391 F.3d 25 (1st Cir. 2004), 04-1761, Cox v. Hainey

Docket Nº:04-1761.
Citation:391 F.3d 25
Party Name:John E. COX III, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. John HAINEY, Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:December 01, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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391 F.3d 25 (1st Cir. 2004)

John E. COX III, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

John HAINEY, Defendant, Appellee.

No. 04-1761.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 1, 2004

Submitted Nov. 4, 2004

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Timothy E. Zerillo and Timothy Zerillo Law Offices, LLC on brief for appellant.

G. Steven Rowe, Attorney General, and William R. Fisher, Assistant Attorney General, on brief for appellee.

Before SELYA, Circuit Judge, STAHL, Senior Circuit Judge, and LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

In this case, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee John Hainey, a state trooper, on a false arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff-appellant John E. Cox III assigns error to the court's determination that qualified immunity shielded Hainey from suit. After careful perscrutation of an oddly configured factual record (including consideration of how, if at all, an officer's pre-arrest consultation with a prosecutor affects the qualified immunity calculus), we affirm the district court's order.

I. BACKGROUND

On an appeal from a summary judgment order, an appellate court is held to the same ground rules that bound the trial court in the proceedings below: it must "construe the record and all reasonable inferences from it in favor of the nonmovant." Perez v. Volvo Car Corp., 247 F.3d 303, 310 (1st Cir. 2001). We rehearse the facts with this construct in mind. Because the reasonableness of Trooper Hainey's conclusion that he had probable cause to make an arrest is the axis of this appeal, we concentrate on the information available to him at the time of the arrest.

Our saga starts in Norway, Maine. Members of the Norway police department arrested Joseph Cox, the appellant's fifteen-year-old son, for alleged involvement in a series of snowmobile thefts that occurred during the winter of 2000-2001. In the course of the ensuing investigation, an informant volunteered that Joseph had sold drugs to high school students. The informant expressed a willingness to participate in a controlled buy, and the local gendarmes arranged a sting. The Maine State Police were asked to assist.

On April 28, 2001--all dates are in that year unless otherwise indicated--the informant, fitted with an electronic listening device, drove to the appellant's residence in Woodstock, Maine. Hainey and a local police officer followed in a second vehicle. Once there, the informant went inside and purchased four tablets of Roxicodone (a non-time-released version of Oxycontin) from Joseph Cox. Hainey, who listened to the conversation by transmitter, overheard Joseph tell the informant that his father recently had returned from a "drug run" to North Carolina and that he could have his father procure "an eighth of marijuana" for future purchase.

Based on what he knew to that point, Hainey obtained a warrant to search the Cox home for scheduled drugs, drug paraphernalia, and kindred items related to furnishing or trafficking in drugs. Hainey and other officers conducted the search on the morning of May 9. In Joseph's bedroom, they found two Roxicodone tablets and drug paraphernalia. In the kitchen, they found a triple-beam scale with marijuana

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residue, a bottle containing sixty-five Roxicodone tablets, and an empty Roxicodone bottle. The appellant was present during the search. He told the officers that the Roxicodone had been legally prescribed for his back condition, that he never had provided pills to his son or to anyone else (but, rather, had kept them on his person at all times except while sleeping), and that he had called his pharmacist on April 21 because he was concerned that a few of his pills were missing.

Later that morning, Trooper Hainey consulted with Richard Beauchesne, an assistant district attorney. The two reviewed the evidence obtained during the search; discussed whether that evidence, together with the information previously known to Hainey, amounted to probable cause to arrest the appellant; and agreed that it did. Hainey then made the arrest. The appellant was booked and released on bail that day. The bail bond indicated that his arrest had been for aggravated furnishing of a schedule W drug.1 See Me.Rev.Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A, §§ 1105-C(1) (A) (1), 1106. After some jockeying, see supra note 1, the assistant attorney general assigned to the case determined that he would not issue a complaint.

Once all charges had been dropped, the appellant filed suit in a Maine state court against various officers and entities. He alleged, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the named defendants had violated his constitutional rights and, in the bargain, had committed a variety of tortious acts. The defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Maine. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, 1446.

The sole count relevant to this appeal charges that Hainey violated the appellant's Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause (for simplicity's sake, we eschew any reference to other defendants and claims). When Hainey moved for summary judgment on that count, the district court referred the matter to a magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1) (B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The magistrate judge recommended that the count proceed to trial.

Hainey lodged a timely objection to the recommendation. Upon de novo review, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), the district court rejected the magistrate judge's view and found Hainey entitled to qualified immunity on the ground that an objectively reasonable police officer could have understood that there was probable cause to arrest the appellant. Cox v. Me. State Police, 324 F.Supp.2d 128, 135 (D.Me.2004). Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment in Hainey's favor. Id. at 130. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

The appellant asseverates that Hainey was not entitled to qualified immunity and, therefore, that the district court erred in granting summary judgment. After limning the standard of review and the doctrinal hereditaments appurtenant to qualified immunity, we proceed to determine whether Hainey was deserving of sanctuary.

A. Standard of Review.

We afford plenary review to the district court's disposition of a summary judgment motion. Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc.,

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895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 1990). We will affirm a grant of summary judgment as long as the record demonstrates "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 conducting this tamisage, we "utiliz[e] the same criteria as the trial court," drawing all reasonable inferences from the record in the nonmovant's favor. Acosta v. Ames Dep't Stores, Inc., 386 F.3d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 2004). A decision to affirm a summary judgment order may be grounded on any rationale revealed by the record, whether or not the lower court employed that rationale. Houlton Citizens' Coalition v. Town of Houlton, 175 F.3d 178, 184 (1st Cir. 1999).

In this instance, the appellant abjures any claim that a trialworthy factual dispute exists. He nonetheless insists that the undisputed facts do not sustain the qualified immunity defense and, thus, as a matter of law, do not entitle Hainey to summary judgment. This posture is important because, in the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, a defendant's right to qualified immunity presents a question of law. Rivera v. Murphy, 979 F.2d 259, 261 (1st Cir. 1992).

B. The Legal Landscape.

Before plunging into the qualified immunity inquiry, we deem it useful to marshal the general principles that steer that inquiry. The appellant sues under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which imposes liability upon an individual who, acting under color of state law, deprives a person of federally guaranteed rights. Camilo-Robles v. Hoyos, 151 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1998). Withal, a public actor's liability under section 1983 "is not absolute: the doctrine of qualified immunity provides a safe harbor for a wide range of mistaken judgments." Hatch v. Dep't for Children, Youth & Their Families, 274 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2001); see also Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). This strain of immunity aspires to "balance [the] desire to compensate those whose rights are infringed by state actors with an equally compelling desire to shield public servants from undue interference with the performance of their duties and from threats of liability which, though unfounded, may nevertheless be unbearably disruptive." Buenrostro v. Collazo, 973 F.2d 39, 42 (1st Cir. 1992). In that way, the doctrine of qualified immunity protects public officials from civil liability "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73...

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