Owens ex rel. Owens v. Lott

Decision Date15 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-1194.,No. 03-1196,03-1194.,03-1196
Citation372 F.3d 267
PartiesDestiny OWENS, a minor under the age of fourteen years, by and through her mother and Guardian ad Litem, Latanya OWENS; Leshia Donaldson; William Clayton; Gregory Owens, a minor under the age of fourteen years, by and through his mother and Guardian ad Litem, Latanya Owens; Latanya Owens, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Leon LOTT, Richland County Sheriff; J. Maldonado; Jane Doe; Richard Doe, Richland County Deputy Sheriffs, Defendants-Appellees. Destiny Owens, a minor under the age of fourteen years, by and through her mother and Guardian ad Litem, Latanya Owens; Leshia Donaldson; William Clayton; Gregory Owens, a minor under the age of fourteen years, by and through his mother and Guardian ad Litem, Latanya Owens; Latanya Owens, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Leon Lott, Richland County Sheriff; J. Maldonado; Jane Doe; Richard Doe, Richland County Deputy Sheriffs, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Francis Thomas Draine, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees Destiny Owens, et al. Andrew Frederick Lindemann, Davidson, Morrison & Lindemann, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants Leon Lott, et al.

ON BRIEF:

William H. Davidson, II, Robert D. Garfield, Davidson, Morrison & Lindemann, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants Leon Lott, et al.

Before MICHAEL, TRAXLER, and SHEDD, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge TRAXLER wrote the opinion, in which Judge MICHAEL and Judge SHEDD joined.

OPINION

TRAXLER, Circuit Judge:

Tiffeny Owens, Latanya Owens, Leshia Donaldson, and William Clayton (collectively "plaintiffs") brought this civil rights action under section 1983 against Deputy Sheriff Gerardo Maldonado, the Sheriff of Richland County, and two unnamed Richland County deputies, identified as "Jane Doe" and "Richard Roe" (collectively "defendants"). Plaintiffs assert defendants violated the Fourth Amendment when defendants conducted a strip-search of the women and a patdown of Clayton pursuant to a search warrant for drugs located at a private residence and "all persons at the premise [s]." J.A. 247. The district court agreed with plaintiffs that defendants' search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; however, the court granted qualified immunity to defendants and awarded them summary judgment on that basis.

Plaintiffs appeal the district court's grant of qualified immunity, and defendants cross-appeal the district court's determination that their conduct, as alleged by plaintiffs, violated the Fourth Amendment. We reject both challenges and affirm the district court.

I.

On June 8, 2000, Deputy Gerardo Maldonado, a narcotics officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff's Department in Columbia, South Carolina, received a call from a confidential informant who claimed to have observed the sale of a large amount of cocaine at a private residence where he had stayed that night as a guest. According to the informant, from whom Deputy Maldonado had received accurate information on previous occasions, "a black male in his late teens or early twenties" had been selling the illegal drugs "in an expeditious manner" during the informant's visit. J.A. 139-40. Deputy Maldonado's informant suggested that law enforcement move swiftly in order to apprehend the drug dealer. Shortly after the phone call, the informant led Deputy Maldonado and Deputy Fred Brantley to a small house in which he claimed to have seen the drug transactions.

With the help of another officer, Deputy Jackie Kight, Deputy Maldonado drafted a proposed search warrant and executed a supporting affidavit, which he presented to a state magistrate judge around 4:00 p.m. on June 8. The affidavit stated the following:

Within the past 72 hours a confidential and reliable informant has observed cocaine distributed from the location to be searched. The informant is reliable in that [he] has provided information of on at least four occasions that has [led] to at least four arrest[s] and the seizure of illegal drugs. Through the affiant's and other ... Narcotic officers['] experience in drug enforcement, it is known that subjects present at the scene of illegal drug [transactions] ... commonly have drugs in their possession.

