530 F.2d 1210 (5th Cir. 1976), 74--3435, Bryan v. Jones

Docket Nº:74--3435.
Citation:530 F.2d 1210
Party Name:Henry Lee BRYAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Clarence JONES, Sheriff, Henry Wade, District Attorney, Fidelity & Deposit Co.& Lena Giddens, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:April 30, 1976
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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530 F.2d 1210 (5th Cir. 1976)

Henry Lee BRYAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Clarence JONES, Sheriff, Henry Wade, District Attorney,

Fidelity & Deposit Co.& Lena Giddens, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 74--3435.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 30, 1976

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Earl Luna, Thomas V. Murto, III, Dallas Tex., for Jones.

Alan Wilson, Dallas, Tex., for Fidelity & Deposit Co.

Gerald Weatherly, Asst. Dist. Atty., Dallas, Tex., for other interested parties.

Douglas R. Larson, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.


LEWIS R. MORGAN, Circuit Judge:

Henry Lee Bryan brought this § 1983 1 damage action based on a theory of false imprisonment against Dallas County Sheriff Clarence Jones, Sheriff Jones's surety, Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, and Lena Giddens, an employee in the District Attorney's office. Following a jury trial, he was awarded a $40,000 judgment against Sheriff Jones and his surety. Jones appealed, challenging the exclusion of certain evidence relevant to damages and the denial of a proposed jury instruction that would have allowed consideration of a good faith defense. The original panel remanded the case for retrial of the damages issue, but ruled that a good faith defense is not available in a case of this nature, 5th Cir., 519 F.2d 44. We granted an en banc hearing of this case to reconsider the issue of good faith defenses in § 1983 actions based on false imprisonment. Concluding that a defense of reasonable good faith may be raised, we reverse.


Plaintiff Henry Lee Bryan was arrested on February 7, 1972, in Tampa, Florida, on charges of theft of an automobile in Dallas, Texas. Bryan waived extradition and was brought to the Dallas County jail where he was incarcerated on February 15, 1972. He was held on authority of arrest warrant No. 81932 until he was indicted by the Dallas County Grand Jury on February 14, 1972. The number assigned to the indictment was C--72--1048--J.

In accordance with established procedures, Lena Giddens, an employee in the Dallas County District Attorney's office,

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prepared a weekly list of persons indicted by the grand jury and forwarded it to the jail. The grand jury report of February 14, 1972, listed Henry Lee Bryan with the proper indictment number C--72--1048--J, but showed that indictment to correspond with arrest warrant No. 5772. The listing of that warrant number was a typographical error; it should have appeared with the name of another prisoner, Artie B. Bryant. On the basis of this grand jury report, the jail updated its records for Bryan adding the correct indictment number and the incorrect warrant number to its existing record of the original warrant.

As a result of a polygraph test which verified Bryan's story that he had been hired as a driver and had no idea that the car was stolen, the District Attorney moved to dismiss charges under indictment C--72--1048--J, and the motion was granted on March 3, 1972. The clerk of the criminal district court prepared a 'Notice of Disposition of a Felony Case' on that same day, though it is unclear whether it was delivered on that day or on March 13, 1972. In addition, the clerk's office prepared and delivered a release notice on March 6, 1972, based upon issuance of a personal bond.

Despite receiving these notices, the Sheriff did not release Bryan, because the records still indicated that he was being held on authority of warrant number 81932, which had never been properly cross-indexed to indictment C--72--1048--J. Bryan made several inquiries as to why he was still being held, but his efforts did not result in the correction of the records until April 7, 1972, the date of his release.

Bryan brought an action in the Northern District of Texas seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false imprisonment. The jury rendered a special verdict finding:

(1) Sheriff Jones failed to make a reasonable and timely investigation of his legal authority to imprison Bryan after March 3, 1972.

(2) Lena Giddens was not negligent in the preparation of the grand jury report of February 14, 1972.

(3) The grand jury report of February 14, 1972 was the proximate cause of imprisonment of Bryan after March 3, 1972.

(4) It could reasonably be anticipated by the District Attorney's office that the Sheriff's office would rely on the grand jury report of February 14, 1972, listing the case number and warrant number of the criminal charges pending against the plaintiff Bryan.

(5) The Sheriff's office did rely on that grand jury report.

