Crosby v. Paulk, No. 97-8585

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
Writing for the CourtBIRCH
Citation187 F.3d 1339
Parties(11th Cir. 1999) Joe CROSBY, Leverne Crosby, Rick Crosby, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Ashley PAULK, J.R. Winningham, Terry Griffin, Johnny Kendrick, Defendants-Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 97-8585
Decision Date10 September 1999

Page 1339

187 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 1999)
Joe CROSBY, Leverne Crosby, Rick Crosby, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Ashley PAULK, J.R. Winningham, Terry Griffin, Johnny Kendrick, Defendants-Appellants.
No. 97-8585.
United States Court of Appeals,
Eleventh Circuit.
Sept. 10, 1999.

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Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. (No. 7:95-CV-88), Hugh Lawson, Judge.

Before BIRCH and BARKETT, Circuit Judges, and HANCOCK*, Senior District Judge.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

This interlocutory appeal requires us to determine if local law enforcement officers and a state revenue agent are entitled to qualified immunity for investigating underage drinking and after hours sales of alcohol in nightclubs. On summary judgment, the district judge denied qualified immunity. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1994, the Valdosta/Lowndes/Brooks Drug Task Force ("Drug Task Force") was conducting an ongoing criminal investigation of unlawful alcohol sales to minors or on Sunday of all establishments selling alcohol in Valdosta and Lowndes County. The adjoining nightclubs, known as Some Place Else and Rick's, owned by Leverne Crosby and managed by her son, Rick Crosby,1 were known by local law enforcement officials as among the worst establishments for violating the underage drinking laws in Lowndes County. Sheriff Ashley Paulk's office and the Drug Task Force had received numerous complaints from citizens, including local clergy, a college official, and parents about serving alcohol to minors at these nightclubs. The complaints began with the opening of Some Place Else in the mid-1980's. It was well known in the community that the Crosbys' nightclubs catered to college students, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-two.2

Agent Terry Griffin of the Drug Task Force began investigating alcohol sales at the Crosbys' nightclubs in February, 1994. Based on his investigation, Commander J.R. Winningham of the Drug Task Force obtained arrest warrants for Leverne Crosby, Rick Crosby, and Cindy Crosby, Rick Crosby's wife.3 Agent Johnny Kendrick

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of the Georgia Department of Revenue also was investigating violations of the Georgia alcoholic beverage laws at the Crosbys' nightclubs. On March 11, 1994, Agent Kendrick and other revenue agents together with the Drug Task Force, including Agent Griffin and forty law enforcement officers, united their respective investigations for the dual purposes of conducting an administrative search of the Crosbys' nightclubs to ascertain if underage alcohol sales as well as Sunday alcohol sales were occurring there and to execute the arrest warrants.4 Local news media accompanied the investigating officers.

The nightclubs were secured so that identifications of approximately 400 patrons could be checked.5 Verifying underage sales of alcohol requires that the minor be found under the influence of alcohol or in the possession of an alcoholic beverage. Agent Kendrick asked Joe Crosby to open his office and to produce credit card receipts so that Agent Kendrick could ascertain if there was evidence of after hours sales of alcohol; Agent Kendrick and other revenue agents also checked for credit card receipts in cash register drawers6 and inspected beer taps to see if they were dispensing the indicated beer. There is no evidence that any officer involved in securing the nightclubs and conducting the investigation drew a weapon or threatened the arrestees or any of the patrons. The investigation was completed in two hours and resulted in arrests of approximately seventy individuals and fifty-four convictions for underage drinking.7

Additionally, revenue agents discovered that beer was being dispensed under incorrectly labeled taps. Subsequent investigation by revenue agents, who contacted the Crosbys' alcohol wholesalers, revealed that they were purchasing liquor for both nightclubs under one liquor license held by Leverne Crosby. This violation of Georgia law resulted in another inspection of the nightclubs on March 17, 1994, that included Agent Kendrick and other revenue agents. The revenue agents effected an administrative confiscation of what was believed to be unlawfully purchased alcohol. They enlisted the assistance of members of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office and the Drug Task Force to assist in removing and transporting the confiscated alcohol. Leverne Crosby was issued a citation and was ordered to appear before an Administrative Law Judge from the Department of

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Revenue with regard to her confiscated alcohol. At the hearing the administrative charges were reduced to a warning and the confiscated alcohol was returned to Leverne Crosby based on her agreement not to file a claim for any damaged liquor.8

Joe, Leverne, and Rick Crosby filed an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Sheriff Paulk, Drug Task Force Commander J.R. Winningham and Agent Griffin as well as Agent Kendrick of the Georgia Revenue Department in their individual capacities. They alleged Fourth Amendment violations consisting of unreasonable, warrantless searches and seizures, due process violations, excessive force, and related state-law claims. All defendants-appellants raised the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. After extensive discovery, defendants-appellants moved for summary judgment. The district judge granted in part and denied in part these motions for summary judgment. On appeal, defendants-appellants pursue their entitlement to summary judgment based on qualified immunity concerning the claims on which the district judge denied them qualified immunity: unreasonable, warrantless search of the premises in conjunction with executing the arrest warrants for the Crosbys; excessive force in executing the search; and related state-law claims as to Sheriff Paulk, Commander Winningham, and Agent Griffin.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Qualified Immunity

The denial of summary judgment for a qualified immunity claim is immediately appealable as a final decision under 28 U.S.C. 1291. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2817, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Our review in determining entitlement to qualified immunity is de novo. See Pickens v. Hollowell, 59 F.3d 1203, 1205 (11th Cir.1995). Qualified immunity protects government officials who have acted within their discretionary authority from civil trials and other litigation burdens "if their conduct violates no 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.' "9 Lassiter v. Alabama A & M Univ., 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir.1994) (en banc) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)).

