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Holloran v. Duncan

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

March 30, 2017

DANIEL COULBORN HOLLORAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants EVAN BROWN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants DANIEL FISK, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants AMANDA HALLMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants DALTON HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants JAMES C. HOLLORAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants ALEXIS PINNELL, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants JOHN RAINEY, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants AARON RODEN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants CODY SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JOE DUNCAN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          J. DANIEL BREEN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 17, 2016, a jury returned a verdict for the Defendants in this matter and judgment was entered in their favor. (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 231, 234.[1]) Before the Court is the timely renewed motion of the Plaintiffs, as supplemented, for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) and for a new trial, pursuant to Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2] (D.E. 239, 258.)

         II. BACKGROUND

         The instant consolidated lawsuits stem from a keg party that occurred in rural Benton County, Tennessee (the “County”), in the summer of 2012. After receiving a report of possible underage drinking on a farm owned by Plaintiff Daniel Coulborn Holloran I (“Holloran Sr.”), County law enforcement officers converged on the property; rounded up the partygoers, many of whom fled into nearby woods; entered the farmhouse; allegedly beat at least two attendees; arrested over 100 persons, including Holloran Sr., and detained them in the County jail for several hours before releasing them. The Plaintiffs brought these actions against the County, Benton County Sheriff Tony King and numerous County deputies, alleging violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; violation of the Tennessee Constitution; trespass; assault and battery; false arrest; false imprisonment; malicious prosecution; conspiracy; negligence; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring/supervision; and reckless, wanton and/or deliberately indifferent conduct. In an order entered March 18, 2015, this Court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims of unlawful entry onto and unlawful detention of Plaintiffs on the property; the Fourth Amendment excessive force claims of Holloran Sr. and Aaron Roden against the County and Sheriff King; the excessive force claims of Holloran Sr. against the County deputies; Roden's excessive force claims against certain deputies; claims of malicious prosecution asserted by Holloran Sr. and his son, Daniel Coulborn Holloran II (“Holloran Jr.”); claims for failure to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force upon Holloran Jr. against certain deputies; Plaintiffs' claims arising from their confinement at the Benton County jail; and claims under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act and the Tennessee Constitution. (D.E. 154.) The remaining claims proceeded to trial.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To succeed on a motion brought in accordance with either Rule 50 or 59, a movant “must overcome the substantial deference owed a jury verdict.” Braun v. Ultimate Jetcharters, LLC, 828 F.3d 501, 510 (6th Cir.) (quoting Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls, 496 F.3d 609, 614 (6th Cir. 2007)), reh'g en banc denied (Aug. 15, 2016). A JMOL may be granted before a case is submitted to the jury under Rule 50(a) “[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). If the JMOL is not granted at that time, “the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). After trial, a party may file a renewed JMOL, along with a request for new trial under Rule 59. Id. In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may allow judgment on the jury's verdict, order a new trial or direct the entry of a JMOL. Id.

         In ruling on such motions, the district court is to “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the [parties] who prevailed at trial, and [it may] grant the motion only if there was no genuine issue of material fact for the jury and reasonable minds could reach only one conclusion --in favor of the [movant].” Finn v. Warren Cty., Ky., 768 F.3d 441, 450 (6th Cir. 2014), reh'g en banc denied (Oct. 30, 2014). The court “may not at this stage make decisions on the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the jury.” Id. Courts are instructed that “[i]f there is any credible evidence to support a verdict, it should not be set aside.” Cole v. City of Memphis, 839 F.3d 530, 542 (6th Cir. 2016), reh'g en banc denied (Jan. 4, 2017). Stated differently, “the decision to grant judgment as a matter of law or to take the case away from the jury is appropriate whenever there is a complete absence of pleading or proof on an issue material to the cause of action or when no disputed issues of fact exist such that reasonable minds would not differ.” Allied Waste N. Am., Inc. v. Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial, LLC, No. 3:13-00254, 2016 WL 7157609, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 8, 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Under Rule 59,
[a] new trial is warranted when a jury has reached a seriously erroneous result as evidenced by: (1) the verdict being against the weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by prejudice or bias.