(6) The District Attorney or his employees were negligent in not advising the Sheriff that he had no authority to detain Bryan after March 3, 1972.

(7) The failure to so advise the Sheriff was the proximate cause of Bryan's imprisonment.

(8) $40,000 would fairly and reasonably compensate Bryan for: (a) physical pain suffered after March 3, (b) mental anguish suffered after March 3, and (c) physical discomfort suffered by the plaintiff while in jail from March 3, 1972, to his release on April 7, 1972.

(9) None of the defendants acted recklessly, or willfully and maliciously, and with a design to oppress and injure Bryan.

The trial court granted judgment on the verdict of $40,000 against Sheriff Clarence Jones, but denied judgment against either District Attorney Henry Wade or against Lena Giddens. Sheriff Jones appealed charging error in failing to instruct the jury that good faith was a defense to the charge of false imprisonment and that it was error for the court to refuse to permit proof of Bryan's prior imprisonment as evidence relevant to the issue of the amount of damages suffered.


In Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187, 81 S.Ct. 473, 484, 5 L.Ed.2d 492, 505 (1961), the Supreme Court held that § 1983 'should be read against the background of tort liability that makes a

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man responsible for the natural consequences of his actions.' The Court elaborated on this in Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 556--57, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1218--1219, 18 L.Ed.2d 288, 295--296 (1967), ruling that the background of tort liability includes, not only the elements of the tort, but also the various common law defenses to tort liability. 2 We must, therefore, evaluate the appropriateness of the proposed instruction in this case in light of the possible relevancy of good faith to establishing either the elements of the underlying tort of false imprisonment or the elements of the affirmative defense of official immunity.

Turning first to the elements of a prima facie case, we are confronted by Whirl v. Kern, 407 F.2d 781 (5th Cir. 1968), cert. denied,396 U.S. 901, 90 S.Ct. 210, 24 L.Ed.2d 177 (1969), upon which the original panel and the trial court relied. In that case, we surveyed the law of false imprisonment and concluded that intent to imprison without legal authority need not be proved as an element of the prima facie case. 3 The elements of the prima facie case are: (1) intent to confine, (2) acts resulting in confinement, and (3) consciousness of the victim of confinement or resulting harm. Restatement, Second, Torts § 35 (1965). Thus, a prima facie case is made out against a jailer even when he believes he has legal authority to detain a prisoner. Accordingly, whatever impact his good faith has, it must be as an element of a defense.


Whirl v. Kern also spoke to the issue of official immunity. Jailers, unlike policemen, 4 were held not to be immune because their jobs are ministerial in nature and do not present the split second decisions of an arresting officer. 407 F.2d at 792. Our subsequent decisions on false imprisonment along with the Supreme Court cases on official immunity, however, cast considerable doubt on the wisdom or continued vitality of that decision.

The Supreme Court held, in Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 243, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1689, 40 L.Ed.2d 90, 100 (1974), that official immunity, in its absolute common law form could not be reconciled with § 1983, which was enacted for the very purpose of creating a cause of action against government officials. 5 Nevertheless, like police officers who can plead good faith and probable cause as a defense to false arrest, 6 other governmental officials cannot function in an atmosphere that holds them liable for merely carrying out their duties. The Court held that

in varying scope, a qualified immunity is available to officers of the executive branch of government, the variation being dependent upon the scope of discretion and responsibilities of the office and all the circumstances as they reasonably appeared at the time of the action on which liability is sought to be based. It is the existence of reasonable grounds for the belief formed at the time and in light of all the circumstances, coupled with good-faith belief that affords a basis for qualified immunity of executive officers for acts performed in the course of official conduct. 416 U.S. at 247--48, 94 S.Ct. at 1692, 40 L.Ed.2d at 103.

This standard of a qualified good faith immunity was clarified and elaborated upon in Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S.

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308, 95 S.Ct. 992, 43 L.Ed.2d 214 (1975), 7 a suit against school administrators and school board members. The Court held that the appropriate standard contains both a subjective element of good faith and an objective element of reasonableness. Consequently, while school officials could not be held responsible for incorrectly predicting the future course of constitutional law, they could not ignore clearly established rights merely by having acted in good faith.

Most recently, in O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975), a case involving alleged...

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