Hunter Gets a Buck From Cops for Unreasonable Seizure

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By Bernie Pazanowski

Police acted unreasonably when they answered a man-with-a gun call and seized a hunter returning home with his shotgun, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled Aug. 3 ( Stoedter v. Gates , 2017 BL 270615, 10th Cir., No. 15-4020, 8/3/17 ).

Because the hunter’s Fourth Amendment right was violated, he is entitled to nominal damages in his civil rights suit and is eligible for attorney’s fees, the court said in an order and judgment by Judge Nancy L. Moritz.

A 911 call in Riverton, Utah, reported a man carrying a shotgun into a house. Two officers responded and found Robert Stoedter and his uncle sitting casually on the porch smoking cigarettes.

With weapons drawn, the officers ordered the men to put their hands up and come off the porch. After unleashing a flurry of profanity at the officers, the two complied and Stoedter was handcuffed.

Stoedter was released after explaining he just returned from a hunting trip.

A jury found for Stoedter and the district court awarded $1 in damages.

Shotguns Legal

It’s lawful to possess a shotgun in Utah. The officers therefore didn’t have probable cause to seize Stoedter, the court said.

Because Stoedter’s right to be free from the unreasonable seizure was clearly established, the officers weren’t entitled to qualified immunity, it added.

The district court properly awarded Stoedter nominal damages, and he was therefore a prevailing party entitled to attorney’s fees, the appeals court said.

Judges Jerome A. Holmes and Stephanie K. Seymour joined the order.

Huntsman, Lofgran & Fuller represented Stoedter. Snow, Christensen & Martineau represented the officers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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