71 F.3d 480 (3rd Cir. 1995), 94-5757, Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police

Docket Nº:94-5757.
Citation:71 F.3d 480
Party Name:Arnold ORSATTI, Jr. and Rebecca Orsatti, Appellees, v. NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE; David V. Brody, Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Jersey; Joseph Guzzardo, New Jersey State Police Officer; Robert Kirvay, New Jersey State Police Officer; Albert Black; and Clinton L. Pagano, Former Superintendent of New Jersey State Police, Robert Kirvay and
Case Date:November 22, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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Page 480

71 F.3d 480 (3rd Cir. 1995)

Arnold ORSATTI, Jr. and Rebecca Orsatti, Appellees,

v.

NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE; David V. Brody, Deputy Attorney

General of the State of New Jersey; Joseph Guzzardo, New

Jersey State Police Officer; Robert Kirvay, New Jersey

State Police Officer; Albert Black; and Clinton L. Pagano,

Former Superintendent of New Jersey State Police,

Robert Kirvay and Joseph Guzzardo, Appellants.

No. 94-5757.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

November 22, 1995

Argued Sept. 20, 1995.

Page 481

Carl Greenberg (argued) and Darryl Beckman, Budd, Larner, Gross, Rosenbaum, Greenberg & Sade, Short Hills, NJ, for Appellant Robert Kirvay.

George F. Kugler (argued) and John C. Connell, Archer & Greiner, Haddonfield, NJ, for Appellant Joseph Guzzardo.

Louis M. Barbone (argued) and Lynn Marie Handler, Jacobs & Barbone, Atlantic City, NJ, for Appellees Arnold Orsatti, Jr. and Rebecca Orsatti.

Before: BECKER and COWEN, Circuit Judges, and LANCASTER, District Judge. 1

OPINION OF THE COURT

LANCASTER, District Judge.

This case arises under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Plaintiff-appellee, Arnold Orsatti, Jr., alleges that he was arrested without probable cause in violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. Defendant-appellants, New Jersey State Police Officers Robert Kirvay and Joseph Guzzardo, appeal from the district court's order denying their joint motion for summary judgment. The officers contend that the district court erred because they are shielded from Orsatti's claim by the doctrine of qualified immunity.

Because we find that the undisputed material facts of record establish that it was objectively reasonable for the officers to conclude that they had probable cause to arrest Orsatti, we hold that the officers are immune from Orsatti's claim. Accordingly, we reverse.

I.

The complete factual and procedural background of this case is considerably more complex than the court's treatment here. What follows, however, are those facts and procedures material to the issue on appeal.

In December of 1988, New Jersey State Police began an investigation, named "Operation Comserv," into alleged bribery, corruption, and other misconduct by Atlantic City, New Jersey public officials. Officers Kirvay and Guzzardo were in charge of the investigation; however, the principal operative was Albert Black, a government confidential informant. The investigation culminated on July 27, 1989, with the arrest of eight individuals, including Orsatti.

Orsatti and the others were arrested pursuant to criminal complaints and warrants issued by the Superior Court of New Jersey. In the aggregate, these criminal complaints alleged a variety of corrupt acts. However, the complaint issued against Orsatti charged him only with official misconduct under N.J.Stat.Ann. 2C:30-2 and conspiracy to commit official misconduct under N.J.Stat.Ann. 2C:5-2, and the complaint related only to his role in attempting to acquire for Black a gift shop concession contract at the Atlantic City Airport. At the time of his arrest, Orsatti was an Atlantic City Councilman and Chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee.

Thereafter, a State Grand Jury returned indictments against each of those arrested. The Grand Jury indicted Orsatti for conspiracy to commit racketeering in violation of

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N.J.Stat.Ann. 2C:41-2(d) and conspiracy in violation of N.J.Stat.Ann. 2C:5-2. The case against all criminal defendants was called to trial on April 22, 1991. Following the close of the State's case, the trial judge granted a judgment of acquittal to Orsatti and several of the other criminal defendants. Eventually, the jury acquitted all of the remaining criminal defendants, save one, of the charges.

Thereafter, Orsatti filed this civil rights action. Orsatti's complaint is broad in scope and asserts claims under both federal and state law. Moreover, he challenges virtually every aspect of his investigation, arrest, and prosecution, and he names as defendants essentially every individual involved in Operation Comserv. In this appeal, however, we are only concerned with Orsatti's claim that Kirvay and Guzzardo violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures. Specifically, Orsatti alleged that the officers carried out Operation Comserv in a negligent and incompetent manner. Orsatti further alleged that the officers had neither probable cause to arrest him, nor an objective good faith belief that he was guilty of the offense charged.

At the close of discovery, Kirvay and Guzzardo filed a joint motion for summary judgment contending that they are entitled to judgment on Orsatti's unlawful arrest claim under the doctrine of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion and held that whether the officers were entitled to immunity rested upon disputed questions of fact that the jury had to resolve. This appeal followed.

II.

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 to review an order denying a claim of immunity raised by a defendant in a motion for summary judgment. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 524-30, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2814-18, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). The standard of review applicable to an order denying summary judgment is plenary, Bixler v. Central Pa. Teamsters Health & Welfare Fund, 12 F.3d 1292, 1297 (3d Cir.1993), and "[o]n review, the appellate court is required to apply the same test the district court should have utilized...

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