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(Published as VOLUME 2000 NUMBER 332)
Assault and Battery
Defenses: Judicial Immunity
False Arrest/Imprisonment: No Warrant
Other Misconduct: Access to Courts
Procedural: Jury Selection
Search and Seizure: Home/Business
Search and Seizure: Vehicle
Index of Cases Cited
ASSAULT AND BATTERY: PHYSICAL
A small cut and scrapes on the knee and calf were sufficient evidence to support claim that arrestee had been subjected to excessive force in the course of the arrest, and factual disputes over what happened required the denial of officers' claim for qualified immunity
When officers arrived at the scene of a suspected burglary, they found a man arguing with the resident of the home. The man appeared "unstable on his feet" and "unintelligible in his speech." The officers placed him under arrest for public intoxication, allegedly "violently shoving" and "kicking" the arrestee although he purportedly did not resist arrest. A fight later broke out between the arrestee and the officers during the booking process and they allegedly sprayed him with pepper spray. Yet another fight later occurred between the arrestee and several officers once the arrestee was in his cell. The arrestee later killed himself in his cell, a death which was ruled a suicide.
His surviving family brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against various law enforcement defendants, asserting claims for false arrest, excessive use of force, and wrongful death.
Upholding a denial of summary judgment for the defendant city and officers, a federal appeals court found that there were factual issues as to whether there had been probable cause to arrest the decedent for public intoxication. Results of a alcohol level test administered later, after the arrest, the court found, were irrelevant to the issue of whether the decision to make the arrest was justified at the time it took place.
The appeals court also found that, even if it was required that the plaintiff show some actual injury to bring an excessive force claim against the arresting officers, this requirement was satisfied by a small cut that the decedent suffered on his eyelid and some small scrapes of the knee and calf of which there was also evidence. Because of factual disputes over what transpired, and what actions the arrestee and officers took, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity.
Finally, the appeals court ruled that the officers were not liable for the decedent's alleged suicide, as there was nothing to show that they were deliberately indifferent to a known risk that the detainee would attempt to take his own life. Lambert v. City of Dumas, #99-1081, 187 F.3d 931 (8th Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.wulaw.wustl.edu/8th.cir>. [Defenses: Qualified Immunity].
DEFENSES: JUDICIAL IMMUNITY
Local court system in Pennsylvania which employed officer who allegedly improperly arrested plaintiff and used force against him was not a "person" for purposes of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
A Philadelphia man brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against an officer employed by the local court system, specifically by the court's warrant division and municipal court eviction unit. The lawsuit also alleged that these judicial defendants were responsible for the officer's training and supervision, and had issued him his weapon. The lawsuit claimed that the officer beat and arrested him. The lawsuit claimed that these judicial defendants were liable for inadequate training of the officer.
Upholding the dismissal of the lawsuit against the judicial defendants, a federal appeals court found that these divisions of the court, which employed the officer, were not "persons" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, since they were not independent of the state of Pennsylvania and could not be regarded as having "significant autonomy" from the state's Supreme Court. Accordingly, a lawsuit for damages against these defendants was in essence a lawsuit against the state. This was true even if there was some local (municipal as opposed to state) funding of the court.
The appeals court did not directly rule on the issue of whether the defendants had an Eleventh Amendment defense, finding it easier to simply rule that there was not sufficient autonomy from the state court system, and based on this, to rule that the local court system was essentially a state agency which was not a person for purpose of a federal civil rights claim issues. Callahan v. City of Philadelphia, #99-1816, 207 F.3d 668 (3rd Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/ca03.html>. [Cross-reference: Defenses: Eleventh Amendment}.
DEFENSES: RELITIGATION (RES JUDICATA)
Motorist whose lawsuit against the state of North Carolina and a state trooper in his official capacity were previously dismissed on Eleventh Amendment grounds could still file a second lawsuit, making identical claims, against the trooper in his individual capacity.
A motorist driving in North Carolina was stopped by a highway patrol officer. The motorist subsequently filed a lawsuit against the trooper in his official capacity, claiming that the trooper violated his federal constitutional rights by "unlawfully chasing, arresting, assaulting, and inflicting mental distress upon him before and during this traffic stop."
