United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion and
Supporting Memorandum for Qualified Immunity and Summary
Judgment, filed January 17, 2017. [Doc. 39]. Plaintiffs
responded on February 21, 2017. [Doc. 43]. Defendant replied
on March 10, 2017. [Doc. 44]. Having considered the briefing,
the record, and the relevant law, the Court finds that
Defendant's motion is well-taken and will be GRANTED.
County Undersheriff David Hunter received a tip from a
confidential informant that Plaintiff Guilez was trafficking
marijuana at her residence in Tularosa, New Mexico. [Doc. 39]
at 3. He obtained a warrant to search her
property. Id. The warrant described the
property to be searched as consisting of a “single
family residence located at 420 Guilez Avenue, ” the
driveway to which was located “200 yards north from the
intersection of Guilez Avenue and Old Mescalero Road.”
[Doc. 39-1] at 6. The warrant described the residence as
“a small camper trailer, approximately 16' in
length, white in color with a[n] orange and yellow stripe
running horizontally the length of the camper.”
Id. In addition to the residence (i.e., the camper
trailer), the warrant also authorized the search of
“any and all curtilage, out buildings, tool boxes,
safes/lockboxes, refuse containers, vehicles, or any type of
container(s), secured or unsecured, located on the property.
. . .” Id.
warrant listed the address of the property to be searched as
“420 Guilez Avenue.” [Doc. 33] at 1 ¶ 3.
There is no such address in Otero County. Id. There
is, however, a Guilez Lane. Id. And, while there is
no “420 Guilez Lane, ” a gate at the entranceway
to the property described in the search warrant identified it
as “420 Guilez Lane.” Id.; [Doc. 39] at
4; [Doc. 39-1] at 9.
and his search team executed the warrant on January 25, 2012.
Defendant arrived at the gate identifying the property as
“420 Guilez Lane.” [Doc. 39] at 4. The property
appeared to match the description in the warrant.
Id. Defendant observed the camper trailer as well as
other “out buildings.” Id. West of the
camper trailer was a separate trailer house, not referenced
or described specifically in the search warrant. [Doc. 43] at
2. See generally [Doc. 39-1] at 6-8. Defendant
searched the camper trailer but found that it had been
abandoned and contained nothing relevant to the
investigation. [Doc. 33] at 3 ¶ 11. Defendant proceeded
to search the trailer house, where he discovered contraband.
Id. at 3 ¶ 12; [Doc. 39] at 5. Plaintiff Duffy
was at the trailer house at the time the search was executed,
and Defendant detained him. [Doc. 39] at 5. Duffy stated that
he was looking for Guilez and that he did not reside there.
Id. Defendant subsequently released Duffy.
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arise from their
allegation that Defendant's search of “420
Guilez” actually spanned two separate pieces of
property: 1014 Guilez Lane (on which the camper trailer was
located), and 1023 Guilez Lane (on which the trailer house
was located and Duffy was seized). [Doc. 33] at 2
¶¶ 4-5, 3 ¶¶ 13-16. Guilez and
Niederstadt resided at the latter address. Id. at 2
¶ 5. The properties were adjacent. Id. There
were no boundaries (e.g., fences or walls) delineating the
two properties,  though there was some kind of gate through
which Defendant apparently passed to get to the trailer
house. [Doc. 39] at 4; [Doc. 39-1] at 2 ¶
17; [Doc. 43] at 6 ¶ 6, 8 ¶ 6.
allege that Defendant violated their Fourth Amendment rights
by (1) searching Guilez and Niederstadt's property (i.e.,
1023 Guilez Lane and the trailer house on the property), and
(2) detaining Duffy in the course of their search of the
property “without a warrant, probable cause, reasonable
suspicion, or any other legal justification for doing
so.” [Doc. 33] at 4 ¶¶ 20- 23; [Doc. 43] at
4. Plaintiffs do not object to the search of 1014 Guilez Lane
and the camper trailer. [Doc. 43] at 3. Plaintiffs contend
that Defendant violated their Fourth Amendment rights when he
subsequently entered 1023 Guilez Lane and searched the
trailer house on that property. Id. The warrant does
not describe the trailer house, they assert, and no
reasonable officer would confuse the camper trailer described
in the warrant (white, with an orange or yellow horizontal
stripe running across it) with the trailer house (pink in
color with no stripe). Id. at 3-4. On this rationale
alone, Plaintiffs conclude that Defendant violated clearly
established law by searching 1023 Guilez Lane and detaining
Duffy during the search. Id. at 4.
