CA9: A “dilapidated” shack behind a house on the curtilage was still a place subject to the Fourth Amendment

A “dilapidated” shack behind a house on the curtilage was still a place subject to the Fourth Amendment, but the entry without a warrant claim goes forward. They get qualified immunity on the knock-and-announce violation. Deputies entered and shot a homeless couple that were living there. Mendez v. County of Los Angeles, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 3847 (9th Cir. Mar. 2, 2016):

We start by analyzing the legality of the deputies’ entry into the wooden shack. The deputies first argue that they did not “search” the shack within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when Conley opened the door.

In 2010, the law was clearly established that a “search” under the Fourth Amendment occurs when the government invades an area in which a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” United States v. Scott, 450 F.3d 863, 867 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring)). This includes the “area immediately adjacent to a home,” known as the “curtilage.” United States v. Struckman, 603 F.3d 731, 739 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Four factors used to determine whether an area lies within the curtilage are “the proximity of the area claimed to be curtilage to the home, whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by.” Id. (quoting United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 301, 107 S. Ct. 1134, 94 L. Ed. 2d 326 (1987)).

The deputies contend that not every reasonable officer would have assumed that this “dilapidated” shack was a dwelling. This assertion is irrelevant, as it erroneously assumes that the Fourth Amendment applies only to residences. See Dunn, 480 U.S. at 307-08 (“[T]he general rule is that the curtilage includes all outbuildings used in connection with a residence, such as garages, sheds, and barns connected with and in close vicinity of the residence.”) (citation and internal alterations omitted); United States v. Johnson, 256 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (holding that a shed may be protected under the Fourth Amendment and remanding for district court to answer the question in first instance). In Struckman, we held that a “backyard—a small, enclosed yard adjacent to a home in a residential neighborhood—is unquestionably such a ‘clearly marked’ area ‘to which the activity of home life extends.’” 603 F.3d at 739 (citation omitted).

In this case, the trial court found that the shack was thirty feet from the house; it “was not within the fence that enclosed the grassy backyard area” but “was located in the dirt-surface area that was part of the rear of the Hughes property” and could not be observed, let alone entered, “without passing through the south gate and entering the rear of the Hughes property.” These facts support a finding that the shack was in the curtilage. Therefore, it was clearly established under Struckman and Dunn that the deputies undertook a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment by entering the rear of Hughes’s property through a gate and by further opening the door to the shack in the curtilage behind the house. The deputies’ citations to cases involving “abandoned property” are inapposite because even if the shack was “dilapidated,” the officers knew that Hughes lived in the house, and the shack was very clearly in the curtilage of the house.

The district court correctly determined that the deputies conducted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment under clearly established law.

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