United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
AMENDED ORDER AND REASONS
M. Africk, Judge
Boisfontaine went missing in Baton Rouge in 1997. Her
battered and decomposing body was found three months later in
a Louisiana bayou. The murder has never been solved.
twenty years later, the search to find her killer is playing
out on the Killing Fields-a nationally televised
reality show on the Discovery Channel. Detective Rodie
Sanchez, a grizzled veteran of the Iberville Parish
Sheriff's office, came out of retirement to lead the
search for Eugenie's murderer. Detective Sanchez has
vowed that only death will stop him.
Sheriff's investigators attempted to link potential
suspects to DNA evidence found near the body. Most of the
individuals of interest to the investigation voluntarily
provided the investigative team with DNA samples. Michael
Schmidt- Eugenie's ex-husband-did not.
Sanchez found that refusal suspicious. He could not believe
that Schmidt, if Schmidt was truly innocent, would not want
to help locate Eugenie's murderer. Further, the fact that
Schmidt had the temerity to hire multiple criminal defense
lawyers, including the former United States Attorney for the
Eastern District of Louisiana, made Detective Sanchez all the
Schmidt not cooperating, the investigators set out to obtain
a DNA sample involuntarily. They initially tried a subpoena.
But when Schmidt's legal team filed a motion to suppress,
the investigators took another tack: they decided to
surreptitiously tail Schmidt until he unknowingly left DNA in
public. Whether they did so because it made for good
television is entirely unclear.
of the investigative team followed Schmidt's Hummer
through Jefferson Parish until he stopped at a strip mall and
went into a shop. One of the officers jumped out of her
unmarked chase vehicle and used a cotton swab on the
Hummer's door handle. The Sheriff's office then
compared the DNA that was obtained with the DNA found near
Eugenie's body. The DNA did not rule Schmidt out as a
believes that the officers' conduct was unlawful. In
particular, he objects that both (1) the swabbing of the car
and (2) the DNA analysis constitute unconstitutional searches
under the Fourth Amendment. Schmidt also argues that filming
the process was a separate Fourth Amendment violation in and
of itself. The Sheriff and his officers disagree.
parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the
threshold question of whether either the swabbing or the DNA
analysis constituted a Fourth Amendment “search”.
The officers also request qualified immunity. For the
following reasons, the Court concludes that the swabbing of
the door constituted a Fourth Amendment search, but that the
officers are entitled to qualified immunity on all Fourth
judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits, the court determines that there is no genuine
dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking
summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the
existence of material fact, but need only point out the
absence of evidence supporting the other party's case.
Id.; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190,
1195 (5th Cir. 1986).
the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden
pursuant to Rule 56, the nonmoving party must come forward
with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute
of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The
showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating
“‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts, ' by ‘conclusory allegations, ' by
‘unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a
‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted). Instead, a genuine issue of material
fact exists when the “evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party responding to the motion for
summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings, but must
identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue.
Id. The nonmoving party's evidence, however,
“is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are
to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.”
Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526
U.S. 541, 552 (1999).
officers sued in their individual capacity are entitled to
qualified immunity insofar as their conduct “did not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). When
qualified immunity is properly applied, “it protects
all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly
violate the law.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563
U.S. 731, 743 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“Once a defendant invokes qualified immunity . . . the
burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the
inapplicability of the defense.” McCreary v.
Richardson, 738 F.3d 651, 655 (5th Cir. 2013).
plaintiff must make two showings to overcome a qualified
immunity defense. First, the plaintiff must show that the
officer's conduct violated a constitutional right.
See Heaney v. Roberts, 846 F.3d 795, 801 (5th Cir.
2017). Second, the plaintiff must show that the
constitutional right at issue was clearly established at the
time of the alleged violation. Id. A court has the
discretion to ...