129 F.3d 1147 (10th Cir. 1997), 96-7082, Clanton v. Cooper

Docket Nº:96-7082.
Citation:129 F.3d 1147
Party Name:Carolyn CLANTON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jody COOPER, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:November 17, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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129 F.3d 1147 (10th Cir. 1997)

Carolyn CLANTON, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Jody COOPER, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 96-7082.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 17, 1997

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Charles K. Babb, Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, OK, argued the cause, for appellant. W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma, and Benjamin Gore Gaines, Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma, assisted on brief.

Gene V. Primomo, Wilcoxen & Primomo, Muskogee, OK, argued the cause, for appellee. John H. Helm, Houston, TX, assisted on brief.

Before BRORBY, HOLLOWAY, and EBEL, Circuit Judges.

EBEL, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellee Carolyn Clanton ("Clanton") was arrested for arson, pursuant to a warrant issued by Defendant-Appellant Jody Cooper ("Cooper"), an Oklahoma Fire Marshal Agent. The warrant was predicated on an oral statement made by Clanton's alleged accomplice, who later testified that his statement was coerced by Cooper. In addition, after Clanton was arrested, Cooper falsely told the arresting officers that Clanton was "possibly involved in a homicide still under investigation," and that Clanton was not eligible for bail, causing Clanton to be imprisoned overnight. The arrest warrant was later quashed by a state court. No charges were ever filed against Clanton.

Clanton then sued Cooper under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994 & Supp.1997), alleging that Cooper deprived her of her liberty under color of state law, by causing her to be arrested without probable cause and by causing her to be falsely imprisoned following the arrest. Cooper's motion for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity was denied. Cooper now appeals.


Several important facts in the present case are disputed. The following statement of facts is set forth in the light most favorable to Plaintiff-Appellee Carolyn Clanton, the nonmovant for summary judgment. See Kaul v. Stephan, 83 F.3d 1208, 1212 (10th Cir.1996). All reasonable inferences from the factual record have been drawn in favor of Clanton.

Around July 25, 1993, Carolyn Clanton, a Texas resident, arrived in the City of Checotah, in McIntosh County, Oklahoma, to attend her recently deceased mother's funeral, and to participate in the disposition of the mother's estate. Clanton's mother had lived in a trailer house in Checotah owned by Clanton's brother, Joe Burns. Although Clanton's stepfather Odie Sheffield still lived in the trailer house, Burns had ordered Sheffield to remove himself and his belongings from the trailer house immediately following the mother's death. Burns intended to sell the trailer to another neighbor, Nadine Lawson.

That evening, several arguments ensued regarding the right to possession of the trailer house. Odie Sheffield's relatives said that if he couldn't live in the trailer they would burn it. By 11:30 p.m., the trailer had been emptied of possessions. At that time, Clanton

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and her nephew Michael Eaves ("Michael") returned to the trailer, where they found that water was running from the washer hookup, the lights were on, and the doors were wide open. Clanton then borrowed a wrench from Nadine Lawson to stop the running water, secured the premises, and left with Michael at about midnight. Clanton and Michael spent the next one-and-one-half hours together at the Green Country Diner.

At about 12:20 a.m., while Clanton and Michael were in the Diner, the trailer house was set on fire. Defendant-Appellant Jody Cooper, an Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Agent, investigated the fire the following morning. Cooper interviewed a number of witnesses, including Clanton, but did not solve the crime. While being interviewed by Agent Cooper, Clanton expressed dissatisfaction with the course of Cooper's investigation. Clanton also told Cooper that she would be traveling in Europe and would not be returning to the United States until September, 1993.

In late August, 1993, the State Fire Marshal's office received a phone call from Clanton's nephew Bobby Eaves (Michael's brother). Bobby Eaves ("Bobby") claimed to have information about the July 26 arson, and agreed to meet with Agent Cooper on August 24, 1993. At this meeting, Bobby Eaves signed a written statement alleging that his brother Michael had told him that Michael and Clanton had committed the arson.

