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Name: Ramirez v. City of Buena Park
Case #: 04-56832
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/25/2009

Impoundment of a vehicle may be warranted under the community caretaking doctrine with consideration given to the location of the vehicle and the officer’s duty to prevent it from creating a hazard to other vehicles or being targeted for vandalism and theft. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against him as to his claim for damages following his arrest and impoundment of his vehicle. While on patrol sometime around 8 p.m., Buena Park Police Officer Montez saw plaintiff, reclining in his vehicle with his eyes closed. The car was parked in front of a pharmacy. Based on his knowledge of grab-and-run thefts at this location, as well as his training in drug detection, Montez decided to investigate and went to the vehicle and knocked on the window. Plaintiff opened his eyes and then opened the door and asked the officer if it was necessary to knock on the window. Beginning to suspect that plaintiff might be under the influence, Montez directed him to get out of the car, searched him, had him perform field sobriety tests and arrested him. He then summoned back-up assistance and had plaintiff’s vehicle impounded. Blood tests taken from plaintiff later came back negative and plaintiff sought damages for claimed Fourth Amendment violations. The appellate court upheld the district court’s finding that there was no violation as to the detention and arrest, although it did find the pat-down search violated appellant’s Fourth th Amendment rights. Montez’s only justification was that the search was for officer safety, and yet he alleged no specific facts that would establish a reasonable suspicion that plaintiff was armed and dangerous, and there is nothing in Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1 that allows a generalized cursory search for weapons. The vehicle impoundment was not a Fourth Amendment violation. Montez had the vehicle removed for its safekeeping and he had a concern that Buena Park would be liable if the vehicle was left at the location and then stolen or vandalized. Thus, impoundment for the vehicle’s “safekeeping” was justified under the community caretaking doctrine.