151 F.3d 1346 (11th Cir. 1998), 96-5395, Gold v. City of Miami

Docket Nº:96-5395.
Citation:151 F.3d 1346
Party Name:Michael C. GOLD, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CITY OF MIAMI, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:August 27, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1346

151 F.3d 1346 (11th Cir. 1998)

Michael C. GOLD, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

CITY OF MIAMI, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 96-5395.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 27, 1998

Page 1347

Kathryn S. Pecko, Christopher F. Kurtz, Asst. City Attys., A. Quinn Jones, Theresa L. Girten, Robert S. Glazier, Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellant.

Charles Michael Baron, North Miami Beach, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before COX and HULL, Circuit Judges, and FAY, Senior Circuit Judge.

HULL, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Michael C. Gold ("Gold") brought a false arrest claim under state law and civil rights actions based on excessive force and arrest without probable cause under section 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Gold originally sued the City of Miami (the "City"), three City police officers, and the City Police Chief. In an earlier appeal, this Court held that the three City police officers and the City Police Chief were entitled to qualified immunity. Gold v. City of Miami, 121 F.3d 1442 (11th Cir.1997) ("Gold I ").

While the earlier appeal was pending, Gold's case against the City proceeded to trial. The jury returned a verdict for Gold on both his federal and state claims. The City challenges the jury's verdict on only Gold's section 1983 claims, contending that the district court erred in not granting the City's motions for judgment as a matter of law. After review, we agree and set aside the verdict against the City on Gold's section 1983 claims.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  1. The Arrest

    Gold pulled into a congested bank parking lot so that his passenger could use the bank's

    Page 1348

    automated teller machine ("ATM"). 1 While waiting for a parking space to open up, Gold noticed a uniformed police officer nearby. Gold also noticed a woman who did not appear to be handicapped walk to her car parked in a handicapped space, get in, and start to drive away. Disturbed by this, Gold yelled to the officer, "Aren't you supposed to give her a ticket for something like that?" 2 The officer did not respond. Gold then found a parking space, parked his car, walked toward the ATM, and loudly remarked to no one in particular, "Miami police don't do shit."

    Upon hearing Gold's remark, a plainclothes officer who had been standing in the ATM line stated to the uniformed officer, "Hey, I think he's got a problem." 3 Gold replied, "I don't have a problem. I'm just saying that Miami police don't do shit." A different plainclothes officer who had been standing next to the uniformed officer then approached Gold and asked him for identification. After Gold produced his Florida driver's license and Florida Bar membership card, the officer headed toward the uniformed officer's patrol car to do a radio-check on the identification. The officer soon was joined by the uniformed officer and the other plainclothes officer.

    Upon observing all of this, a couple walking away from the ATM machine made a comment on the situation, and Gold responded, "They'll do what they're going to do." 4 Gold then walked over to the two plainclothes policemen and one uniformed policeman now gathered around the squad car. He asked the officer who had his ID, "What's going on?" The officer said, "Shut up," but Gold insisted, "I'd like to know what's going on here." The officers then placed Gold under arrest for disorderly conduct. 5 The City concedes that Gold's arrest was without probable cause. See Gold I, 121 F.3d at 1445-46. 6

  2. The Handcuffing

    After handcuffing Gold, the uniformed officer assisted Gold into the back of his patrol car. Some moments later, Gold complained that the handcuffs were so tight that he was in pain. 7 The officer did not loosen the handcuffs until roughly fifteen to thirty minutes after Gold complained. As a result, Gold claims that he had numbness on his right wrist lasting a day or two. Gold admits that he did not notice that his skin was broken until he left the jail that day. Gold did not see a doctor regarding any problems resulting from the incident. After five or six hours in custody, Gold was released. The State later dropped the criminal charges against him.

