Sims v. Stanton

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 12-03-2012
  • Case #: 11-55401
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges Silverman and Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

To have a qualified immunity in depriving someone of their 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure within the curtilage of their home, the officer must either be chasing someone who is suspected of a felony violation or is presently a violent threat to the community or the officer.

Drendolyn Sims was injured when Officer Timothy Stanton kicked open her front gate in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. Sims sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a deprivation of her 4th amendment constitutional rights to be free from unlawful search and seizure. The district court granted summary judgment to Officer Stanton because the district court found that he had qualified immunity based upon an exigent circumstance. The Court reviewed this case de novo because the appellant alleged there was an error of law. The Court agreed with the district court that the fence surrounding Sims house qualified as curtilage, however the Court disagreed that the curtilage offered less protections against unlawful search and seizure than would a house. However, the Court found that there was neither an exigency nor an emergency to justify a deprivation of Sims' 4th amendment rights. For a circumstance to be exigent, the officer must be chasing someone suspected of committing a felony. Stanton pursued the suspect because he would not stop for questioning, which was not a felony violation; therefore there was not a valid exigency. Additionally, the Court concluded that no emergency exception applied that would otherwise permit an officer to pursue a suspect that he believed to pose a threat to the community or to the officer himself. To receive qualified immunity, the officer must base this belief on specific observations and not speculation. The fleeing suspect in this case did not show any sign of physical threat and therefore pursuit could not be justified. The Court concluded that Stanton had fair notice of the laws regarding constitutional protection under the 4th amendment and did not have a valid justification for depriving Sims of her constitutional rights. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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