Coffin v. Brandau, No. 08–14538.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore DUBINA, Chief Judge, and TJOFLAT, EDMONDSON, CARNES, BARKETT, HULL, MARCUS, WILSON, PRYOR, MARTIN, ANDERSON and BLACK, Circuit Judges.
Citation22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 2131,642 F.3d 999
Docket NumberNo. 08–14538.
Decision Date03 June 2011
PartiesJohn COFFIN, Cynthia Coffin, Plaintiffs–Appellants,v.Stacy BRANDAU, individually, f.k.a. Stacy Ferris, James Lutz, individually, Defendants–Appellees.

642 F.3d 999
22 Fla.
L. Weekly Fed. C 2131

John COFFIN, Cynthia Coffin, Plaintiffs–Appellants,
v.
Stacy BRANDAU, individually, f.k.a. Stacy Ferris, James Lutz, individually, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 08–14538.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

June 3, 2011.


[642 F.3d 1003]

Yardley Drake Buckman, II, Amiee Ruth Buckman, Buckman & Buckman, P.A., Sarasota, FL, for John and Cynthia Coffin.Ralph L. Marchbank, Jr., Dickinson & Gibbons, PA, Sarasota, FL, for Stacy Brandau.Nevin Alan Weiner, Nevin A. Weiner, P.A., Richard R. Garland, Dickinson & Gibbons, P.A., Sarasota, FL, for James Lutz.Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.Before DUBINA, Chief Judge, and TJOFLAT, EDMONDSON, CARNES, BARKETT, HULL, MARCUS, WILSON, PRYOR, MARTIN, ANDERSON and BLACK, Circuit Judges.ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

In this case, Cynthia Coffin attempted to shut her open garage door to prevent two Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies, James Lutz and Stacy Brandau, from serving a court order on her husband, John Coffin.1 As Ms. Coffin attempted to close the open garage door, Brandau stepped into the threshold, breaking the electronic-eye safety beam on the garage door and causing the door to retreat to its open position. The Deputies, who did not possess either a search warrant or an arrest warrant, entered the Coffins' attached open garage and arrested Ms. Coffin for obstruction of justice. The Coffins then sought damages against Lutz and Brandau under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the grounds that the Deputies' warrantless entry into their garage and Ms. Coffin's arrest violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

The Deputies argued that qualified immunity shielded them from liability. Respecting the only two claims before the court—Ms. Coffin's challenge to her arrest and both Plaintiffs' challenge to the Deputies' entry into the garage—the district court granted summary judgment to the Deputies. The district court concluded that, although the Deputies violated the Coffins' Fourth Amendment rights by entering the garage, that right was not clearly established. And because there was at least arguable probable cause to arrest Ms. Coffin for obstructing service of legal process, the Deputies were entitled to qualified immunity on both Ms. Coffins' arrest claim and on the Plaintiffs' challenge to the entry into the garage. On initial appeal, we affirmed. Coffin v. Brandau, 609 F.3d 1204 (11th Cir.2010).

[642 F.3d 1004]

This court then vacated that decision and granted rehearing en banc to address whether the warrantless seizure of Ms. Coffin inside her garage by Deputies Brandau and Lutz violated the Coffins' Fourth Amendment rights and, if so, whether those rights were clearly established when this incident occurred, such that the Deputies should be stripped of qualified immunity. Coffin v. Brandau, 614 F.3d 1240 (11th Cir.2010). We hold that although the Deputies' entrance into the garage did violate the Coffins' Fourth Amendment rights, the boundaries of the right violated here were not clearly established and, thus, the Deputies are entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Deputies both on Ms. Coffin's arrest claim and on the Plaintiffs' challenge to the entrance of the garage.

I. Facts

Deputy Lutz arrived at the Coffins' home on April 18, 2006, shortly before 6:30 PM, during daylight hours. Lutz was there to serve Mr. Coffin with an Order of Temporary Injunction Against Repeat Violence, which Mr. Coffin's tenant had obtained six days earlier from the Circuit Court for Charlotte County, Florida.2 The injunction required Mr. Coffin to surrender any firearms or ammunition in his possession to the Sarasota County Sheriff and ordered “[t]he Sheriff of Sarasota County, or any other authorized law enforcement officer ... to serve this temporary injunction upon Respondent as soon as possible after its issuance.”

