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Matalon v. Hynnes

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 18, 2015

SCOTT MATALON, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH HYNNES and MARY ANN O'NEILL, Defendants, Appellants, CITY OF BOSTON, Defendant

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Page 630

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Leo T. Sorokin, U.S. District Judge.

Nicole M. O'Connor, Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, with whom Eugene L. O'Flaherty, Corporation Counsel, and Katherine N. Galle, Assistant Corporation Counsel, were on brief, for appellants.

Robert S. Sinsheimer, with whom Wesley B. Stoker and Sinsheimer & Associates were on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Selya and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 631

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This case requires us to inspect the topography of the seldom-used exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for warrantless searches by police officers exercising community caretaking functions. The case arises in the context of a warrantless entry by the appellants (Boston police officers) into a dwelling in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. The police lacked probable cause; the jury found that their intrusion into the dwelling was not justified either by exigent circumstances or by any other constitutionally acceptable rationale; and an award of damages against the officer who had spearheaded the entry into the house ensued.

The affected appellant, relying on the doctrine of qualified immunity and the community caretaking exception, invites us to set aside this verdict. After careful consideration, we decline her invitation. We also reject the appellants' contention that the district court's award of attorneys' fees is infirm because the court failed to distinguish between " core" and " non-core" work performed by the prevailing party's lawyers. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 29, 2010, the Boston police received a report of a robbery from Felix Augusto-Perez, the manager of a restaurant located at 48 Harvard Avenue. Officer Elvin Aviles responded, and Augusto-Perez recounted that he had discovered a black male removing money from a safe in the basement of the restaurant. Augusto-Perez told Aviles that he had chased the thief out of the back door of the restaurant and along Farrington Avenue (which runs perpendicular to Harvard Avenue). The robber turned left on Highgate Street (which runs roughly parallel to Harvard Avenue) and then turned right, running into the back yard of a house at 14 Farrington Avenue. Aviles radioed to other officers that the suspect was last seen in the area of Farrington Avenue and Highgate Street.

The appellants -- Sergeant Mary Ann O'Neill and Officer Joseph Hynnes -- were among the officers who responded. Hynnes testified that when he arrived at Farrington Avenue, an unidentified witness reported seeing a black male running down a walkway between 14 Farrington Avenue and 16 Farrington Avenue. After receiving this information, Hynnes and his partner proceeded down the walkway between the houses. They encountered O'Neill.

Though O'Neill's recollection at trial was hazy, she recalled " a victim" pointing in the direction of 16 Farrington Avenue and Hynnes telling her about what he had learned. O'Neill then mounted the porch of the dwelling at 16 Farrington Avenue (which faced the walkway). Looking through a glass pane on the closed exterior door, she could see two open doors, the first leading into the main living area and the second apparently leading into the cellar. O'Neill tried the knob of the exterior door and found it unlocked. She then rang the bell, knocked on the door, and called into ...


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