The lawsuit also named the state of North Carolina and the commander of the highway patrol as defendants. A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of claims against the state and the trooper in his official capacity under the Eleventh Amendment, which bars money damage claims against states themselves in federal court. (A complex array of caselaw extends this Eleventh Amendment immunity or its functional equivalent, to states and their agencies sued for federal civil rights violations in state court and to individual state employees sued in their official capacities, since judgments against them would be paid by the state itself. Claims against the highway patrol commander were dismissed because of lack of personal involvement. See Andrews v. Daw, 117 F.3d 1413 (4th Cir. 1997) (unpublished).
The plaintiff subsequently filed a second federal civil rights lawsuit in the same court, naming as the sole defendant the state trooper in his individual capacity. It asserted essentially the same claims. The trial court granted the defendant trooper's motion to dismiss the second lawsuit as barred by the doctrine of "res judicata," which prohibits the relitigation of a thing already decided.
Reversing, a federal appeals court reinstated the claim against the individual trooper. It ruled that the trooper in his individual capacity did not represent "precisely the same legal right" in relation to the subject matter of the litigation. In appearing in the prior lawsuit in his official capacity only, he was not "bound by" or "entitled to the benefits" of the rules of "res judicata" in a subsequent lawsuit in which he appears in an individual capacity. In the prior lawsuit, the plaintiff could only obtain damages from the state, whereas in the present lawsuit he was seeking damages from the plaintiff personally.
"In sum, we hold that a government employee in his official capacity is not in privity with himself in his individual capacity for purposes of res judicata." Andrews v. J.M. Daw, #98-6329, 201 F.3d 521 (4th Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.law.emory.edu/4circuit>. [Cross-reference: Defenses: Eleventh Amendment].
It was disabled mentally disturbed man's own behavior in attempting to assault others with a knife at a convenience store, rather than a police officer's reaction in shooting him which resulted in his injuries; police officer's use of deadly force under the circumstances was not disability discrimination.
Police officers were asked to transport an allegedly suicidal man to a hospital for mental health treatment. They were told that the person had a history of depression and was currently under the influence of alcohol and anti-depressants, carrying a knife, and threatening to commit suicide or "suicide by cop." They went to a convenience store where they were told they would find him. He responded to them with profanities and began to walk towards one of the officers.
He was holding a knife and not wearing shoes, and ignored orders to stop. When he was within four to six feet of the officers, one of them fired two shots into his chest, calling for emergency medical services immediately. The man survived because of the prompt medical attention. Approximately twenty seconds elapsed from the time the officers pulled into the store parking lot until the shooting occurred. The injured man was later convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for his conduct at the convenience store.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the injured man, raising claims of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and state law assault and battery, as well as claims for disability discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.
A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants on all these claims. The court first ruled that the plaintiff's claims for excessive force under state assault and battery theories and the federal civil rights statute (Sec. 1983) were barred by the plaintiff's own criminal conviction for his conduct arising out of the same incident. The officer's use of deadly force was appropriate, and could not be deemed excessive without necessarily implying the invalidity of the plaintiff's conviction. Under the principles in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), no federal civil rights claim for damages may be pursued if a judgment in the plaintiff's favor would necessarily render his conviction and sentence invalid, yet the plaintiff's conviction and sentence had not been set aside.
The court further found that the use of deadly force to restrain mentally disabled individuals who assaulted others with deadly weapons was not actionable as a denial of "benefits" to disabled persons. It was the disabled individual's own assault or attempted assault on the officer that denied him any benefits of the county's mental health programs. The court further ruled that the Title II provisions of the ADA, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities and requiring reasonable accommodations of disabled people's limitations does not apply to an officer's on-the-street responses to a reported disturbance, even if they involve disturbed and disabled persons, prior to the officer's securing the scene and ensuring that there is no threat to human life.
Once the scene was secured, and no threat existed, the officer would have a duty to reasonably accommodate the person's disability, but not before. Hainze v. Richards, No. 99- 50222, 207 F. 3d 795 (5th Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.law.utexas.edu/us5th/us5th.html>. [Cross-references: Firearms: Intentional Use].
FALSE ARREST/IMPRISONMENT: NO WARRANT
Officer's belief that he had probable cause to arrest occupant of apartment for burglary was not objectively unreasonable when the building's owners had stated that the apartment was not lawfully occupied, and the door's lock had been visibly broken; officer was unaware of occupant's claim to be a lawful tenant when he arrested him.