The Coffins' home faces the street and is in close proximity to the sidewalk. The attached garage also faces the street and was fully open at the time Deputy Lutz arrived, exposing its interior. The driveway leads directly from the street to the garage, and a pathway veers left from the driveway up to the front door. Between the front door and the garage, the house has a large front bay window which had its curtains drawn open at the time Lutz arrived.

Upon his arrival, Lutz approached the Coffins' front door and rang the bell. Cynthia Coffin answered the door and Lutz explained that he had papers to deliver to Mr. Coffin.3 Ms. Coffin responded that Mr. Coffin was in the bathroom and Lutz would have to wait. She then shut and locked the front door. After waiting a few minutes, Lutz walked back down the pathway facing the front bay window and, believing he had made eye contact with Ms. Coffin through the window, waved the paperwork above his head as a reminder that he was waiting. Under the impression that Ms. Coffin had seen him, Lutz walked back up to the front door expecting her to open it and give him an update. As he approached the front door, he overheard a man's voice asking, “What did he want?” Lutz then either rang the bell or knocked on the front door for a second time but received no answer. He then walked up to the front window to try to

[642 F.3d 1005]

get the Coffins' attention. Ms. Coffin, upset that Lutz was walking through her bushes, began shouting for him to get out of her bushes and off her property and threatened to call the police. Lutz backed up from the window and walked over to his patrol car, parked on the street at the driveway, in order to call for backup because he felt the Coffins were trying to avoid service and there was a possibility of obstruction.

About five to eight minutes after calling for backup, Deputy Brandau arrived at the scene. Around the time of Brandau's arrival, Lutz saw a man that he assumed was Mr. Coffin through the front window.4 Brandau was on the phone with her supervisor while Lutz was apprising her of the situation at the Coffin house.

According to Lutz, the Deputies were standing in front of the open garage door while Brandau was talking on the phone with a supervisor about what to do next when they heard the interior garage door open and close and the rolling garage door start to close. Brandau interrupted the phone call, and walked into the open garage, tripping the electronic sensor and causing the garage door to retreat to its open position. Lutz followed, and saw Brandau go and knock on the interior door from the garage to the kitchen, whereupon Ms. Coffin came out into the garage and yelled at both Deputies to get off her property. Brandau announced to Ms. Coffin an intention to arrest her for obstructing service of process.

According to Ms. Coffin, she opened the door from the kitchen to the garage, reached out and pushed the automatic button to close the garage door, at which time she saw Brandau followed by Lutz walk into the garage and trip the electronic sensor causing the garage door to return to its open position. She then walked into the garage to talk with Brandau, feeling more comfortable talking to a female.5

The parties agree that the Deputies attempted to arrest Ms. Coffin for obstruction of service of process and that a struggle ensued as the Deputies attempted to handcuff Ms. Coffin. The struggle began between the Deputies and Ms. Coffin in the garage, and when Mr. Coffin intervened included both Deputies and both Coffins and expanded from the garage to the house.6 Additional deputies arrived and both Mr. and Ms. Coffin were ultimately

[642 F.3d 1006]

arrested.7

We are no longer required to follow the two-step process once mandated by Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). Thus, we are free to address the question of whether the facts that the plaintiff alleged showed a violation of a constitutional right or the question of whether the right at issue was clearly established in the order most appropriate for the case at hand.

As noted, the Coffins present only two claims. Both Coffins challenge the Deputies' entry into the garage; only Ms. Coffin challenges her arrest. 8 We address first Ms. Coffin's claim for an unlawful arrest. Then we address whether the entry into the garage violated the Coffin's Fourth Amendment rights. Because we conclude that the entry did violate Fourth Amendment rights, we address finally whether there was a violation of clearly established Fourth Amendment law.

