Gross v. Pirtle, 00-2130

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtTacha
Citation245 F.3d 1151
Parties(10th Cir. 2001) WILLIAM GROSS, PLAINTIFF - APPELLEE, v. DEPUTY QUENT PIRTLE AND DONA ANA COUNTY, DEFENDANTS - APPELLANTS
Docket NumberNo. 00-2130,00-2130
Decision Date09 April 2001

Page 1151

245 F.3d 1151 (10th Cir. 2001)
WILLIAM GROSS, PLAINTIFF - APPELLEE,
v.
DEPUTY QUENT PIRTLE AND DONA ANA COUNTY, DEFENDANTS - APPELLANTS.
No. 00-2130
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS TENTH CIRCUIT
April 9, 2001

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO (D. Ct. No. CIV-99-802-RLP/LFG)

Page 1152

Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Cindy J. Lovato-Farmer, Narvaez Law Firm, Albuquerque, New Mexico, appearing for Appellants.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Albuquerque, New Mexico, appearing for Appellee.

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Before Tacha, Chief Judge, Kelly, Circuit Judge, and Lungstrum,* District Judge.

Tacha, Chief Judge.

The defendant appeals from the district court's order denying summary judgment based on the defense of qualified immunity. Because we lack jurisdiction, we dismiss the defendant's appeal of the district court's decision regarding the wrongful arrest claim, but we exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review and reverse the district court's decision regarding the excessive force claim. We remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

Based on the record, the relevant facts are as follows. At approximately 10:45 p.m. on November 13, 1998, Plaintiff William Gross was detained at a sobriety checkpoint. Mr. Gross admitted to consuming alcohol with dinner but passed a field sobriety test. Noticing Mr. Gross was driving a vehicle with a dealer license plate, Defendant Deputy Quent Pirtle then questioned him about the use of the dealer plate. Mr. Gross contends that he told Deputy Pirtle he owns a car dealership and was road testing the vehicle in accordance with New Mexico law. In addition, both parties acknowledge that Mr. Gross asked Deputy Pirtle to review a statute that, according to Mr. Gross, applied to his use of the dealer plate. Deputy Pirtle returned to his car and read the statute but concluded it did not support Mr. Gross's lawful use of the dealer plate.

Deputy Pirtle then asked Mr. Gross to sign a traffic citation for improper use of evidence of registration under section 66-8-2 of the New Mexico Code. According to Deputy Pirtle, he informed Mr. Gross that a signature was not an admission of guilt but Mr. Gross repeatedly objected to signing the citation. Eventually Mr. Gross did sign the citation, writing "under protest" under the signature line. The parties disagree about the subsequent details. Because Mr. Gross's signature on the citation did not resemble his signature on his driver's license, Deputy Pirtle contends that he asked Mr. Gross to sign another citation, which Mr. Gross refused to sign. Mr. Gross, however, claims he properly signed the citation using his initials as he signs all his business documents, and Deputy Pirtle did not ask him to sign a second citation.

In addition to refusing to sign the second citation, Deputy Pirtle claims Mr. Gross demanded an immediate appearance before a magistrate, which Deputy Pirtle explained would require a custodial arrest. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Pirtle arrested Mr. Gross under section 66-8-122 of the New Mexico Code, which authorizes a custodial arrest for a traffic violation upon the occurrence of one of the specified conditions, including an arrestee's request for an immediate appearance before a magistrate and an arrestee's refusal to "give his written promise to appear in court." N.M. Stat. Ann. § 66-8-122(A) & (F). During the course of the arrest, Mr. Gross contends that, although he did not resist arrest, Deputy Pirtle kicked him "very hard" in his foot, resulting in a bone spur injury.

Mr. Gross subsequently brought suit against Deputy Pirtle and Dona Ana County for various civil rights and tort violations of state and federal law. The only claims at issue on appeal are the Fourth Amendment claims against Deputy Pirtle. Mr. Gross argues that Deputy Pirtle violated his Fourth Amendment rights

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in unreasonably detaining and wrongfully arresting him. In addition, he claims Deputy Pirtle used excessive force during the arrest. In response to the defendants' summary judgment motion raising the defense of qualified immunity, the district court concluded genuine issues of material fact remain regarding the wrongful arrest and excessive force claims. The defendant Deputy Pirtle appeals the district court's denial of the summary judgment motion with respect to these two claims.

II. Standard of Review in Qualified Immunity Cases

Although actions for damages provide an important remedy for individuals injured by governmental officials' abuse of authority, such actions sometimes subject officials to costly and harassing litigation and potentially inhibit officials in performing their official duties. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 814 (1982). In order to balance these competing interests, courts recognize the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, which protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The Supreme Court has emphasized the broad protection qualified immunity affords, giving officials "a right, not merely to avoid `standing trial,' but also to avoid the burdens of `such pretrial matters as discovery.'" Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 308 (1996) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). Consequently, courts should resolve the "purely legal question," Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232 (1991), raised by a qualified immunity defense "`at the earliest possible stage in litigation.'" Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir. 1995) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991)).

We review the denial of a summary judgment motion raising qualified immunity questions de novo. Wilson v. Meeks, 52 F.3d 1547, 1551 (10th Cir. 1995) [hereinafter Wilson I]; Bella v. Chamberlain, 24 F.3d 1251, 1254 (10th Cir. 1994). Because of the underlying purposes of qualified immunity, we review summary judgment orders deciding qualified immunity questions differently from other summary judgment decisions. Nelson v. McMullen, 207 F.3d 1202, 1205-06 (10th Cir. 2000). After a defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, the burden shifts to the plaintiff. Scull v. New Mexico, 236 F.3d 588, 595 (10th Cir. 2000); Adkins v. Rodriguez, 59 F.3d 1034, 1036 (10th Cir. 1995). Applying the same standards as the district court, we must determine whether the plaintiff has satisfied a "heavy two-part burden." Albright, 51 F.3d at 1534; accord Wilson I, 52 F.3d at 1552.1 The plaintiff must first establish "that the defendant's actions violated a constitutional or statutory right." Albright, 51 F.3d at 1534; see also Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999) (noting the court

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must first decide whether the plaintiff has alleged deprivation of a constitutional...

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