Davis v. Williams, 05-13373.

Decision Date07 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-13373.,05-13373.
Citation451 F.3d 759
PartiesDonovan George DAVIS, Diana Eleise Davis, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Sheriff Phillip B. WILLIAMS, Deputy Edward Becht, Defendants-Appellees, Jon Doe 1, a deputy who is not known at this time, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Paul E. Bross, Bross, Bross, Thomas, Mays & Wilson, Merritt Island, FL, for Donovan and Diana Davis.

Christine H. Davis, DeBevoise & Poulton, P.A., San Diego, CA, Donald Andrew DeBevoise, Thoms W. Poulton, Gregory Ackerman, DeBevoise & Poulton, P.A., Winter Park, FL, for Defendants-Appellees.

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

Before TJOFLAT, BARKETT and HILL, Circuit Judges.

BARKETT, Circuit Judge:

Donovan Davis ("Davis") and his wife Diana Davis appeal a summary judgment order in favor of Deputy Edward Becht and Sheriff Phillip Williams. Donovan Davis sued Becht alleging that Becht falsely arrested him for obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct and used excessive force to do so in violation of the Fourth Amendment and various Florida state laws.1 Davis also sued Williams, alleging that Williams was liable for Becht's actions under the Florida state law theory of respondeat superior and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for instituting policies that contributed to or caused Davis' injuries. Diana Davis' sole cause of action in the amended complaint (asserted solely against Becht) was a Florida state claim for a loss of consortium.

The district court ruled that Becht was entitled to qualified immunity, concluding, inter alia, that Becht did not falsely arrest Davis because there was a sufficient showing of probable cause to make the arrest.2 As to Davis' excessive force claim, the court ruled that the force Becht used to effectuate the arrest was de minimis. The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of Williams because there was no underlying wrongful act or constitutional violation for which he could be held liable.3 For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages 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 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). Because there is no dispute that Deputy Becht was performing his discretionary functions as a deputy, the burden shifts to Davis to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002).

Qualified immunity is a two-part inquiry set forth in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). First we ask, "[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Id. If, assuming the plaintiff's allegations were true, no such right would have been violated, the analysis is complete. However, if a constitutional violation can be made out on the plaintiff's facts, we then must determine "whether, at the time of the incident, every objectively reasonable police officer would have realized the acts violated already clearly established federal law." Garrett v. Athens-Clarke County, 378 F.3d 1274, 1278-79 (11th Cir.2004) (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201-02, 121 S.Ct. 2151). "This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful. . . but it is to say that in the light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002) (citation omitted). "[O]fficials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances. . . . Although earlier cases involving `fundamentally similar' facts can provide especially strong support for a conclusion that the law is clearly established, they are not necessary to such a finding." Id. at 741, 122 S.Ct. 2508. In the context of a claim for false arrest, an officer is entitled to qualified immunity where that officer had "arguable probable cause," that is, where "reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the Defendants could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest" the plaintiff. Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1232 (11th Cir.2004) (quoting Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 579 (11th Cir. 1990)).

To determine whether arguable probable cause exists, courts must look to the totality of the circumstances. At the summary judgment stage, courts view the totality of the circumstances in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Skrtich v. Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1299 (11th Cir.2002); Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d 1272, 1277 (11th Cir.2005). That is, courts must construe the facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and "when conflicts arise between the facts evidenced by the parties, we credit the nonmoving party's version." Evans, 407 F.3d at 1278. Even though the "`facts,' as accepted at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings, may not be the `actual' facts of the case," Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, 208 F.3d 919, 925 n. 3 (11th Cir.2000), our analysis for purposes of summary judgment must begin with a description of the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Skrtich, 280 F.3d at 1299.


The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Davis, reflect the following. On the evening of Davis' arrest, the Davises were hosting a "family get-together." At one point, Davis noticed flashing police lights outside his house. Concerned that some family members who had not yet arrived may have been in an accident, he went outside to investigate. He walked down his driveway, Davis Lane, which is approximately 1,000 feet long, towards the police lights. Unbeknownst to Davis, Deputy Becht and Deputy Barrett Bright were conducting a traffic stop. The deputies had initiated the stop at the street connecting to Davis Lane, and followed the vehicle onto Davis Lane, where it came to a stop 250 feet from Davis' front door.

As Davis approached the deputies,4 with his hands in the air, the following exchanged occurred:

Davis: Officer I'm the homeowner. What's the problem.

Becht: Get away from here.

Davis: Officer, I live here.

Becht: Leave now.

Davis asked "what's wrong," but nonetheless, "turn[ed] away and . . . walk[ed] up to the concrete" closer to his house. He noticed, however, that the police car was blocking Davis Lane, forcing cars to drive onto another part of his property, which ended in an unlit lake. Believing this to be dangerous, Davis asked Becht if Davis could direct traffic to avoid possible accidents involving the lake. Becht's response was: "Leave now or I'll arrest you." When Davis asked Becht why he would be arrested, Becht again ordered him to leave. Davis turned toward the house, but asked if he could speak with Becht's superior and one of Davis' guests asked for Becht's badge number.5 Becht's response again was to tell Davis that if he continued to say anything, he would be arrested. Accordingly, Davis started toward the house. At that point, with Davis' back to Becht and Davis heading toward the house, Becht and Bright grabbed Davis from behind, twisted his arms behind his back and handcuffed him. Davis tried to tell Becht that he had an injured shoulder and was in pain. Becht's response was to push his arm "hard way up," causing greater pain. Davis was then handcuffed, and forced to the ground by Becht pushing on his bad shoulder.

Becht dragged Davis to the police car, which was a canine unit, and forced him down on the ground again, while pulling hard on his shoulder. In the meantime, Bright pulled the police dog out of its cage in the back of the unit and Becht dragged, pushed or threw Davis very hard into the dog cage causing him to hit his head on the top of the car as he entered.6 Still handcuffed, Davis slid across the bottom of the cage, hit his head and shoulder on the opposite side of the cage and had to lie down on the metal floor of the cage. Davis was then driven in the cage, not to the police station, but to a nearby parking lot to wait for another vehicle to transport him to the police station. After the incident, Davis' neck and thumb were swollen, and he could not move his arms. He was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, for which he underwent a surgical repair.


The district court found that there was sufficient probable cause and, thus, arguable probable cause.7 On appeal, Davis argues that the district court's opinion must be reversed because the district court improperly resolved factual disputes against Davis and ignored material facts crucial to his case. Davis argues that the facts set forth above, viewed under the correct legal standard, reflect a violation of a clearly established constitutional right such that Becht did not have even arguable probable cause to arrest him.8


Whether there was arguable probable cause to arrest Davis depends upon what amounts to probable cause under Florida law for obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct. Obstruction of justice is codified in Florida Statute § 843.02, which provides:

Whoever shall resist, obstruct, or oppose any officer . . . in the execution of legal process or in the lawful execution of any legal duty, without offering or doing violence to the person of the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree . . . .

Fla. Stat. § 843.02. To support a conviction pursuant to § 843.02, the state must prove: "(1) the officer was engaged in the...

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