United States District Court, D. Alaska
LEONARD A. LAWSON, JR., Plaintiff,
JEFFERY GREGG, et al., Defendants
Leonard A. Lawson, Jr, Plaintiff, Pro se, Anchorage, AK.
Jeffery Gregg, Monique Doll, Defendants: Samuel Charles
Severin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage,
AK; Susan J. Lindquist, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's
Office (Anch), Anchorage, AK.
Nathaniel Clementson, Michael Dahlstrom, Richard F.
Youngblood, State of Alaska, DOC, Defendants: Susan J.
Lindquist, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office (Anch),
GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
L. Gleason, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court at Docket 72 is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment. Defendants opposed at Docket 77, and Plaintiff
replied at Docket 81. Shortly afterwards, Defendants filed a
Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified Immunity at Docket 87.
Plaintiff opposed at Docket 89, and Defendants replied at
Docket 92. Oral argument was not requested by either party
and was not necessary to the Court's determination of
these motions. For the reasons discussed below, the Court
denies Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and grants
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
applied for and received an anticipatory warrant to retrieve
a package that was packed with cocaine and addressed to an
address on Stella Place. The package was fitted with a
beeper that would emit a different tone when the box was
opened. The anticipatory warrant listed as
triggering conditions for its execution that the package be
delivered and received by a person at [the Stella Place
home], or left at the front door, and a person takes the box
inside, or a person takes the box to another location and one
of the following has occurred: a change of tone indicating
the box has been opened, the electronic device fails to
transmit or at least two hours has elapsed with no change
indicting the box remains unopened inside the
Defendants were delivering the package to the Stella Place
home the beeper malfunctioned and submitted the tone
indicating that the box had been opened. The package was
picked from the Stella Place home by Mr. Lawson's
co-defendant and delivered to his residence. Defendants
entered the home and performed a sweep to retrieve the
November 16, 2010, Mr. Lawson was indicted for drug
conspiracy, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug
trafficking, attempted possession of cocaine with intent to
distribute, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and
ammunition. Mr. Lawson moved to suppress evidence
secured during the search of his residence. The
Magistrate Judge issued a Recommendation Regarding Motions to
Suppress, which recommended denying Mr. Lawson's motion
to suppress because the search complied with the anticipatory
warrant or, alternatively, because exigent circumstances
justified a warrantless entry. The District Court Judge
issued an order adopting the Magistrate Judge's
recommendation in April 2011.
2011, Mr. Lawson, representing himself, initiated this action
by filing a Civil Rights Complaint in which he alleged "
police, governmental, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct
of falsified statements, writings and documents; and illegal
entry, search & seizure, arrest and incarceration; also
improper investigation of alleged crime against this
plaintiff, in reference to [the criminal case]."
 Shortly thereafter, the Court issued
an order staying Mr. Lawson's civil case until the
conclusion of the criminal case.
September 2011, Mr. Lawson's criminal case was tried
before a jury. The jury found Mr. Lawson not guilty on the
first three counts of the indictment but guilty of being a
felon in possession of a firearm and
ammunition. Mr. Lawson appealed. On
November 30, 2012, the Ninth Circuit issued a memorandum
disposition vacating his conviction and holding the firearm
used to convict Mr. Lawson " was seized during an
unlawful search and should have been suppressed."
 The Circuit Court held that (1) the
triggering conditions in the anticipatory search warrant had
not been fulfilled and (2) Defendants had failed to
demonstrate that there were exigent circumstances because
they did not show it would have been time consuming to get a
second search warrant. The Appeals Court did not consider Mr.
Lawson's warrantless arrest.
February 27, 2013, the Court issued an order lifting the stay
of this case and permitting Mr. Lawson to file an amended
complaint. Mr. Lawson filed an Amended
Complaint on April 29, 2013. On June 19, 2013, the
Court issued an order dismissing certain claims and
defendants named in the Amended Complaint. That order stated
that only one claim had been adequately pled in the Amended
Complaint: " the claim asserting constitutional
violations of Mr. Lawson's right to be free from an
illegal home entry and an illegal search and seizure."
