213 F.3d 226 (5th Cir. 2000), 99-30158, Mendenhall v Riser

Docket Nº:99-30158
Citation:213 F.3d 226
Party Name:JOHN MENDENHALL, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. THEODORE RISER, JR., individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Webster Parish; STEVE CROPPER, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Parish Deputy Sheriff; JAMES BELL, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Parish Deputy Sheriff; ALVA NULL, individually and in his off
Case Date:May 30, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 226

213 F.3d 226 (5th Cir. 2000)

JOHN MENDENHALL, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

THEODORE RISER, JR., individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Webster Parish; STEVE CROPPER, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Parish Deputy Sheriff; JAMES BELL, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Parish Deputy Sheriff; ALVA NULL, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Parish Deputy Sheriff; WAYNE NEWTON, individually and in his official capacity as Webster Deputy Sheriff, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 99-30158

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 30, 2000

Page 227

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

Before JOLLY, EMILIO M. GARZA, and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.

BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

Appellants appeal from the district court's order denying their Motion for Summary Judgement, seeking dismissal of appellee John Mendenhall's § 1983 civil rights complaint on the basis of qualified immunity. Because we determine that the officers acted reasonably in arresting John Mendenhall for the crime of murder, we reverse the district court and grant appellants qualified immunity on all claims asserted by Mendenhall.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On a fateful Friday the Thirteenth in September of 1996, William Myles attempted

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to rob Deon Grisby in Cullen, Louisiana. Early that morning, sometime around 7 a.m., Myles and several purported members of a drug gang accosted Grisby while he was inside his girlfriend's home, in what is presumed by all parties involved to be a drug-related transaction. When Grisby refused to turn over a sum of money on demand, Myles and his cohorts forced Grisby into the car they were driving. As they began to drive off, however, Grisby attempted to escape by leaping from the moving vehicle. His efforts to flee were met with gunfire. He was shot several times, as the would-be kidnappers took flight.

The exact sequence of these chaotic events is unclear, but somehow, perhaps in response to a call for help, Cullen Police Officer Jimmy Wayne White, appellee Mendenhall's half brother, arrived shortly thereafter, in time, remarkably, to apprehend two of the renegade gang. Due to this fortuitous arrival of the cavalry, Grisby was rushed to the hospital and his life was saved. Myles, in the meantime, escaped on foot, in the direction of Lee street.

Perhaps even more notable than his brother's timely appearance at the scene of this shooting, John Mendenhall also arrived moments later, dressed in his police officer's uniform, apparently on his way home from work.1 Upon consultation with Officer White, Mendenhall gave chase to Myles.

Mendenhall was not the only individual in pursuit early that morning. Several other individuals led a small procession in the chase after Myles. Mendenhall, driving his red pickup truck, fell in behind them.

It is at this juncture that the exact sequence of events is somewhat unclear from the record. Nonetheless, one indisputable event occurred: Near the corner of Lee Street and Boucher Extension, Myles was killed instantly from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head by someone in the group that gave chase. It is the events subsequent to this shooting that give rise to this appeal.

Medical personnel arrived on the scene shortly after Myles was shot, followed by Officer White accompanying Deputy Shaw and Deputy Ashley. Sometime shortly thereafter, Mendenhall simply left the scene. Deputies Cropper and Null, both appellants in this matter, were notified and dispatched to the scene as lead investigators. Upon their arrival, they began in earnest the investigation of the presumed homicide.

The investigators' focus soon shifted to Mendenhall, as two witnesses at the scene identified him as the shooter. In an effort to obtain his statement, appellant Deputy Newton visited Mendenhall at his home, requesting that he return to the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office sub-station in Springhill. While it does not appear that Mendenhall immediately complied with this request, he did later make an appearance at the sub-station. He was greeted by appellant-deputies Steve Cropper, Alva Null, Jim Bell, and Wayne Newton. The deputies mirandized Mendenhall, and then proceeded to inquire as to the day's events. Mendenhall, however, refused to cooperate. He left the station shortly after arriving, and apparently reported to duty with the Haynesville Police Department.