J.A. 247. Based on the foregoing statement, Deputy Maldonado sought a search warrant for "[c]ocaine, paraphernalia and paperwork associated with the sale, storage and use of cocaine" found on the premises identified by the informant, "to include all persons at the premise[s]." Id. (emphasis added). The magistrate judge signed the warrant, authorizing the officers to search "all persons at the premise[s]," id., and deputies Maldonado and Kight, and several additional officers, immediately served and executed the warrant. Less than 24 hours elapsed between the time at which the confidential informant claimed to have witnessed the criminal activity and the execution of the warrant.

When defendants arrived, sisters Tiffeny and Latanya Owens were inside of the house with Latanya's two minor children. Officers initially handcuffed Tiffeny and Latanya and then Deputy Kight, a female officer, took them to a bathroom and performed a thorough search for drugs and weapons. Although Tiffeny and Latanya suggested in their deposition testimony that they had been required to remove undergarments to facilitate the search — which conflicts with Deputy Kight's assertion that she never removes clothing during a search — there is no claim before us that the manner in which the search was conducted was itself unconstitutional.

Soon after Deputy Kight had conducted the search of Tiffeny and Latanya, their mother, Leshia Donaldson, arrived with her fiance William Clayton. Donaldson who owned the property, was escorted by Kight to the bathroom and searched for drugs and weapons in the same manner as were her daughters. Like her daughters, Donaldson offered a version of what happened during the search that was not completely consistent with that of Deputy Kight, but she also does not contend that the manner of the search itself was unconstitutional. Officers frisked Clayton over his outer garments for drugs and weapons. No narcotics were found in the search of the house or its occupants.

All four adult subjects of the search, as well as the two minors, filed this action in state court against the Sheriff of Richland County, Deputy Maldonado and two officers who participated in the execution of the search warrant, identified as Jane Doe and Richard Roe, alleging that the search of the individuals violated the Fourth Amendment. It is undisputed that the defendant identified as "Jane Doe" is Deputy Kight. The remainder of plaintiffs' claims — eight of them — were based on state tort law. Defendants removed the action to district court, asserted a qualified immunity defense, and sought summary judgment on that basis.

The district court followed the two-step qualified immunity analytical sequence prescribed by the Supreme Court. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). The court first held that the search of plaintiffs violated the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The district court defined the issue as "whether police officers may validly obtain and execute a search warrant for `all persons' present at a locale, absent showing of particularized probable cause to search each individual." J.A. 329. Rejecting the view that "all persons" warrants similar to that procured by Deputy Maldonado are per se unconstitutional, the district court adopted the widely-held position, as suggested in State v. De Simone, 60 N.J. 319, 288 A.2d 849 (1972), that such warrants can pass constitutional muster if there was probable cause to believe "all persons" found at the location being searched "would be involved in the criminal operation" occurring there. Id. at 854; see id. at 850 (affirming the constitutionality of the search of a passenger in an automobile used to conduct an illegal gambling operation pursuant to a search warrant for the vehicle "`and all persons found therein.'"). The district court determined there was no such probable cause in this case, finding that "the only rationale ... to support a claim of particularized probable cause" to search all individuals found on the property was "the individual's proximity to the alleged [criminal] activity." J.A. 339. Citing Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 91, 100 S.Ct. 338, 62 L.Ed.2d 238 (1979), the court noted that, without more, "the connection between proximity to crime and involvement in crime [is] too tenuous to support... [an] `all persons' warrant." J.A. 339-40.

Turning to the question of qualified immunity, however, the district court held that, at the time of the unconstitutional search, the right violated by defendants was not clearly established. The district court concluded that, "[b]ased on the lack of Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent dealing directly with `all persons' warrants," and the lack of consensus among decisions at the time that did touch on the issue, the law was insufficiently clear to divest defendants of their qualified immunity. J.A. 342. Accordingly, the court granted defendants qualified immunity, dismissed the section 1983 claim, and remanded the remaining claims, all of which are grounded in state law, to state court.

Defendants appeal the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs' section 1983 action states a constitutional violation; defendants agree with the district court, of course, that the law was not clearly established for purposes of qualified immunity. Conversely, plaintiffs agree with the district court's determination that the search was constitutionally invalid, but challenge the court's conclusion...

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