Kelly v. Curtis

Decision Date08 June 1994
Docket NumberNo. 92-8791,92-8791
PartiesJohn KELLY, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Steven CURTIS; Julie M. Gibson; J.R. Moore; Chatham County, GA, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Albert E. Clark, Linnie L. Darden, III, Savannah, GA, for defendants-appellants.

David Roberson, Randall A. Schmidt, Roberson & Schmidt, Savannah, GA, for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Before DUBINA and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and MORGAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

John Kelly spent a year in jail awaiting trial on charges that were eventually dropped. After his release, Kelly sued Chatham County, Georgia, and three of its police detectives who had been involved in his arrest. In factual terms, Kelly accused the detectives of concealing exculpatory evidence and of presenting false testimony, thereby causing his lengthy incarceration; he charged the County with failing to establish adequate procedures for conveying exculpatory evidence and with customarily seeking arrest warrants on the basis of affidavits that failed to show probable cause. In legal terms, Kelly charged the defendants with federal civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, and with false imprisonment and malicious prosecution in violation of state law. The defendants moved for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity and on the merits. For the most part, the district court denied these motions, although it granted summary judgment for the detectives on Kelly's section 1983 false arrest claim.

In this interlocutory appeal, we review some of the district court's grounds for denying summary judgment, and hold that: summary judgment should have been granted to two of the detectives on all of the federal claims and to the third detective on some of the federal claims; summary judgment should have been granted to the same two detectives on one of the pendent state law claims; and summary judgment was properly denied on the defendants' contention that Kelly could not prove any damages resulting from their alleged conduct.


In reviewing the denial of a defendant's summary judgment motion, we are required to view the facts--which are taken from the pleadings, interrogatory responses, affidavits, and deposition--in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Swint v. City of Wadley, 5 F.3d 1435, 1439 (11th Cir.1993), modified, 11 F.3d 1030 (11th Cir.1994), petition for cert. filed, 62 U.S.L.W. 3707 (U.S. Apr. 18, 1994) (Nos. 93-1636, 93-1638); cf. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (discussing types of evidence that are relevant to summary judgment). "Thus, what we state as 'facts' in this opinion for purposes of reviewing the rulings on the summary judgment motions" are "the facts for present purposes," but they "may not be the actual facts." Swint, 5 F.3d at 1439. For that reason, a defendant who does not win summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds may yet prevail on those grounds at or after trial on a motion for a judgment as a matter of law. See Adams v. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Dep't, 962 F.2d 1563, 1579 n. 8 (11th Cir.1992) (Edmondson, J., dissenting) (dictum); id. at 1567 n. 2 (non-majority opinion of Hatchett, J.) (dictum), rev'd per curiam on other grounds, 998 F.2d 923, 923 (11th Cir.1993) (en banc). 1 Moreover, a district court can, "when needed, ... use special verdicts or written interrogatories to the jury to resolve disputed facts before the judge rules on the qualified-immunity question." Id.; accord Stone v. Peacock, 968 F.2d 1163, 1166 (11th Cir.1992) (per curiam) (dictum). What we decide in this interlocutory appeal is only whether the district court should have granted summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.

This case stems from a drug investigation by the Chatham County Metro Drug Squad. It began on August 14, 1989, when undercover detective Steven Curtis, a member of the Metro Drug Squad, bought "crack" cocaine from a man who answered the door at 4108 Boyd Street in Savannah, Georgia. The following afternoon, on August 15, Metro Drug detective Julie Gibson secured a warrant to search the Boyd Street residence. In support of her warrant application, detective Gibson offered her own affidavit stating that detective Curtis had bought cocaine at that address from an unknown black male, six feet tall, weighing about 200 pounds, approximately twenty years old, with medium brown hair worn in an afro.

That evening, detective Gibson, fellow Metro Drug detective J.R. Moore, and several other officers searched the Boyd Street home pursuant to the search warrant. Inside they found a rock-like substance that field tested positive for cocaine. Among those present in the house were two black men, including John Kelly. A third black man, who returned to the house during the search, told the officers that he lived there. All three men were arrested for possession of cocaine, and the police also charged John Kelly with selling cocaine. Gibson's report says that detective Curtis identified Kelly as the man from whom Curtis had purchased cocaine the day before. However, according to Kelly, he had never seen detective Curtis before his arrest.

