Von Stein v. Brescher

Decision Date27 June 1990
Docket NumberNo. 88-6136,88-6136
Citation904 F.2d 572
PartiesCharles H. VON STEIN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. George A. BRESCHER, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Robert H. Schwartz, Gunther & Whitaker, P.A., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for defendants-appellants.

Bruce W. Jolly, Shailer, Purdy & Jolly, P.A., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for Grim, Berk and Carruthers.

Valerie Shea, Greer, Homer & Bonner, Miami, for plaintiff-appellee.

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

Before FAY and EDMONDSON, Circuit Judges and YOUNG *, Senior District Judge.

GEORGE C. YOUNG, Senior District Judge:

The former Sheriff of Broward County, Florida, George Brescher, and three Sheriff's The Plaintiff/Appellee in this case, Charles H. Von Stein, is President of Charles A. Von Stein, Inc. ["the company"], a family-run corporation specializing in commercial real estate and in the leasing, management and development of commercial properties. In the early 1980s, the company managed 16 or 17 properties which contained a total of approximately 420 commercial tenants. One of these properties was the Plaza Central Shopping Center. 1

Deputies, Michael Berk, Kenneth Grimm, and Carl Carruthers, appeal monetary judgments rendered by the district court against them for acts committed by them within the scope of their discretionary authority.

In June of 1983, Plaintiff was arrested for violation of section 796.06(1), Florida Statutes, which provides, in pertinent part:

[I]t shall be unlawful to let or rent any place, structure, or part thereof ... with the knowledge that such place ... will be used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution.

The charge against Plaintiff was based on allegations that on June 1, 1983, Plaintiff was leasing a unit in Plaza Central Shopping Center to "Man's World Culture Center" [hereinafter, "Man's World"] with the knowledge that such property was being used for prostitution. Plaintiff's arrest, including the following comment by George Brescher, who was then the Sheriff of Broward County, was publicized by the local media:

One of the big problems we think is getting to the right people. Traditionally, we've always just gone for the prostitute, but, behind every one you arrest is another to take their place so they go right back out on the street. Our feeling is we can get to the money behind them and put a hurt on them, that [sic] we can achieve some effective results.

The charge against Plaintiff was eventually nolle prossed by the State Attorney's Office. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action against Sheriff Brescher, as well as the three Sheriff's Deputies, who were all present at Plaintiff's arrest.

At the time of trial, the complaint contained two civil rights claims under Title 42, section 1983, which alleged that Plaintiff was illegally arrested and that Plaintiff was defamed by Sheriff's Brescher's statements to the media at the arrest scene. The complaint also included state law claims for false arrest, for malicious prosecution, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff's theory at trial was that his arrest was staged as a media event in order to create favorable publicity for Defendant Brescher, who was running for re-election as Sheriff.

In a special interrogatory verdict, the jury found in favor of Plaintiff on all counts. Specifically, the jury found that the Defendants arrested Plaintiff without probable cause and that the Defendants' conduct in arresting Plaintiff was not protected by qualified immunity; that Defendant Brescher made a false statement concerning Plaintiff at the scene of Plaintiff's arrest which damaged Plaintiff's personal reputation and the reputation and goodwill of the company, and that Defendant Brescher was not protected by qualified immunity for such conduct; that the Defendants caused Plaintiff to be falsely arrested and imprisoned; that the Defendants maliciously instituted a criminal proceeding against Plaintiff; and that the Defendants intended to inflict emotional distress upon Plaintiff. The jury awarded Plaintiff compensatory damages of $550,000 and punitive damages of $230,000. 2 This appeal seeks review of the district court's order denying Defendants' post-trial motions.

