JAMES P. CROCKER, Plaintiff - Appellee,
DEPUTY SHERIFF STEVEN ERIC BEATTY, Martin County Sheriff's Office, in his individual capacity, Defendant-Appellant.
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 2:16-cv-14162-RLR
TJOFLAT, JILL PRYOR, and FAY, Circuit Judges.
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.
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.
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,  and took the iPhone out of
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 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.
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,
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.
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.
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.