June 18, 2019

Archives for September 21, 2015

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 9/21/2015

On Monday, September 21, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court issued one published opinion.

Dwyer v. State

The summary for this case is forthcoming, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: No Exigent Circumstances Existed to Justify Warrantless Entry

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McInerney v. King on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Joan McInerney reportedly pushed her ex-husband’s girlfriend on the Colorado School of Mines campus in July 2009, and Officer Dennis King, a part-time officer with the Colorado School of Mines Police Department, was assigned to investigate the incident. Officer King obtained Ms. McInerney’s address from her ex-husband and went to her house at 7:40 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, 2009, to serve her with a summons for harassment. Upon arriving at her house, he found several windows and doors open and a general state of disarray in the open garage. He called the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for backup without knocking or otherwise announcing his presence, and Deputy Brian McLaughlin, an officer with 23 years’ experience, responded. Deputy McLaughlin asked if Officer King had tried to call Ms. McInerney, and Officer King admitted he hadn’t. Deputy McLaughlin decided to perform a welfare check and entered the house. Officer King followed. Both men had guns drawn, despite later admissions that neither thought there was an ongoing emergency. They found Ms. McInerney in her bed, awakened from sleep and partially dressed. She asserted that she was not the victim of a crime, did not need any help, and was outraged by the intrusion. She refused to sign for the summons, which Officer King left on a table near the front door.

Ms. McInerney filed a motion to dismiss the criminal harassment complaint, citing outrageous police conduct. The municipal court heard testimony from both sides and dismissed the complaint with prejudice, concluding there was no need for Officer King to take action and finding a total lack of an observable reasonable basis for the violation of Ms. McInerney’s constitutional rights. In July 2011, Ms. McInerney filed a § 1983 action against both officers, alleging her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the officers entered her residence.

The district court denied Officer King’s F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which the court denied, noting the stated justification of an emergency requiring police assistance was inconsistent with the fact that Officer King waited 30 minutes for Deputy McLaughlin’s arrival. Ms. McInerney stipulated to the dismissal of the charges against Deputy McLaughlin in January 2012, and moved for summary judgment on her remaining claims against Officer King. The district court denied the summary judgment motion, noting that while there was no question Deputy McLaughlin’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment, there was a legitimate question of whether Officer King was justified in following Deputy McLaughlin into the house. Officer King then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court granted. Ms. McInerney appealed.

On appeal, Ms. McInerney contended the district court failed to view the facts in the light most favorable to her and that the evidence supported a finding that Officer King personally participated in the unlawful entry, his entry was not justified by exigent circumstances, and his entry violated her constitutional rights. Officer King countered that he did not personally participate in Deputy McLaughlin’s welfare check, and that the welfare check was based on reasonable grounds to protect the safety of individuals inside the residence. He also contended his entry was justified to protect Deputy McLaughlin and Ms. McInerney failed to show he violated a clearly established constitutional right.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated Officer King’s argument that he was entitled to qualified immunity because he simply followed Deputy McLaughlin into the house. The Tenth Circuit rejected Officer King’s explanation, finding it undisputed that Officer King entered Ms. McInerney’s home without a warrant and his actions constituted a Fourth Amendment violation. The Tenth Circuit noted that if it justified every subsequent entry after the first officer’s Fourth Amendment violation, it would destroy the protections afforded by the Amendment.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned to Officer King’s argument that he needed to assure the safety of Ms. McInerney’s 11-year-old daughter, because Dr. McInerney reported to Officer King that Ms. McInerney had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and the daughter lived with her part-time. The Tenth Circuit noted that Officer King did not mention the daughter or drug and alcohol abuse in Golden Municipal Court or when he filed his Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, and did not mention these facts until he filed his August 2013 motion to dismiss. The Circuit contrasted several cases where exigent circumstances justified officers’ warrantless entry and found that the facts of the instant case, viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. McInerney, did not justify the warrantless entry. The Tenth Circuit remarked, “if the nonspecific and dated information from Dr. McInerney plus a messy house and open doors and windows when the weather is warm could justify the entry on that morning, it could have justify entry on almost any occasion.” The Tenth Circuit declined to adopt such a lenient view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the law was clearly established at the time of the officers’ entry, and found that it was. Although it would be impossible to find an identical fact situation, the Tenth Circuit found that the officers should have known their conduct was unconstitutional.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Officer King and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/18/2015

On Friday, September 18, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

Jones v. Bryant

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.