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Advanced Building & Fabrication, Inc. v. California Highway Patrol

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 13, 2019

Advanced Building & Fabrication, Inc., a California corporation; Robert Honan, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
California Highway Patrol; John Wilson, Defendants, and Curtis Ayers, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted December 19, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California D.C. No. 2:13-cv-02380-MCE-CKD Morrison C. England, Jr., District Judge, Presiding

          Michael von Loewenfeldt (argued) and Daniel J. Veroff, Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP, San Francisco, California, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Polly J. Estes (argued), Estes Law Group, San Rafael, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Before: Milan D. Smith, Jr. and Jacqueline H. Nguyen, Circuit Judges, and Jane A. Restani, [*] Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's denial, on summary judgment, of qualified immunity to Curtis Ayers, a former employee of the California State Board of Equalization, in an action brought against him by plaintiff Robert Honan and his business alleging Ayers violated clearly established law by participating in a search of plaintiff's business following an altercation between Ayers and plaintiff.

         Ayers, who had mistaken plaintiff's business for another business, arrived at plaintiff's premises without an appointment, and identified himself as a Board of Equalization employee, but did not present his ID badge. A verbal altercation ensued and Ayers alleged that as he was leaving, plaintiff tackled him and pushed him through the door, resulting in Ayers dropping and damaging his laptop. Ayers reported the incident and the California Highway Patrol subsequently obtained a search warrant to search the premises of plaintiff's business on the grounds that plaintiff committed felony threats and vandalism against Ayers. California Highway Patrol executed the warrant and Ayers participated in the search, during which he allegedly searched through plaintiff's personal property.

         Plaintiff sued Ayers and other defendants, including California Highway Patrol officers, alleging claims for state-law conversion and other tort claims, as well as a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The panel affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to Ayers and resolved the remaining claims against the other defendants in concurrently filed memorandum dispositions.

         The panel rejected Ayers' contention that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because California law permits State Board of Equalization employees to request inspection of sales records from any business, and that therefore his participation in the search would qualify under the "administrative search" exception to the warrant requirement. The panel held that none of the state provisions cited by Ayers authorized forcible entry or searches. Moreover, even assuming that state law permitted warrantless inspections of business records, the intrusive search here would not withstand scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment. The panel further held that Ayers's presence was not necessary to aid in the officers' execution of the warrant, which had the purpose of seizing evidence relating to allegations of criminal threats and vandalism. Because Ayers's presence was not related to the objective of the search warrant, his conduct violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. The panel remanded for further proceedings consistent with the panel's opinion.

          OPINION

          NGUYEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Curtis Ayers, a former employee of the California State Board of Equalization ("BOE"), appeals the district court's denial of qualified immunity in a suit brought against him by Plaintiffs Robert Honan and his business, Advanced Building & Fabrication, Inc. ("Advanced Building"). The allegations in the complaint stem from an altercation between Ayers and Honan, which led to the execution of a search warrant at Advanced Building by officers of the California Highway Patrol ("CHP"). Honan contends that Ayers violated clearly established law by participating in the search. We agree. Because the administrative search exception does not apply and Ayers's ...


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