United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
April 18, 2016
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:12-cv-00173)
Elizabeth M. Rademacher, Student Counsel, argued the cause
for appellant. With her on the briefs were Tillman J.
Breckenridge, William R. Cowden, Patricia E. Roberts, and
Jacob M. Derr, Student Counsel.
J. Schifferle, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the
Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the
cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Karl A.
Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and
Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General.
Before: Rogers, Brown and Pillard, Circuit Judges.
two warrantless searches of his home by members of the D.C.
Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"), Matthew
Corrigan sued the District of Columbia and individual MPD
officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violation of
his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He
now appeals the grant of summary judgment to the defendants,
challenging the district court's rulings that there was
no constitutional violation and that the officers were
entitled to qualified immunity.
assuming, without deciding, that the initial
"sweep" of Corrigan's home by the MPD Emergency
Response Team ("ERT") was justified under the
exigent circumstances and emergency aid exceptions to the
warrant requirement, the second top-to-bottom search by the
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit ("EOD") after the
MPD had been on the scene for several hours was not. The MPD
had already secured the area and determined that no one else
was inside Corrigan's home and that there were no
dangerous or illegal items in plain sight. Corrigan had
previously surrendered peacefully to MPD custody. The
information the MPD had about Corrigan - a U.S. Army veteran
and reservist with no known criminal record - failed to
provide an objectively reasonable basis for believing there
was an exigent need to break in Corrigan's home a second
time to search for "hazardous materials, " whose
presence was based on speculative hunches about vaguely
described "military items" in a green duffel bag.
And assuming, without deciding, that the community caretaking
exception to the warrant requirement applies to a home, the
scope of the second search far exceeded what that exception
would allow. In the end, what the MPD would have the court
hold is that Corrigan's Army training with improvised
explosive devices ("IEDs"), and the post traumatic
stress disorder ("PTSD") he suffers as a result of
his military service - characteristics shared by countless
veterans who have risked their lives for this country - could
justify an extensive and destructive warrantless search of
every drawer and container in his home. Neither the law nor
the factual record can reasonably be read to support that
it was (and is) clearly established that law enforcement
officers must have an objectively reasonable basis for
believing an exigency justifies a warrantless search of a
home, and because no reasonable officer could have concluded
such a basis existed for the second more intrusive search,
the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity across
the board. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary
judgment in part and remand the case for further proceedings.
Upon remand, the district court can address a remaining claim
of qualified immunity based on reasonable reliance on a
supervisor's order and Corrigan's claim of municipal
liability, which the district court did not reach.
Corrigan is an Army Reservist and an Iraq war veteran who, in
February 2010, was also an employee of the U.S. Department of
Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the night of
February 2, 2010, suffering from sleep deprivation, he
inadvertently phoned the National Suicide Hotline when
dialing a number he thought to be a Veterans Crisis Line.
When he told the Hotline volunteer that he was a veteran
diagnosed with PTSD, she asked whether he had been drinking
or using drugs and whether he owned guns. Corrigan assured
her that he was only using his prescribed medication and was
not under the influence of any illicit drugs or alcohol; he
admitted that he owned guns. The volunteer told him to
"put [the guns] down, " and Corrigan responded,
"That's crazy, I don't have them out."
Corrigan Dep. 56:2-5. Despite Corrigan's assurances that
his guns were safely stored, the volunteer repeatedly asked
him to tell her "the guns are down." Id.
56:2-14. When asked if he intended to hurt himself or if he
intended to "harm others, " he responded
"no" to both questions. Id. 69:6-18.
Frustrated, Corrigan eventually hung up and turned off his
phone, took his prescribed medication, and went to sleep.
Id. 56:10-14; 70:6-7. The Hotline volunteer
proceeded to notify the MPD.
approximately 11:13 p.m., according to the February 9, 2010,
Barricade Report from Lieutenant Glover to the MPD Chief of
Police, officers from the MPD Fifth District were dispatched
to Corrigan's home for "Attempted Suicide."
Barricade Rpt. 1. Certain undisclosed "information"
led them "to believe the subject was possibly armed with
a shotgun." Id. Corrigan lived at 2408 North
Capitol Street, in Northwest D.C., in the basement apartment
of a row house that had its own front and back doors. Upon
arrival, the officers thought they detected a "strong
odor" of natural gas and contacted the gas company,
which turned off the gas to the row house. Id.; D.C.
