Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

SJ Reversed on PO Unreasonable Search/Detention Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's grant of qualified immunity to three New Mexico probation officers on unreasonable residential search claims. It also reversed summary judgment on an unreasonable detention claim.

In February 2000, Carly Bliss was convicted of a New Mexico firearms offense and sentenced to probation for 18 months, from May 8, 2000 to October 31, 2001. Mistakenly believing that Bliss' probation would expire on April 30, 2001, probation officer Larry Franco prepared and submitted a discharge order. He later realized his error but failed to take steps to correct it.

The court signed and filed the discharge order on May 11, 2001, but a copy was not received by the Parole Division until July 5, 2001. Assuming Bliss was still on probation, on June 19, 2001, Franco and two other probation officers conducted a routine field inspection at the residence Bliss shared with her boyfriend, Dale Trask.

Trask answered the door wearing at least two knives on his belt. He was handcuffed and the probation officers searched the residence. Bliss was found hiding under a bed as Trask had allegedly ordered her to. Trask was arrested for obstructing an officer. The charges were dismissed, however, in July 2001, when the May 11, 2001 discharge order for Bliss was received by the Parole Division.

Bliss and Trask brought suit in federal court asserting Fourth Amendment violations and state law torts. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims. The court found that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claims.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of qualified immunity, finding that plaintiffs had satisfied their burden of establishing that a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, and holding "the law regarding a warrantless residential search was clearly established in June 2001." Summary judgment was precluded because "a material factual dispute exists as to whether the probation officers reasonably believed that Ms. Bliss was still on probation on June 19, 2001."

The court also found that summary judgment was unavailable on Trask's unreasonable detention and arrest claims. The "record on appeal leaves too much unanswered, and it is premature without more evidence to discern what the probation officers reasonably foresaw."

The appeals court upheld summary judgment on the state law claims, finding the defendants were immune under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act for actions taken within the scope of their employment.

Finally, the appellate court concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion to deny plaintiffs' F.R.C.P. 56(f) motion for additional discovery before summary judgment. Plaintiffs failed to make the requisite showing in their affidavit that facts precluding summary judgment could not be presented, and did not identify the probable facts which were not available and the efforts taken to obtain those facts. See: Trask v. Franco, 446 F.3d 1036 (10th Cir. 2006).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login