Two days later, Cooper visited Michael Eaves. At first, Michael denied any involvement in the arson. Cooper then falsely told Michael that physical evidence linked Michael to the crime, and that if Michael did not confess he would go to jail for twenty-five years. Cooper "suggested" that Michael had burned the house at Clanton's request, according to Clanton's plan, and with Clanton's assistance. He further "suggested" that Clanton's motive was to collect the fire insurance money. Finally, he told Michael that if Michael confessed along these lines, Michael would "get off lightly." Subsequently, Michael signed a Miranda waiver form and gave a tape-recorded oral statement in which he confessed to the arson and implicated his aunt, Carolyn Clanton.

Immediately after giving his oral statement, Michael was arrested for the arson. Several days later, on August 31, 1993, Cooper signed a probable cause affidavit in support of a warrant for Clanton's arrest. Although the district attorney had never filed a sworn information (and therefore no charges had been filed against Clanton), the arrest warrant was issued that same day. On September 2, 1993, Cooper disseminated the arrest warrant information nationally, through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system.

Around September 13, 1993, upon her return from Europe, Clanton was arrested by U.S. customs officers in Houston, Texas. She was then turned over to the Houston police. When the Houston police contacted the McIntosh County, Oklahoma Sheriff's Department to find out what to do with Clanton, they received the following message through the NCIC computer system.


Clanton v. Cooper, No. CIV-95-426-B, slip op. at 8-9 (E.D.Okla. July 25, 1996) (Order) (Burrage, J.). Consequently, Clanton was incarcerated for one to three days 1 in the Harris County (Texas) jail. She was released

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on an "Own Recognizance" bond only after the falsity of the "homicide" information was established.

On September 23, 1993, Michael Eaves recanted the oral statement which had been the sole evidence implicating Clanton in the arson. Michael alleged that Cooper had coerced him into making the earlier statement by threatening to send him to jail for twenty-five years unless he agreed to repeat back, in substance, a confession supplied by Cooper. 2

On September 27, 1993, an Oklahoma trial court quashed the August 31, 1993 warrant for Clanton's arrest. The court cited two grounds for quashing the arrest: (1) no charges had ever been filed against Clanton by the D.A. (and no grand jury had indicted her); and (2) probable cause for Clanton's arrest could not be established solely by a recanted oral statement of an alleged co-conspirator. To date, no charges have been filed against Clanton in connection with the July 26, 1993 arson.

On August 29, 1995, Clanton sued the City of Checotah, its police department and police chief, the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal's Office, its chief, and Agent Cooper under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994) and under Oklahoma state law. The gravamen of Clanton's complaint was that the defendants had intentionally manufactured false evidence against Clanton (Michael Eaves's oral statement), and had intentionally made false statements about Clanton (that she was "possibly involved in a homicide still under investigation"), and that these intentional actions had caused Clanton's false arrest and subsequent imprisonment.

The district court exercised jurisdiction over Clanton's federal civil rights claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1343(a)(3) (1994), and over her pendent state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (1994). All Clanton's claims against all defendants other than Cooper were subsequently dismissed, either voluntarily or by the district court. Cooper then moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims against him, primarily on the grounds of qualified immunity. Cooper argued that all of his actions were within the scope of his authority and that he did not violate any "clearly established" law. The district court granted Cooper's motion for summary judgment with respect to Clanton's state law claims, but denied it with respect to Clanton's federal Section 1983 claim.

Cooper now appeals the partial denial of his motion for summary judgment.


I. Jurisdiction

"Orders denying qualified immunity before trial are appealable to the extent they resolve abstract issues of law." Foote v. Spiegel, 118 F.3d 1416, 1422 (10th Cir.1997) (citing Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, ----, 116 S.Ct. 834, 842, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996), and Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 312-14, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 2155-57, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995)). More specifically:

a district court's order denying a defendant's motion for summary judgment [is] an immediately appealable "collateral order" (i.e., a "final decision") under [Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp, 337 U.S. 541, 69 S.Ct. 1221, 93 L.Ed. 1528 (1949) ], where (1) the defendant [is] a public official asserting a defense of "qualified immunity" and (2) the issue appealed concern[s], not which facts the...

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