Pearson, et al. v. Callahan

PETITIONER:Cordell Pearson, et al.
RESPONDENT:Afton Callahan
LOCATION:The Central Utah Narcotics Task Force

DOCKET NO.: 07-751
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Mar 24, 2008
ARGUED: Oct 14, 2008
DECIDED: Jan 21, 2009

Malcolm L. Stewart – Deputy Solicitor General, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting petitioners
Peter Stirba – argued the cause for the petitioners
Theodore P. Metzler Jr. – argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

This case stems from a search of Utah resident Afton Callahan’s home by the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force. The Task Force, based on evidence that Callahan was a methamphetamine dealer, had sent an informant to his home to make a purchase. After receiving a signal from the informant that the sale had taken place, the Task Force entered the home and conducted a protective sweep of the house without a warrant but after getting Callahan’s consent. At trial, Callahan was convicted of possessing and distributing methamphetamines based on evidence discovered during the search, however the Utah Court of Appeals held the evidence inadmissible and reversed Callahan’s conviction.

Subsequently, Callahan filed this action in federal court against the Task Force and individual officers alleging that the search violated his civil rights under the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah dismissed his claim, holding in part that the “consent once removed” doctrine applied to the search. Under the doctrine, an undercover officer may summon backup officers into a home after that officer has been invited with consent. However the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit disagreed, holding that the doctrine does not apply when the officers are summoned by a police informant. Therefore, according to the Tenth Circuit, Callahan had established a violation of his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


1)Does a police entry following an informant’s signal of probable cause violate the Fourth Amendment under the consent once removed doctrine?

2)Was it clearly established at the time of entry in this case that the consent once removed doctrine violated the Fourth Amendment?

3)Should the Supreme Court’s decision inSaucier v. Katz be overturned?

Media for Pearson, et al. v. Callahan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 14, 2008 in Pearson, et al. v. Callahan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 21, 2009 in Pearson, et al. v. Callahan

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the opinions of the Court in two cases this morning.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

The first case is Pearson versus Callahan 07-751.

This case comes to us under the certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

State law enforcement officers conducted a warrantless search of respondent’s house incident to his arrest for the sale of drugs to an undercover informant whom he had voluntarily admitted to the premises.

The respondent sued the officers for violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

The Court of Appeals held that the officers were not entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.

In granting review, we ask the parties to brief the additional question whether the mandatory procedure for considering qualified immunity claim set out in Saucier versus Katz should be retained.

For reasons set out in an opinion filed today, we hold that the Saucier procedure should not be regarded as mandatory but should be left into the sound discretion of the District Courts and the Courts of Appeals.

We also hold that the petitioner’s summary judgment motion should have been granted because it was not clearly established at the time in question that the search was unconstitutional.

The opinion is unanimous.