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Lincoln v. Barnes

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 20, 2017

ERIN LINCOLN, Individually and as Representative of the Estate of John Lincoln; KATHLEEN LINCOLN, Individually and as Representative of the Estate of John Lincoln, Plaintiffs - Appellees
C. BARNES, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before JOLLY, HIGGINBOTHAM, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.


         Ranger Clair Barnes appeals the denial of his motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity. Because it was clearly established that Barnes's conduct constituted an illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the unfortunate police shooting of John Lincoln during a SWAT team operation at his mother's residence. The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, which at this stage we presume to be true. John Lincoln was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was taking medication to manage it. In December 2013, John ran out of his medication and for reasons unknown was unable to refill his prescription. On December 26, 2013, John had been dining with his father when he took one of his father's guns and left the house. John's father believed that he was headed to the home of his mother, Kathleen Lincoln, and that he was a threat to her life.

         When John arrived at his mother's house, she was not there, but John's eighteen-year-old daughter, Erin Lincoln, who lived with her grandmother, was at home and let him into the house. After John left for Kathleen's house, John's father called John's sisters and one of them, Kelly Lincoln, called the Colleyville police. A large SWAT team, including officers from both the Colleyville and North Richland Hills police departments arrived and surrounded Kathleen's house.

         A police dispatcher contacted Erin inside the house and asked if she was in harm's way. Erin replied that she was not and that her father would not harm her. She also told the dispatcher that she was talking to her father to try to calm him down and that the police's presence was upsetting him. When the phone rang again, Erin told her father not to pick it up because it would just upset him. Despite her advice, John picked up the phone and spoke with the police. The call upset him greatly.

         John then began to open the front door to the house and to shout at the police, while holding his father's gun. Every time he opened the door, Erin was standing immediately next to him. The last time John opened the door, three officers opened fire, killing him and narrowly missing Erin, who was standing by his side.

         Erin fell to the ground next to her father's body. She was then forcibly removed, placed in handcuffs, and put in the backseat of a police vehicle. Although she did not fight, struggle, or resist, she did ask the officer why she was being taken into custody and made it known that she wanted to remain with her father.

         While Erin was being held in the patrol car, her aunt Kelly, an Arlington Police Department officer, who was on the scene in uniform, informed one of the Colleyville officers that her niece had severe social anxiety disorder and was emotionally distraught and she requested that Erin be released into her care. The Colleyville officer told Kelly that they would not release Erin because they needed to get a statement. Kelly demanded to speak with a supervisor. After about thirty minutes, a Colleyville Sergeant came over and reiterated that they were holding Erin to get a statement. Kelly responded that they were outside their authority by holding Erin as a witness against her will. The Sergeant refused to release Erin.

         After being held in the back of the patrol car for about two hours, Erin was transported to the police station. Kelly went to the station to get Erin, but she was not allowed to see her. At the station, Erin was interrogated for five hours by Ranger Barnes and Officer Kyle Meeks and she was forced to write out a statement. After the officers obtained her statement, Erin was permitted to leave with Kelly. Erin was never charged with any crime.

         Erin and Kathleen, individually and as representatives of the estate of John Lincoln, sued the Cities of Colleyville and North Richland Hills, Texas, and several officers involved in the incident, including Barnes. They asserted a variety of constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 stemming from the shooting and Erin's subsequent detention. In pertinent part, Erin asserted that Barnes and Meeks violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure when they took her into custody without a warrant, probable cause, or justifiable reason and interrogated her against her will for many hours, refusing her access to her family, including Kelly Lincoln.

         All defendants, including Barnes, filed motions to dismiss. Barnes moved to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. In a series of orders, the district court dismissed all of the claims except the unreasonable seizure claims against Barnes, Meeks, and Officer Sandra Scott, who had transported Erin to the police station. As for Barnes, the court held that the allegations concerning Erin's five-hour interrogation at the station, during which she was forced to write out a statement, stated a claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court cited Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200 (1979), a 1979 Supreme Court decision which held that the involuntary detention and interrogation of an individual without probable cause on the grounds that he possessed information about an unsolved crime constituted an unreasonable seizure. Id. at 207. The district court further determined that Barnes should have been on notice that his conduct was illegal based on a Tenth Circuit ...

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