A New York police officer was informed, by the husband of a building owner, that someone was wrongfully occupying an apartment in the building and that the door to the apartment had been kicked in. The complainant and an officer went to the building, where it appeared that the door's lock had been visibly broken, but the door was "secured from inside." No one responded to repeated knocking and they both heard sounds emanating from within and the sound of rapid toilet flushing.
The officer announced his identity as police and demanded that the door be opened. The door then opened and a man appeared within. The complainant requested that the officer arrest the man, which was done. In the course of a brief visual inspection, the officer located drug paraphernalia and marijuana. Charges against the arrestee were later dismissed. The arrestee filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that the building owner and her husband were intent on evicting him as a tenant and conspired with the police to do so. He also claimed that the officer "blindly obeyed" the complainant's requests instead of conducting any investigation.
The trial court found that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. Given the information supplied by the building's owners that the apartment was not lawfully occupied, combined with the broken door lock, and the statements by the owners that they suspected drug activity inside, the officer had probable cause to arrest the occupant for burglary and drug charges after he opened the door. The officer was unaware of the arrestee's claim to be a lawful tenant in the apartment. From all the circumstances, the court did not find the officer's belief that he had probable cause unreasonable, so he was entitled to qualified immunity. Snow v. Village of Chatham, 84 F. Supp. 2d 322 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).
Man who struggled with officers after they attempted to get him to take a breathalyzer could not pursue false arrest lawsuit when two of three charges against him were dropped pursuant to his voluntary plea agreement.
When a Connecticut man was taken into custody for Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol, he was told that it would be necessary for him to take a breathalyzer test. Instead of taking the test, he knocked the breathalyzer out of the hand of the officer attempting to administer the test. Officers subsequently told him that it was necessary to handcuff him to bring him elsewhere in the station. When the officers attempted to do so, he struggled in an effort to prevent them from doing it. He was therefore charged with two counts of interfering with police officers, and sued for false arrest after he entered into a plea agreement under which he would be given accelerated rehabilitation on the driving while intoxicated claim and that the other two claims would not be pursued.
The trial court ruled that the officers had probable cause, under these circumstances, to charge the plaintiff with interfering with them. Further, the court noted that dismissal of the two charges as part of a voluntary plea agreement which was "knowingly entered into" by the plaintiff was not the termination of the charges in favor of the plaintiff, so as to permit him to maintain a federal civil rights lawsuit for false arrest. White v. Wortz, 66 F. Supp. 2d 331 (D. Conn. 1999).
FIREARMS RELATED: INTENTIONAL USE
Police officer acted reasonably in shooting and killing man, armed with a knife, who had threatened suicide and had already injured himself; officer reasonably could have believed that man, who refused several orders to drop the knife, was coming towards officers and might injure or kill one of them.
Police officers were summoned to a Florida residence by members of a man's family who reported that he was injuring himself and threatening suicide. Five officers were unable to talk the man into exiting the house and they entered. They observed blood and saw the man sitting on a dresser at the end of a bed in a bedroom. His arms were covered with blood and he was clenching an object, which he held to the right side of his neck, yelling at the officers to get out of the room.
Officers ordered the man to drop the knife numerous times. When he declined to do so and slid off the dresser, he was shot three times in the chest by one of the officers, from a distance of approximately eight feet. He subsequently died of his injuries. Officers later testified that the man had been moving towards them with the knife extended in a threatening manner at the time he was shot, while his family later contended that he posed no immediate threat to the officers, but was shot while his hand was still in a position threatening injury to himself.
His surviving family filed a civil rights lawsuit charging excessive use of force. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendant officer, finding that a reasonable officer could have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary under the circumstances to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Accordingly, the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. It was undisputed that the officers were facing a "known drug abuser, who had threatened to commit suicide, and who had attempted to commit suicide in the past."
This person refused to drop the object clenched in his fist, and "instead, hurled loud obscenities towards the five officers," and ultimately slid off the dresser "real quick with his momentum forward" towards the officers," the court stated, "box-cutter still in hand," and came within six to eight feet of one of the officers. In these circumstances, the officer who fired "acted as a reasonable officer would in light of the facts and circumstances facing him at the time," making the "reasonable split-second judgment call," in light of the man's "volatile, emotional, and aggressive state, to use deadly force in order to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another." Wood v. City of Lakeland, FL., #98-3171, 203 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2000).
