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Rogers v. Morgan

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 2, 2019

MICHAEL W. ROGERS, Plaintiff-Below, Appellant,
MATTHEW MORGAN et al., Defendants-Below, Appellees.

          Submitted: February 6, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Case No. N15C-07-259

         Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

          Stephen P. Norman, Esquire, The Norman Law Firm, Dagsboro, Delaware for Appellant.

          Michael F. McTaggart, Esquire, Carla A.K. Jarosz, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellees.

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and SEITZ, Justices.


         Michael Rogers appeals an order of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Below, Corporal Matthew Morgan, the State of Delaware, and the Department of Public Safety Division of State Police, holding that Michael's invasion of privacy claims against them were barred by collateral estoppel.[1] This case arises from an August 1, 2013, hit-and-run investigation that escalated into an officer-involved shooting. Corporal Morgan, a Delaware State Trooper, responded to a hit-and-run call and ran the license plate of the offending vehicle, which belonged to Michael. Corporal Morgan then traveled to Michael's home, where Michael's elderly mother, Lorraine Rogers, answered the door. Ms. Rogers, who lives with Michael, invited Corporal Morgan into the home as she went to wake Michael, who was heavily inebriated and asleep in his bedroom. When Michael refused to step outside to investigate damage to his vehicle, Corporal Morgan gripped Michael's arm to lead him outside. Michael immediately began fighting Corporal Morgan, who ended the fight by shooting Michael.[2]

         The State then charged Michael with resisting arrest and several counts of assault. At the first criminal trial, Michael filed a motion to suppress evidence resulting from Corporal Morgan's entrance into the home, which Michael claimed was a warrantless search without valid consent in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution. The court denied Michael's motion to suppress, finding that Ms. Rogers had invited Corporal Morgan into the home and that neither she nor Michael had revoked that consent. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. The State re-indicted Michael on counts of Assault Second Degree and Resisting Arrest. Michael pled nolo contendere to the Resisting Arrest charge, and the State dropped the assault charges. Michael's plea resulted in his conviction for one count of resisting arrest with force or violence. He was sentenced to a period of incarceration followed by probation.

         On July 29, 2015, Michael filed this civil action in Superior Court alleging federal and state invasion of privacy claims, among other counts. Corporal Morgan moved for summary judgment on the grounds that collateral estoppel bars Michael's invasion of privacy claims, since the judge in the criminal trial had found that Corporal Morgan had permission to be in the home when the altercation ensued. The Superior Court granted Corporal Morgan's motion, and the jury later returned a verdict in his favor on the remaining claims.

         Michael contends on appeal that collateral estoppel does not apply for four reasons: (1) the trial court only addressed the issue of Corporal Morgan's initial consent to be in the home, which is separate from the issue of whether Michael later revoked that consent; (2) the findings of fact regarding consent were not determined by a final judgment in the criminal trial because the gap between his trials moots the denial of his motion to suppress evidence in the first trial; (3) the findings of fact concerning consent are not essential to the no-contest plea to resisting arrest; and (4) it is inequitable to apply collateral estoppel here in view of Corporal Morgan's allegedly inconsistent testimony in his civil trial deposition.

         Corporal Morgan argues that the Superior Court's application of collateral estoppel was correct, but he also argues, in the alternative, that Michael has failed to establish a viable claim for invasion of privacy under federal or state law. Michael contends that Corporal Morgan did not fairly raise his alternative argument below, and that, in any event, it is incorrect.

         We conclude that the Superior Court correctly held that collateral estoppel bars Michael's invasion of privacy claims. Therefore, we AFFIRM the Superior Court's November 9, 2017, decision.


         On the night of August 1, 2013, Corporal Morgan responded to a hit-and-run at the Riverside Bar & Grill. After speaking to witnesses on the scene and determining that the other vehicle in the accident belonged to Michael, Corporal Morgan traveled to Michael's residence in Georgetown. Around 10:03 p.m., Corporal Morgan knocked on the front door, and Ms. Rogers answered. Corporal Morgan informed her that he wanted to speak with Michael. Ms. Rogers replied that Michael was asleep in his room, but said she would wake him. Corporal Morgan alleges that Ms. Rogers then invited him into the house, which Michael and his mother deny. Corporal Morgan did not have a warrant. Ms. Rogers left the front door open when she walked to her son's room, and Corporal Morgan stepped inside.

