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Section 1983 - Seizure of Vehicles From Driveway of Residence - Procedural Due Process

McDonald v. Keahey and Foster Wrecker Svc., Inc., [Ms. 2180284, Aug. 23, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019). The court (Hanson, J.; Thompson, P.J., and Moore and Donaldson, JJ., concur; Edwards, J., concurs in the result) reverses a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court in favor of Foster Wrecker Service, Inc. and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Keahey in a Section 1983 action.

Two inoperable vehicles were towed from the backyard of plaintiff’s home pursuant to a Center Point municipal ordinance prohibiting a premises owner from storing non-operable motor vehicles on his or her property. Ms. *5. After a Center Point building inspector notified the plaintiff of an alleged violation of the ordinance, Deputy Keahey returned to the property and instructed Foster Wrecker, which was under contract with Center Point, to remove the vehicles. Ms. *4-5.

With regard to the Fourth Amendment claim, the court noted that the home is the first among equals and that “the United States Supreme Court has been reluctant to expand the scope of exceptions to the warrant requirement when the search and seizure involves intrusion into the home.” Ms. *18, citing Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980). The court also noted that “[t]he curtilage is considered to be ‘part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.’” Ms. *19, quoting Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984). The court reversed the summary judgment holding that “there is at the very least a question of fact as to whether the vehicles were within the curtilage” of the home when they were seized. Ms. *21.

The court also found a question of fact on the owner’s Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. “[D]ue process requires that ‘individuals must receive notice and an opportunity to be heard before the government deprives them of property.’” Ms. *29, quoting United States v. James Daniel Good Real Prop., 510 U.S. 43, 48 (1993). “[D]ue process generally requires that the state afford a party threatened with a deprivation of property a process involving predeprivation notice and access to a tribunal in which the merits of the deprivation may be fairly challenged.” Ms. *30. The notice provided to the owner here did not provide her an opportunity to correct the violation, and there was no preseizure process by which she could challenge the determination that her vehicles violated the municipal ordinance. Ms. *31.

Finally, the court held that Deputy Keahey did not establish qualified immunity as a matter of law because “it should have been clear to Keahey that, absent some exigent circumstance, he could not seize private property from the curtilage of a home without a warrant.” Ms. *40.

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