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District of Columbia v. Wesby

Supreme Court of the United States

October 4, 2017, Argued; January 22, 2018, Decided

No. 15-1485.

Opinion

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves a civil suit against the District of Columbia and five of its police officers, brought by 16 individuals who were arrested for holding a raucous, late-night party in a house they did not have permission to enter. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of [***6]  Columbia  [**460]  Circuit held that there was no probable cause to arrest the partygoers, and that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. We reverse on both grounds.

 [*583]  I

Around 1 a.m. on March 16, 2008, the District’s Metropolitan Police Department received a complaint about loud music and illegal activities at a house in Northeast D. C. The caller, a former neighborhood commissioner, told police that the house had been vacant for several months. When officers arrived at the scene, several neighbors confirmed that the house should have been empty. The officers approached the house and, consistent with the complaint, heard loud music playing inside.

After the officers knocked on the front door, they saw a man look out the window and then run upstairs. One of the partygoers opened the door, and the officers entered. They immediately observed that the inside of the house “‘was in disarray’” and looked like “‘a vacant property.’” 841 F. Supp. 2d 20, 31 (DC 2012) (quoting Defs. Exh. A). The officers smelled marijuana and saw beer bottles and cups of liquor on the floor. In fact, the floor was so dirty that one of the partygoers refused to sit on it while being questioned. Although the house had working electricity and [***7]  plumbing, it had no furniture downstairs other than a few padded metal chairs. The only other signs of habitation were blinds on the windows, food in the refrigerator, and toiletries in the bathroom.

In the living room, the officers found a makeshift strip club. Several women were wearing only bras and thongs, with cash tucked into their garter belts. The women were giving lap dances while other partygoers watched. Most of the onlookers were holding cash and cups of alcohol. After seeing the uniformed officers, many partygoers scattered into other parts of the house.

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138 S. Ct. 577 *; 199 L. Ed. 2d 453 **; 2018 U.S. LEXIS 760 ***; 86 U.S.L.W. 4017; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 37; 2018 WL 491521

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Petitioners v. THEODORE WESBY, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Wesby v. District of Columbia, 719 Fed. Appx. 7, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 7614 (D.C. Cir., Mar. 26, 2018)

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Wesby v. District of Columbia, 765 F.3d 13, 412 U.S. App. D.C. 246, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16893 (Sept. 2, 2014)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

partygoers, probable cause, arrest, qualified immunity, circumstances, invitation, unlawful entry, infer, reasonable officer, innocent explanation, probable cause to arrest, summary judgment, vacant, court of appeals, permission, totality of the circumstances, bona fide belief, bachelor party, al-Kidd, merits, floor, police officer, per curiam, the will, implausible, knowingly, scattered, evasive, vitiate, courts

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Probable Cause, Criminal Law & Procedure, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Arrests, Scope of Protection, Warrantless Arrests, Civil Procedure, US Supreme Court Review, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Immunity From Liability, Defenses, Local Officials, Individual Capacity, Scope, Law Enforcement Officials, Arrests