Police officer was entitled to qualified immunity for arresting protesters who were passing out anti-income tax leaflets on a sidewalk outside a post office on the day that federal income tax returns were due; officer could reasonably believe that leafleting there would impede the access of postal patrons to the facility, and the sidewalk in question was not a "traditional public forum."
Anti-income tax protesters gathered in a New Jersey town near the post office on the date of an income tax filing deadline to pass out protest leaflets. They stood on a sidewalk outside of the post office and were subsequently arrested for trespassing. Charges against them were later dismissed.
They filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against an arresting officer and the township, claiming that their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly were violated. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendant officer on the basis of qualified immunity. The officer could have reasonably believed that it was reasonable to prevent the activists from leafleting on the sidewalk where they stood at 9 p.m. in the evening on the day that income tax returns were due, based on the local postmaster's judgment that the leafleting activity, if it continued, might impede public access to the post office and prevent members of the public from making timely use of the facilities to mail their income tax returns.
The sidewalk in question was not a "traditional public forum," despite the presence there of a number of newspaper boxes, since customers normally entered and left the post office using access roads, and this sidewalk was specially designed to facilitate access of customers to the post office facilities from its parking area. The post office had a legitimate interest in preventing the disruption of access to its facilities.
The fact that the officer's actions were not objectively unreasonable was strengthened by the fact that the protesters had already been told by the postmaster that their presence was likely to lead to the obstruction of postal patrons and that one of the activists referred to himself as the "designated arrestee," indicating their knowledge that their conduct might be viewed as illegal. Paff v. Kaltenbach, No. 99-6025, 204 F.3d 425 (3rd Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/ca03.html>. [Cross-reference: Defenses: Qualified Immunity].
U.S. Supreme Court denies review of decision denying officers qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuits over Miranda violations aimed at acquiring impeachment evidence
As previously reported here, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, #97- 5649 (9th Cir. 1999), full text: <http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/opinions>, Liability Reporter No. 325, p. 11 (Jan. 2000), a federal appeals court held that police officers who interrogate suspects without giving Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) warnings, for the purposes of obtaining impeachment evidence were not entitled to qualified immunity from a federal civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The appeals court rejected the argument that Miranda does not deal with a right against questioning apart from the use of the suspect's statements at trial, citing Cooper v. Dupnik, 963 F.2d 1220 (9th Cir. 1992), which established that questioning in violation of Miranda could be used as the basis for a federal civil rights claim.
The court held that a reasonable officer should have known that continuing to question a suspect after the suspect asserts the right to speak to an attorney is a violation of the suspect's rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has now denied review of this decision. California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, #97-5649, 195 F.3d 1039 (9th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, Butts v. McNally, 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4354.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Additionally, in Dickerson v. U.S., No. 99-5525, 120 S. Ct. 2326 (2000), full text: <http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/sct.html>, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away arguments that Miranda requirements could be replaced, via legislative enactments, with other remedies, or that a totality of the circumstances test should instead be used to judge whether an elicited confession was voluntary. After Dickerson, it is clear that Miranda requirements will be viewed as constitutionally based and that Miranda violations may give rise to federal civil rights claims. Accordingly, the decision reported above, which only represented until then the applicable case law in the 9th Circuit, is more likely to be adopted by other federal appeals court. Further, following Dickerson, qualified immunity is unlikely to be applied in federal civil rights lawsuits involving Miranda violations except in cases arising prior to Dickerson, and outside the Ninth Circuit.
NEGLIGENT HIRING, RETENTION, SUPERVISION AND TRAINING
Federal appeals court overturns $4 million award to family of woman allegedly murdered in her home by deputy who had earlier harassed her; county could not be liable for hiring the deputy as his record did not show him to have ever wrongfully shot anyone before.
A deputy sheriff in Texas allegedly began to engaged in sexual harassment of a woman who lived, together with her son, in a subdivision he was assigned to patrol. In a complex series of events, the deputy ultimately obtained a warrant to arrest the woman, broke down the door to her home, and shot her three times, killing her. He alleged that she was sitting on the bed pointing a gun at him. He was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
The woman's surviving parents and her estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the deputy and the county. The trial court in the lawsuit stated that the deputy's criminal conviction was a "final judgment" which precluded him from relitigating the issue of whether he used excessive force. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs of $4 million.
