French v. Merrill (1st Cir. October 2021)

The Federal Docket

October 19, 2021

Fourth Amendment – Officers’ repeated knocking on front door and window is not a mere “knock and talk,” and is clearly established as a violation by Florida v. Jardines.

After two separate encounters with the Orono Police Department, Christopher French brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the township, the police department, and the four individual officers with whom he interacted. The district court granted summary judgement on all counts for all defendants, and French appealed as to the counts against the individual officers only.

Reviewing the case de novo, the First Circuit upheld the grant of summary judgement as to one of the incidents but reversed it as to the other. During the second incident, the officers violated French’s Fourth Amendment rights by entering the curtilage of his home multiple times during the early morning hours without a warrant and repeatedly knocking on not only his door but his bedroom window despite clear indications that he did not want to come to the door.

This violation was clearly established by Supreme Court precedent in Florida v. Jardines, which found a Fourth Amendment violation where police brought a trained dog to a “knock and talk” in the hopes it would alert to contraband. As in Jardines, the officers’ conduct took them out of the realm of what would be acceptable for a normal social guest, and so also deprived them of the knock and talk exception to the warrant requirement.

Judge Lynch wrote separately, joining the majority as to the affirmance of summary judgement on the claims regarding the first incident, but dissenting as to the reversal on the second. She argued that the law on this issue was not clearly established by Jardines.

Appeal from the District of Maine
Opinion by Lipez, joined by Barron
Dissent in part by Lynch

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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