Castagna v. Jean

Decision Date10 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-1677,19-1677
Citation955 F.3d 211
Parties Christopher CASTAGNA; Gavin Castagna, Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Harry JEAN; Keith Kaplan; Daran Edwards, Defendants, Appellants. Jean Moise Acloque; Gary Barker; Michael Bizzozero; Terry Cotton; Richard Devoe; Jon-Michael Harber; Clifton Haynes; Gavin Mchale ; Kamau Pritchard; William Samaras; Stephen Smigliani; Anthony Troy ; Jay Tully; Brendan Walsh; Donald Wightman; James Doe, Individually; John Doe 1; John Doe 2; John Doe 3; John Doe 4; John Doe 5; John Doe 6; John Doe 7; John Doe 8; John Doe 9; John Doe 10; John Doe 11; John Doe 12, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Nicole M. O'Connor, Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, with whom Eugene L. O'Flaherty, Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, and Matthew M. McGarry, Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, were on brief, for appellants.

Paul J. Klehm, Andover, MA, with whom Benjamin L. Falkner, Andover, MA, and Krasnoo, Klehm & Falkner LLP were on brief, for appellees.

Before Lynch, Stahl, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

This appeal raises the issue of whether the three defendant Boston police officers were entitled to qualified immunity for entering through the open door of a house under the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. We hold that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity under these circumstances. We reverse the judgment for the plaintiffs and remand for the district court to enter judgment for the defendants.

I.

Qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985) (emphasis omitted). As such, a typical § 1983 defendant raises the qualified immunity defense in a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. Wilson v. City of Boston, 421 F.3d 45, 52 (1st Cir. 2005). The officers in this case did not raise their specific qualified immunity defense until they filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law at the end of the jury trial, to which the jury ruled for the officers. But this case's "unusual posture does not affect the viability of the qualified immunity defense." Id. at 53.

"[W]hen a qualified immunity defense is pressed after a jury verdict, the evidence must be construed in the light most hospitable to the party that prevailed at trial." Id. (quoting Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14, 23 (1st Cir. 1999) ). We first recite the facts in the light most favorable to appellants Daran Edwards, Harry Jean, and Keith Kaplan. Then we discuss this lawsuit's procedural history.

A. Facts

On March 17, 2013, the appellees, brothers Christopher and Gavin Castagna, hosted a St. Patrick's Day party for their friends at Christopher's apartment, located on the first floor of a three-story building at the intersection of East 6th Street and O Street in South Boston. The party was large enough that Christopher and Gavin moved furniture in advance of the party's start to accommodate the number of guests and purchased a keg of beer. One of the police officers later estimated that when he arrived at the scene there were as many as thirty guests there. As one guest testified, St. Patrick's Day in Boston is basically "a big party throughout the entire city."

By early evening, many of the guests at the Castagnas' party were intoxicated. Different guests estimated that they drank "between [twelve] and [fifteen] beers," eleven to thirteen beers, "ten beers," and "seven or eight beers" that day, respectively.

At 5:54 p.m., someone called 911 to report a loud party at the intersection of East 6th Street and O Street, the intersection where Christopher's apartment was located. At 7:29 p.m., police dispatch directed a group of officers to respond to the call. The officers sent were part of a unit composed of seven officers, including Edwards, Jean, and Kaplan. Although the unit normally worked in another neighborhood in the city, the officers had been reassigned to South Boston for the St. Patrick's Day holiday to supervise the parade in the morning and control "loud crowds, partying, [and] fighting" in the afternoon and evening. Many of the officers had done similar work on St. Patrick's Day in prior years.

The seven officers arrived at the scene at approximately 7:38 p.m. At that point in the evening, Christopher's apartment was the only one near the intersection with any observable signs of a party.

