Eleventh Circuit Grants Summary Judgment for Police Officer in Fourth Amendment Claim Concerning a Terry-Like Stop

In Moore v. Pederson, No. 14-14201, 2015 WL 5438845 (11th Cir. Sept. 16, 2015), the Eleventh Circuit addressed an issue of first impression, holding that a stop (or equivalent conduct) under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), may not take place inside a person’s home without exigent circumstances. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant on qualified immunity grounds and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

The case centered around an incident where the plaintiff, Elvan Moore, was allegedly in a verbal altercation with two women at his apartment complex when the defendant, Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Pederson, was dispatched to the area. As Pederson approached the household, he heard yelling—perhaps because of Moore’s infidelity. Pederson knocked on the door, which was answered by an undressed Moore. Pederson began by asking Moore questions but Moore refused to answer Pederson’s questions. Pederson then reached into the apartment and handcuffed Moore. During the arrest, according to the plaintiff, Pederson did not allow Moore to make himself decent before dragging him into public.

After the incident, the plaintiff filed claims for unlawful arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the United States District for the Middle District of Florida. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant officer on all claims. The plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit considered three questions: 1) whether the officer violated any of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights; 2) whether the parameters of the constitutional right were clearly established when the plaintiff was arrested; and 3) whether intentional infliction of emotional distress existed.

First, the court found that the defendant-officer made a prima facie showing of qualified immunity, since Pederson was on duty and entitled to conduct investigative and arrest functions. The burden then shifted to Moore to show first, that qualified immunity was inappropriate because the defendant violated Moore’s constitutional rights and second, that the constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the officer’s actions.

The court then determined that the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated. The Eleventh Circuit, in McClish v. Nugent, 483 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2007), previously held that an officer reaching into a house and forcibly pulling the person out to arrest them violates the Fourth Amendment. The court reasoned that similarly here, the officer breached the home’s threshold when arresting the plaintiff. The court further found that the defendant’s argument Terry stop argument to be invalid. A Terry stop is a proper seizure when an officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Here, while the incident was a breach of peace, the court held that there were no qualifying exigent circumstances to warrant the Fourth Amendment violation.

However, the court found that Moore’s Fourth Amendment right was not clear enough to defeat qualified immunity. The court used a reasonable officer standard to determine if the defendant would have known the plaintiff’s rights were being violated. The court evaluated the unlawfulness of the conduct in light of relevant precedent, as well as whether the conduct was an obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment. In light of these two standards, the court held that the parameters surrounding the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from a Terry-like stop inside of his home, without exigent circumstances, was not clear.

Finally, the court held that Moore did not suffer from intentional infliction of emotional distress. According to Florida precedent, liability only occurs where the conduct is utterly intolerable in a civilized community beyond all possible bounds of decency. The court stated that although the plaintiff was naked in public for a period of time, and the officer would not allow anyone to clothe the plaintiff, the plaintiff did not show he suffered severe emotion distress from the officer’s actions. Therefore, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

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