Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 98-83. Argued March 24, 1999—Decided May 24, 1999

While executing a warrant to arrest petitioners' son in their home, respondents, deputy federal marshals and local sheriff's deputies, invited a newspaper reporter and a photographer to accompany them. The warrant made no mention of such a "media ride-along." The officers' early morning entry into the home prompted a confrontation with petitioners, and a protective sweep revealed that the son was not in the house. The reporters observed and photographed the incident but were not involved in the execution of the warrant. Their newspaper never published the photographs they took of the incident. Petitioners sued the officers in their personal capacities for money damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (the federal marshals), and 42 U. S. C. 1983 (the sheriff's deputies), contending that the officers' actions in bringing the media to observe and record the attempted execution of the arrest warrant violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The District Court denied respondents' motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. In reversing, the Court of Appeals declined to decide whether the officers' actions violated the Fourth Amendment, but concluded that because no court had held at the time of the search that media presence during a police entry into a residence constituted such a violation, the right allegedly violated was not "clearly established" and thus respondents were entitled to qualified immunity.

Held: A "media ride-along" in a home violates the Fourth Amendment, but because the state of the law was not clearly established at the time the entry in this case took place, respondent officers are entitled to qualified immunity. Pp. 609-618.

(a) The qualified immunity analysis is identical in suits under 1983 and Bivens. See, e. g., Graham v. Connor, 490 U. S. 386, 394, n. 9. A court evaluating a qualified immunity claim must first determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of a constitutional right, and, if so, proceed to determine whether that right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Conn v. Gabbert, ante, at 290. P. 609.


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