When Kaplan arrived on the scene, he heard screaming, music, and talking coming from Christopher's apartment. As he approached the apartment, Kaplan saw two or three guests leave the party. He thought one may have turned around and gone back inside, possibly to warn the others. In Kaplan's opinion, "[t]hey looked like they were underage." When he got close to the apartment, Kaplan could see into it because the "door was wide open." He also could see through the top of the window that there were people drinking inside. He testified that his first objective after arriving at the apartment was "to make contact with the owners."

Edwards gave a similar account. When he arrived, he also heard loud music and, through an open window, saw people drinking, some of whom he believed to be underage.

Jean arrived slightly after his fellow officers. He also heard music, saw that the front door was open, and noticed through the window that the people inside were drinking. He, too, believed that some of the guests were underage.1 As he approached the apartment, Jean "saw a young male come stumbling outside" onto the public sidewalk. Jean testified that the young man "walked around like -- you know, like a circle or half-circle, and then he hurled over, vomiting, and he did that twice. And then he stumbled back into the address that we were looking at."

Kaplan reached the apartment door and yelled "hello" several times and then "Boston Police." No one answered. According to Kaplan, "[w]hen no one answered, we kind of walked in."

At that point, none of the officers were intending to arrest anyone at the party, for underage drinking or any other crime. Kaplan explained that this response was in line with the police department's normal practice for responding to noise complaints: "Typically, we would just knock on the door, try to see who the owners are and tenants and have them turn the music down, shut the doors, keep the windows up and keep everything inside." Indeed, several of the officers did not have their handcuffs on them, which would have been necessary to make an arrest, explaining that they left them behind to lighten their load during a long day walking the parade route.

The officers explained at trial that there were two reasons for entering the home that evening: (1) to respond to the noise complaint by finding the homeowners and having them lower the volume of their music and (2) to make sure that any underage drinkers were safe, including the young-looking man who had vomited outside the home and returned inside.

Kaplan explained that "[o]f course, there's safety involved when there's underage drinkers." His goal was "to make sure everyone was safe, community caretaker, ... trying to make sure that there weren't any other underage drinkers in there or that nobody was sick and nobody was throwing up." Jean testified that his intention when entering the home "was strictly just ... the well-being check, ... doing community caretaker work, and to speak to the owner, ... to locate him, speak to him what's going on ... because it was spilling onto the sidewalk."

The guests were in the middle of a dance competition when the police entered through the open door, and they did not immediately respond. Eventually, when they noticed the officers, the guests turned off the music.2 Kaplan explained that there had been a complaint of underage drinking and asked for the homeowners.

There was a lull in which no one answered. Eventually some of the guests told the police that the owner's name was "Chris," but he was not in the room and was "in the back or the bathroom or something to that effect." Jean and another officer went to look for Christopher while the others stayed in the kitchen with most of the guests.

The officers explained at trial why it was important to talk to the owner of the property even though there was no longer any disruptive, loud music. Jean testified: "[H]e's the person in control of the apartment .... He's the one who would probably authorize all these people to be here. ... I don't know if it's an abandoned apartment and they're just throwing a party in it." Edwards agreed that it was important to talk to the homeowner "[b]ecause the homeowner is the person who's in charge of the apartment."

As Jean and the other officer made their way down the back hall, one of the guests heard them remark that they smelled drugs. The two officers knocked on the door of what they thought was the bathroom but was in fact Christopher's bedroom. According to Jean, the officers thought, "[w]e're going to let this guy use the bathroom, and then we'll talk to him, you know. We were patient. We had no problem." Jean eventually realized that the room they were waiting outside of was probably not a bathroom when he heard multiple voices coming from inside it, so he knocked on the door again. That was when Christopher and Gavin, who were inside with two other guests, heard the knocking at the door. Christopher opened the door for the officers. Christopher testified that this was the first time he realized police were in the apartment.

After Christopher opened the door for Jean, Jean announced himself as "Boston Police." Jean observed that Christopher appeared to have been drinking and noticed that there was marijuana in the bedroom. Christopher saw Jean looking at the marijuana, and in response he pushed Jean, slammed the door on Jean's foot, and held the door there.3 Jean pushed the door back open,...

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