II. Ms. Coffin's Claim for Unlawful Arrest

Deputies are entitled to qualified immunity on claims of false arrest so long as they had probable cause or arguable probable cause for the arrest. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir.2002). We easily conclude that the Deputies had ample probable cause to arrest Ms. Coffin for misdemeanor obstruction of justice. At the very least, they had arguable probable cause for arrest, which is all that is required for qualified immunity purposes. Id. at 1195. The difficulty with the arrest in this case turns not on the probable cause question, but on the question of whether the officers were entitled to enter the garage in order to make that warrantless arrest. See Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 95, 110 S.Ct. 1684, 1687, 109 L.Ed.2d 85 (1990) (“It was held in Payton v. New York that a suspect should not be arrested in his house without an arrest warrant, even though there is probable cause to arrest him.”) (citation omitted); United States v. Edmondson, 791 F.2d 1512, 1515 (11th Cir.1986) (“A finding of probable cause alone ... does not justify a warrantless arrest at a suspect's home.”). For the reasons discussed below, we hold that it was not clearly established that the garage entry here would violate the Fourth Amendment, and because the Deputies had probable cause to arrest Ms. Coffin for obstruction, they are entitled to qualified immunity on this claim.

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  • Ermini v. Scott, Case No: 2:15-cv-701-FtM-99CM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • April 5, 2017
    ...objective police officer would have perceived there to be probable cause based upon the totality of the circumstances. Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1006 (11th Cir. 2011). The existence of probable cause "constitutes an absolute bar" to a § 1983 claim for false arrest. Rankin, 133 F.3d a......
  • Martin v. Wrigley, CIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 1:20-CV-596-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • May 21, 2021
    ...the conduct at issue violated a constitutional right." Jones v. Fransen, 857 F.3d 843, 851 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). There are three methods to show that the government official had fair warning:First, the plaintiffs may show......
  • Nelson v. Lott, Civil Action No. 5:18-CV-0059-CLS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • July 24, 2018
    ...with a previously decided case[,]... but the unlawfulness of the conduct must be apparent from pre-existing law." Coffin v. Brandau , 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011) (en banc ) (alterations supplied). Even though Supreme Court precedent does not require a case directly on point in order......
  • United States v. Ratcliff, Case No.: 2:15-cr-415-RDP-SGC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • August 16, 2016
    ...including portions that would be considered part of the curtilage, in order to carry out legitimate police business." Coffin v. Brandau , 642 F.3d 999, 1012 (11th Cir.2011) (en banc ) (citation omitted). However, "[w]hile law enforcement officers need not ‘shield their eyes' when passing by......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
296 cases
  • Ermini v. Scott, Case No: 2:15-cv-701-FtM-99CM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • April 5, 2017
    ...objective police officer would have perceived there to be probable cause based upon the totality of the circumstances. Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1006 (11th Cir. 2011). The existence of probable cause "constitutes an absolute bar" to a § 1983 claim for false arrest. Rankin, ......
  • Martin v. Wrigley, CIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 1:20-CV-596-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • May 21, 2021
    ...conduct at issue violated a constitutional right." Jones v. Fransen, 857 F.3d 843, 851 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). There are three methods to show that the government official had fair warning:First, the plaintiffs may sho......
  • Nelson v. Lott, Civil Action No. 5:18-CV-0059-CLS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • July 24, 2018
    ...with a previously decided case[,]... but the unlawfulness of the conduct must be apparent from pre-existing law." Coffin v. Brandau , 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011) (en banc ) (alterations supplied). Even though Supreme Court precedent does not require a case directly on point in ......
  • United States v. Ratcliff, Case No.: 2:15-cr-415-RDP-SGC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • August 16, 2016
    ...portions that would be considered part of the curtilage, in order to carry out legitimate police business." Coffin v. Brandau , 642 F.3d 999, 1012 (11th Cir.2011) (en banc ) (citation omitted). However, "[w]hile law enforcement officers need not ‘shield their eyes' when passing by......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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