Super. Ct. Tr. 113-14. The officers contacted Lieutenant
Glover at home and he, in turn, gave orders to declare a
"barricade situation, " which meant that the ERT
also went to Corrigan's home. The MPD Command Information
Center advised that Corrigan, a white male, age 32, had no
known criminal record and there were no outstanding
protective orders against him. An ERT investigator learned
that Corrigan was a U.S. Army combat veteran who had served
recently during the Iraq war and owned a rifle and several
handguns. Additionally, he had recently terminated a romantic
relationship and was under psychiatric care for PTSD and
depression. He also had a dog.
a.m., the ERT assumed tactical control of the situation. At
2:10 a.m., the MPD began to secure the perimeter around
Corrigan's home, including evacuating his neighbors.
Barricade Rpt. 2; see D.C. Super. Ct. Tr. 113-14. At
2:30 a.m., Lieutenant Glover arrived on the scene and called
on the EOD to respond. According to Lieutenant Glover's
testimony, Corrigan's upstairs neighbor, who was his
landlady, had told MPD officers that Corrigan occasionally
had overnight guests, including an ex-girlfriend.
See Glover Dep. 16:20-22; 33:1-5. An officer had
reached the ex-girlfriend by cell phone, and she said
Corrigan was a veteran taking prescribed medication for PTSD,
had expertise in IEDs, and trained others in detecting and
mitigating IED incidents. Id. 35:11-37:6. She also
recalled seeing a green duffel bag containing "military
items" in Corrigan's home that she had been told
"not to touch" because "they were his guns and
military stuff." Id. 36:17-21.
3:00 a.m., MPD negotiators attempted to speak with Corrigan
by dialing his cell phone number, calling his name over a
public address system, and knocking or kicking his front
door. The MPD had no indication, however, that Corrigan's
failure to answer the door was suspicious. The officers had
been told by his landlady and ex-girlfriend that Corrigan was
likely sleeping, having taken his prescribed medication; his
voicemail message stated "Hi, you've reached Matt,
if I'm unavailable, I'm probably asleep."
Indeed, his landlady, upon being advised that the reason for
the police presence was Corrigan's attempted suicide, had
insisted that was "outrageous" and repeatedly told
the MPD officers that there was "a big
misunderstanding" because she had known Corrigan for two
years and had "never felt more comfortable with a
neighbor in [her] life." D.C. Super. Ct. Tr. 106, 110.
She had explained to the officers that Corrigan had guns
because he was in the military and that his home had
electric, not gas, appliances.
testified that around 4:00 a.m. he became aware of someone
kicking at his front door, and then his back door, and was
"terrified, " feeling he was being
"hunted." Corrigan Dep. 70:11-21. He moved from his
bedroom to the bathroom where he felt safest and tried to go
back to sleep. Id. 70:21-71:3. When he turned on his
cell phone at 4:16 a.m., see Barricade Rpt. 4, he
received a flood of voicemails. He returned the call of the
detective who was one of the MPD negotiators. Corrigan
initially said he was at another address, because he was
scared, but within minutes admitted he was at home. Having
noticed the flood light and all the police officers at the
front and back of his home, he told the negotiator he was
coming outside but needed to put on clothes because of the
fallen snow. He described the clothes he would be wearing and
that his cell phone would be in his left hand when he came
out so the police would not shoot him because they thought he
had a gun. Corrigan Dep. 76:12, 21-22.
his home within 20 minutes of first speaking to the
negotiator, Corrigan closed and locked his front door so his
dog would not get out and no one could enter his home.
Corrigan Dep. 96:18-19; see also id. 77:6-17. In
order to appear as non-threatening as possible, he knelt on
the ground and lay on his back. MPD officers immediately
secured his hands with a white "zip-tie, " searched
his person (on which he had only a military identification
card and his cell phone), and took him to a police vehicle
where he was told he had not committed any crime and the
officers only wanted to talk to him. See id. 97-98.
Eventually, he was taken to a Veterans Hospital where he
voluntarily admitted himself for PTSD symptoms triggered by
the night's events. First Am. Compl. ¶ 19.
