Knight v. Jacobson, 01-15506.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Citation300 F.3d 1272
Docket NumberNo. 01-15506.,01-15506.
PartiesArthur KNIGHT, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JACOBSON, Officer, Badge # 3359, Individual, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date06 August 2002
300 F.3d 1272
Arthur KNIGHT, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JACOBSON, Officer, Badge # 3359, Individual, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 01-15506.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
August 6, 2002.
Rehearing Denied September 18, 2002.

Page 1273

Robert S. Glazier, Law Office of Robert S. Glazier, Myrna D. Bricker, Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Blaker, Miami Lakes, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

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

Before CARNES and HILL, Circuit Judges, and DUPLANTIER*, District Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:


This appeal by a law enforcement officer from the denial of qualified immunity presents us with these three issues: 1) whether there was an absence of probable cause for the officer's arrest of the plaintiff; 2) whether non-compliance with state law in making an arrest is itself enough to violate

Page 1274

the Fourth Amendment; and 3) whether the restrictions that Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980), places upon warrantless arrests are violated when an officer arrests a suspect who has stepped outside his home at the officer's command. We answer each of those questions "no."

Miami Police Officer Dennis Jacobson investigated a report from Arthur Knight's ex-girlfriend that Knight, who lived next door to her, had called and threatened to kill her. She recounted to Jacobson that Knight had told her that not only was he going to kill her, but that he was going to enjoy killing her and would derive great pleasure from it. Officer Jacobson interviewed the woman; she recounted those facts to him and convinced him that she feared for her life. The woman also told Officer Jacobson about other incidents involving Knight that had caused her to bring criminal charges against him, and she gave Jacobson the case numbers for two of the cases that had resulted from her previous complaints against Knight. She was visibly upset and told Officer Jacobson that she feared for her life. Based on everything he heard and his observations of the woman's demeanor, Officer Jacobson left her apartment, went next door and knocked on Knight's door. He told Knight to step outside, and when he did, Jacobson arrested him on the spot without first obtaining a warrant. The arrest took place at 2:00 a.m. on June 25, 1996.

Knight's arrest did not result in prosecution, but it did result in Knight filing a lawsuit against Jacobson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming an unconstitutional arrest.1 Knight contends that Officer Jacobson's arrest of him violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court initially granted Officer Jacobson summary judgment but later took it back in an order issued under Rule 60(b)(3), the procedural details of which are not relevant to the issues that are now before us. Insofar as Officer Jacobson's appeal from the denial of qualified immunity on the unconstitutional arrest claim is concerned — the only appeal before us — the dispositive issues are the three we stated in the opening paragraph of this opinion.

An officer sued for having made an arrest without probable cause is entitled to qualified immunity if there was arguable probable cause for the arrest, which is a more lenient standard than probable cause. See Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1283 n. 3 (11th Cir.1999) ("Arguable probable cause, not the higher standard of actual probable cause, governs the qualified immunity inquiry."); Montoute v. Carr, 114 F.3d 181, 184 (11th Cir.1997) ("In order to be entitled to qualified immunity from a Fourth Amendment claim, an officer need not have actual probable cause but only `arguable probable cause,' i.e., the facts and circumstances must be such that the officer reasonably could have believed that probable cause existed."). The difference in the two standards is immaterial in this case because Officer Jacobson had probable cause to arrest Knight.

Probable cause is "defined in terms of facts and circumstances sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense." Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 111, 95 S.Ct. 854, 862, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975) (internal quotation marks, citation, and brackets omitted). A prudent

Page 1275

man in Officer Jacobson's place would have been warranted in believing that Knight had committed the crime of misdemeanor assault. Florida law defines misdemeanor assault as "an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and in doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent." Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.011.2

By the time he finished talking with Knight's ex-girlfriend, Officer Jacobson had heard enough to warrant a prudent person in believing that Knight had intentionally threatened to do violence to her and that Knight, who lived next door to her, had an apparent ability to carry out the threat, and in making it had created a well-founded fear in her that violence was imminent. Knight was never convicted or even prosecuted for that crime or any other stemming from the arrest, but that does not matter. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979) ("The Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested. If it did, § 1983 would provide a cause of action for every defendant acquitted — indeed, for every suspect released."); Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 578 n. 9 (11th Cir.1990) ("`Probable cause' defines a radically different standard than `beyond a reasonable doubt,' and while an arrest must stand on more than suspicion, the arresting officer need not have in hand evidence sufficient to obtain a conviction."); United States v. Pantoja-Soto, 739 F.2d 1520, 1524 n. 7 (11th Cir. 1984) (same). When Knight was arrested in the early morning hours of July 25, 1996, there was probable cause to believe he had committed the crime of misdemeanor assault.

Knight's principal argument to the contrary maintains that under Florida law an assault cannot occur if the threat is made over the telephone. For that proposition he relies on Trowell v. Meads, 618 So.2d 351 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993), which is readily distinguishable. In Trowell the plaintiff sought a permanent restraining order against her former husband, contending that he had assaulted her by making threats during a telephone conversation while he was involuntarily confined in a Florida state mental hospital. Id. at 351. In a two-paragraph opinion, the district court of appeals concluded that under those facts there had been no assault. Id. at 351-52. The facts in this case are different. Unlike the former husband in Trowell, Knight was not...

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