Horne v. Crozier, 19536

Decision Date04 June 1997
Docket NumberNo. 19536,19536
Citation565 N.W.2d 50,1997 SD 65
PartiesWilliam B. HORNE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Brian CROZIER, individually and as an employee of the City of Sioux Falls, and City of Sioux Falls, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtSouth Dakota Supreme Court

Eugene J. Irons, Sioux Falls, for plaintiff and appellant.

Gary P. Thimsen of Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, Sioux Falls, for defendants and appellees.

KONENKAMP, Justice.

¶1 This case raises the question whether a police officer violates a citizen's civil rights for "gross negligence" in fastening handcuffs too tight. After a traffic stop, William B. Horne was arrested for driving with license revoked and DUI. Contending the handcuffs caused permanent disability, Horne sued Officer Brian Crozier and the City of Sioux Falls. The circuit court granted summary judgment for defendants, and we affirm, finding the purported wrongdoing insufficient to establish a Fourth Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Facts

¶2 On May 5, 1991, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Horne, a California resident, was driving down Sixth Street in Sioux Falls. When Crozier stopped him for speeding, he learned Horne's license had been revoked. Crozier had him perform some field sobriety tests. Following a preliminary breath test, Horne was arrested for DUI and taken to McKennan Hospital to have a blood sample drawn. During the trip, Horne claims his handcuffs were so tight he suffered excruciating pain, but Crozier ignored his pleas to loosen them. Horne believes they remained in the patrol car for an unduly long time, protracting his torment.

¶3 When they arrived at McKennan, a nurse drew a sample of Horne's blood: the alcohol level later tested at .10 percent, according to Horne. In his affidavit and deposition, Horne said the nurse remarked to the officer that Horne's wrists were injured, but Crozier disregarded her suggestion for treatment. Horne was then recuffed, even more tightly than before, he asserts, and taken to the Minnehaha County Jail, booked for DUI and released on bond. As there were no factual submissions from defendants, including no deposition or affidavit from either Crozier or the nurse, Horne's version rests uncontradicted. 1

¶4 On May 20, 1991, Horne pled guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving. He eventually underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition caused by the handcuffs, according to Dr. Alan Greenwald, Horne's treating physician in California. In June 1992, Horne brought this action, averring false arrest and excessive force. Defendants promptly answered, but the case languished, enduring four attorney changes by Horne and unexplained delays in discovery. 2 Defendants moved for summary judgment or, in the alternative, dismissal for failure to prosecute. In a hearing on December 28, 1995, the court granted summary judgment for defendants.

Standard of Review

¶5 Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." SDCL 15-6-56(c); Ford v. Moore, 1996 SD 112, p 7, 552 N.W.2d 850, 852. If no issues of material fact exist, and legal questions have been correctly decided, we will affirm. City of Lennox v. Mitek Industries, Inc., 519 N.W.2d 330, 332 (S.D.1994); Bego v. Gordon, 407 N.W.2d 801, 804 (S.D.1987). All reasonable inferences drawn from the facts must be construed in favor of the nonmoving party, Rehm v. Lenz, 1996 SD 51, p 9, 547 N.W.2d 560, 564, while the moving party must show the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Wilson v. Great N. Ry. Co., 83 S.D. 207, 212, 157 N.W.2d 19, 21 (1968). If the circuit court reaches the right conclusion for the wrong reason, we will nonetheless affirm. Kehn v. Hoeksema, 524 N.W.2d 879, 881 (S.D.1994); City of Sioux Falls v. Miller, 492 N.W.2d 116, 118 (S.D.1992) (citations omitted). In fact, affirmance is suitable if any legal basis exists to support the court's decision. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. v. Schilling, 520 N.W.2d 884, 886 (S.D.1994); Waddell v. Dewey County Bank, 471 N.W.2d 591, 593 (S.D.1991) (citations omitted). Summary judgment is a preferred process to dispose of meritless claims. See Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993)(citing Janklow v. Viking Press, 378 N.W.2d 875, 877 (S.D.1985)). Our Highest Court considers summary judgment a venerable device in the pursuit of justice:

Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action."

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 276 (1986) (citations omitted).

