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February 3, 2015

On the Case:

HSLDA Urges Court to Find Officer’s Home Entry Illegal

Peter Kamakawiwoole Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team. He is married and the father of three small children.

In December 2012, HSLDA filed a lawsuit on behalf of HSLDA members Timothy, LuAnn, and Joseph Batt, against a police officer in Erie County, New York, for violating their Fourth Amendment Rights.

The case began in April 2012, when the officer forced his way into the Batts’ home without a warrant, ostensibly to investigate a vague tip alleging concerns about the care of LuAnn’s elderly father. The case is currently pending before the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.

When the warrantless entry took place, the police officer indicated that he knew nothing about the actual allegations beyond the fact that someone had phoned in a report to Adult Protective Services (APS). Armed with the barest of information, the officer nevertheless insisted that he could enter the Batts’ home without permission or a court order, and that he could arrest anyone who obstructed his entry.

After arguing with the officer for about 10 minutes, the Batts’ decided not to prevent the officer from checking on LuAnn’s father, who was not only fine, but had been seen just hours before by a nurse’s aide, who visited him twice a week.

Protecting Families

HSLDA filed this suit to help prevent other families from experiencing similar situations in the future. At the time, the officer insisted repeatedly that he did nothing wrong, and since this lawsuit was filed, nothing has changed the officer’s assertion.

Additionally, two APS caseworkers testified in connection with this case that, in their minds, caseworkers and law enforcement personnel can enter private homes without a court order whenever as APS receives a call of concern, no matter how vague or conflicting. One caseworker indicated that she has never sought an access order in 15 years, even though there is a readily available statutory procedure in New York to seek an access order in circumstances such as this.

In December of 2014, the attorneys representing the officer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking that the district court dismiss the Batts’ case because, in their view, the Batts could prove no set of facts which would prove that the officer acted unlawfully.

On January 30, 2015, HSLDA filed a two-part response, arguing first that the Batts had more than enough evidence to make a case against the officer, and second that it was the officer who had no evidence to prove that his warrantless entry was lawful.

A decision on both the officer’s motion and HSLDA’s cross-motion is anticipated later this spring.

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