213 F.3d 1023 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-3239, Thomas v. Dickel

Docket Nº:99-3239
Citation:213 F.3d 1023
Party Name:CHRISTIE THOMAS AND SCOTT FISHER, APPELLANTS, v. GREGORY DICKEL, JOSEPH LEO, AND CITY OF DES MOINES, IOWA, APPELLEES.
Case Date:May 30, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1023

213 F.3d 1023 (8th Cir. 2000)

CHRISTIE THOMAS AND SCOTT FISHER, APPELLANTS,

v.

GREGORY DICKEL, JOSEPH LEO, AND CITY OF DES MOINES, IOWA, APPELLEES.

No. 99-3239

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 30, 2000

Submitted: March 15, 2000

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

Denied June 28, 2000

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

Page 1024

Before McMILLIAN, Floyd R. Gibson, and Morris Sheppard Arnold, Circuit Judges.

Morris Sheppard Arnold, Circuit Judge.

Christie Thomas and Scott Fisher sued the City of Des Moines, Iowa, and Des Moines police officers Gregory Dickel and Joseph Leo, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law, claiming that the officers wrongfully stopped, searched, and arrested them. The district court 1 held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for stopping the plaintiffs' car and that Ms. Thomas and Mr. Fisher failed to present any evidence of a department policy or custom on which to predicate municipal liability. The district court then granted the officers' motions for summary judgment on all of the plaintiffs' other constitutional claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims.

Ms. Thomas and Mr. Fisher appeal from only that part of the district court's judgment holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the claim that stopping the plaintiffs' car violated the fourth amendment. We believe, for the reasons stated below, that the officers did not violate the plaintiffs' fourth amendment rights by stopping them, and we therefore affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

The officers' stop of the plaintiffs' 1977 El Camino of course constituted a seizure within the meaning of the fourth amendment, see Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979), and was therefore "subject to the constitutional imperative that [the stop] not be 'unreasonable' under the circumstances." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996). An investigative stop is constitutional if the police have reasonable suspicion "that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity."

Page 1025

United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981); see also United States v. Eustaquio, 198 F.3d 1068, 1070 (8th Cir. 1999). Reasonable suspicion requires " 'a particularized and objective basis' for suspecting the person stopped of criminal activity," Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696 (1996), quoting Cortez, 449 U.S. at 417, see also Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968), and the "level of suspicion required for a Terry stop is obviously less demanding than that for probable cause," United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989).

The relevant facts in this case are undisputed. Under Iowa law (with exceptions not relevant here), a vehicle driver and all front-seat passengers are required to wear a "properly adjusted and fastened safety belt or safety harness" while the vehicle is moving, see Iowa Code Ann. § 321.445.2. The officers testified that they followed the plaintiffs' car for one or two blocks but could not see shoulder harnesses pulled down and across the plaintiffs' bodies, and the plaintiffs themselves readily concede that their shoulder harnesses could not be seen from behind when in use because the harnesses were attached to the top of the seats and not to the roof of the car. The officers concluded that the plaintiffs might well be violating Iowa law and therefore stopped the car.

The plaintiffs argue that an officer driving behind a car may not stop that car just because he or she cannot see a shoulder harness pulled down and across a car's occupant. We agree, however, with the district court's observation that it is unreasonable to expect police officers to be aware of all of the idiosyncratic designs of vehicle seat-belt systems. It is common knowledge that many, if not most, automobiles now have shoulder harnesses, see generally Iowa Code Ann. § 321.445.1, requiring that "1966 model year or newer motor vehicles subject to registration in Iowa shall be equipped with safety belts and safety harnesses" (emphasis added); see also State v. Aderholdt, 545 N.W.2d 559, 563 (Iowa 1996), holding that a stop was supported by reasonable suspicion because, "although the officer could not see whether the vehicle's occupants might be wearing lap-type seat belts, it was apparent [that] they were not wearing shoulder harness...

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