Farr v. Village of New Haven, __ F. App'x __, 2016 WL 7238906, at *4 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 2016) (quoting Balsley v. LFP, Inc., 691 F.3d 747, 761 (6th Cir. 2012)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “New trials are not to be granted on the grounds that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence unless that verdict was unreasonable.” Cranpark, Inc. v. Rogers Group, Inc., 821 F.3d 723, 737 (6th Cir.) (quoting Decker v. GE Healthcare Inc., 770 F.3d 378, 394-95 (6th Cir. 2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted); reh'g en banc denied (May 31, 2016); see also Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N2G Distrib., Inc., 763 F.3d 524, 534 (6th Cir. 2014) (“[G]ranting a new trial on [weight of the evidence] ground[s] is a rare occurrence . . . . Therefore, we will uphold the verdict if it was one which the jury reasonably could have reached; we cannot set it aside simply because we think another result is more justified.”). That is, “if a reasonable juror could reach the challenged verdict, a new trial is improper.” Decker, 770 F.3d at 395 (quoting Barnes v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 201 F.3d 815, 821 (6th Cir. 2000)).

         Further, a Rule 59 motion “will not be granted unless the moving party suffered prejudice.” Simmons v. Napier, 626 F. App'x 129, 132 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 362 F.3d 882, 891 (6th Cir. 2004)). “The burden of showing harmful prejudice rests on the party seeking the new trial. To demonstrate prejudice stemming from evidentiary error, it is not sufficient merely to show that the district court made a mistake in admitting or excluding certain evidence.” Id. (internal citations & quotation marks omitted). “An erroneous evidentiary ruling amounts to reversible error, justifying a new trial, only if it was not harmless; that is, only if it affected the outcome of the trial.” Decker, 770 F.3d at 391 (quoting Cummins v. BIC USA, Inc., 727 F.3d 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2013)); see also Slayton v. Ohio Dep't of Youth Servs., 206 F.3d 669, 677 (6th Cir. 2000) (“A reversal based on improper admission of evidence is appropriate only when the admission interferes with substantial justice.”).

         IV. ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES AND ANALYSIS

         The issues raised in the instant motion are as follows[3]:

A. [The] trial court erred in denying Plaintiffs' oral motion to sever prior to trial;
B. The trial court erred in denying Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' claim that the officers unconstitutionally entered Holloran[ Sr.]'s home during his arrest;
C. The trial court erred in denying Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' claim that the officers unconstitutionally entered Holloran[ Sr.]'s home during [a protective] sweep;
D. The trial court erred when it precluded Plaintiffs[] from questioning officers regarding whether Miranda warnings were provided before asking civilians to separate into groups at the Holloran property;
E. The trial court erred in precluding the Plaintiffs from offering the testimony of Sheriff Kenneth Christopher;
F. The trial court erred in denying Plaintiffs' requests for jury instructions;
G. The trial court erred in overruling Plaintiffs' objections to the verdict form and submitted an improper jury verdict form;
H. A new trial should be granted because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence;
I. The trial court erred in dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for unlawful entry onto the Holloran property and the detention of persons on the property by order dated March 18, 2015 [].

(D.E. 258 at PageID 6427, 6431, 6449, 6451, 6454, 6457, 6466.) The Court will consider these claims of error in turn.

         A. Motion to Sever

         During a telephone conference on the last business day prior to trial, the Court communicated to counsel its inclination to bifurcate the Plaintiffs' claims for compensatory and punitive damages in order to avoid prejudice to the Defendants with respect to evidence that might be relevant to punitive damages but not to liability or compensatory damages. Despite his resistance to the idea at the time, Plaintiffs' counsel asserts in the instant motion that, in light of the Court's statement, he “became extremely concerned about the numerous, separate issues and individual claims that the jury and the Court would be forced to evaluate during trial and the prejudice that could arise to each individual Plaintiff's claim.” (D.E. 258 at PageID 6428.) He then orally moved to sever the cases and continue the trial. Both requests were denied.

         The parties jointly moved for consolidation of these cases for purposes of discovery on July 22, 2013. (D.E. 43.) Therein, they agreed that

[t]he cases to be consolidated involve common questions of fact and law with some variance for those that are claiming use of force violations. Moreover, consolidation will serve to eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent rulings, conserve resources of the parties, and promote efficiency and judicial economy.

(Id. at PageID 334.) The motion was granted the following day. (D.E. 44.) On October 28, 2013, the parties jointly moved to also consolidate the cases for trial, citing the same bases proffered in support of the previous motion to consolidate for discovery purposes. (D.E. 87.) That motion was also granted. (D.E. 88.) Throughout the intervening three years prior to trial, the Plaintiffs never moved to sever or bifurcate the claims raised in this case, even though the bases for their present assertions with respect to severance existed from the date of consolidation. Nor did Plaintiffs' counsel at any time voice any reservations to the Court regarding the consolidations for which they jointly moved. The fact that they failed to consider the issues pointed out by the Court until the eleventh hour and, in retrospect after having lost the case, now wish they had used a different strategy is not the error of the Court. The motion on this claim of error is denied.

         B and C. Entry into the Holloran Farmhouse

         Because these assignments of error are discussed together in the Plaintiffs' brief, the Court will follow suit. At trial, the Court denied the Plaintiffs' motions for JMOL as to entries made by officers into the Holloran farmhouse on two occasions on the night of the party. In their renewed motion, the Plaintiffs argue that a JMOL is warranted because the entries were unconstitutional and violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law. At the outset, the Court notes that the discussion contained in this section deals only with Holloran Sr., the owner of the residence, and Defendants Jason Lowery, Alan Bolan, Ricky Mallard, Shaun Gary, Bryant Allen, Ricky Pafford, Bert Wells and Mike Lockhart, the deputies who entered the house.

         Although it is without question that searches and seizures inside a home absent a warrant are presumptively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, in some circumstances, “the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless entry is objectively reasonable[.]” Vangel v. Szopko, __ F. App'x __, 2016 WL 6994227, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 30, 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). The exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement permits warrantless searches when an emergency provides insufficient time for police officers to obtain a warrant. Birchfield v. N. Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2173 (2016); Gradisher v. City of Akron, 794 F.3d 574, 583 (6th Cir. 2015) (“Exigent circumstances arise when an emergency situation demands immediate police action that excuses the need for a warrant.”). “Time is an essential factor when an immediate threat forms the basis for police claims of exigency.” Carlson v. Fewins, 801 F.3d 668, 674 (6th Cir. 2015), cert. denied sub nom. Drzewiecki v. Carlson & Fewins v. Carlson, 136 S.Ct. 1658 (Apr. 18, 2016). “[E]xigent circumstances terminate when the factors creating the exigency are negated[; i]f the dangers persist or increase, the exigent circumstances also persist.” Id. (internal citations & quotation marks omitted).

         Situations giving rise to exigent circumstances include “(1) hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, (2) imminent destruction of evidence, (3) the need to prevent a suspect's escape, or (4) a risk of danger to the police or others.” Goodwin v. City of Painesville, 781 F.3d 314, 330 (6th Cir. 2015). The constitutional standard is one of reasonableness; thus, officers' actions may be protected even “when, judged with the benefit of hindsight, the officers may have made some mistakes.” City & Cty. of San Francisco, Cal. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1775 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is the position of Holloran Sr. that the Defendants presented insufficient evidence to establish exigent circumstances.

         1. The First Intrusion

         a. Relevant Evidence Presented at Trial Viewed Most Favorably to the Defendants

         Lockhart related in his trial testimony that, upon his arrival at the farm, he started up the driveway and asked a young man he encountered along the way for the name of the property owner. He also asked the boy, who smelled of alcohol, for his age. He responded that he was seventeen. He was standing next to a vehicle, behind the tire of which sat a beer bottle. Lockhart recalled that he observed several attendees who were drinking and appeared to be underage.

         Mallard testified that he found a girl, reeking of alcohol, passed out in the back of a pickup truck. He woke her up and asked her age, which was fourteen. Later, he and other officers escorted a number of partygoers to the County jail on a bus. After they were unloaded, he was advised by another officer that Holloran Jr. told him a female juvenile family member remained at the property. He caught a ride back to the Holloran home, where officers were still attempting to round up stragglers. He shared with them the information concerning the juvenile. Mallard stated that, at one point, he was standing near the garage when he saw a female run from the woods to the residence. Gary testified that he saw the girl as well. Mallard walked around the side of the garage and noticed an open door, which he entered. While he was in the garage looking for the girl, who he never found, he came upon a bathroom where a male was passed out on the floor in his own vomit and urine. Mallard stated that, at that juncture, he was concerned there might be others in the home that required aid.

         Allen, from his vantage point outside the residence, observed a sneaker through an open crack in a door of the garage that had been closed earlier in the evening. Pafford also testified the door was open at that time. Allen looked inside and discovered the shoe was attached to a male lying under a sink. The deputy went in, with Pafford following, and spoke to the boy but got no response. Allen recalled that he smelled vomit and noticed the young man was covered in urine, perhaps not all his own. He discussed the situation with a superior officer on the scene and it was decided that there was not time to obtain a warrant and that a search was necessary to ensure no other youngsters were inside the house and in need of medical assistance. He estimated that the subsequent sweep of the house lasted sixty to ninety seconds. Although Allen testified in his deposition that the sweep occurred some thirty minutes after the boy was found, he related at trial that it was closer to fifteen.

         Lowery recalled walking up on a conversation among other officers concerning the boy found in the bathroom and whether other partygoers might be in the house and in distress. King testified that he attempted, without success, to contact the district attorney while he was on the property to obtain advice concerning the propriety of an emergency aid entry. According to Defendant Chief Deputy Rogers, it would have taken ninety minutes to two hours to obtain a search warrant from a judge in Benton County, which was largely rural and did not permit officers to procure warrants by telephone.

         Defendant Andrew Clem offered testimony that he stopped a juvenile female as she ran out of the woods wearing only a bikini bottom. She told him she was going to use the bathroom in the garage. He escorted her to the garage and, afterward, to the porch of the residence where deputies were attempting to gather the partygoers into groups according to age and inebriation. He later transported several juveniles from the farm to the jail.

         b. Analysis Relative to the First Entry

         Whether an emergency exists “requires an objective assessment of the circumstances.” Gradisher, 794 F.3d at 583. “Officers do not need ironclad proof of a likely serious, life-threatening injury to invoke the emergency aid exception, but they must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a person within the house is in need of immediate aid.” Id. (quoting Mich. v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47, 49 (2009) (per curiam)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “But by the same token, their decision to enter must be based on more than a hunch or the mere possibility that someone inside needs immediate aid.” Id. (quoting Nelms v. Wellington Way Apartments, LLC, 513 F. App'x 541, 545 (6th Cir. 2013)) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is reasonable for police to move quickly if delay would make the situation more dangerous. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. at 1775. Actions “should be evaluated by reference to the circumstances then confronting the officer, including the need for a prompt assessment of sometimes ambiguous information concerning potentially serious consequences.” United States v. Holloway, 290 F.3d 1331, 1339 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). As one commentator put it, “the question is whether the officers would have been derelict in their duty had they acted otherwise.” 3 Wayne R. LaFave, Search & Seizure § 6.6(a) (5th ed. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The defense of qualified immunity offers complete protection to government officials sued in their individual capacities[4] from § 1983 liability when they are performing discretionary functions “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Scozzari v. Miedzianowski, 597 F. App'x 845, 847 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). The purpose of the doctrine “is to allow public officers to carry out their duties as they think right, rather than acting out of fear for their own personal fortunes.” Greiner v. City of Champlin, 27 F.3d 1346, 1351 (8th Cir. 1994). In order to decide whether qualified immunity exists, “courts engage in a two-step inquiry: (1) whether the defendant violated a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established.” Scozzari, 597 F. App'x at 847. Once the defense is raised, it is the burden of the plaintiff to establish that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. Gavitt v. Born, 835 F.3d 623, 641 (6th Cir. 2016). “The defense provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Estate of Brackens v. Louisville Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov't, __ F. App'x __, 2017 WL 679827, at *3 (6th Cir. Feb. 21, 2017) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). It applies “irrespective of whether the official's error was a mistake of law or a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.” Hermansen v. Thompson, __ F. App'x __, 2017 WL 438225, at *2 (6th Cir. Feb. 1, 2017) (citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231). The deputies raised the defense as to both entries into the Holloran home. The Court declined to grant qualified immunity, finding there were factual disputes to be determined by the jury.

         Even if the Court agreed with Holloran Sr. that a constitutional harm occurred, the movants have not shown that the right violated was clearly established in 2012. With regard to this prong of the qualified immunity defense, “a [g]overnment official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Gradisher, 794 F.3d at 583 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). Reasonableness is governed by the state of the law at the time of the conduct. Lyons v. City of Xenia, 417 F.3d 565, 579 (6th Cir. 2005).

Whether a right has been clearly established should not be determined at a high level of generality. Courts do not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. Thus, officials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances. The essence of qualified immunity is to give government officials cover when they resolve close calls in reasonable (even if ultimately incorrect) ways.

Gradisher, 794 F.3d at 583 (internal alterations, citations & quotation marks omitted); see also Scott v. Kent Cty., __ F. App'x __, 2017 WL 655773, at *3 (6th Cir. Feb. 17, 2017) (The court makes the clearly established inquiry “in light of the specific context of the case, not a broad general proposition.”); Fry v. Robinson, __ F. App'x __, 2017 WL 416974, at *4 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2017) (“Such clarity requires that the particular conduct at issue has been established as violative in nature.”).

         The United States Supreme Court recognized in Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006), that “[t]he need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an exigency or emergency.” Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 403. In that case, officers responded to a call of a loud party. Id. at 401. Upon arriving at the location, the officers heard shouting inside and observed through the windows and a door an altercation taking place in the kitchen between a juvenile and four adults, one of whom was spitting blood from a blow by the juvenile. Id. The Court concluded that “the officers had an objectively reasonable basis for believing both that the injured adult might need help and that the violence in the kitchen was just beginning.” Id. at 406.

         In 2009, the Court explained that the emergency aid exception “requires only an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a person within the house is in need of immediate aid.” Fisher, 558 U.S. at 47 (internal citation & quotation marks omitted). In Fisher, officers responding to a disturbance call came upon a truck in the residence's driveway with its front smashed and observed blood on the hood, clothing inside the vehicle and on the door of the house. Id. at 45-46. A man could be seen inside the door, screaming and throwing things. Id. at 46. The officers noticed he had a cut on his hand and asked if he needed medical assistance. Id. He ignored the question, cursed them, and demanded they get a warrant. Id. The Court, based on Brigham City, found it was objectively reasonable for the officers to believe that the “projectiles might have a human target (perhaps a spouse or a child)” or that Fisher would injure himself. Id. at 48.[5]

         Courts in the Sixth Circuit have also addressed the emergency aid exigent circumstance. In United States v. Johnson, 22 F.3d 674 (6th Cir. 1994), the court permitted officers' warrantless entry into an apartment to rescue a minor being held there against her will. Johnson, 22 F.3d at 679-80. In Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244 (6th Cir. 2003), police and paramedics arrived at a home in response to a 911 call to find Thacker bleeding profusely, intoxicated and belligerent. Thacker, 328 F.3d at 249. He refused to explain his injury and, behind him, the officers noticed broken glass on the kitchen floor and an indentation in the wall with a liquid stain underneath. Id. They entered the residence to assist Thacker and any other injured persons and to determine if it was safe for the paramedics. Id. The Sixth Circuit held the warrantless entry “to secure the safety of the police, paramedics, and other people possibly inside the home, ” was justified under the emergency aid exception based on the “totality of the circumstances, including the 911 emergency call, Thacker's conduct, and the uncertainty of the situation[.]” Id. at 254.

         In United States v. Huffman, 461 F.3d 777 (6th Cir. 2006), police received a 911 call concerning shots fired at a residence next door to the caller. Huffman, 461 F.3d at 780. When officers arrived, they saw bullet holes in the front windows, shards of glass on the porch, and, through the windows, bullet marks on the interior walls. Id. They observed no blood or other signs that anyone was in the house and injured. Id. Finding the door locked, they climbed in through a partially open window. Id. Although the officers did not find an injured person, they found Huffman asleep in a chair with a fully loaded assault rifle with a laser scope on the table in front of him. Id. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Id.

The court articulated as follows:
We recognize that in [Thacker, ] in which this court has upheld a warrantless search based on an exigent-circumstances theory, the officers had more definitive information that either someone was in possible danger . . . The two dispositive factors consistently found . . ., however -- the potential of injury to the officers or others and the need for swift action, [citing Brigham City, Johnson and Thacker] --are found in the present case regardless of the absence of blood or other telltale signs of injury.

Id. at 785. The court added that “[t]he warrantless entry, moreover, may not be held unconstitutional simply because the reasonable concerns of the officers were not substantiated after-the-fact.” Id.; see also Holloway, 290 F.3d at 1340 (“The fact that no victims are found . . . does not render the police action any less lawful.”).

         A decision from the Tenth Circuit, Galindo v. Town of Silver City, 127 F. App'x 459 (10th Cir. 2005), also speaks to the issue at hand. The father of a minor called police to report his belief that his daughter was at the home of his sister-in-law and that she had been drinking. Galinda, 127 F. App'x at 462. After receiving no answer at the front door, officers went to the back of the house and observed the patio door was partially open. Id. Inside, they saw two unresponsive minors, neither of whom was the daughter of the caller. Id. at 462-63. Fearing for the minors' safety and welfare, including alcohol poisoning, the officers entered the house, eventually locating the girl drunk in a closet. Id. at 463. The court held the officers were entitled to qualified immunity since, “[u]nder these circumstances, where there was an immediate threat of death or severe physical harm, it was objectively reasonable for [the defendant] to have entered” the home. Id. at 466 (internal citation & quotation marks omitted).

         In this case, upon reading the cases set forth herein in 2012, a reasonable police officer in the deputies' position would not have understood under the circumstances before them that their entry into the farmhouse to conduct a protective sweep for young people in need of medical assistance violated Holloran Sr.'s Fourth Amendment rights. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Defendants, the deputies knew the following: a drinking party was in progress on a large farm late at night attended by over 100 underage and college age individuals, there was no apparent supervision of the festivities by the homeowner, there was an unknown number of revelers scattered over the property, and officers had seen one person run to the house and found another passed out in the garage bathroom covered in vomit and urine. What they did not know was how many partiers remained unaccounted for or where they might be located. Accordingly, the Court finds the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity. The motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the initial entry into the Holloran home is denied.

         2. The Second Intrusion

         a. Relevant Evidence Presented at Trial Viewed Most Favorably to the Defendants

         Officers' second entry into the farmhouse occurred later in the evening, when Holloran Sr. approached officers who had congregated around a shed adjacent to the property's driveway near the residence. Mallard described Plaintiff as clad in shorts and a flowered shirt, intoxicated, and sporting fresh cuts on his arms and legs. The property owner advised the deputies that he had just arrived by car, even though Defendant Duncan claimed to have seen him previously on the property, knew he had fled, and instructed officers to arrest him for contributing to the delinquency of minors if he reappeared. Moreover, testimony was adduced that officers sought confirmation from a deputy posted at the front gate, who reported seeing no one arrive or be dropped off. Mallard testified that Holloran Sr. asked if he was going to be arrested and “Allen said, yes, sir, you're going to be arrested.” (D.E. 245 at PageID 4594.) Holloran Sr. requested permission to enter the house to get some shoes. Mallard and Gary escorted him to the door of the residence. According to Mallard, Holloran Sr. produced a key from his pocket; unlocked the door; quickly pushed the door open, entered, and slammed it behind him. Mallard stated that the door struck him on the side of his face and knocked him backward. He immediately grabbed the door handle and instructed Holloran Sr. to open the door, which appeared to be locked. He shouted to nearby officers, who entered the house through a side door, took Holloran Sr. to the ground and handcuffed him, despite his attempts to resist.

         Allen testified that, when Holloran Sr. approached the deputies and identified himself, he informed the Plaintiff that he believed he would be arrested. He recalled that the property owner responded by saying he needed to check the house and get some shoes. He instructed Mallard and Gary to accompany him, which they did, one on each side. Allen observed Holloran Sr. open the door and slam it hard. Mallard was trying to open the door, yelling that it was locked. Gary ran to a different door. Allen started toward the house, and could see Holloran Sr. inside, running toward the other door in an attempt to lock it before Gary entered. He was too slow. Gary stepped into the residence and took Holloran Sr. to the ground. Other deputies did not hear Allen tell Holloran Sr. he believed he would be arrested, although Gary assumed he was under arrest, even though he had ...


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