217 F.3d 239 (5th Cir. 2000), 99-30019, Piazza v Mayne

Docket Nº:99-30019
Citation:217 F.3d 239
Party Name:PAUL R PIAZZA Plaintiff - Appellant v. JEFF MAYNE Defendant - Appellee
Case Date:June 26, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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217 F.3d 239 (5th Cir. 2000)

PAUL R PIAZZA Plaintiff - Appellant


JEFF MAYNE Defendant - Appellee

No. 99-30019


June 26, 2000


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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Before KING, Chief Judge, and DUHE and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.


Plaintiff-Appellant appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee in this section 1983 action for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. We affirm.


On July 27, 1993, Defendant-Appellee Jeff Mayne, an enforcement agent with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (the "Department"), inspected a truck containing a 1,121-pound shipment of hybrid striped bass (the "July 27 shipment"). This shipment belonged to Plaintiff-Appellant Paul Piazza, a licensed

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wholesale seafood distributor. Mayne contacted the Department. After some initial confusion, he discovered that on July 21, 1993, Piazza reported a purchase of 2,543 pounds of hybrid striped bass from the Silver Streak Bass Company, of Seguin, Texas (the "July 21 purchase"). However, Mayne believed that the fish looked "too fresh" to belong to the six-day old July 21 purchase. Consequently, he seized the truckload of fish.

Mayne took a sample from the seized shipment, which he brought to John Burdon and Howard Ragillio, biologists who worked for the Department. Burdon and Ragillio examined the fish, and opined that the fish had been harvested less than 72 hours earlier. Like Mayne, they concluded that the fish was "too fresh" to have come from the July 21 purchase. On July 29, the shipment of fish was sold at auction.

On August 3, 1993, Mayne visited Piazza's place of business in order to inspect his records. According to Piazza, Mayne inspected and confiscated copies of all of Piazza's records of sales of hybrid striped bass from June 30 to July 31, 1993. However, Mayne only asked for the purchase records from the Silver Streak Bass Co., the source of the July 21 purchase, for that same period. Piazza allegedly twice told Mayne that he also purchased hybrid striped bass from other suppliers, and offered to show Mayne records of those purchases. Piazza contends that Mayne refused to inspect or accept copies of any such records.1 After examining the records that he had requested, Mayne arrived at the conclusion that between June 30 and July 31, 1993, Piazza sold 12,573 pounds of hybrid striped bass but reported purchasing only 9,840 pounds. Mayne subsequently issued a citation to Piazza for violating Louisiana Revised Statute 56:327(A).2

On November 1, 1993, Piazza faxed a copy of records of his July 1993 purchases of 2,809 pounds of hybrid striped bass from Bayou Blue Mariculture, a Louisiana aquaculture producer, to the Louisiana district court where his trial was scheduled for the following day. Piazza presented these records to Mayne and the district attorney, but Mayne persisted in refusing to review them.

On November 2, 1993, Piazza was tried for the offense of selling and/or purchasing freshwater game fish in violation of § 327(A) before the 22nd Judicial District Court of Louisiana. According to the trial judge, the case "'boil[ed] down to simply a matter of whose experts convince[d] the Court and convince[d] the Court beyond a reasonable doubt that their position [was] correct.'" State v. Piazza, 668 So.2d 1125, 1126 (La. 1996) ("Piazza II"). For its part, the State submitted evidence that Mayne's decision to seize the July 27 shipment was based on his examination of the shipment and subsequent conclusion that the fish were too fresh to have belonged to the July 21 purchase from Texas. See State v. Piazza, 655 So.2d 1357, 1361 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1995), rev'd by 668 So.2d 1125 (La. 1996) ("Piazza I"). In addition, John Burdon and Howard Ragillio testified as expert witnesses that they had examined samples from the seized shipment and concluded that the fish had been caught seventy-two hours or less prior to their examination. See id. at 1362. The State also

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submitted a contemporaneous report by the two biologists that described the physical characteristics of the fish and stated the same conclusion to which the biologists testified at trial. See id. at 1361-62.

In his defense, Piazza testified that the fish from the seized shipment were part of the July 21 purchase. See id. at 1363. He described the procedure his company used for packaging fish, and gave his opinion as an expert in fish observation that "to someone observing his fish, who was unfamiliar with the procedures he uses in handling and packaging fish, the fish would appear to be 'fresher longer.'" Id. at 1363. The defense also introduced a letter from Michael Russell, president of Central Analytical Laboratories, Inc., to whom Piazza had sent samples of (1) freshly caught fish, (2) fish from the July 21 purchase that had not yet been sold, and (3) fish from the seized shipment. See id. at 1363-64. The letter stated that the first sample appeared to be freshly caught, but that "it could not be determined with any exactness how much time had elapsed since the fish in either [the second or third] sample had been caught." Id. at 1364. Piazza also introduced the records of his July purchases of hybrid striped bass from Bayou Blue Mariculture. Nevertheless, Piazza was convicted. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, fined $400, and had his license as a wholesale fish distributor revoked. Immediately following his conviction, Piazza was taken to the St. Tammany Parish Jail. He was booked, photographed, fingerprinted, and then released on his own recognizance. Piazza spent between forty minutes and an hour in custody.

Piazza appealed his conviction. By means of two of his assignments of error before the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Piazza argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he had sold or purchased freshwater game fish in violation of § 327(A). See Piazza I, 655 So.2d at 1364. Specifically, Piazza argued that "some of the [seized] fish were aquaculturally-raised fish imported into [Louisiana] pursuant to [§ 327.1],"3 and thus, their purchase or sale did not violate the statute.4 Id. at 1366. As a preliminary...

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