196 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 1999), 98-2095, Britton v. Maloney

Docket Nº:98-2095, 98-2096
Citation:196 F.3d 24
Party Name:RANDY BRITTON, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. PATRICK J. MALONEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS POLICE OFFICER OF THE CITY OF BOSTON, Defendant, Appellant. RANDY BRITTON, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. PATRICK J. MALONEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS POLICE OFFICER OF THE CITY OF BOSTON, Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:November 08, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 24

196 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 1999)

RANDY BRITTON, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

PATRICK J. MALONEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY

AS POLICE OFFICER OF THE CITY OF BOSTON, Defendant, Appellant.

RANDY BRITTON, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

PATRICK J. MALONEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY

AS POLICE OFFICER OF THE CITY OF BOSTON, Defendant, Appellee.

Nos. 98-2095, 98-2096

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 8, 1999

Heard September 10, 1999

Page 25

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 26

Andrea W. McCarthy, with whom Merita A. Hopkins, Christian Na, and David Johnson were on brief, for defendant.

Randy Britton, plaintiff, pro se.

Before Boudin, Circuit Judge, Bownes, Senior Circuit Judge, and Stahl, Circuit Judge.

STAHL, Circuit Judge.

Randy Britton filed this lawsuit in order to redress alleged violations of his civil rights that took place after he walked into a police station carrying a rifle in his hands. On motions for summary judgment and for judgment as a matter of law, the district court dismissed many of the defendants and several of the claims made in the case. Ultimately, a jury rendered a verdict against one of the defendants, Patrick Maloney, in the amount of $200,000.00. This appeal followed, in which Maloney seeks to overturn the judgment against him while Britton hopes to revive some of his unsuccessful causes of action. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

I.

Background

All of the questions before us require that we read the record in the light most favorable to Britton. See Collazo-Santiago v. Toyota Motor Corp., 149 F.3d 23, 27 (1st Cir. 1998) (reviewing the grant or denial of judgment as a matter of law by considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party); St. Hilaire v. City of Laconia, 71 F.3d 20, 24 (1st Cir. 1995) (reviewing the entry of summary judgment by taking the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party).

On June 30, 1990, Britton walked into the headquarters of the Boston Police Department carrying an AR-7 semiautomatic rifle. The first police officer to see him thought that he was a gunman and pushed a panic button on her desk in order to get help. Detective Thomas Dooley confronted Britton, grabbed him, and wrested the rifle away. Although Sergeant Patrick Maloney joined in the fray as well, the situation resolved itself without injury. It turned out that the gun was unloaded and that its stock had been removed.

Britton immediately explained to the officers that he had come inside in order to flee from two people who had been chasing him. Sergeant Maloney concluded that Britton should "go upstairs [with him] and talk about it." He escorted Britton through a metal gateway, up a flight of stairs, and into a squad room for further questioning. Britton adhered to his story throughout the brief interrogation that followed. He also produced a Firearm Identification Card (an "FID card") to validate his possession of the rifle.

After removing an ammunition clip and car keys from Britton's pocket, Detective Dooley left the building to find out more. He began by examining Britton's car and collected some of the items that he found inside, including the stock of the rifle, a box of ammunition, and the registration for the vehicle itself. At some point thereafter, Dooley also interviewed Britton's alleged pursuers, Tammy Loughlin and Tyrone Stampley. They had apparently chased Britton after mistaking him for someone else.

In any event, Maloney and Dooley verified the authenticity of Britton's FID card, determined that he did not have any outstanding warrants against him, and allowed him to leave the police station. At that point, neither Britton, Loughlin, nor Stampley was charged with a crime. None of them was told that they were the subject of a criminal investigation. But when Britton demanded to get his rifle back, Maloney refused, saying that he would have to confiscate it "for safekeeping."

Britton left the station with a copy of Dooley's police report, which purported to document the incident and effectively

Page 27

served as a receipt for the seizure of the rifle. Still angry at the way that he had been treated, Britton telephoned Maloney that evening, demanded that the gun be returned, and threatened to sue in order to get it back. Maloney refused to release the weapon but offered little explanation as to why he had decided to keep it.

