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Davis v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 13, 2017

Joann Davis, an individual; Paul Cilley, an individual, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
United States of America; Norman Conley, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued and Submitted February 8, 2017 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, D.C. No. 5:13-cv-00483-CBM-KK Consuelo B. Marshall, District Judge, Presiding

          John K. Rubiner (argued), Gerard Fox Law P.C., Los Angeles, California; Steven I. Wallach, Gerard Fox Law P.C., New York, New York; for Defendants-Appellants.

          Peter B. Schlueter (argued), Schlueter Law Firm PC, Redlands, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Jacqueline H. Nguyen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Qualified Immunity/Bivens

         The panel affirmed the district court's denial of federal agent Norman Conley's motion for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity for a Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 389 (1971), claim brought by Joann Davis against Conley, alleging wrongful detention under the Fourth Amendment.

         Davis, who is an elderly woman, was detained by Conley in a public parking lot for two hours, while she stood in urine-soaked pants, and Conley questioned her incident to a search, concerning Davis' possession of a paperweight containing a rice-grain-sized bit of lunar material.

         The panel held that Davis raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Conley's detention of Davis was unreasonably prolonged and degrading under Frankline v. Foxworth, 31 F.3d 873, 876 (9th Cir. 1994). The panel also held that the circumstances leading up to the sting operation further supported the conclusion that Conley's detention of Davis was unreasonable where: Conley knew that Davis wanted to sell the paperweight due to her financial hardship arising from her severely ill son's medical expenses; Conley knew that Davis believed the paperweights were legally gifted to her late husband for his service as a NASA engineer; Conley knew that Davis initiated contact with NASA for assistance in selling the paperweight legally; and Conley did not inform Davis that her possession of the paperweight was illegal or ask her to surrender it to NASA. The panel concluded that Conley was not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.

          OPINION

          THOMAS, Chief Judge:

         In this appeal, we consider whether a federal agent is entitled to qualified immunity from suit for detaining an elderly woman in a public parking lot for two hours, while she stood in urine-soaked pants, to question her, incident to a search, about her possession of a paperweight containing a rice-grain-sized bit of lunar material. We conclude he is not, and we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I

         Joann Davis, and her late husband Robert, worked together at North American Rockwell, which had a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") in connection with the nation's space program. By all accounts, Robert was a brilliant engineer, and he ultimately became a manager of North American Rockwell's Apollo project. While working on the space program, he received many items of memorabilia, including two lucite paperweights. One contained a rice-grain-sized fragment of lunar material, or "moon rock;" the other contained a small piece of the Apollo 11 heat shield. According to unverified family lore, the paperweights were given to Robert by Neil Armstrong in recognition of Robert's service to NASA.

         When Robert died in 1986, Joann retained possession of the paperweights. She married her current husband, Paul Cilley, in 1991. Davis began experiencing financial hardship in 2011. Her son was severely ill, having had over 20 surgeries and requiring expensive medical care. In addition, she unexpectedly had to raise several grandchildren when their mother, Davis's youngest daughter, died.

         Her son suggested that the paperweights might have value, so Davis began contemplating selling them to cover some of his medical costs. She contacted some public auction houses, without success, so she then contacted NASA via email for assistance in "find[ing] a buyer for 2 rare Apollo 11 space artifacts." She explained that "[b]oth of these items were given to [her late husband] by Neil Armstrong, " and that "[he] was very ...


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