625 F.2d 499 (5th Cir. 1980), 78-2391, Marrero v. City of Hialeah

Docket Nº:78-2391.
Citation:625 F.2d 499
Party Name:Juan A. MARRERO and Maria Marrero, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF HIALEAH, etc. et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 04, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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625 F.2d 499 (5th Cir. 1980)

Juan A. MARRERO and Maria Marrero, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


CITY OF HIALEAH, etc. et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 78-2391.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 4, 1980

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Joseph C. Brannen, Miami, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Fowler, White, Burnett, Hurky, Banick & Knight, P. A., Miami, Fla., for City of Hialeah.

Fred R. Ober, Michael J. Murphy, Miami, Fla., Stuart Simon, Roy Wood, Ralph C. Rocheteau, III, Asst. County Attys., Miami, Fla., for Reno and Rashkind.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.


GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:

Juan and Maria Marrero appeal from the district court's dismissal, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, of their suit against the City of Hialeah, Florida, and two state prosecutors for alleged violations of their civil rights. Their appeal presents three questions relating to suits brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976). 1 We are asked to decide: (a) whether

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a state prosecutor is absolutely immune from liability for damages under § 1983 when he engages in unlawful conduct outside his quasi-judicial roles of initiating and conducting prosecutions; (b) whether the allegations of appellants' complaint are sufficient to state a claim against the municipality under § 1983 for the acts of its police officers; and (c) whether appellants' claim of injury to their personal and business reputations caused by persons acting under color of state law is actionable under § 1983.

I. Background

A. Allegations of the Complaint. Since appellants are appealing from the district court's dismissal of their suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, we accept as true the factual allegations of their complaint, together with such reasonable inferences as may be drawn therefrom in their favor. See, e. g., Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288 (5th Cir. 1977). The complaint alleges the following material facts.

On June 22, 1976, several officers of the Police Department of the City of Hialeah, Florida, executed a warrant authorizing a search for stolen items in a jewelry store operated by appellants and owned by a corporation of which appellants were the sole officers and shareholders. The police officers were accompanied by Paul Rashkind, Assistant State Attorney for Dade County, Florida. After their search uncovered none of the items listed in the warrant, the officers conferred with Rashkind, whereupon several victims of local robberies were brought to the store to aid in identification of stolen goods. Only one victim could identify any of the jewelry as stolen. She identified an item which was described in the search warrant as a "gold bracelet with brown stones," after which the officers again conferred with Rashkind and then seized almost the entire stock of jewelry on the premises and arrested appellants for receipt of stolen property in violation of Florida law.

This entire sequence of events was covered by representatives of all channels of the local television media, who had arrived at appellants' store simultaneously with the police officers and Rashkind. At the time of the arrests, the Hialeah Police Department and Rashkind announced to the media that over $75,000 in stolen property had been recovered in the raid and that appellants had been arrested.

Some time later, the Hialeah Police Department caused the issuance of an announcement in local newspapers and on local radio stations that the stolen property had been recovered from appellants' store and that victims of the robberies should come to the police station to identify their property. After the public had the opportunity to view the property, appellants were charged by information in state court with receipt of stolen property. The state court judge granted their motion to suppress all of the seized evidence, except for the gold bracelet. All of the suppressed items were subsequently returned to appellants, and, as of the date they filed their complaint, no further action had been taken against them.

B. Proceedings Below. On February 22, 1978, appellants brought this suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976), seeking damages against the City of Hialeah, Assistant State Attorney Rashkind, and Janet Reno, who was the State Attorney for Dade County, Florida, on the date the complaint was filed but not at the time of the events which form the basis of appellants' complaint. Appellants alleged that the City, through its agents, servants and employees, Rashkind, and Reno, "willfully and knowingly abused the Search and Seizure Laws of the United States" in violation of appellants' fourth amendments rights, and slandered appellants' personal and business reputations in violation of the fourteenth amendment. Appellants alleged that as a result of these actions, their personal and business reputations have been

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destroyed and they have been deprived of their right to earn a living.

On May 16, 1978, the district court dismissed appellants' suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Relying on Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961), the court held that the City of Hialeah was not subject to suit under § 1983, and, relying on Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976), the court held that Reno and Rashkind were absolutely immune from suit.

II. Issues on Appeal

On appeal, appellants contend that the district court erred in dismissing their suit against Rashkind since a prosecutor is not entitled to absolute immunity when he engages in activities of the kind alleged here. 2 With respect to the claims against the City, appellants contend that the case should be remanded with leave to amend their complaint in light of Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), which was decided after the district court entered its order of dismissal. Appellees oppose both of these contentions, and, in addition, argue that even if they are subject to suit, the claim of injury to appellants' personal and business reputations must be dismissed since it does not state a cause of action under § 1983.

  1. Prosecutorial Immunity

    The basis of the district court's dismissal of appellants' suit against Assistant State Attorney Rashkind was its interpretation of Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). In Imbler, the Supreme Court held that a state prosecutor is immune from damages liability under § 1983 for alleged civil rights violations committed in the course of "initiating a prosecution and presenting the State's case." Id. at 431, 96 S.Ct. at 995. The Court, however, expressly left open the question of whether the policies that mandate absolute immunity extend to "those aspects of the prosecutor's responsibility that cast him in the role of an administrator or investigative officer rather than that of an advocate." Id. at 430-31, 96 S.Ct. at 995.

    Today we have occasion to consider that question because, as we conclude infra, the prosecutorial activities complained of here do not fall within the sphere of quasi-judicial activity protected by Imbler. Before undertaking our inquiry, however, we set forth the basic principles from which we proceed.

    Since § 1983 by its very terms admits of no immunities, but rather imposes liability upon "every person" who, under color of state law, deprives another of his civil rights, courts are naturally loathe to clothe any person with an immunity which would frustrate the statute's design of providing vindication to those wronged by the misuse of state power. See Owen v. City of Independence, --- U.S. ----, ----, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1415, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 2908-11, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 243-48, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1690-92, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). Hence, immunities are extended to government officials only when "overriding considerations of public policy nonetheless deman(d) that the official be given a measure of protection from personal liability" to ensure his ability to function effectively. Owen v. City of Independence, supra, --- U.S. at ----, 100 S.Ct. at 1416; see Butz, supra, 98 S.Ct. at 2909; Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 320, 95 S.Ct. 992, 1000, 43 L.Ed.2d 214 (1975); Scheuer, supra, 416 U.S. at 243-47, 94 S.Ct. at 1690-92. Moreover, even when a measure of protection is given to an official, the policy in favor of protecting the individual's right to compensation normally mandates that only a qualified immunity be granted. See Butz, supra, 98 S.Ct. at 2909-11; Scheuer, supra, 416 U.S. at 248, 94 S.Ct. at 1692. Thus, only in

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    "exceptional situations" do the special functions of an official require the protection of an absolute shield from liability. See Butz, supra, 98 S.Ct. at 2911-12.

    Proceeding from these premises, we now turn to the question of the level of immunity to be accorded Rashkind. In conducting our inquiry, we are guided principally by the Supreme Court's analysis of the nature of prosecutorial immunity in Imbler, and its refinement of that analysis in its more recent decision on the doctrine of official immunity, Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978). 3

    In determining the level of immunity to which a prosecutor is entitled, the Supreme Court in Imbler rejected the approach of simply ascertaining whether the prosecutor was acting within the bounds of his authority. 4 Instead, the Court emphasized that the...

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