 The order explained that Mr. Lawson
could pursue that claim on the basis of the Amended Complaint
" against the appropriate, individually participating
officers," or he could file a Second Amended
Lawson filed a Second Amended Complaint (" SAC" )
on September 3, 2013. The SAC contains two causes of
action: (1) violation of Mr. Lawson's Fourth Amendment
right " to not be subjected to unreasonable search and
seizure," and (2) violation of Mr. Lawson's
Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The SAC names
Anchorage police officers Jeffery Gregg and Monique Doll, as
well as DEA agents Michael Dahlstrom, Nathaniel Clementson,
and Richard F. Youngblood, as Defendants.
alleges that on July 14, 2010, at approximately 3:45 p.m.,
Mr. Lawson was unlawfully arrested while standing on his back
porch. The SAC alleges that law enforcement then conducted a
" warrantless" search of Mr. Lawson's home and
seized property within the home, including the shotgun that
was used as evidence in Mr. Lawson's criminal
case. The SAC alleges that prior to Mr.
Lawson's arrest, he " was not a person of interest
of any investigation," and law
enforcement " did not even know [his] name."
 The SAC asserts that Mr.
Lawson's arrest and the subsequent search of his home and
seizure of evidence were unlawful. The SAC also asserts that
Mr. Lawson's indictment was " a direct result of the
unlawful arrest, search and seizure" and therefore
violative of his due process rights. The SAC requests
$100,000 in compensatory damages, $1,000,000 in punitive
damages, " [a]n order requiring defendant(s) to possess
a valid warrant to search and or seize people or property
'before' they enter a home or arrest a
non-suspect," and " [a] declaration that it
won't happen again[.]" 
filed a motion to dismiss on February 27, 2014, relying on
qualified immunity. The Court denied that motion by order
dated August 25, 2014. The order stated that the
allegations in the SAC, when taken as true, alleged a
violation of clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.
Lawson filed the current Motion for Summary Judgment on June
1, 2015. He asserts that the Ninth Circuit's memorandum
decision in the criminal case demonstrates that he had
clearly established Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment
rights, which Defendants violated. Mr. Lawson maintains that
there were no exigent circumstances to allow a warrantless
arrest, and he assets that Defendants' application for a
second warrant is evidence that they knew the first warrant
was invalid. Defendants opposed on June 29,
2015, and Mr. Lawson replied on July 13,
filed a Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified Immunity on
August 10, 2015. Defendants have attached supporting
documentation to their motion to dismiss, so the Court will
treat it as a motion for summary judgment.
Defendants assert that a reasonable officer would not have
known he was violating clearly established law by reading the
triggering conditions broadly. And they assert that they were
reasonable in relying on exigent circumstances after the
beeper malfunctioned and Mr. Lawson's co-defendant
informed them that there were people in the home. Plaintiff
opposed on August 24, 2015, and Defendants replied
on September 8, 2015.
Court has jurisdiction over Mr. Lawson's 42 U.S.C. §
1983 claim pursuant to its 28 U.S.C. § 1331 federal
Summary Judgment Standard.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to " grant
summary judgment 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." When considering a motion
for summary judgment, a court must accept as true all
evidence presented by the non-moving party and draw "
all justifiable inferences" in the non-moving
party's favor. The burden of showing the absence of
a genuine dispute of material fact initially lies with the
moving party. If the moving party meets this
burden, the non-moving party must present specific evidence
demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue of
fact. The non-moving party may not rely on
mere allegations or denials. To reach the level of a genuine
dispute, the evidence must be such " that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the non[-]moving party."
 If the evidence provided by the
non-moving party is " merely colorable" or "
not significantly probative," summary judgment to the
moving party is appropriate.
The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government
officials 'from liability for civil damages insofar as
their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.'"  The purpose of qualified immunity
is to " balance two important interests--the need to
hold public officials accountable when they exercise power
irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from
harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform
their duties reasonably." 
officials are not entitled to qualified immunity if (1) the
facts taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff show the
officials' conduct violated a constitutional right, and
(2) that right was clearly established at the time of the
alleged violation. A plaintiff must establish both
prongs of the analysis, so that if a court determines that
one prong is not met, then qualified immunity applies. The
Supreme Court has " stressed the importance of resolving
immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in
litigation."  And the Ninth Circuit has held that
summary judgment is appropriate when " the material,
historical facts are not in dispute, and the only disputes
involve what inferences properly may be drawn from those
historical facts." 
