FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Timothy S. Hillman, U.S. District Judge]
R. Donohue, with whom Leonard H. Kesten, Deidre Brennan
Regan, and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP were on
brief, for appellants Cloutier et al.
G. Donnellan, with whom Rogal & Donnellan, P.C. was on
brief, for appellant Maher.
B. Triplett, with whom Triplett & Fleming was on brief,
Thompson, Selya and Barron, Circuit Judges.
Supreme Court has recognized that "a man's house is
his castle" and has interpreted the Fourth Amendment to
safeguard private homes against most warrantless intrusions.
Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573,
589-90, 596 (1980). But there are some exceptions to this
rule - and in this case, the defendants (police officers
acting as such) assert that exceptions for exigent
circumstances and/or doorway arrests afford them at least
arguable shelter. The district court disagreed, denying their
motions for summary judgment. See Morse v.
Mass. Exec. Office of Pub. Safety Dep't of State
Police, 123 F.Supp.3d 179, 196 (D. Mass. 2015). After
careful consideration, we conclude that, on the
plaintiffs' supported version of the facts, the
defendants' conduct violated clearly established law.
See id. at 192. Cognizant, as we are, that this
decision rests largely on what the district court reasonably
perceived to be questions of fact, we dismiss substantial
portions of these interlocutory appeals for want of appellate
jurisdiction and otherwise affirm.
the appealed rulings were made at the summary judgment stage,
we rehearse the facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmovants (here, the plaintiffs), consistent with record
support. See DePoutot v.
Raffaelly, 424 F.3d 112, 114 (1st Cir. 2005).
evening of August 16, 2009, a concerned citizen called the
Sturbridge, Massachusetts police department to report a
ruckus in his backyard. When officers arrived at the
caller's home, they encountered two young men who
complained that someone had been hiding in the woods and
throwing various objects (such as rocks and bottles) at them.
The object-thrower also hurled racial epithets and told the
men that he would murder them and their families in their
victims tentatively identified the object-thrower as their
down-the-street neighbor, Charles Morse, and warned that he
might be armed. Morse was a known quantity to the police: he
had been charged several years earlier after threatening one
of his daughter's suitors with a gun.
secured the victims' reports, the officers began to hunt
for Morse. They first checked the woods but came up
empty-handed. Next, they went to his home, where his wife,
Lesa, said that Morse was out with a friend. The officers
asked her to notify them when he returned.
officers continued their search. By now, their team included
five local officers and two state troopers (with at least one
dog). Roughly an hour after first responding to the scene,
the entire contingent (except for one Sturbridge officer, who
lingered to watch over the young men) doubled back to
Morse's home. Two officers approached the front door
while four officers circled to the rear.
time, Morse was home. When he opened the interior back door,
he locked the screen door that separated him from his
visitors. He asked the officers why they were there, but they
furnished no details. Instead, they asked Morse to step
outside to answer some questions. When Morse refused, one of
the officers told him that he was under arrest. Morse replied
that the officers ought to return with a warrant, and he
promptly shut the interior door.
officers did not leave. Instead, they ordered Morse to open
the door and warned him that they would enter forcibly if he
did not obey. Morse stood fast, so the officers kicked
through both the screen door and the wooden interior door to
gain entry. Five officers entered with their guns drawn and
proceeded to arrest Morse.
wife took umbrage at the officers' invasion of her home.
As the officers effected the arrest of her husband, she
answered a call from a concerned neighbor. When she informed
the caller that armed policemen had just arrested her
husband, she was ordered to hang up the telephone. She
refused to do so, and an officer handcuffed her while others
performed a protective sweep.
minutes later, the officers released Lesa and transported
Morse to the station. They charged him with a litany of
offenses, including assault and battery with a dangerous
weapon, threatening to commit murder, disorderly conduct, and
disturbing the peace. All of the charges were later dropped.
fast-forward to late 2012, when the Morses sued the officers
in a Massachusetts state court. The defendants removed the
action to the federal district court. See 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1441. In their complaint - which invoked
42 U.S.C. § 1983 - the plaintiffs claimed, as relevant
here, that the defendants' warrantless entry and the
subsequent arrest violated their Fourth Amendment rights to
be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. They also
claimed that the defendants transgressed the Massachusetts
Civil Rights Act (MCRA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, §§
11H, 11I, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress (a
tort under state law).
pretrial discovery and some preliminary skirmishing, the
defendants moved for summary judgment on, inter alia,
qualified immunity grounds. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Three separate motions were filed: one on behalf of the five
Sturbridge police officers and one on behalf of each state
their motion papers, the defendants insisted that exigent
circumstances justified their warrantless entry and, in any
event, what transpired amounted to a doorway arrest.
Moreover, they sought summary judgment on all of the
plaintiffs' other claims.
district court granted the defendants' motions in part
and denied them in part. See Morse, 123 F.Supp.3d at
196. The court ruled that, on the summary judgment record,
the plaintiffs had made a sufficient showing that their
constitutional rights were violated. See id. at
188-89. In handing down this ruling, the court concluded that
the defendants had probable cause to arrest Morse. It went on
to hold, though, that a reasonable juror could find that the
circumstances were not sufficiently exigent to allow a
warrantless invasion of the plaintiff's home and
Morse's ensuing arrest. See id. at 187-89.
Because a genuine issue of material fact remained, the court
refused to grant either summary judgment or, by implication,
qualified immunity based on exigent circumstances. See
id. at 189.
explaining this ruling, the court noted that a full hour had
passed between the officers' awareness of the contretemps
involving the young men and their encounter with Morse at his
home. See id. at 187. Relatedly, the court
highlighted deposition testimony from one of the defendants
to the effect that he and his fellow officers were not
anticipating any sort of emergency situation when they
knocked on the plaintiffs' door, nor were they engaged in
a hot pursuit of Morse at that time. See id.
Finally, the court stressed that none of the officers had
expressed any concern that Morse might escape through the
front door, destroy evidence, or hurt someone inside the
home. See id. at 188.
same time, the court rejected the defendants' claim that
a doorway arrest had occurred. See id. at 192. In
the court's view, the circumstances of Morse's arrest
- including the fact that he was behind a locked door for the
entire time - distinguished his case from the doorway-arrest
cases cited by the defendants. The court held that
Morse's case fit comfortably within the scope of clearly
established law. See id. Summing up, the court
stated: "[v]iewing the facts from the record in the
light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, no reasonable law
enforcement officer would have understood the warrantless
entry and arrest of Charles Morse to comport with the Fourth
Amendment." Id. This finding, of course,
effectively derailed the defendants' quest for qualified
immunity. See id. The court further
determined that genuine issues of material fact prevented the
granting of summary judgment on the plaintiffs' MCRA and
state tort claims. See id. at 195-96.
trooper Sean Maher and four local officers (Sergeant Michael
Cloutier and officers Larry Bateman, David Fortier, and
Ronald Obuchowski, Jr.) separately appeal the court's
denial of their motions for summary judgment on the
warrantless entry and arrest claims, the MCRA claims, ...