639 F.3d 1206 (9th Cir. 2011), 09-17188, Garcia v. County of Merced
|Docket Nº:||09-17188, 09-17189.|
|Citation:||639 F.3d 1206|
|Opinion Judge:||TROTT, Circuit Judge:|
|Party Name:||John GARCIA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. COUNTY OF MERCED; John Taylor, Merced County Deputy Sheriff, Defendants-Appellants, and Merced County Sheriff's Department; Merced County District Attorney's Office; Gordon Spencer, District Attorney; Alfredo Cardwood, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Special Agent Supervisor, Defendants. John Garcia, Plaintiff-Ap|
|Attorney:||Michael Woods and Christina C. Tillman, McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth, LLP, Fresno, CA; Roger Matzkind, Chief Civil Litigator, County of Merced, Merced, CA, for the defendant-appellants. John Garcia, Law Office of John Garcia, Merced, CA; Norman Newhouse, Redwood City, CA, for the...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: JOHN T. NOONAN, DIARMUID F. O'SCANNLAIN, and STEPHEN S. TROTT, Circuit Judges.|
|Case Date:||May 05, 2011|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit|
Argued and Submitted Feb. 15, 2011.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Oliver W. Wanger, Senior District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 1:07-cv-00867-OWW-DLB.
Defendants Alfredo Cardwood and John Taylor (the " Officers" ) interlocutorily appeal the district court's denial of qualified immunity from John Garcia's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Fourth Amendment claims against them. Garcia's Fourth Amendment claims and his state law false imprisonment claim arose out of his arrest on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the Merced County Jail to one of his clients, Alfonso Robledo, and from a subsequent search, supported by a search warrant, of his office.1 We reverse and remand for entry of judgment in favor of the Officers.
A. Standard of Review
We review de novo a grant of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Elder v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 510, 516, 114 S.Ct. 1019, 127 L.Ed.2d 344 (1994). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, 574 F.3d 696, 701 (9th Cir.2009). " When a police officer asserts qualified immunity, we apply a two-part analysis...." Torres v. City of Los Angeles, 548 F.3d 1197, 1210 (9th Cir.2008). The first question is whether " the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). The second question is whether the right was " clearly established." Id. at 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151. In determining whether a right was " clearly established," the court considers whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Id.
Moreover, as the Supreme Court elaborated in Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987), " it is inevitable that law enforcement officials will in some cases reasonably but mistakenly conclude that probable cause is present, and we have indicated that in such cases those officials— like other officials who act in ways they reasonably believe to be lawful— should not be held personally liable." Id. at 641, 107 S.Ct. 3034 (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 344-345, 106 S.Ct. 1092, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986)). To subject such officials to the " fear of
personal monetary liability and harassing litigation" carries with it the " substantial social costs" of unduly inhibiting them in the discharge of their official duties. Anderson, 483 U.S. at 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034.
B. Probable Cause to Arrest
Probable cause to arrest exists when officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to lead a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person being arrested. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964). For information to amount to probable cause, it does not have to be conclusive of guilt, and it does not have to exclude the possibility of innocence, a distinction which the district court overlooked. United States v. Lopez, 482 F.3d 1067, 1072 (9th Cir.2007). As we said in Lopez, police are not required " to believe to an absolute certainty, or by clear and convincing evidence, or even by a preponderance of the available evidence" that a suspect has committed a crime. Id. at 1078. All that is required is a " fair probability," given the totality of the evidence, that such is the case. Id. Considering the facts in the light most favorable to Garcia, we conclude that Officers Cardwood and Taylor reasonably concluded that there existed sufficient probable cause to arrest Garcia.
C. The Investigation
Robert Plunkett, a jailhouse informant incarcerated on charges of theft, described in detail to law enforcement an elaborate method of smuggling methamphetamine into the Merced County Jail. According to the informant, one of his fellow inmates, Alfonso Robledo, told him he had an attorney, identified as Garcia, who was prepared to accept drugs from the...
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