A federal appeals court has vacated this award and remanded for further proceedings. It noted that the criminal conviction of the deputy, which has now been overturned twice on appeal, with further proceedings still pending, was not a final judgment sufficient to preclude the deputy from asserting that he did not use excessive force. Since he was improperly denied a fair trial by barring this defense, a new trial for him was required.
On the claims against the county, the appeals court found that the county was not deliberatedly indifferent to the decedent's right to be free from excessive force when it hired the deputy without discovering confidential information located in his file with another police department or without following up on leads suggested by his polygraph test. The appeals court noted that the deputy had never allegedly wrongfully shot anyone before, and nothing in his record revealed him to be likely to use excessive force in general, or to possess a "trigger-happy nature." The material in the other department's file included allegations of threatening the mother of a juvenile with arrest, allegedly "meddling" in this mother's supervision of the child while he was off duty, and a statement that he wanted to "ride where the women were." There was also a report that he assaulted and pistol-whipped a teenager, but he was not arrested or convicted of this.
"While all of this may indicate" that he was "an extremely poor candidate" for the county's police force, there was "not one shred of solid evidence foreshadowing" his "tragic killing" of the decedent. He had never been formally disciplined, and his informal discipline record included only infractions of the rule against using the police radio for transmitting personal messages. He had never "wrongfully shot anyone before, nor did his record reveal him to be likely to use excessive force in general or possess a trigger-happy nature in particular." The County's hiring of the deputy was, at most, negligence, for which there could be no federal civil rights liability. Claims against the county, therefore, were dismissed from the case. Aguillard v. McGowen, #97-20039, 207 F.3d 226 (5th Cir. 2000). [Cross-references: Firearms Related: Intentional Use].
OTHER MISCONDUCT: ACCESS TO COURTS
Husband's assertion that officers engaged in a campaign of harassment designed to make him surrender property in his pending divorce action which he might otherwise have attempted to retain stated a claim for interference with his right of access to the courts.
A retired police officer filed for divorce from his wife. His wife is the sister of a current member of the police department. The retired officer alleged that other members of the police department began a campaign of "intimidation and harassment against him" in an effort to interfere with his pursuit of his hotly-contested divorce action. He complained that he was arrested three times pursuant to an order of protection obtained by his wife, that his complaint that his wife had forged his signature to a personal injury settlement check for $18,000 was "rejected without explanation, and that various other arrests and harassment took place, and caused him to give up certain assets in the course of the divorce which he might otherwise have attempted to retain. A federal trial court ruled that these allegations, if true, could state a cause of action for interference with the plaintiff's right of access to the courts. Csoka v. County of Suffolk, 85 F. Supp. 2d 117 (E.D. N.Y. 2000).
PROCEDURAL: JURY SELECTION
Failure of trial judge to explicitly rule on the credibility of defendant's lawyers' use of peremptory challenges to bar minority jury members from trial in case alleging that court security officers attacked a married couple outside court required a new trial; wife, who suffered a subsequent miscarriage, could not recover damages for the loss of the baby, however, since a subsequent assault made it unclear what had caused it
A married couple was in housing court to contest an eviction proceeding being brought against them by the New York City Housing Authority. "The courtroom was on the raucous side, filled to overflowing with lawyers, landlords, and unhappy tenants." The wife, who was pregnant, left the courtroom to confer with a legal aid society attorney. When her husband attempted to follow her out of the courtroom, a court security officer allegedly told him that "Now there's enough room for people to sit down, you fat nigger."
The husband allegedly replied by continuing to leave the courtroom and saying "Fuck you" to another court security officer, and then to the entire courtroom. Outside the courtroom, a fight broke out between the man and several court security officers. The fight expanded to include his wife. Both the husband and wife were charged with various offenses, but all these charges were dropped later based on the failure to grant a speedy trial.
The wife was subsequently attacked again on the street by two women, in an apparently unrelated incident, and suffered a miscarriage as a result. The couple sued the court security officers for unlawful seizure, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and denying the wife immediate medical attention, which, it was alleged, caused the ultimate loss of the baby.
A jury trial was held in which the defendants struck three African-American jurors from the panel with peremptory challenges and the trial court denied motions to set these aside as racially discriminatory. A directed verdict was granted by the trial judge on the claims related to the miscarriage, and a jury returned a verdict for the defendants on all remaining claims.