         After Ms. Rogers woke Michael, he emerged from his room wearing little clothing, so Corporal Morgan asked him to get dressed. Michael returned about a minute later fully clothed, smelling of alcohol, and appearing confused. Because of Michael's disheveled and confused state, Corporal Morgan asked Ms. Rogers if he had any mental problems. She said he did not. When Corporal Morgan told Michael that he was there to investigate a hit-and-run, Michael stated that he needed to get his insurance card from his bedroom, and told Corporal Morgan that the accident was a "private matter."[3] For his personal safety, Corporal Morgan followed Michael to his bedroom without Michael's express invitation.[4]

         When they reached the bedroom, Michael began walking in circles and "talking gibberish."[5] Corporal Morgan asked Michael two or three times to go outside to finish the accident report, which Michael ignored or responded to by saying "no." Corporal Morgan then grabbed Michael by his left triceps to guide him outside. At that point, Michael threw Corporal Morgan onto the bed, where the two began hitting each other. Eventually Corporal Morgan separated himself from Michael and ran to the bedroom doorway, where he drew his Taser and ordered Michael to stop. When Michael charged at him, Corporal Morgan fired his Taser and missed. Corporal Morgan retreated toward the entrance of the house, at which point he alleges that Michael picked up a large coffee table and charged at him. Corporal Morgan shot Michael until he stopped advancing. Michael, however, alleges that he did not charge Corporal Morgan with the table, that Corporal Morgan shot at him when he was posing no threat, and that he only pulled the table over himself after Corporal Morgan finished firing.[6]

         The State charged Michael with three counts of assault and one count of resisting arrest. In his initial criminal trial, Michael moved to suppress evidence resulting from Corporal Morgan's allegedly illegal presence in the home and bedroom. The trial court denied his motion because it found that Ms. Rogers had consented to Corporal Morgan's entering the house and that neither she nor Michael had revoked that consent. Michael's trial ended in a hung jury, but the State re-indicted him on charges of Assault Second Degree and Resisting Arrest. Michael pled nolo contendere to the resisting arrest charge, and the State dismissed the assault charge. He did not appeal any issue in the criminal proceedings.

         On July 29, 2015, Michael filed this civil action in Superior Court for claims of invasion of privacy under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and under Delaware law. Michael asserts that during his deposition in the civil case, Corporal Morgan contradicted certain factual findings in the motion to suppress hearing concerning Corporal Morgan's permission to be in the home. Michael argues that this inconsistency renders the collateral estoppel doctrine inapplicable.

         On April 24, 2017, Corporal Morgan filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that collateral estoppel barred Michael's invasion of privacy claims. On November 9, 2017, the trial court held that collateral estoppel barred these claims because the parties had litigated "the exact same issue of consent," and "all the elements of collateral estoppel are present in this case . . . ."[7] After a five-day trial in July 2018, the jury found in favor of Corporal Morgan on all remaining counts. Michael filed his notice of appeal on July 20, 2018.


         We review a trial court's application of collateral estoppel de novo.[8]

         The doctrine of collateral estoppel "precludes a party from relitigating a fact issue that has previously been litigated and decided in a prior action involving that party."[9]Generally, collateral estoppel applies to Section 1983 claims previously decided in state court proceedings.[10] "A claim will be collaterally estopped only if the same [factual] issue was presented in both cases, the issue was litigated and decided in the first suit, and the determination was essential to the prior judgment."[11] Michael argues that the factual issues decided in the suppression hearing were different, that there was no final judgment, and that the findings were not essential to his no-contest plea. We agree with the Superior Court that collateral estoppel bars the issues of consent raised in the motion to suppress hearing.

         A. Were the Consent Issues in the Motion to Suppress Hearing Identical to the Issues in the Summary Judgment Stage in the Civil Trial?

         On appeal, Michael contends that at the suppression hearing in the criminal trial, the court determined only the initial factual question of whether Ms. Rogers consented to Corporal Morgan's entry into the home-not whether Michael later revoked that consent. He further argues that the court's discussion of his revocation of consent was "nonexistent." The Superior Court rejected Michael's argument in the civil trial, holding that Michael "presented the exact same issue of consent."[12]

         Michael's assertion that the court's discussion of revocation was "nonexistent" is incorrect. The judge in the criminal trial was "satisfied that the officer was legally in the house, that he did not need a warrant, that he was invited in, and there was a voluntary, intelligent and knowing consent by [Ms. Rogers] in letting [Corporal Morgan] in."[13] But the court also addressed Michael's alleged revocation of consent, stating:

I do not think [Corporal Morgan] has invaded any greater, or breached any greater right. The door is open. He did not shut the door on [Corporal Morgan]. There is nothing that says that at that point in time Mr. Rogers says leave my house, I don't want to talk to you or anything of that nature.[14]

         Based upon our review of the record, the court adequately considered the revocation issue in denying the motion to suppress.[15]

         Michael also contends that, if Corporal Morgan's change in testimony regarding Michael's behavior had been presented to the court in the criminal trial, the judge would have reached the question of revocation and would have been required to reach a different conclusion. Michael relies on several portions of Corporal Morgan's civil deposition testimony. For example, in that deposition, Corporal Morgan testified as follows concerning the events immediately preceding the altercation:

A [Corporal Morgan]: I believe I asked him two or three times, we have to go outside, I need to finish this accident report.
Q: Okay.
A: And he just kept ignoring me.
Q: And he - he ignored you or did he say no?
A: I believe, no.
Q: He said, no -
A: Yes.
Q: --I'm not going outside ...

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