For a constitutional right to be clearly established, its
contours 'must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable
official would understand that what he is doing violates that
right.'"  The Ninth Circuit has held that
" [e]ven absent probable cause, qualified immunity is
available if a reasonable police officer could have
believed that his or her conduct was lawful, in light of the
clearly established law and the information the searching
officers possessed."  " Qualified
immunity gives government officials breathing room to make
reasonable but mistaken judgments, and protects all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
principles were applied in Pearson v. Callahan
. In that case, Callahan was convicted
of unlawful possession and distribution of methamphetamine
after a search of his home. On appeal the search was held
unconstitutional and Callahan's conviction was
overturned. Callahan then brought a § 1983
action against the police officers who had performed the
search. But the United States Supreme Court held that even
though Callahan's constitutional rights had been
violated, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity
because " it was not clearly established at the time of
the search that their conduct was unconstitutional."
 The Court ruled that the inquiry
" turn[ed] on the 'objective legal reasonableness of
the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were
clearly established at the time it was taken.'"
 The Court held that although the
" consent-once-removed" doctrine the officers
relied on had not been adopted in their circuit, it had
" gained acceptance in the lower courts" and the
officers were entitled to rely on it. Therefore, it
could not have been clearly established that by relying on
the " consent-once-removed" doctrine the officers
were violating Callahan's rights.
Ninth Circuit has held that Defendants' search of Mr.
Lawson's residence violated his constitutional rights.
Accordingly, with regard to the search, this Court is only
required to determine whether Mr. Lawson has presented
sufficient facts to demonstrate a triable issue regarding
whether Mr. Lawson's right to be free of an unreasonable
search based on the facts then present was clearly
established at the time of the violation.
Ninth Circuit did not consider the constitutionality of Mr.
Lawson's warrantless arrest. Thus, qualified
immunity for the arrest is appropriate if Defendants prove
either that the arrest was constitutional or that a
reasonable officer would not have known he was violating Mr.
Lawson's constitutional rights in making the arrest.
Mr. Lawson's Motion for Summary
Lawson leans heavily on the Ninth Circuit's memorandum
decision holding that the search was performed unlawfully. He
asserts that " the [Fourth] [A]mendment of the
Constitution had been clearly established." Mr. Lawson
also asserts that there has been a clear violation of his
Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.
Mr. Lawson is correct that Defendants violated his Fourth
Amendment rights, that is only one part of the question that
the Court must answer. Government officials may be shielded
by qualified immunity so long as their mistaken actions were
reasonable, as explained above. As in Pearson, a
court of appeals may find a constitutional violation but the
officers may still be entitled to qualified immunity so long
as they satisfy the second prong of the test.
Lawson's motion argues that the Fourth Amendment and the
Fourteenth Amendment were " clearly established" at
the time of the search and seizure, but he reads the test too
broadly. The United States Supreme Court has held that a
court should " not . . . define clearly established law
at a high level of generality."  " Qualified
immunity is no immunity at all if 'clearly
established' law can simply be defined as the right to be
free from unreasonable searches and seizures."
 Thus, Mr. Lawson's arguments
based on the Ninth Circuit's decision do not end the
Court's analysis. Mr. Lawson has not demonstrated
that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified
assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity because
they reasonably could have believed they were acting
lawfully. They assert that the Fourth Amendment does not
require triggering conditions to be listed on the
warrant's face, so presumably it was not clearly
established that they needed to precisely follow the wording
of any such conditions. And they contend that based on the
warrant's language, they could have reasonably believed
that the triggering conditions were satisfied by either
delivery of the package to the Stella Place home or by the
beeper malfunction. Alternatively, Defendants argue that they
were acting in accordance with established exigent
circumstances case law because the evidence could have been
easily disposed of. Finally, they argue the warrantless
arrest did not violate Mr. Lawson's constitutional rights
under the first prong of the immunity test because the
officers had probable cause to make a warrantless
parties cite to United States v.
Grubbs. In Grubbs, the Supreme
Court considered whether anticipatory warrants were
categorically unconstitutional and whether the triggering
conditions for an anticipatory warrant needed to be included
on the face of the warrant. The Court answered both questions
in the negative. It held that a triggering condition listed
in the warrant affidavit--that the parcel be received by a
person and taken inside--did not need to be duplicated on the
face of the warrant. It reached this ...