Considering the information gathered from the day's investigation,2 Deputy

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Cropper prepared a complaint-affidavit for the arrest of John Mendenhall on charges of second degree murder in violation of Louisiana law.3 Using this affidavit, and another prepared for the purpose of obtaining a search warrant, Cropper sought and obtained a warrant for the arrest of John Mendenhall, as well as a search warrant for his home. Upon issue, the arrest warrant was faxed to Mendenhall's place of employment, at which time he was stripped of his weapon and badge and placed into custody. Upon being processed into the system, Mendenhall was locked in the Webster Parish jail, where he spent one night, before being released on bond the next day.

Upon release, Mendenhall sought and secured counsel. A Motion for Expedited Preliminary Examination was filed on September 16 - a Monday - and the hearing was scheduled for the following Monday. Mendenhall requested the expedited hearing out of concern for his candidacy in the upcoming election for Cullen Police Chief, to be held the following Saturday. He was naturally worried about the impact of a pending murder trial on his chances in the election. His concern may have been well founded, as Mendenhall subsequently lost the election.

At the hearing, Deputy Cropper testified as to the facts and circumstances supporting probable cause. Mendenhall, in his defense, presented the affidavit of Ted Nellams, an individual indisputably at the scene of Myles' shooting, who claimed to have fired the fatal bullet. The presiding judge, considering Nellams' affidavit, failed to find probable cause to bind Mendenhall over for trial as required under Louisiana law.4 The district attorney subsequently dismissed the prosecution against Mendenhall.

Mendenhall filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 nearly one year later, asserting that appellants violated his civil rights by falsely arresting him for the murder of William Myles. Each side respectively filed motions for summary judgment. Finding that "genuine issues of material fact remain in this matter" with respect to the claims made by each party, the district court denied summary judgment to all. Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal concerning the failure of the district court to grant summary judgement on qualified immunity grounds.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

While no party contests our jurisdiction to hear this interlocutory appeal, we write briefly to note that, although denials of qualified immunity on summary judgment are not final orders, they are immediately appealable under the collateral

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order doctrine if based on an issue of law. See Rodriguez v. Neeley, 169 F.3d 220, 222 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Cantu v. Rocha, 77 F.3d 795, 802 (5th Cir. 1996); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)).

When as here the district court fails to make specific findings of fact or state specific conclusions of law, we will "undertake a cumbersome review of the record to determine what facts the district court, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, likely assumed." Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 313 (1996). In essence, we will give the plaintiff the benefit of the doubt with regard to any disputed issues of fact, in an attempt to reconstruct the district court's findings and conclusions, and thus review as a matter of law whether under such a factual scenario the § 1983 complaint may proceed. See Colston v. Barnhart, 130 F.3d 96, 98-99 (5th Cir 1997). If those facts do not materially affect the outcome - i.e., if even under such a factual scenario the officers' actions may be deemed as a matter of law objectively reasonable - the denial of summary judgment is immediately reveiwable as a question of law, and qualified immunity should be granted. See Id. (citing Mitchell, 472 U.S. 511 (1985); Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304 (1995); Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299 (1996); Nerren v. Livingston Police Dep't, 86 F.3d 469, 472 (5th Cir. 1996)).

Our review of the district court's order denying summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds is conducted de novo. See Nerren, 86 F.3d at 472 (citing Johnson v. City of Houston, 14 F.3d 1056, 1059 (5th Cir. 1994)).

B. Probable Cause and Objective Reasonableness

It is, by now, well settled and understood that "[f]ederal immunity law shields state officials from personal liability under federal law for civil damages as long as their conduct could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated." Cantu, 77 F.3d at 805 (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 819 (1982)). Qualified immunity protects against novel theories of statutory or Constitutional injury - any purported harm must stem from rights clearly established under law at the time of the incident, and the contours of that right must be sufficiently clear such that a reasonable officer would understand that his actions were violative of the right at issue. See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 638-39. Thus, the qualified immunity standard "gives ample room for mistaken judgments" by protecting "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."...

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