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City and County of San Francisco v. Teresa Sheehan, USSC No. 13-1412, cert. granted 11/25/14

Questions presented:

1.  Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.

2.  Whether it was clearly established that, even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied, an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within.

Lower court opinion: Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco, 743 F.3d 1211 (9th Cir. 2014)


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A decision in this civil rights action is of potential interest because the Court’s disposition of the second issue may clarify how to determine whether police acted reasonably in the manner in which they enter a home under the exigent circumstances or emergency aid exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

Sheehan’s social worker sought to take Sheehan to a mental health facility for temporary commitment because Sheehan wasn’t taking her medication or taking care of herself. After she threatened him during a welfare check, he called police to help him take her to the facility. Sheehan threatened officers with a knife when they arrived, forcing them to retreat to the hallway. The officers then broke down her door, and when Sheehan advanced on them with a knife they shot and wounded her.

The second issue arises out of the Ninth Circuit’s rejection of the officers’ assertion of qualified immunity to Sheehan’s Fourth Amendment claim, which was based on the second entry to her apartment. Although the court believed the warrantless entry was justified under the emergency aid exception (or, perhaps, the exigent circumstances exception), it held there were issues of fact as to whether, under all the circumstances, the police carried out the seizure in a reasonable manner, given the likelihood the entry would force a confrontation and that there appeared to be no reason to believe she was going to harm herself or escape the apartment and harm others. 743 F.3d at 1223-28. Since it applied the totality of the circumstances test, the Ninth Circuit wasn’t adopting a blanket rule that it is always unreasonable to enter if police expect resistance; but we probably shouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court suggests that in the face of “an armed and violent suspect” the police never have to pause to let a little steam out of the kettle or otherwise take steps to calm the situation down.

As to the first issue, if you’re interested: The Ninth Circuit denied the officers’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, rejecting the rule adopted in some circuits that the ADA’s reasonable-accommodation requirement doesn’t apply to police “field procedures” like arrests.

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