argues that his search of 1023 Guilez Lane and seizure of
Duffy did not violate the Fourth Amendment, much less clearly
established law. He asserts that he reasonably believed he
was executing a valid search warrant at the correct location.
[Doc. 39] at 8-9. He notes that a gate at the entranceway to
the property located at the coordinates specified in the
warrant identified the property as “420 Guilez Lane,
” and that the property appeared to contain the camper
trailer as described in the warrant, along with other
outbuildings also referenced in the warrant. Id. at
9. He further contends that he reasonably believed he had
entered onto one contiguous piece of property, i.e., the
property described in the search warrant. Id. at 10.
He argues that there were no “fences, walls, or other
dividing boundaries” to suggest that the trailer house
was part of a separate piece of property. Id.
Defendant asserts that he reasonably-if mistakenly-believed
he was “searching the curtilage and outbuildings of 420
Judgment and Qualified Immunity
judgment will be granted “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). If the movant meets this burden, the
non-movant must come forward with specific facts, supported
by admissible evidence, which demonstrate the presence of a
genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). A genuine dispute exists if
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on the issue.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). Although all facts are construed in favor of the
non-movant, the non-movant still has a responsibility to
“go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts
so as to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
of an element essential to [his] case in order to survive
summary judgment.” Johnson v. Mullin, 422 F.3d
1184, 1187 (10th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
where a defendant asserts qualified immunity as a defense,
the summary judgment analysis is modified. “When a
defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, the burden
shifts to the plaintiff to satisfy a strict two-part test:
first, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's
actions violated a constitutional . . . right; second, the
plaintiff must show that this right was clearly established
at the time of the conduct at issue.” Clark v.
Edmunds, 513 F.3d 1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks omitted). If the plaintiff satisfies this
test, the defendant “then bear[s] the traditional
burden of the movant for summary judgment- showing that there
are no genuine issues of material fact and that he or she is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted).
have discretion to decide which of the two parts of the
qualified immunity test to address first. Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). As to the
“clearly established” prong, a right is clearly
established when “every ‘reasonable official
would have understood that what he is doing violates that
right.'” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S.
731, 741 (2011) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483
U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). Ordinarily, “[i]n this circuit,
to show that a right is clearly established, the plaintiff
must point to ‘a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit
decision on point, or the clearly established weight of
authority from other courts must have found the law to be as
the plaintiff maintains.'” Callahan v. Unified
Gov't of Wyandotte Cty., 806 F.3d 1022, 1027 (10th
Cir. 2015) (quoting Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745
F.3d 405, 427 (10th Cir. 2014)). While there need not be a
case “directly on point, ” the “existing
precedent must have placed the . . . constitutional question
beyond debate.” al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 741.
Supreme Court has cautioned the lower courts against defining
the constitutional question “at a high level of
generality.” Id. at 742. The salient inquiry,
rather, is “whether the violative nature of the
particular conduct is clearly established.”
Aldaba v. Pickens, 844 F.3d 870, 877 (10th Cir.
2016) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (per curiam)
(the inquiry into whether a right is clearly established
“must be undertaken in light of the specific context of
the case, not as a broad general proposition” (internal
quotation marks omitted)). Specificity in framing the right
“is especially important in the Fourth Amendment
context, ” where “[i]t is sometimes difficult for
an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine . . .
will apply to the factual situation the officer
confronts.” Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 308 (first
alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The inquiry in such cases is not whether it was clearly
established “that an unreasonable search or seizure