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Crocker v. Beatty

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 2, 2018

JAMES P. CROCKER, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
DEPUTY SHERIFF STEVEN ERIC BEATTY, Martin County Sheriff's Office, in his individual capacity, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 2:16-cv-14162-RLR

          Before TJOFLAT, JILL PRYOR, and FAY, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Steven Beatty, a deputy in the Martin County (Florida) Sheriff's Office, appeals the District Court's denial of his motion for summary judgment as to one claim in James Crocker's complaint against him. Crocker brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Beatty seized his iPhone after Crocker took photos and videos of a car accident crash scene from an interstate grass median (the phone seizure claim). The District Court determined that this seizure constituted a Fourth Amendment violation and that Beatty was not entitled to qualified immunity; thus, the claim survived summary judgment. After thorough review, we affirm.

         I.

         In this review of the District Court's ruling on Beatty's summary judgment motion, we accept Crocker's version of the facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to him as the non-movant. Singletary v. Vargas, 804 F.3d 1174, 1176 n.2 (11th Cir. 2015). On the afternoon of May 20, 2012, Crocker was driving northbound on Interstate 95 in Martin County, Florida when he observed an overturned SUV in the interstate median that had recently been involved in an accident. Crocker pulled over on the left shoulder and ran toward the SUV. About fifteen other motorists also stopped to assist. Soon after, a road ranger arrived and assured the bystanders that emergency personnel were nearby. Upon their arrival, Crocker stepped away to make room, but he remained in the interstate median about fifty feet from the SUV.

         Crocker noticed some of the other bystanders were taking photographs and videos of the crash scene with their cell phones. Crocker took out his own cell phone, an iPhone, and proceeded to take photos and videos of the scene. He captured images of empty beer bottles, the overturned vehicle, and firemen, but no images of any persons involved in the accident. About thirty seconds after Crocker had started using his iPhone camera, Beatty walked over toward him, reached out from behind him without warning or explanation, [1] and took the iPhone out of his hand.

         Beatty asked Crocker why he was on the scene. Crocker explained that he stopped to assist before first responders had arrived. Beatty told Crocker to leave. Crocker agreed to do so, but said that he needed his iPhone back. Beatty replied that the photographs and videos on the iPhone were evidence of the state, and Crocker would need to drive to the nearest weigh station[2] to wait for instructions about the return of his phone after the evidence could be obtained from it. Crocker indicated he would leave the scene immediately if Beatty would return his iPhone, and he offered to delete the photographs and videos in an attempt to secure its return. Beatty refused to hand over the phone, and in turn, Crocker refused to leave. Beatty then arrested Crocker for resisting an officer without violence.

         Crocker filed a lawsuit against Beatty and the Martin County Sheriff in 2016, alleging false arrest and a plethora of violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including the phone seizure claim. Beatty moved for summary judgment on the claims raised against him, [3] arguing as to the phone seizure claim that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred and that, in any event, he was entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court granted summary judgment as to all claims except for the phone seizure claim, on which it denied Beatty's motion. Beatty filed an interlocutory appeal.

         II.

         When a motion for summary judgment is based on a qualified immunity defense and a district court denies the motion, the denial constitutes a final decision from which we have interlocutory jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 for appeals involving questions of law. Bates v. Harvey, 518 F.3d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 2008). Summary judgment is appropriate 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).

         We resolve qualified immunity claims under a two-step sequence: whether the facts as reviewed make out a violation of a constitutional right, and if so, whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815- 16 (2009). Both steps of the sequence are reviewed de novo. See Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir. 2003). We address each in turn.

         III.

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