CIVIL ACTION NUMBER 01-1872, SECTION "L" (2)
October 2, 2002
Before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Harry Lee, Deputy Carl Quarrella, and Deputy D. Chaplain. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.
This civil rights action arises out of the alleged false arrest and false imprisonment claims of the Plaintiff, Larry Crowder. Mr. Crowder alleges that on August 12, 2000 he was falsely arrested and imprisoned after his girlfriend's former husband, Albert Santini, filed a false police report implicating him in criminal conduct. Mr. Crowder filed suit against Harry Lee, Sheriff of the Jefferson Parish Police Department, Deputy Carl Quarrella, the police officer who took the report and ordered the arrest of Mr. Crowder, and Deputy Chaplain, the officer who arrested Mr. Crowder.
Plaintiff also named Sergeant Bursuto as an original Defendant; however, Sergeant Bersuto was later dismissed by the Plaintiff.
The following facts are undisputed. Albert Santini filed a complaint with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office on or about July 12, 2000. Mr. Santini told Deputy Quarrella that he was swiped by a pick-up truck as he walked along the shoulder of the Lafitte-LaRose Highway, and that a woman leaned out of the car and fired two shots at him from a handgun. Mr. Santini described the pickup truck's driver as Larry Crowder, a man that he had known for years, and the woman who fired the shots at him as Mr. Santini's former wife, Barbara Santini. Mr. Santini claimed that the side-view mirror of the truck struck his left elbow, and showed the deputy a bruise at the spot. Mr. Santini signed a voluntary statement attesting to these facts.
Deputy Quarrella was familiar with the Santinis and their history of domestic problems. A National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") database check revealed no record for Mr. Crowder, and a driver's license check turned up an address for a Larry Crowder on Louis I Street in Marrero, Louisiana. Deputy Chaplain visited the Louis I Street address, where he found the vehicle described by Mr. Santini, as well as the Plaintiff, Mr. Crowder, and Barbara Santini. Both Mr. Crowder and Barbara Santini were arrested at that time without an arrest warrant. Subsequently, the District Attorney declined to pursue the charges against Mr. Crowder.
In their investigation of the alleged incident, the police officers did not run a NCIC check of Albert Santini, which Plaintiff alleges would have revealed that Mr. Santini had numerous criminal charges for aggravated battery and misdemeanor battery on his former wife, Barbara Santini. In addition, no physical evidence connected Mr. Crowder with any of the alleged crimes. The officers did not investigate the whereabouts of Mr. Crowder at the time of the alleged criminal offenses, despite his claims that he had witnesses to his physical location.
According to the Plaintiff, the conduct of the officers in this investigation and arrest was gross and reckless and constituted a violation of Mr. Crowder's civil rights, because there was no probable cause to believe that he had committed any crime. Plaintiff asserts that as a result of "false charges," he was incarcerated and had to borrow several thousand dollars to post bonds, and the bonds were high because of the serious nature of the offenses. Mr. Crowder seeks damages for his wrongful arrest and imprisonment. In addition to his civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985 against the police officers, the Plaintiff, Mr. Crowder, also alleges that Sheriff Harry lee is liable for "failure to properly supervise and train the individual deputies and the individual sergeant who are defendants in this suit." Plaintiff's Complaint ¶ V.
Although it is not specifically stated in the Plaintiff's complaint, the Plaintiff's claims are based on an alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment, because the Plaintiff claims that his arrest was not supported by probable cause or an arrest warrant. The Defendants, Harry Lee, Deputy Carl Quarrella, and Deputy Chaplain filed this motion for summary judgment arguing that the Plaintiff has not demonstrated a violation of his federal constitutional civil rights and, in the alternative, that the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The Court will first address whether the Plaintiff has stated a constitutional violation, that is, whether the warrantless arrest of the Plaintiff was supported by probable cause as required under the Fourth Amendment and, second, the Court will address the qualified immunity defense.
Although the Fifth Circuit has considered both the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments for claims arising from allegedly unlawful arrests, the United States Supreme Court established that an arrestee's § 1983 claim for false arrest should be considered under the Fourth Amendment, the specific constitutional right implied by the arrestee's allegations, as opposed to the more general right of substantive due process. Blackwell v. Barton, 34 F.3d 298, 302 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)). Therefore, this Court will analyze the Plaintiff's claims under the Fourth Amendment.