The qualified immunity defense "embodies an 'objective reasonableness' standard, giving a government agent the benefit of the doubt," provided that the conduct was not "so obviously illegal in the light of then-existing law that only an official who was incompetent or who knowingly was violating the law would have committed" the acts. GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir.1998). Because "we have 'rejected the inquiry into [an official's] state of mind in favor of a wholly objective standard,' " the government actor's intent and motivation are insignificant in determining qualified immunity. Flores v. Satz, 137 F.3d 1275, 1277 n. 4 (11th Cir.1998) (per curiam) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). "[S]tate officials can act lawfully even when motivated by a dislike or hostility" if the record shows that they would have acted in the same way without such sentiments. Foy v. Holston, 94 F.3d 1528, 1534 (11th Cir.1996). Thus, we need not address the alleged ill will between Sheriff Paulk and his agents and the Crosbys for qualified immunity analysis. "[W]henever a public officer is sued for money damages in his individual capacity for violating federal law, the basic qualified immunity question looms unchanged: Could a reasonable officer have believed that what the defendant did might be lawful in the circumstances and

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in the light of the clearly established law?" Id.

In reviewing an assertion of entitlement to qualified immunity, we "must first determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all." Conn v. Gabbert, --- U.S. ----, 119 S.Ct. 1292, 1295, 143 L.Ed.2d 399 (1999); see County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, n. 5, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 1714 n. 5, 140 L.Ed.2d 1043 (1998) (recognizing that deciding whether a constitutional right exists in 1983 cases before determining if that right was clearly established at the time in question clarifies the legal standards for government officials and other individuals); Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 1793, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991) (stating that courts should not assume the violation of a constitutional right but decide this preliminary issue before determining whether the law was clearly established at the time that the public official acted). Only if this threshold determination is surmounted do we "proceed to determine whether that right was clearly esta blished at the time of the alleged violation." Conn, 119 S.Ct. at 1295; see Wascura v. Carver, 169 F.3d 683, 685 (11th Cir.1999) (recognizing that the failure to state a violation of federal law resolves or moots the issue of qualified immunity).

For a constitutional right to be clearly established, it "must be sufficiently clear [so] that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3039, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). General rules, propositions, or abstractions, such as acting with probable cause, do not determine qualified immunity. See Lassiter, 28 F.3d at 1150. Instead, the circumstances that confronted the government actor must...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • 6 Julio 2016
    ...claim in state court." Ingram v. School Bd. of Miami-Dade Cty., 167 Fed. Appx. 107, 109 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1352 (11th Cir. 1999)). "State courts, not federal courts, should be the final arbiters of state law." Baggett v. First Natl. Bank ......
  • Powers v. Csx Transp., Inc., No. CIV.A.99-0326-RV-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • 5 Julio 2000
    ...a preferred order of treatment into a mandatory one. See Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1270-71 (11th Cir.1999); Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999); McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1254 (11th This Court does not construe Conn and Wilson as mandating a specific ord......
  • Kirwin v. Price Communications Corp., No. CIV.A. CV 01-F-1201S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 23 Julio 2003
    ...convenience, fairness, and the like." Lewis v. City of St. Petersburg, 260 F.3d 1260, 1267 (11th Cir.2001), quoting Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1352 (11th The plaintiffs do not deny that they can bring (and, indeed, have brought)13 an appraisal action in the Delaware Court of Chanc......
  • Club Retro, L.L.C. v. Hilton, No. 08-30512.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 6 Mayo 2009
    ...administrative inspection justification was a pretext for a search for evidence of criminal wrongdoing. 14. In Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 1999), the Eleventh Circuit upheld a less intrusive raid as a constitutional exercise of an administrative inspection where "no ... o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
118 cases
  • Black Diamond Land Mgmt., LLC v. Twin Pines Coal Co., Case No.: 2:14-cv-02333-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • 6 Julio 2016
    ...the claim in state court." Ingram v. School Bd. of Miami-Dade Cty., 167 Fed. Appx. 107, 109 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1352 (11th Cir. 1999)). "State courts, not federal courts, should be the final arbiters of state law." Baggett v. First Natl. Bank of Gainesvi......
  • Powers v. Csx Transp., Inc., No. CIV.A.99-0326-RV-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • 5 Julio 2000
    ...a preferred order of treatment into a mandatory one. See Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1270-71 (11th Cir.1999); Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999); McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1254 (11th This Court does not construe Conn and Wilson as mandating a specific ord......
  • Kirwin v. Price Communications Corp., No. CIV.A. CV 01-F-1201S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 23 Julio 2003
    ...convenience, fairness, and the like." Lewis v. City of St. Petersburg, 260 F.3d 1260, 1267 (11th Cir.2001), quoting Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1352 (11th The plaintiffs do not deny that they can bring (and, indeed, have brought)13 an appraisal action in the Delaware Court of Chancery —......
  • Club Retro, L.L.C. v. Hilton, No. 08-30512.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 6 Mayo 2009
    ...administrative inspection justification was a pretext for a search for evidence of criminal wrongdoing. 14. In Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 1999), the Eleventh Circuit upheld a less intrusive raid as a constitutional exercise of an administrative inspection where "no ... office......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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