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Montanez v. Carvajal

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 9, 2018

MICHAEL MONTANEZ, Plaintiff - Appellee,
JORGE CARVAJAL, TODD RAIBLE, et. al., Defendants - Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 6:15-cv-00807-PGB-DCI

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, NEWSOM, and SILER, [*] Circuit Judges.

          NEWSOM, Circuit Judge:

         Police officers interrupt what they reasonably believe to be a residential burglary and detain two suspects just outside the house. Having done so, can the officers thereafter lawfully enter the home-without a warrant, and without further suspicion of wrongdoing-to briefly search for additional perpetrators and potential victims? We hold that they can. In particular, we hold that the suspected burglary presents an "exigent circumstance" that justifies a warrantless entry and search.


         On a springtime afternoon in 2011, Officer Todd Raible of the Volusia (Florida) County Sheriff's Office was driving his unmarked patrol car through a neighborhood that had been experiencing a rash of daytime burglaries. As he drove, Raible, a property-crimes investigator who knew all about the recent uptick in theft, took note of a young man-later identified as William Rivera-who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence at 1127 West New York Avenue and who appeared to be looking around nervously while talking on a cell phone. Raible became suspicious of Rivera, who Raible said "seemed anxious" and "kind of hunched" as he paced up and down in front of the house. Raible's suspicions deepened when, as he watched, Rivera walked down a side street toward the back of the dwelling.

         As Raible observed Rivera approach the back door, he saw another young man-later identified as Troy Copeland-"huddling" nearby. Based on his experience, Raible was convinced that Copeland was positioning himself to act as a "lookout" while Rivera broke into the house. Given everything he had seen, Raible radioed for backup, describing the unfolding situation as a "burglary in progress."

         Driving his own patrol car, Officer Jorge Carvajal heard and responded to Raible's request for backup. Raible and Carvajal met at a nearby gas station and quickly formulated a plan for approaching the suspects. After talking to Carvajal, Raible returned to the house, where Rivera and Copeland remained near the back door; Raible parked his car and exited with his gun drawn. Carvajal soon joined Raible and drew his weapon as well, and the two officers ordered Rivera and Copeland to the ground, where they placed them in handcuffs.[1]

         Once Rivera and Copeland were cuffed, Raible entered the home's back door and stepped through a small vestibule to a second door, which led to the home's interior and was slightly ajar. Without crossing the threshold, Raible leaned through the second door and shouted, "Sheriff's office, come out if anybody's in there, sheriff's office." Hearing no answer after about 10 seconds, Raible went back outside.

         Raible and Carvajal then searched Rivera and Copeland and discovered that Rivera had two kitchen knives in his pants pockets. The knives were significant, Raible thought, because near the handle on the house's back door he also observed pry marks, which he believed to be both fresh and consistent with having been made by knives. The officers asked Rivera and Copeland for identification; neither ID listed 1127 West New York Avenue as a home address. Given the indications that the back door had recently been pried open using tools like the knives found on Rivera and that each of the suspects' IDs listed another home address, Raible and Carvajal concluded that they had interrupted an ongoing burglary. At that point, the officers formally arrested Rivera and Copeland.

         Additional officers soon arrived on the scene. Once they gathered in sufficient number, Carvajal entered the home's main structure along with Officers Kyle Bainbridge, Edward Hart, and Julio Rodriguez to check (as each of the officers explained) "for additional perpetrators or potential victims." This second entry-which was the first into the home's interior and which the officers described as a "sweep"-lasted about four minutes. Importantly for our purposes, during the second entry, the officers saw in plain view what they believed to be marijuana and associated drug paraphernalia.

         Almost immediately thereafter, Officers Carvajal, Bainbridge, and Hart took their supervisor, Lieutenant Brian Henderson, into the house to show him the marijuana and paraphernalia. This third entry lasted about two minutes. After viewing the suspected contraband, Henderson called the West Volusia Narcotics Task Force to determine whether a search warrant should be obtained for the remainder of the dwelling. Henderson, Carvajal, Bainbridge, and Hart then re-entered the house once again-for a fourth time-staying for a little more than two minutes.

         Half an hour later, Cecelia Gregory, Montanez's mother and co-owner of the house, showed up and (fifth entry) was escorted inside by Henderson. An hour after that, task-force investigators David Clay and David McNamara arrived and (sixth) went into the home with Raible to view the marijuana and drug paraphernalia.[2]

         Based on the contraband shown to him during the sixth entry, McNamara swore out an affidavit in support of a search warrant, which an assistant state attorney approved and a circuit court judge then signed. Warrant in hand, the officers subsequently conducted a full search of the house, which yielded $18, 500 in U.S. currency as well as miscellaneous drugs and drug paraphernalia.

          As it turns out, the authorities never filed any charges against Rivera, Copeland, or Montanez pertaining to the drugs or the associated paraphernalia- apparently because they couldn't figure out whose they were. It was later determined, as well, that the money lawfully belonged to Montanez.

         Rivera, Copeland, and Montanez sued the officers in state court. After the officers removed the case to federal court, Rivera, Copeland, and Montanez filed a multicount amended complaint that alleged both state tort claims and (under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) the following Fourth Amendment claims: Rivera and Copeland brought unreasonable-seizure and false-arrest claims against Raible, and Montanez brought unlawful-entry and unreasonable-search claims against all of the officers. After the district court dismissed the state-law and false-arrest claims at the pleadings stage, the officers moved for summary judgment on the remaining counts based on qualified immunity. The district court granted Raible summary ...

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