Three days later, on July 3, 1990, Britton returned to the police station, where he confronted Maloney and claimed that the seizure of his rifle had violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Rather than giving the gun back, Maloney informed Britton that he faced criminal charges for using it to assault Loughlin and Stampley. Subsequently, Britton received a summons in the mail, appeared at his arraignment on August 3, 1990, and entered a plea of not guilty to the charges.

Britton's court-appointed attorney moved for a bill of particulars. The prosecution failed to respond to the motion or to pursue the case in any meaningful way. As a result, on September 25, 1990, the Boston Municipal Court dismissed the case in its entirety for want of prosecution. Britton's rifle was returned to him immediately thereafter.

Britton subsequently filed this lawsuit pro se against the City of Boston, the mayor, the police commissioner, and several of the police officers who had been involved at the station. The gravamen of Britton's Amended Complaint was that (1) the defendants fabricated criminal charges against him in order to penalize him for complaining about the confiscation of his rifle; (2) the defendants took the rifle away without sufficient justification for doing so; and (3) the Boston Police Department's policy on the seizure of firearms is unconstitutional because it directs police officers to seize guns that they encounter without regard to probable cause.

Even though the district court dismissed several of the defendants and many of the claims in the lawsuit on motions for summary judgment and for judgment as a matter of law, Britton's case against Dooley and Maloney went to the jury. Dooley prevailed on all of Britton's claims against him. Maloney, however, was found liable in the amount of $200,000.00 for having "violated [Britton's] federal civil rights by prosecuting him without probable cause and with an unconstitutional motive."1 The jury also rendered a verdict against Maloney on a variety of parallel state law claims, but awarded $0.00 damages.

Although Britton's lawsuit against the city is still pending, the district court has certified his case against Maloney as a separate and final judgment from which an immediate appeal can be taken. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). Maloney disputes his liability altogether, while in his cross-appeal, Britton seeks to revive some of the claims that the trial court rejected.2

Page 28

II.

We consider Maloney's assignments of error first. Maloney begins by arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to Britton's constitutional malicious prosecution claim. De novo review is required. See Collazo-Santiago v. Toyota Motor Corp., 149 F.3d 23, 27 (1st Cir. 1998). We evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to Britton, drawing every reasonable inference in his favor. See id.

Britton's constitutional malicious prosecution claim turned on the theory that Maloney's pursuit of unfounded criminal charges against him violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Although a plurality of the Supreme Court has concluded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a substantive right to be free from criminal prosecutions unsupported by probable cause, the Court has "express[ed] no view" as to whether the burden of baseless criminal charges might effect an unlawful "seizure" and thereby trigger a Fourth Amendment claim. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 274-75 (1994) (plurality opinion).

Every circuit to have considered the question since Albright has expressed general agreement with the view that state actors who pursue malicious prosecutions against others may be held to have violated the Fourth Amendment, thereby risking the imposition of liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.3 We have yet to confront the issue directly, see Meehan v. Town of Plymouth, 167 F.3d 85, 88 (1st Cir. 1999) ("[T]here is a possibility that Meehan's § 1983 malicious prosecution claim may be actionable under the Fourth Amendment."); Roche v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 81 F.3d 249, 256 n.5 (1st Cir. 1996) ("[W]e need not explore this virgin territory."), and need not do so here. We will simply assume, for the purposes of the analysis, that the type of conduct which constitutes a malicious prosecution under state law can sometimes constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment as well. Cf. Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 258 (1978) ("In some cases, the interests protected by a particular branch of the common law of torts may parallel closely the interests protected by a particular constitutional right."). Even if we take this assumption to be true, we do not believe that Maloney's pursuit of baseless criminal charges violated Britton's Fourth Amendment rights in this case.

To acknowledge similarities between a malicious prosecution claim and a Fourth Amendment claim is not to say that the two causes of action are identical in every respect, or that proof of the former will always suffice as proof of the latter. After all, the Fourth Amendment does not speak of unreasonable "prosecutions," and instead refers only to unreasonable "searches and seizures." U.S. Const...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP