Nearly two years ago on July 10, 2011, police officers in Henderson and North Las Vegas demanded to use a house as a tactical outpost or command center for a domestic violence investigation of the residents’ neighbors. When the residents appropriately told the police to buzz off, the police battered down the door, shot the occupants with nonlethal bullets, arrested the residents, and commandeered the house. (The charges were eventually dismissed with prejudice.)
Now, the lawyers for the family have brilliantly lain in wait for two years just before the statute of limitations expires* to sue the cities under a host of claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the federal civil rights statute), notably applying the Third Amendment—the one that prohibits the forcible quartering of soldiers during peacetime—as well as the Fourth Amendment (no unreasonable searches and seizures). Read the complaint here. It is dated July 1, 2013.
Assuming the facts in the complaint as pleaded are true, the plaintiffs deserve blood but will get only money. If the plaintiffs are stalwart enough not to settle (and the cities should absolutely try their hardest to settle), may the jury award them many millions of dollars—as punition for this sort of outlandish, outrageous, malevolent behavior. $100 million sounds about right.
If the government does not settle (assuming the plaintiffs are even willing), and it has the temerity to appeal any judgment, this will be a chance for the appellate attorneys to argue for the incorporation of the Third Amendment against the states—at least in the states inside the 9th Circuit.
Not all of the Bill of Rights apply against the states. (Until the early 20th century, none of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution applied to state governments. See Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), which applied some of the limitations on government in the First Amendment to the states using language in the Fourteenth Amendment.) Most of the Bill of Rights has been incorporated to/against the states. The Third Amendment has not, except in the 2d Circuit (Connecticut, New York, Vermont), because of that Circuit’s holding in Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982).
Admittedly, the Third Amendment, which reads,
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law,
contemplates soldiers not police officers, per se. There are also comparative factual issues in the Englbom case that make Englbom harder to serve as an analogy, particularly that the governmental agents were National Guardsmen under the control of the Governor of New York. But without having done much historical research in this area, I’m sure I could come up with a novel but convincing argument to conflate the two concepts (soliders and police).
In any case, the Mitchell family deserves to heap opprobrium upon the cities of Henderson and North Las Vegas and I hope they pay the family handsomely for their actions. Every man’s home should be safe from random governmental force.
* There is no federal statute of limitations for § 1983 claims, so they track the personal injury statutes in the states underlying the federal jurisdictions where the federal courts sit. Nevada’s relevant statute appears to limit these actions to 2 years from the incident.