Corrigan was questioned prior to being removed from the scene
by the MPD, he refused to give his house key to an MPD
officer or to consent to the MPD entering his home. The
officer who had asked for his key told him: "I don't
have time to play this constitutional bullshit. We're
going to break down your door. You're going to have to
pay for a new door." Corrigan Dep. 94:15-18. Corrigan
responded, "It looks like I'm paying for a new door,
then. I'm not giving you consent to go into my
place." Id. 94:19-21.
Corrigan was in MPD custody, Lieutenant Glover ordered the
ERT, led by Sergeant Pope, to break in Corrigan's home to
search for "any human threats that remained or
victims." Glover Dep. 10:15-17. Glover testified that he
thought the "sweep" of Corrigan's home was
necessary because the officer who spoke to Corrigan's
ex-girlfriend had not reported whether he asked her
whereabouts or visually confirmed her location;
Corrigan's ex-girlfriend or other persons had stayed
overnight in his home, so other persons could have been
present; a gas leak had been reported and Corrigan had
initially "dece[ived]" the police about his
location and had told the Hotline volunteer that he did not
intend to harm "others, " potentially implying that
someone else might be inside. Id. 13-14, 40. As a
matter of course, Glover explained, if an ERT unit is called
to a scene it goes inside 99.9% of the time, see id.
18:12-14, because "[s]tandard protocol" assumes
"if there's one [person inside] there's two, if
there's two there's three, if there's three
there's four, and exponentially on up, "
breaking in Corrigan's home, the ERT encountered only
Corrigan's dog; no one was found inside and no dangerous
or illegal items were in plain view. Nonetheless, Lieutenant
Glover thereafter ordered the EOD, led by Officer Leone, to
break in Corrigan's home again to search for "any
hazardous materials that could remain on the scene and be
dangerous to the public or anybody else in that block or
area." Id. 10:17-22. In Glover's view, a
thorough top-to-bottom warrantless search was necessary
because the EOD had not cleared Corrigan's home of any
hazardous materials or devices. Glover said he believed such
hazards "to be possibly inside" based on
Corrigan's ex-girlfriend's reference to a duffel bag
containing unspecified "military items."
Id. 57:16-17. During the second MPD search, EOD
officers cut open every zipped bag, dumped onto the floor the
contents of every box and drawer, broke into locked boxes
under the bed and in the closet, emptied shelves into piles
in each room, and broke into locked boxes containing
Corrigan's three firearms. See Pl.'s Answers
to Interrogs., ¶ 8; First Am. Compl. ¶ 22. Inside
the locked boxes, the EOD found, and seized, an assault
rifle, two handguns, a military smoke grenade, a military
"whistler" device, fireworks, and ammunition.
was charged that day, February 3, 2010, with three counts of
possession of an unregistered firearm and seven counts of
unlawful possession of ammunition. Later, when he was
released from the Veterans Hospital into police custody he
was arraigned in the D.C. Superior Court, after spending
three days in the central cell block. He was held at D.C.
jail until he was released on his own recognizance on
February 19. Upon returning home, Corrigan found his home in
complete disarray: the police had left the contents of his
bureau drawers and shelves scattered on the floor, his
electric stove had been left on, and the front door of his
home was left unlocked. First Am. Compl. ¶ 22; Pl.'s
Answers to Interrogs., ¶ 8. On April 19, 2012, the D.C.
Superior Court judge granted Corrigan's motion to
suppress the seized firearms and ammunition, finding that the
government could not show facts justifying the warrantless
entry and search of his home. Dist. of Columbia v.
Corrigan, No. 2010 DCD 2483, Super. Ct. Tr. 10 (Apr. 19,
2012). The District government nolle prossed all the
on February 1, 2012, Corrigan sued the District of Columbia
and individual MPD officers, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that the warrantless entries and searches of
his home, and the seizure of his property from his home,
violated the Fourth Amendment. First Am. Compl. ¶ 27.
