiffs' cross-appeal, (3) reversed the district court's determination that the deputies were not entitled qualified immunity on plaintiffs' knock-and-announce claim, and (4) remanded for the district court to vacate the nominal damages for that claim.

While participating in a warrantless raid of a house, the defendant deputies entered the backyard, opened the door to a wooden shack, and shot plaintiffs, a homeless couple who resided in the shack.

The panel first held that the district court properly determined that the deputies conducted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment under clearly established law. The panel determined that the facts supported a finding that the shack was in the curtilage adjacent to the home and that it was clearly established at the time that the deputies undertook a search by entering the rear of the house through a gate and by further opening the door to the shack in the curtilage behind the house. The panel agreed with the district court that the deputies did not demonstrate specific and articulable objective facts of an exigency that would meaningfully differentiate this case from clearly established law, or that would have demonstrated that the entry was a lawful protective sweep. Because the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by searching the shack without a warrant, which proximately caused the plaintiffs' injuries, the panel held that the district court's award of damages under the provocation doctrine was proper.

The panel held that the deputies violated the knock-and-announce rule, but that the law in 2010 was not clearly established in this respect. To clearly establish the law going forward, the panel held that officers must knock and re-announce their presence when they know or should reasonably know that an area within the curtilage of a home is a separate residence from the main house. Finally, the panel held that even though only one of the officers opened the door to the shack, both were liable as integral participants in the unlawful search.

Thomas C. Hurrell, Melinda Cantrall (argued), Hurrell Cantrall LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

David Drexler, Sherman Oaks, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

Before: Ronald M. Gould and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges, and George Caram Steeh III,[*] Senior District Judge. Opinion by Judge Gould.

OPINION

Page 1184

GOULD, Circuit Judge:

While participating in a warrantless raid of a house, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson entered the backyard, opened the door to a wooden shack, and shot Angel and Jennifer Mendez, a homeless couple who resided in the shack. After a bench trial, the district court held that the deputies violated the Fourth Amendment knock-and-announce requirement and prohibition on warrantless searches, finding that no exigent circumstances applied. The district court denied the deputies' bid for qualified immunity and awarded the Mendezes damages.

The deputies argue on appeal that the district court erred by denying their qualified immunity defense. The Mendezes cross-appeal the district court's conclusion that the deputies had probable cause to believe that a wanted parolee was hiding in the shack when the deputies searched it. We affirm the district court's conclusion that the deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity for their warrantless entry, and we hold that the district court properly awarded damages for the shooting that followed. Given this disposition, the cross-appeal is dismissed as moot. We reverse, however, the district court's determination that the deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity on the knock-and-announce claim, and we remand for the district court to vacate the nominal damages for that claim.

I

Because this case involves the deputies' renewed assertion of qualified immunity after judgment, we recite the following facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving parties and the factfinder's verdict. A.D. v. Cal. Highway Patrol, 712 F.3d 446, 452-53 (9th Cir. 2013).

In October 2010, Deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson were part of a team of twelve police officers that responded to a call from a fellow officer who believed he had spotted a wanted parolee named Ronnie O'Dell entering a grocery store. O'Dell had been classified as armed and dangerous by a local police team, although that classification was " standard" for all parolees-at-large without regard to individual circumstances. Before that day, " Conley and Pederson did not have any information regarding Mr. O'Dell." Conley testified that at the time of the search he knew nothing about O'Dell's " criminal past" and that he didn't recall being given information that O'Dell was armed and dangerous, and Pederson testified that the only information she was given about O'Dell was that he was a parolee-at-large.1 The officers searched the grocery store for

Page 1185

O'Dell but did not find him. The officers then met behind the store to debrief.

During this debriefing, another deputy, Claudia Rissling, received a tip from a confidential informant that a man fitting O'Dell's description was riding a bicycle in front of a residence owned by a woman named Paula Hughes. The officers " developed a plan" in which some officers would proceed to the Hughes house, but because " the officers believed that there was a possibility that Mr. O'Dell already had left the Hughes residence," others would proceed to a different house on the same street. Conley and Pederson were " assigned to clear the rear of the Hughes property for the officers' safety . . . and cover the back door of the Hughes residence for containment." The officers were told that " a male named Angel (Mendez) lived in the backyard of the Hughes residence with a pregnant lady (Mrs. Mendez)." 2 Pederson heard that announcement, but Conley testified that he did not recall it.3

Conley and Pederson arrived at the Hughes residence along with three other officers. The officers did not have a search warrant to enter Hughes's property. Conley and Pederson were directed " to proceed to the back of the Hughes residence through the south gate." Once in the backyard, the deputies encountered three storage sheds and opened each of them, finding nothing.

During this time, other officers (led by Sergeant Gregory Minster) banged on the security screen outside Hughes's front door and asked Hughes to open the door. Speaking through the door, Hughes asked the officers whether they had a warrant, and she refused to open the door after being told they did not. Minster then heard someone running inside the residence, who he assumed was O'Dell. The officers retrieved a pick and ram to bust open Hughes's door, at which point Hughes opened the front door. Hughes was pushed to the ground, handcuffed, and placed in the backseat of a patrol car. The officers did not find anyone in the house.

Pederson then met up with Minster and told him, " I'm going [to] go ahead and clear the backyard," and Minster approved. Conley and Pederson then proceeded through the backyard toward a 7' x 7' x 7' shack made of wood and plywood. The shack was surrounded by an air conditioning unit, electric cord, water hose, clothes locker (which may have been open), clothes, and other belongings. The deputies did not knock and announce their presence at the shack, and Conley " did not feel threatened." Approaching the shack from the side, Conley opened the wooden door and pulled back a blue blanket used as a curtain to insulate the shack. The deputies then saw the silhouette of an adult male holding what appeared to be a rifle pointed at them. Conley yelled " Gun!" and both deputies fired fifteen shots in total. Other nearby officers ran back toward the shots, and one officer shot and killed a dog.

The tragedy is that in fact, Mendez was holding only a BB gun that he kept by his bed to shoot rats that entered the shack; as the door was opening, he was in the process of moving the BB gun so he could sit up in bed. The district court found that the BB gun was pointed at the deputies, although the witnesses' testimony on that point was conflicting and the court

Page 1186

recognized that Mendez may not have intended the gun to point that direction while he was getting up. Both Mendezes were injured by the shooting. Mr. Mendez required amputation of his right leg below the knee, and Ms. Mendez was shot in the back.

The Mendezes sued Conley and Pederson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP