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Baker v. City of Trenton

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 29, 2019

Heather Baker, Personal Representative of the Estate of Kyle Baker, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Trenton; Mark Driscoll; Steve Lyons; Aaron Biniarz; Steve Arnoczki, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: June 25, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:16-cv-12280-Marianne O. Battani, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Mark R. Bendure, BENDURE & THOMAS, PLC, Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Courtney A. Jones, KALLAS & HENK, PC, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Mark R. Bendure, BENDURE & THOMAS, PLC, Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Courtney A. Jones, KALLAS & HENK, PC, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.

          Before: SUTTON, BUSH, and LARSEN, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          JOHN K. BUSH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This case involves a tragedy of good intentions. Shortly before his high school graduation, eighteen-year-old Kyle Baker apparently experimented with LSD. The after-effects of the drug afflicted him for several days, resulting in his having to be removed from class because of behavioral issues. Kyle's friend, Collin Mathieu, checked in on him after school to see if everything was all right. It was not. Collin went to the police and told them that Kyle needed help and that Kyle was armed and upset with his mother. The police dispatcher sent four officers to the house; lost in the communication, however, was that the mother was not actually home with Kyle. Without waiting for a warrant, the officers entered Kyle's home. He appeared at the foot of the basement stairs, wielding a lawnmower blade. When the officers attempted to subdue Kyle with a taser, he came up the basement stairs swinging. The lawnmower blade struck an officer, who fell back on some stairs or a landing in front of Kyle. The officer then shot and killed the young man.

         Kyle's mother, Heather Baker, sued the individual officers and their employer, the City of Trenton, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, as incorporated against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, holding that the officers had not committed any such Fourth Amendment violation (and finding in the alternative that the officers had qualified immunity) and that the City could not be liable in the absence of any constitutional violation. Ms. Baker now appeals this determination.

         This case is heart-rending, and we have deep sympathy for Kyle's family and friends. Nonetheless, given the circumstances and governing case law, we hold that the officers' entry into Kyle's home and use of force did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and therefore we AFFIRM the decision of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In May of 2015, Kyle Baker was set to graduate from Trenton High School in June. His parents, Heather and Tim Baker, were divorced, and Kyle split time between their houses, typically spending weeknights with his father and stepmother and weekends with his mother. Sometime in mid- to late-May, Kyle participated in "senior skip day," the traditional day for seniors to cut class. Apparently, on this occasion, Kyle decided to try LSD.

         About one week after, on May 28, Kyle was acting oddly at school. The parties agree that his strange behavior may have been caused by after-effects of the LSD. Kyle stared out the window and attempted to shield his eyes from the sun, although the sky was overcast that day. Also, he could not hold an intelligible conversation, instead merely repeating whatever was said to him. As a result, Kyle was sent to the principal's office. There, Kyle continued to behave peculiarly. For example, he said something to the effect that he was lying down, despite the fact that he was standing up. Suspicious that Kyle might be under the influence of drugs, the principal (Dr. Michael Doyle) called the police. In response, Officer Jake Davis of the Trenton Police Department visited the school and observed Kyle.

         Davis reported that Kyle was unresponsive to verbal communication. The officer also voiced suspicion that Kyle was under the influence of an intoxicant and asked to speak with Dr. Doyle privately to determine the proper course of action. While they were in another room, Kyle was left alone, and he used that opportunity to leave the school. He did not return.

         When Collin Mathieu, a friend of Kyle's, learned what had happened, he texted Kyle's mother to let her know. Additionally, Dr. Doyle called Ms. Baker, as well as separately called Mr. Baker, to advise each of the situation. Ms. Baker reacted by calling Kyle's cell phone, but she initially was not able to reach him. Mr. Baker did reach Kyle, and he instructed his son to go home and remain there. At some point later in the afternoon, Kyle also answered one of his mother's phone calls. He told her that he did not know why Dr. Doyle had called the police, and did not tell his mother where he was. Alarmed by this call, Ms. Baker tried several more times to reach Kyle, but to no avail. She then texted Collin that she was worried about Kyle.

         After school, Collin went looking for his friend. He first tried Mr. Baker's house, but Kyle was not there. Collin next checked a local park, but Kyle was not there either. Collin then returned to Mr. Baker's house, where he finally found his friend alone in the basement. Collin took out his cell phone and showed Kyle the text messages from Ms. Baker. Collin then called Ms. Baker, handing his cell phone to Kyle so that he could speak with his mother. The two talked briefly, after which Kyle refused to return the cell phone to Collin. Instead, according to Collin, Kyle showed him a pocket knife, though Kyle did not unfold the blade.

         After this encounter with Kyle, Collin decided to contact the police. Because Kyle had Collin's phone and would not return it, Collin did not call 911 but instead went to the police station in person to ask for help. There, Collin described to Kelsey Pare, a police dispatcher, what had transpired. Collin told Pare about Kyle's call with his mother, but (again according to Collin's account) he did not tell the dispatcher that Ms. Baker was present in the home with Kyle or that Kyle had made threatening remarks toward her. Pare has a different recollection of what Collin told her, and she testified that her dispatch accurately reflected what she had been told. Pare put out the following dispatch:

We have a teenage male in the lobby here, states that a teenager there named Kyle Baker left school today. When he went to go check on him he states that he had a knife in his home. He was threatening towards his mother. He also stole his cell phone. He left after he pulled the knife out. As far as he knows he's still at the residence. We also have word he possibly may have purchased ...

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