¶6 The circuit court found both the officer and the City were protected by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a legal question to be decided by the court; thus, it is particularly amenable to summary judgment. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 536, 116 L.Ed.2d 589, 595 (1991)(per curiam). The Supreme Court has emphasized that "because '[t]he entitlement is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability,' Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2815, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985), we repeatedly have stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Id. To find whether qualified immunity applies, the test is to ask if the officer's conduct violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights a reasonable officer would have known at the time. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396, 410 (1982); see also Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 639, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3038, 97 L.Ed.2d 523, 530 (1987); Gainor v. Rogers, 973 F.2d 1379, 1382 (8thCir.1992). This "objective legal reasonableness" standard means "[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039, 97 L.Ed.2d at 531; Hafner v. Delano, 520 N.W.2d 587, 591 (S.D.1994). Qualified immunity is a personal defense. Hafner, 520 N.W.2d at 591. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991).

¶7 Law enforcement officers will be shielded by qualified immunity if (1) their conduct violates no clearly established constitutional or statutory rights; or (2) it is objectively reasonable for them to believe their acts did not violate those rights. Anderson, 483 U.S. at 638-39, 107 S.Ct. at 3038, 97 L.Ed.2d at 530; Hafner, 520 N.W.2d at 591 (quoting Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039, 97 L.Ed.2d at 531); Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d at 410; Gainor, 973 F.2d at 1384 ("This [analysis] allows ample room for a good faith mistake by the officer since his conduct must be measured in terms of the belief of a reasonable officer based upon the facts then available to the officer.").

Analysis and Decision

¶8 On appeal, Horne urges our attention to several issues: (1) Officer Crozier falsely arrested him as there was no probable cause; (2) the officer's gross negligence produced a genuine § 1983 action for excessive force; and (3) the court should have granted his motion for partial summary judgment on liability.

¶9 1. Unlawful Arrest

¶10 Horne asserts Crozier lacked probable cause to arrest him. To support his position, he recites a succession of legal defects surrounding his arrest, including: he was not speeding; his DUI arrest lacked probable cause; he performed well on the field sobriety tests; and it was improper for the officer to require a blood test after the breathalyzer revealed the presence of minimal alcohol. Regardless, all these points became footless once Horne pled guilty to reckless driving. A plea of guilty forestalls any later claim in a § 1983 action that an arrest lacked probable cause. Malady v. Crunk, 902 F.2d 10, 11-12 (8thCir.1990). See generally Broughton v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310, 315 (1975), cert. denied 423 U.S. 929, 96 S.Ct. 277, 46 L.Ed.2d 257 (1975)(a conviction is "conclusive evidence of probable cause"). Persons who believe they have been unlawfully arrested must persevere to acquittal or outright dismissal to maintain a valid § 1983 action for false arrest. Roesch v. Otarola, 980 F.2d 850, 853 (2dCir.1992). Under South Dakota law, a plea, once given, waives all complaints about nonjurisdictional defects. Two Eagle v. Leapley, 522 N.W.2d 765, 768 (S.D.1994); State v. Crow, 504 N.W.2d 336, 338-39 (S.D.1993); State v. Anderson, 417 N.W.2d 403, 405 (S.D.1988); State v. Grosh, 387 N.W.2d 503, 506 (S.D.1986). "A plea is intelligent and voluntary when the accused has a full understanding of his constitutional rights and, having the understanding, waives them." Two Eagle, 522 N.W.2d at 768 (citing Petrilli v. Leapley, 491 N.W.2d 79, 82 (S.D.1992)). Horne never argues his reckless driving plea, which arose from the same facts as the DUI charge, was the product of misunderstanding, coercion or lack of knowledge. He admits he wanted to finish the case so he could return to San Francisco to attend to another legal matter. Horne pled guilty to a charge stemming from the very arrest he claims was defective and, in so doing, waived lack of probable cause as a basis for suit under § 1983.

¶11 2. Gross Negligence and Excessive Force

¶12 In his complaint, Horne alleges, "Defendant Crozier with gross negligence used such excessive force in handcuffing Plaintiff's wrists ... which gross negligence resulted in Defendant's unreasonable seizure.... As a direct and proximate result of Defendant's foregoing specified gross negligence...

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