II. LAW AND ANALYSIS
Summary judgment will be granted only if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions, together with affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the defendant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. If the party moving for summary judgment demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact "the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Willis v. Roche Biomedical Laboratories, Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). "[A] dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. To oppose a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant cannot rest on mere allegations or denials but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321-22 (1986).
The burden of demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue is not met by "metaphysical doubt" or "unsubstantiated assertions." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). The Court must "resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contrary facts." Id. The Court does not, "in the absence of proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Id. If the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, no genuine issue exists for trial. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 588. Finally, "the mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat a motion for summary judgment; Rule 56 requires that the fact dispute be genuine and material." Willis, 61 F.3d at 315. If the evidence leads to only one reasonable conclusion, summary judgment is proper. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
The Defendants argue that a motion for summary judgment should be granted because the Plaintiff has failed to allege a constitutional violation. According to the Defendants, the police acted reasonably in their investigation and arrest of the Plaintiff, and, therefore, did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
It is well established that under the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless arrest must be based on probable cause. United States v. Castro, 166 F.3d 728, 732 (5th Cir. 1999). "Probable cause for a warrantless arrest exists when the totality of the facts and circumstances within a police officer's knowledge at the moment of arrest are sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense." United States v. Watson, 273 F.3d 599, 601 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting United States v. Wadley, 59 F.3d 510, 512 (5th Cir. 1995)). "The arresting officer need only know with `fair probability' that the defendant committed the felony, which requires more than a `bare suspicion' but less than a preponderance of the evidence." Watson, 273 F.3d at 601 (quoting United States v. Garcia, 179 F.3d 265, 269 (5th Cir. 1999)).
In similar cases, the Fifth Circuit found that probable cause existed when police arrested a person based on a physical description coupled with other evidence suggesting the suspect's connection to the offense. See United States v. Burbridge, 252 F.3d 775, 778 (5th Cir. 2001); Charles v. Smith, 894 F.2d 718, 724 (5th Cir. 1990). In Charles, the Fifth Circuit held that a police officer did have probable cause to arrest a rape suspect based solely on the facts that he was wearing clothing matching a description by the victim and was found hitchhiking in an area close to the scene of the rape. 894 F.2d at 724. Likewise, in Burbridge, the Fifth Circuit held that a citizen's eyewitness account of illegal conduct and identification of the perpetrator to police was sufficient to establish probable cause for the arrest of the defendant for illegally carrying a handgun. 252 F.3d at 778.
In this case, the totality of the circumstances known to the officers at the time of arrest is as follows. Mr. Santini, the victim of the alleged crime, reported to police that he was swiped by a pickup truck as he walked along the shoulder of the Lafitte-LaRose Highway, and that a woman leaned out of the car and fired two shots at him from a handgun. Mr. Santini positively identified the pick-up's driver as Larry Crowder, the Plaintiff, a man who he has known for a number of years. Mr. Santini also claimed that the side mirror of the truck struck his left elbow, and showed the police a bruise at that spot. Additionally, the investigating police officers found a pick-up truck matching the victim's description at the home of the Plaintiff, where the Plaintiff and the woman, Ms. Santini, were found. At this point, the officer arrested the Plaintiff, Mr. Crowder.
This Court finds that based on this evidence, a reasonable person would have concluded that a fair probability existed that the suspect, the Plaintiff, had committed the offense complained of by Mr. Santini. In addition to the victim's positive identification of the Plaintiff, the physical evidence of the bruise and the fact that the police found the two described suspects at the Plaintiff's home where the truck was parked are sufficient evidence to support probable cause for the arrest of Mr. Crowder. Contrary to the Plaintiff's suggestion in his complaint, the police had no duty to run a background check on Mr. Santini, because the reliability of an identified victim who witnesses a crime need not be established in order to have probable cause for a warrantless arrest. See United States v. Hernandez, 825 F.2d 846, 849 (5th Cir. 1987). Because this Court finds that the arrest was supported by probable cause and that the officers acted reasonably, the Court need not address Plaintiff's allegation that the Deputy Quarrella's conduct was grossly negligent or the allegation that Harry Lee is liable for failure to train or supervise. The Court also need not address the Defendant's claims of qualified immunity because it is moot in light of the finding that there was no constitutional violation.
For the foregoing reasons, the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Harry Lee, Deputy Carl Quarrella, and Deputy D. Chaplain is GRANTED. Accordingly, the Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985 against Defendants Harry Lee, Deputy Carl Quarrella, and Deputy D. Chaplain are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.