241 F.3d 46 (1st Cir. 2001), 00-1110, Nieves v. McSweeney

Docket Nº:00-1110
Citation:241 F.3d 46
Party Name:ANGEL NIEVES AND REBECCA NIEVES, Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. TERENCE J. MCSWEENEY ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:February 27, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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241 F.3d 46 (1st Cir. 2001)



TERENCE J. MCSWEENEY ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 00-1110

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 27, 2001

Heard January 9, 2001

Amended August 1, 2001


[Hon. Edward F. Harrington, U.S. District Judge]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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James B. Krasnoo, with whom Paul J. Klehm was on brief, for appellants.

Brian Rogal, with whom Law Offices of Timothy M. Burke was on brief, for appellee McSweeney.

Douglas I. Louison, Stephen C. Pfaff, and Merrick, Louison & Costello on brief for appellee Beauvais.

Leonard H. Kesten, Jocelyn M. Sedney, Deidre Brennan Regan, and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten on brief for remaining appellees.

Before Selya, Circuit Judge, Coffin, Senior Circuit Judge, and Lipez, Circuit Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

The appellants, Angel Nieves and his eighteen-year-old daughter Rebecca, claim to be victims of police brutality. They waited a considerable period of time before bringing suit, however, and the district court turned them away, partially on timeliness grounds and partially for failure to proffer a federally-cognizable claim. Their appeal contends that the lower court misunderstood both the operation of the statute of limitations in civil conspiracy cases and the circumstances under which 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a vehicle for the maintenance of malicious prosecution claims. Finding these contentions unpersuasive, we affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment.


On the evening of May 12, 1994, a disturbance erupted at the appellants' home in Ayer, Massachusetts. The police learned of the tumult from Rebecca's mother (Angel's ex-wife), who telephoned to report that Angel was abusing Rebecca. Officers Terence McSweeney and Dana Beauvais responded to the call. Although the details of what transpired are murky, at least two things are clear: (1) a melee developed involving the appellants and the

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police officers; and (2) both appellants sustained injuries.

As the fracas ended, two more police officers, Bradley Madge and Leon Avery, arrived at the scene. The appellants were arrested without a warrant and taken to the police station. The authorities detained them for approximately two hours, at which point Angel was released on a $25 bond and Rebecca was released on her own recognizance.

The next day, Officer Edward Denmark, acting on reports filed by McSweeney and Beauvais, swore out criminal complaints against the appellants. One such complaint charged Angel with assault with intent to murder, assault and battery by dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a police officer (two counts), and being a disorderly person. The second charged Rebecca with two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and one count of being a disorderly person. The appellants were promptly arraigned and then released on their own recognizance.

Pretrial proceedings were unremarkable (although the appellants, from time to time, had to attend court sessions). Eventually, the charge of assault with intent to murder was withdrawn. The remaining charges were tried to a jury. On October 27, 1994, the jurors found Angel guilty on the disorderly person charge but acquitted the appellants on all other charges.

Nearly three years later, on October 9, 1997, the appellants brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts against McSweeney, Beauvais, Madge, Avery, Denmark, the chief of police, and the town of Ayer (the Town). The gravamen of their complaint was the multifaceted allegation that the officers conspired to deprive the appellants of their civil rights by using excessive force, arresting them without probable cause, initiating baseless charges, and maliciously prosecuting those charges. After an extensive period of pretrial discovery, the defendants sought summary judgment. In passing upon these motions, the district court proceeded in increments. First, it segregated all the federal-law claims that were based on the events of May 12, 1994 (such as those rooted in excessive force and false arrest) and ruled that they were time-barred. Nieves v. McSweeney, 73 F.Supp.2d 98, 102 (D. Mass. 1999). Next, the court focused upon the lone federal claim that escaped this proscription: conspiracy to commit malicious prosecution. That claim, the court ascertained, did not allege a violation of a federally-protected right. Id. at 104. Accordingly, the court granted the defendants' motions for brevis disposition, without prejudice, however, to the appellants' pursuit of any state-law claims in a state tribunal. Id. at 106. This appeal followed.


The appellants advance two principal theses in their endeavor to blunt the swing of the summary judgment ax. First, they posit that the entire panoply of events that began on the evening of the arrest and ended with the completion of their criminal trial constituted a single, ongoing conspiracy. Building on this foundation, they argue that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the commission of the last overt act incident to that conspiracy -- the officers' allegedly false testimony at the criminal trial. Since that act took place within the three-year limitation period, the appellants assert that their claims are timely. As a fallback, the appellants argue that even if some of their claims are time-barred, their malicious prosecution claim is not. This claim, they suggest, comprises a viable constitutional cause of action grounded in the Fourth Amendment.

In the sections that follow, we parse the complaint and then measure each of these theories against a familiar standard of review. After all, summary judgment is appropriate only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together

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with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In applying this screen, we construe the record and all reasonable inferences from it in favor of the party who lost below. Grant's Dairy-Me., LLC v. Comm'r of Me. Dep't of Agric., Food & Rural Res., 232 F.3d 8, 14 (1st Cir. 2000); Houlton Citizens' Coalition v. Town of Houlton, 175 F.3d 178, 184 (1st Cir. 1999). In the process, we afford no special deference to the lower court's views. See Houlton Citizens' Coalition, 175 F.3d at 184 (explaining that the court of appeals reviews the entry of summary judgment de novo).

A. The Complaint.

We grapple with only two of the ten counts in the complaint: counts 1 and 2. These counts are both premised on 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They charge Officers McSweeney, Beauvais, and Madge with participating in a conspiracy to violate the appellants' civil rights.1 We briefly explain why the remaining counts need not concern us.

Three counts -- counts 3, 4, and 5 -- allege supervisory liability against the police chief and municipal liability on the part of the Town. The district court initially severed and stayed the prosecution of these counts, and eventually granted summary judgment on them (along with counts 1 and 2). These counts require proof, inter alia, of an underlying constitutional violation. See Evans v. Avery, 100 F.3d 1033, 1040 (1st Cir. 1996) (applying this principle in respect to municipal liability); Martinez v. Colon, 54 F.3d 980, 990 (1st Cir. 1995) (applying this principle in respect to supervisory liability). The constitutional violations upon which these counts are premised are those alleged in counts 1 and 2. Thus, if the district court appropriately jettisoned the first two counts of the complaint, the next three also must fail.

By like token, counts 6, 7, and 8 charge violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, which in pertinent part confers a private right of action for injuries occasioned when "two or more persons . . . conspire . . . for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). As the district court noted, the appellants' section 1985(3) claims mirror their section 1983 claims. Nieves, 73 F.Supp.2d at 102 n.4. Inasmuch as the critical issues in this appeal -- whether the appellants sued in a timeous fashion and whether they were deprived of a federally-protected right -- are common to both sets of claims, it would serve no useful purpose to discuss the section 1985(3) claims separately. Those counts can stand only if, and to the same extent that, counts 1 and 2 can stand.

This brings us to counts 9 and 11 (oddly, the appellants' complaint contains no count 10). These counts allege a common-law conspiracy to violate Massachusetts civil rights laws. When the court below entered its summary judgment order, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over these counts. Id. at 106. The appellants...

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