The Criminal Case Against Plaintiff

The relevant facts of the case are largely undisputed. The Man's World lease called Plaintiff Charles Von Stein, a Fort Lauderdale businessman, has been active as an officer and employee of the company during the more than 25 years the company has been in business. Plaintiff came to believe in 1981 that prostitution was being conducted on the Man's World premises; however, no evidence suggested that Plaintiff knew that the property would be used for prostitution at the time he entered into the lease. Once Plaintiff realized that prostitution activities were occurring at Man's World, he asked Marylou Adams, a long-time broker-associate of the company who oversaw the leasing and management of Plaza Central Shopping Center, to contact the Sheriff's Department to see if it could help in getting rid of the tenant.

                for the property to be used as "a cultural center for bridge, chess, backgammon, periodicals and newspapers, teaching of languages."    The lease further provided:  "It is understood and agreed that the demised premises shall be used only for those purposes expressly described above and that should the premises be put to any other use the Tenant shall be deemed to be in default of this lease agreement."    The lease was for a five-year period with an option for another five years

On July 10, 1981, and again on July 23, 1981, Marylou Adams contacted the Broward County Sheriff's Office regarding Plaintiff's concern that prostitution was occurring at Man's World. Adams spoke with Lieutenant Tom Slattery, who told her that the Sheriff's Department was aware that prostitution was occurring on the premises, that Man's World had been "busted" but Slattery was not aware if it had come to court yet, and that Man's World was a "slick" operation. Slattery advised Adams that the Sheriff's Department would keep her posted with respect to its Man's World investigation.

Ms. Adams also spoke on July 23 to an attorney, Richard Michelson, about Man's World. Michelson, who was also a tenant of Plaza Central Shopping Center, asked Adams to give Lieutenant Slattery Michelson's name and telephone number, which she did. On July 24, 1981, Slattery advised Adams that he had run a "make" on the woman who had signed the property lease on behalf of Man's World, and found that she had been arrested for loitering at a bar and had a history of prostitution.

On January 18, 1982, Adams spoke with Agent Michael Berk, a Defendant in this case, who had been assigned to the Man's World investigation. 3 Berk, a member of the Organized Crime Vice Unit of the Broward County Sheriff's Office, was the only officer assigned to the Man's World case during the last six months of 1982. During this conversation, Berk informed her that a man named Herman Schannault had been charged with running a house of prostitution in Fort Lauderdale. Berk stated that he would continue to accumulate evidence against Man's World and asked Adams to send him a list of tenants who would be willing to testify against Man's World. Other than this request, Berk did not ask that Adams take any action in relation to Man's World. Adams mailed Berk the requested list of tenants in January of 1982.

During the remainder of 1982, further contacts occurred between Ms. Adams and Berk. During one of these conversations, Berk assured her that the Sheriffs' Department was trying to get rid of Man's World but that it was difficult. During another conversation, Ms. Adams furnished Berk with information concerning the name on the Man's World lease, the use clause, the name of the Von Stein company, and the name of the owners of the shopping center.

In January of 1983, the company complied with a subpoena by producing a copy of the lease agreement, rent receipts, and a copy of the floor plan of the Man's World property. At about that time, Berk took the statements of Adams and Plaintiff concerning the activities at Man's World. From a photo line-up, Adams and Plaintiff identified Warren Inskeep, the man to whom the company had rented the property On February 17, 1983, Adams received a telephone call from Berk in which Berk stated that he wished to inform Plaintiff that the Sheriff's Department had made an arrest for prostitution at Man's World that day and that a letter stating the same would be forthcoming. Berk advised Adams that this was the evidence the company needed to evict Man's World, that the Sheriff's Department had done their part and that the rest was up to the company.

                which was being used as Man's World.  Inskeep was the same person as Herman Schannault, who had been arrested for running a house of prostitution in Fort Lauderdale.  The information supplied by Plaintiff and Adams, along with other information, was used by Berk in obtaining a capias for Schannault's arrest in February of 1983. 4   Again, in May of 1983, Berk used information provided by Plaintiff and Adams to establish probable cause for the arrest of Schannault

On February 23, Berk telephoned Adams to advise that the company would be receiving a letter from Assistant State Attorney James Benjamin advising of forthcoming prostitution charges against Schannault. No mention of Section 796.06 was made in this letter, which was dated March 1, 1983. Adams discussed the letter with Plaintiff and, on March 4, sent a copy to attorney Michelson. Shortly thereafter, Michelson declined to take the eviction case for personal reasons.

In April of 1983, Adams called Detective Berk to tell him that Plaintiff felt they needed "stronger information," such as a conviction, in order to evict Man's World. Berk stated that he...

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