    Page 1349

  3. The Police Officers' Training

    At trial, the evidence showed that the City's police officers underwent substantial training at the police academy and afterwards on a wide variety of topics. The City police department exceeded the State of Florida's required number of training hours, and it established departmental rules and regulations and standard operating procedures. Each police officer received a law enforcement handbook and significant instruction on the implementation of Florida criminal law. Each police officer also received updates on recent changes in Florida statutory and case law that the police department's legal advisor thought would affect the officers' operations. Although no one recalls any specific training about the disorderly conduct statute or the constitutional limitations placed by the Florida Supreme Court on that statute in State v. Saunders, 339 So.2d 641 (Fla.1976), the disorderly conduct statute was in the officers' handbook for their review. 8 The Police Chief and the legal advisor testified that they were not aware of any problem with arrests under the Florida disorderly conduct statute or with the responses to handcuff complaints that would call for any specialized training on these specific issues.

    Gold presented no evidence of any prior false arrest for disorderly conduct or a prior citizen complaint of such a false arrest. Gold presented evidence only (1) that City officers often heard profanities and verbal insults while on patrol; (2) that they brought the incidents to the Police Chief's attention; and (3) that they filed 8,201 disorderly conduct arrests between 1986 and 1991 (not including sealed and expunged cases). However, Gold presented no evidence connecting the profanities and insults to any disorderly conduct arrests.

    Gold also presented no evidence of any prior incidents of improper responses to handcuff complaints. Gold presented only evidence that other officers often loosened handcuffs upon request and evidence of one injury due to handcuffing but no showing that this one injury was caused by excessive force or improper handcuffing.

  4. Jury's Verdict

    Answering special interrogatories, the jury found that Gold's arrest was caused by a City policy that reflected deliberate indifference by the City to Gold's civil rights through a failure to train and/or supervise police officers concerning the disorderly conduct statute and the proper response to handcuff complaints. The jury awarded Gold $26,000 in damages on his section 1983 claim arising from the disorderly conduct arrest, $500 in damages on his section 1983 claim for excessive force in handcuffing, and $26,500 on his state law claim for false arrest. Since the federal and state claims involved the same damages, the district court entered judgment against the City for total damages of $26,500. The court also awarded Gold $59,420 in attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and taxed $8,303.78 in costs against the City.

    The court denied the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law, which was made at the close of Gold's evidence, renewed at the close of all evidence, and made again post-trial. 9 The City does not contest the jury's verdict on the state law claim for false arrest but challenges only the verdict on Gold's section 1983 claims.

    II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

    This Court reviews de novo a district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law. See Hibiscus Assocs. v. Board of Trustees of the Policemen and Firemen Retirement Sys., 50 F.3d 908, 920 (11th Cir.1995). This Court employs the same standard the district court applied, "review[ing] all of the evidence in the light most

    Page 1350

    favorable to, and with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of, the nonmoving party." Walker v. NationsBank of Florida, N.A., 53 F.3d 1548, 1555 (11th Cir.1995). Although the existence of a genuine issue of material fact precludes judgment as a matter of law, "a jury question does not exist because of the presence of a mere scintilla of evidence." Id. A motion for judgment as a matter of law will be denied only if "reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach contrary conclusions." Id.

    III. DISCUSSION

  5. Municipal Policy Requirement

    The Supreme Court has placed strict limitations on municipal liability under section 1983. There is no respondeat superior liability making a municipality liable for the wrongful actions of its police officers in making a false arrest. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Instead, a municipality may be held liable for the actions of a police officer only when municipal "official policy" causes a constitutional violation. See id. at 694-95, 98 S.Ct. 2018. Gold must "identify a municipal 'policy' or 'custom' that caused [his] injury," Board of County Com'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, ----, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 1388, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018); "It is only when the 'execution of the government's policy or custom ... inflicts the injury' that the municipality may be held liable under § 1983." City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989).

    Thus, the City is not automatically liable under section 1983 even if it inadequately trained or supervised its police officers and those officers violated Gold's constitutional rights. Instead, the Supreme Court has explained that there are only "limited circumstances" in which an allegation of a failure to train or supervise can be the basis for liability under § 1983. See City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 387, 109 S.Ct. 1197. The Supreme Court has instructed that these "limited...

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