A federal appeals court has granted a new trial in the case. It found that the trial judge erred in failing to explicitly rule on the credibility of the allegedly racially neutral reasons that the defendants' attorneys gave for exercising their peremptory challenges against minority potential jurors. "The credibility of an attorney offering a race-neutral explanation is at the very heart of the analysis."
The court further noted that additional proceedings related to this would not be held, as the trial judge had died in the interim, so that the appeals court was not sure that further proceedings by a new judge would "shed reliable light" on what had happened. At the same time, the court upheld the directed verdict on the miscarriage. Under the circumstances, with the "uncertain timing" of the beginning and ending of the wife's pregnancy and the subsequent unrelated assault on her which was subsequent to the arrest, but possibly prior to the miscarriage, there was insufficient evidence to show that miscarriage was caused by the use of force during the arrest. Barnes v. Anderson, No. 98-9114, 202 F.3d 150 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Plaintiffs who claimed that police department unit's policy contained an "express racial classification" concerning who to stop and frisk did not have to point to similarly situated nonminority individuals who were not stopped in order to pursuit their lawsuit.
A lawsuit was filed against the New York City police department's "Street Crime Unit," a unit aimed at preventing violent crimes and removing guns from the streets of the city. The lawsuit claimed that the officers subjected residents of high crime areas, particularly Black and Latino men, to stops and frisks based not on reasonable suspicion but on their race and national origin.
The trial court initially dismissed the plaintiff's equal protection claims, based on their failure to show that there was similarly situated non-minority individuals who were not stopped and frisked. Upon reconsideration, the court reinstated the equal protection claims, based on the holding in Brown v. Oneonta, #98-9375, 195 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 1999), full Text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>, which was issued six days after the dismissal, that a plaintiff may plead an equal protection violation by pointing to a law or policy "that expressly classifies persons on the basis of race."
In this case, the court found, the plaintiffs had alleged a policy on the part of the police unit which contained an "express, racial classification" of stopping and frisking persons "based solely on" their race and/or national origin. "These suspicionless stops and frisks," the complaint stated, "have and are being conducted predominantly on Black and Latino males, on the basis of racial and/or national origin profiling, and are not being conducted on similarly situated White males." Under Brown, the court found, the plaintiffs were excused, in these circumstances, from having to plead the existence of "similarly situated non-minority individuals." National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights v. City of New York, 191 F.R.D. 52 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).
SEARCH AND SEIZURE: HOME/BUSINESS
Businessperson was not barred from pursuing federal civil rights lawsuit over allegedly illegal seizure of items from his business and storage locker because of his criminal conviction for certain charges arising out of the operation of his business; a finding of illegality of the seizure of certain items would not necessarily imply the illegality of the conviction.
Arizona police officers obtained and executed two search warrants, one for a business premises and one for a storage locker. The warrants authorized a search for evidence of alcoholic beverages being sold on the premises and items connected with that sale, and "any and all adult movies or equipment used to facilitate the showing of these adult movies."
The owner of the items seized was later convicted of certain charges, but filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the scope of the searches conducted, and seeking damages for illegal search and seizure. The trial court rejected the argument that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), under which no federal civil rights claim for damages may be pursued if a judgment in the plaintiff's favor would necessarily render his conviction and sentence invalid, yet the plaintiff's conviction and sentence had not been set aside.
A "plaintiff can seek damages for an allegedly unreasonable search and seizure that did not produce evidence introduced at his criminal trial," the court stated. Further, a successful challenge by a plaintiff to the legality of a search and seizure that did produce evidence admitted at his criminal trial "would not necessarily imply that the plaintiff's conviction was unlawful," because of the existence of such doctrines as independent source, inevitable discovery and harmless error, under which evidence (the same or other evidence) might still be admitted which would be sufficient to uphold the conviction.
In this case, the court noted that it was undisputed that none of the evidence seized at the allegedly illegal search of the business was used at the plaintiff's criminal trial, so Heck did not bar the claims on this search. Further, the court accepted the plaintiff's argument that, even if the dildoes he claimed were illegally seized from his storage locker had been excluded as evidence at his criminal trial, there was sufficient independent evidence of his guilt, including videos taped at the business by undercover officers, and the testimony of these officers, so that a ruling that the dildoes were illegally seized would not imply the illegality of his conviction.
