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Messerschmidt v. Millender

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: December 5, 2011
Case #: 10–704
620 F.3d 1016 (9th Cir. 2010)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/08/24/07-55518.pdf

Criminal Procedure: 1. Whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity when they obtained a facially valid warrant but failed to find that for which they were searching. 2. Whether the Malley/Leon standards for excluding evidence in a criminal proceeding or imposing civil liability under 42 U.S.C. §1983 should be reconsidered or clarified.

Petitioner, Det. Messerschmidt, received a report that Bowen, a known gang member, had shot at his girlfriend. He filed an affidavit seeking an arrest warrant for Bowen, and a search warrant for the home of Bowen’s foster mother. Petitioner Sgt. Lawrence reviewed the affidavit and it was granted by a magistrate judge. The warrant authorized a search of the residence and seizure of items tending to establish the identity of persons in control of the premises, all firearms and firearm-related materials, and gang-related items. During the search, the SWAT team seized respondent Millender’s personal shotgun, a box of .45 caliber ammunition, and a letter from Social Services addressed to Bowen. Respondent’s filed suit against inter alia, Det. Messerschmidt and Sgt. Lawrence for violations of their Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

The district court concluded that the search and arrest warrants were facially valid and granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the warrants' validity and the search for identification evidence. but held the search warrant’s authorization to search for “all firearms, firearm-related materials, and gang-related items,” was unconstitutionally over-broad and granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to firearm- and gang-related evidence. The district court, however, rejected the deputies’ claim of qualified immunity, holding their actions were not “objectively reasonable.” The Ninth Circuit reversed, but an en banc panel reheard the case and affirmed the denial of qualified immunity.

Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because seeking a warrant is presumptive evidence that they acted in a reasonable manner that can only be rebutted by a showing of egregious misconduct.