The district court, following discovery and dismissal of some
officers from the case, initially denied the remaining
defendants' motion for summary judgment, but sua
sponte reconsidered and granted summary judgment. It
ruled that no Fourth Amendment violation had occurred in view
of the exigent circumstances, and that if the community
caretaking doctrine applied to a home, it would also justify
the searches. The district court ruled there had been no
violation of a clearly established right, concluding the
officers were entitled to qualified immunity.
contends that neither the ERT "sweep" for injured
persons nor the EOD search for "hazardous
materials" was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment
because the officers lacked a reasonable basis for believing
that exigent circumstances necessitated their entry and
search. Further, he contends that the MPD officers should not
receive qualified immunity because it is clearly established
that the police may not enter and search a home without a
warrant "when there is no indication that anyone else is
present in the home, or that there is imminent danger to law
enforcement or the public necessitating immediate
entry." Appellant's Br. 8. He points out that the
officers knew only that he was a military veteran suffering
from PTSD and allegedly threatening suicide, that he had been
trained to mitigate IEDs, that he possessed a duffel bag
containing "military items, " and that officers had
smelled gas upon first arriving at the row house where
Corrigan lived, but had no reason to believe that he had any
intent to harm others or materials to do so. The district
court's application of the exigent circumstances,
emergency aid, and community caretaking exceptions to the
warrant requirement were thus flawed because the officers
lacked the requisite indication of imminent danger. At the
very least, any search must be tailored to the exigent need,
and the EOD's "broad and vigorous search was
unreasonable because it was not [so] tailored."
Id. at 9. Corrigan also emphasizes that at no time
during the five-hour barricade did the officers make any
apparent attempt to obtain a search warrant.
review of the grant of summary judgment is de novo.
See Wesby v. Dist. of Columbia, 765 F.3d 13, 18-19
(D.C. Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate only
"if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The latter is
reviewed de novo, but this court in considering the
former, "like the district court, [must] 'examine
the facts in the record and all reasonable inferences derived
therefrom in a light most favorable to the nonmoving
party.'" Robinson v. Pezzat, 818 F.3d 1, 8
(D.C. Cir. 2016) (quoting DeGraff v. Dist. of
Columbia, 120 F.3d 298, 299-300 (D.C. Cir. 1997)).
doctrine of qualified immunity protects police officers
'from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless they have
violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly
established at the time of the challenged conduct.'"
Fox v. Dist. of Columbia, 794 F.3d 25, 29 (D.C. Cir.
2015) (quoting City & Cnty. of San Francisco v.
Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015)). To overcome the
officers' claim to qualified immunity, the court must
determine (1) whether the facts in the record show the
officers' conduct violated a constitutional right, and if
so, (2) whether the constitutional right was clearly
established at the time of the incident. Id. (citing
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)
(summarizing two-step analysis in Saucier v. Katz,
533 U.S. 194 (2001)). We address both questions to avoid
"leav[ing] the standards of official conduct permanently
in limbo." Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. 692, 706
The Fourth Amendment provides:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
core, the Fourth Amendment protects "the right of a man
to retreat into his own home and there be free from
unreasonable governmental intrusion." Silverman v.
United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961). "It is
axiomatic that the 'physical entry of the home is the
chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment
is directed.'" Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S.
740, 748 (1984) (quoting United States v. U.S. Dist.
Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972)). Warrantless searches
and seizures inside a home are "presumptively
unreasonable, " Payton v. New York, 445 U.S.
573, 586 (1980), "subject only to a few specifically
established and well-delineated exceptions, " Katz
v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). Unless there
is evidence to show "'exigent
circumstances'" or another exception sufficient to
justify a warrantless entry, the MPD searches violated
Corrigan's Fourth Amendment right. See Coolidge v.
New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 477-78 (1971). "[T]he
police bear a heavy burden when attempting to demonstrate an
urgent need that might justify [a] warrantless search . . .
." Welsh, 466 U.S. at 749-50.
the MPD officers rely on three exceptions to the warrant
requirement: exigent circumstances; the emergency aid
doctrine; and the community caretaking doctrine as extended
to a home. Because the emergency aid doctrine is essentially
a type of exigent circumstance, see Brigham City v.
Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006), we analyze them
Exigency can justify a warrantless search "when there is
compelling need for official action and no
time to secure a warrant." Michigan v.
Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509 (1978) (emphases added).
Without providing an exclusive list, the Supreme Court has
recognized several exigent circumstances that could justify a
warrantless entry and search, such as the hot pursuit of a
fleeing suspect, United States v. Santana, 427 U.S.
38, 42-43 (1976); the need to prevent the imminent
destruction of evidence, Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S.
452, 460-61 (2011); and situations, as the MPD claimed here,
where there is a "need to protect or preserve life or
avoid serious injury, " Brigham City, 547 U.S.
at 403 (internal quotation marks omitted). Whether exigent
circumstances exist to justify a warrantless search "is
judged according to the ...