Burgess v. Bowers, 041619 FED6, 18-5177

Docket Nº:18-5177, 18-5179
Opinion Judge:NALBANDIAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:WILLIAM CHARLES BURGESS and GRACE BURGESS, Plaintiff-Appellees, v. CHUCK BOWERS, JR., WESLEY G. NORRIS, DEBBIE JENKINS, STEPHEN A. BALLARD, GREGORY H. STANLEY, and DAVID THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellants,
Judge Panel:BEFORE: BOGGS, KETHLEDGE, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:April 16, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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WILLIAM CHARLES BURGESS and GRACE BURGESS, Plaintiff-Appellees,

v.

CHUCK BOWERS, JR., WESLEY G. NORRIS, DEBBIE JENKINS, STEPHEN A. BALLARD, GREGORY H. STANLEY, and DAVID THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellants,

Nos. 18-5177, 18-5179

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

April 16, 2019

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

BEFORE: BOGGS, KETHLEDGE, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

NALBANDIAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Officers with the Knox County Sheriff's Department entered Grace Burgess's home without a warrant to search for and arrest her son, William Burgess. The officers believed they had probable cause to arrest William because he had been evading their attempts to serve him process for weeks. They eventually found William hiding inside a crawlspace within the basement, but because William failed to heed their repeated warnings to come out, they deployed a canine to apprehend him. When that did not work, they tased him three times, which incapacitated him and allowed the officers to arrest him.

Grace and William ("the Burgesses") subsequently brought this § 1983 action asserting state and federal claims against the officers. After the officers moved for summary judgment, the district court denied them qualified immunity, and this appeal followed. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM in part, REVERSE in part, VACATE in part, and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

Officer Chuck Bowers attempted to serve civil process on William Burgess several times over several weeks to no avail. As William put it, he had been "evading and hiding" from Bowers to avoid being served. [R. 1, Compl. at PageID #2 ¶ 5.] One day, Bowers attempted to serve William at his mother's home, which he also uses as a business address. The Burgesses operate a landscaping business near the house called Turf Masters.

After learning from an employee that William was on the property, Bowers called for backup, so Officer Debbie Jenkins and other officers were dispatched to assist him. While on her way, Jenkins called her supervisor, Captain Wesley Norris, who advised her that she could enter the property if she had probable cause to make an arrest for evasion of process or obstruction of justice.

Upon her arrival, Jenkins made her way to the back of the house where she found Officers Stanley and Thompson speaking to William's mother, Grace Burgess. Stanley and Thompson told Jenkins that they could hear Grace speaking back and forth with William, begging for him to come out, and that he was refusing.

When Grace confirmed that William was inside, Jenkins believed she had probable cause to enter the house and arrest him. Over Grace's objection, Jenkins entered the house with Thompson, and together they searched the main level of the house. At some point, Officer Ballard also arrived on the scene and, together with Stanley and Thompson, found William hiding in the crawlspace of the basement underneath a vapor barrier. The officers repeatedly commanded William to come out, but he refused, so Ballard sent a canine to apprehend him. When William attempted to fight off the dog, Stanley and Thompson tased him three times.1 The officers' tasers rendered William unable to defend himself from the canine, which continued to bite him, leaving him with permanent injuries. Thereafter, the officers arrested William.

A grand jury indicted William on one count of preventing and obstructing an arrest and on two separate counts of preventing and obstructing civil service of process in violation of T.C.A. § 39-16-602-all class B misdemeanors. While William's criminal trial was pending, he and Grace filed this § 1983 action against the officers. In their complaint, they asserted Fourth Amendment unreasonable-search-and-seizure claims along with aggravated-assault and false-arrest claims under Tennessee law.

William was convicted after a jury trial, although his conviction was eventually overturned on appeal. See State v. Burgess, 532 S.W.3d 372 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2017). Meanwhile, the parties had submitted several filings in this action in which they moved for certain relief and simultaneously responded to previous filings.[2] These filings culminated in the officers' renewed motion to dismiss based on collateral estoppel and their supplemental motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court granted the officers qualified immunity on William's state-law claim of false arrest. But it denied the officers qualified immunity with respect to the Burgesses' Fourth Amendment unreasonable-search-and-seizure claims. The court also denied the officers' renewed motion to dismiss.

This appeal followed.

II

"Qualified immunity shields government officials from standing trial for civil liability in their performance of discretionary functions unless their actions violate clearly established rights." Thompson v. City of Lebanon, 831 F.3d 366, 369 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Once an official invokes the defense of qualified immunity in a § 1983 action, the plaintiff bears the burden of overcoming the defense. "At the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant violated a constitutional right and (2) that right was clearly established." Id. (citing Quigley v. Tuong Vinh Thai, 707 F.3d 675, 680 (6th Cir. 2013)).

Ordinarily, we may not review a district court's denial of summary judgment because we only have jurisdiction to hear appeals from final decisions. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291. "In the context of a denial of qualified immunity, however, a denial of summary judgment may be treated as final under § 1291." Barry v. O'Grady, 895 F.3d 440, 443 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985)). But our review is circumscribed by the interlocutory posture of the appeal. We have jurisdiction to review the pure legal question of whether "the undisputed facts or the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff fail to establish a prima facie violation of clear constitutional law." Berryman v. Rieger, 150 F.3d 561, 563 (6th Cir. 1998). With limited exceptions, however, we may not review the district court's determinations of "which facts a party may, or may not, be able to prove at trial." Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313 (1995).

III

Grace's Unreasonable-Search Claim. The officers argue that the district court erred in denying them qualified immunity on Grace's unreasonable-search claim because she "produced no cases clearly establishing that a warrant is required to enter a building that is open to the public for the sale of mulch but also serves as a residence." [Bowers Opening Br. at 24.] But the parties vigorously contest whether, in fact, Grace's home contains a mulch shop that is open to the public or whether, instead, the shop is located in a separate building. This is quintessentially the type of factual dispute we lack jurisdiction to review on appeal from a district-court order denying qualified immunity. See Johnson, 515 U.S. at 313.

What the parties (and the district court) agree on is that the building is Grace's home. As a result, our analysis of Grace's unreasonable-search claim is straightforward. Absent exigent circumstances, officers violate a person's rights if they enter her home without a warrant or her consent solely to execute an arrest warrant for another person. See Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 213-14 (1981). Much less, it follows, may officers enter her...

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