At the same time, the court upheld the seizure, during execution of the search warrants, of videotapes marked as for children, since the officers conducting the searches were not required to accept and rely on the label on the videotape to determine its contents, or to view every video tape in its entirety on the premises before seizing it.
However, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the officers could reasonably have believed that it was lawful to seize certain items, such as "stacks of photos of women" and albums containing them, whose description in the inventory merely stated that they were photographs of women. Further proceedings on this claim were therefore ordered. Schwartz v. City of Phoenix, 83 F. Supp. 2d 1102 (D. Ariz. 2000).
SEARCH AND SEIZURE: VEHICLE
Forty-five minute length of traffic stop of a vehicle was justified when the trailer it was pulling did not display valid registration plates as required by Massachusetts state law and officer had to obtain information from another state as to what that state, from which the motorist had come, required plates on a trailer.
A police officer in Massachusetts observed a car driven by a woman that was pulling a trailer carrying two motorcycles. The trailer did not have valid registration plates attached. When the officer pulled the vehicle over, the driver immediately exited and began walking toward the police vehicle. The officer, for both his safety and the safety of the driver, ordered her to return to her vehicle. He then noticed that the car towing the trailer had an out-of-state (Tennessee) license plate. The driver explained to the officer that the state of Tennessee did not require trailers to have registration plates. The officer radioed in a request to confirm this.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol later informed Massachusetts authorities that all trailers on public highways needed to be registered, and this information was relayed to the officer on the scene. An argument between the officer and the driver ensued, which quickly became a "heated exchange." Because the officer believed that the driver "sincerely thought" that she did not need a registration plate, and because her destination was less than a half mile away, he decided not to issue her a citation. The entire stop lasted approximately forty-five minutes. A county clerk from Tennessee later informed Massachusetts law enforcement authorities that no registration of the trailer was required.
The driver then brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the town which employed the officer who had stopped her. Rejecting her claims, a federal trial court ruled that the officer had probable cause to stop the motorist under these circumstances, since he believed that the trailer failed to display valid registration plates, as required under Massachusetts laws. Further, the forty-five minute length of the traffic stop was not unreasonable, since the officer had to negotiate the motorist's return to her vehicle, engage in a discussion with her regarding applicable law, and acquire information regarding out-of-state registration requirements and convey this information to the motorist. He therefore did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Standifird v. Town of Boxborough, 84 F. Supp. 2d 213 (D. Mass. 2000).
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
McGowen, #97-20039, 207 F.3d 226 (5th Cir. 2000).[122-123]
Andrews v. J.M. Daw, #98-6329, 201 F.3d 521 (4th Cir. 2000).[116-117]
Barnes v. Anderson, No. 98-9114, 202 F.3d 150 (2nd Cir. 1999).[123-124]
Brown v. Oneonta, #98-9375, 195 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 1999).
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, #97-5649,
195 F.3d 1039 (9th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, Butts v. McNally, 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4354.[121-122]
Callahan v. City of Philadelphia, #99-1816, 207 F.3d 668 (3rd Cir. 2000).[115-116]
Csoka v. County of Suffolk, 85 F. Supp. 2d 117 (E.D. N.Y. 2000).
Dickerson v. U.S., No. 99-5525, 120 S. Ct. 2326 (2000).
Hainze v. Richards, No. 99-50222, 207 F. 3d 795 (5th Cir. 2000).[117-118]
Lambert v. City of Dumas, #99-1081, 187 F.3d 931 (8th Cir. 1999).
National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights v. City of New York, 191 F.R.D. 52 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).[124-125]
Paff v. Kaltenbach, No. 99-6025, 204 F.3d 425 (3rd Cir. 2000).[120-121]
Schwartz v. City of Phoenix, 83 F. Supp. 2d 1102 (D. Ariz. 2000).[125-126]
Snow v. Village of Chatham, 84 F. Supp. 2d 322 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).[118-119}
Standifird v. Town of Boxborough, 84 F. Supp. 2d 213 (D. Mass. 2000).[126-127]
White v. Wortz, 66 F. Supp. 2d 331 (D. Conn. 1999).
Wood v. City of Lakeland, FL., #98-3171, 203 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2000).[119-120]
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