In Huff v. City of Burbank, published January 11, 2011, a split panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed a bench trial decision in favor of police officers who entered the plaintiffs' house without a warrant. The officers went to the house to investigate rumors that a high school student member of the plaintiff family had written a letter threatening a school shooting. There was no evidence the letter existed. The family initially refused to answer the phone in the house. When the officers called the mother on her cell phone, she answered, but hung up after the officers asked about her son. She and the son stepped out on the porch. The officers asked her if there were any guns in the house. She replied that she had to talk to her husband. She and her son entered the house. Two officers entered with them, without consent. Two other officers assumed the first two had permission to enter, and entered themselves. The officers stayed in the house ten minutes without searching or arresting anyone.
The majority held that the officers had violated the family's 4th Amendment rights by entering the house without probable cause and without a warrant or exigent circumstances. They concluded the mother's evasive behavior did not give probable cause or create an emergency. The first two officers had no qualified immunity, because the law was clear in 2007 that entering a house required probable cause and a warrant or exigent circumstances. The other two were entitled to qualified immunity for mistakenly believing the first two had the family's permission to enter.
The dissenting judge opined that all of the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.