The record does not indicate which of the detectives arrested Kelly, although all were present and the arrest may have been made by several officers. Detective Moore read Kelly his rights after he was taken to the police station. Detective Gibson was assigned the case and wrote the incident report.

Kelly did not perfectly match the description in detective Gibson's search warrant application of the person who had sold detective Curtis cocaine. When arrested, Kelly was 42 years old, not 20, and did not wear his hair in an afro. In other respects--height, build, and race--Kelly did match detective Curtis' description of the person from whom he had bought cocaine at the Boyd Street address on the day before Kelly's arrest.

On August 16, 1989, the morning following Kelly's arrest, Kelly was taken before a magistrate. Detective Moore read the charges against Kelly. However, evidence of probable cause was not presented. The magistrate neither scheduled a commitment hearing nor set bail. (Under Georgia law, only a superior court judge may set bail for someone accused of selling cocaine. See O.C.G.A. Sec. 17-6-1(a)(8) (Michie 1990 & Supp.1993)). There is no evidence to suggest what else, if anything, happened at the August 16, 1989, proceeding.

On August 17, 1989, two days after Kelly's arrest, detective Gibson took the rock-like substance that had been found in Kelly's home to the state crime lab for testing. On August 24, the state crime lab issued a written report stating that the substance found in Kelly's house on August 15 was "negative for common drugs of abuse." (A separate written report issued on the same date stated that the substance sold to detective Curtis on August 14 was cocaine.) The state crime laboratory generally sends a copy of its reports to the district attorney and the police department at the same time. 2 On each report is a listing of who receives a copy of the report; the report in this case listed detective Gibson, the Metro Drug Squad, and the district attorney's office. Despite all of this, the district attorney's office did not receive the exculpatory report until months later. There is no evidence that any of the detectives had reason to know of this lapse, however.

The police department received the negative lab report on August 24, 1989. Although Kelly contends that detectives Curtis or Moore may have then seen that report, he has introduced no evidence to support his hypothesis. Gibson, however, did receive a copy of the report on August 25, 1989. 3

The same day that the state crime lab released its negative drug report, a superior court judge set Kelly's bail on the cocaine possession and cocaine distribution charges at $5000. The record does not indicate what if any testimony or evidence was introduced when the judge set bail. Kelly did not make his bail.

On September 12, 1989--a month after Kelly's arrest and while he was still incarcerated--Gibson applied to a magistrate for arrest warrants against Kelly on both the possession and distribution charges. No evidence of probable cause was presented at the warrant hearing. Instead, in support of the cocaine possession arrest warrant, Gibson swore out a conclusory affidavit stating: "John Kelly, Jr., did commit the offense of Possession of Controlled Substance (Cocaine), in violation of Georgia State Code 16-13-39(b) at 4108 Boyd St., Savannah, Chatham County, GA in said county on or about 15th day of August, 1989." Gibson failed to disclose to anyone that the state crime lab had determined that the substance she charged Kelly with possessing on August 15 was not cocaine. Based on Gibson's affidavit, 4 the judge issued arrest warrants against Kelly on both the possession and distribution charges. 5

On October 5, 1989, Kelly finally received a probable cause hearing, at which only detective Moore testified. Moore did not disclose the exculpatory crime lab results but instead stated that no lab report had been received. In addition, Moore failed to point out the discrepancies between Kelly's physical characteristics and the description that detective Curtis had given of the person from whom Curtis had bought cocaine. At the conclusion of the probable cause hearing, Kelly was held for trial on both the possession and distribution charges.

On November 1, 1989, a grand jury indicted Kelly for distribution of cocaine. Detective Curtis testified against Kelly before the grand jury, but the record does not otherwise reveal what his testimony was. Kelly was not indicted on the possession charge, although that charge was not dismissed until the following year. Instead, Kelly remained in jail...

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