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Failure to Ascertain Arrestee's Identity Creates Liability for False Imprisonment

Failure to Ascertain Arrestee's Identity Creates Liability for False

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Macon County, Alabama
Sheriff's deputy who failed to make an attempt to obtain information from
an arrestee for purposes of filing an arrest report was liable for false
imprisonment. The plaintiff was stopped at a rest area when accosted by a
sheriff's deputy. When the deputy radioed in the plaintiff's name, he
received a "hit" for a warrant out of Kentucky. The plaintiff maintained
she was not the person in the warrant although the names were similar. The
arresting officer used information from a print-out from the National
Crime Information Center (NCIC) to fill out the arrest report. The
plaintiff's driver's license showed the NCIC information did not
accurately describe the plaintiff, for there was a difference in her
height, eye color, date of birth, social security number, and age by 12
years. The plaintiff was subsequently extradited to Kentucky, where she
was promptly released when it became evident she was not the wanted person.
The plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of due process and
state law claims of false arrest and false arrest. A jury entered judgment
of $50,000 against the officer filing the report. However, the District
Court entered a judgment not withstanding the verdict for the officer. The
Eleventh Circuit held this was error, for the officer's actions exhibited
deliberate indifference and the law was clearly established. The appellate
court held deliberate indifference was shown when the officer completed
the arrest procedure and obtained a fugitive warrant for the plaintiff's
arrest without speaking to her and without making any attempt to identify
her as the person wanted in Kentucky. The Court further held the plaintiff
had a clearly established right against false imprisonment without due
process. The Court stated a reasonably trained officer would have at least
attempted to obtain information from the plaintiff for purposes of filling
out the arrest report, rather than copying data from an NCIC computer
printout. Additionally, in the face of the plaintiff's assertions of
mistaken identity, a reasonable official would not sign an affidavit
swearing to a belief the plaintiff was a wanted fugitive without taking
steps to verify that belief.

The appeals court reversed the judgment not withstanding the verdict but
affirmed the dismissal of claims against Macon County, as no allegations
of a policy or custom were asserted, and remanded for the jury's judgment
to be reinstated. See: Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558 and 15 F.3d
1022 (11th Cir. 1993).

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Related legal case

Cannon v. Macon County

Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558 (11th Cir. 09/17/1993)

[1] U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

[2] No. 92-6200

[3] 1 F.3d 1558, 1993

[4] September 17, 1993


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. (No. CV90-V-01132-E). Robert E. Varner, District Judge.

[7] For Plaintiff-Appellant: John L. Cottle, III, BOWLES & COTTLE, Tallassee, AL.

[8] For Defendants-Appellees: Jock M. Smith, Tuskegee Institute, AL.

[9] Before Fay and Anderson, Circuit Judges, and Roney, Senior Circuit Judge.

[10] Author: Roney

[11] RONEY, Senior Circuit Judge:

[12] In this § 1983 action where an arrest and incarceration resulted from misidentification, we affirm the district court's dismissal of defendant Macon County, but reverse the judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of defendant Robin Collins.

[13] In March 1989 plaintiff Mary Cannon, whose name was then Mary Rene Parrott, was driving with her three children and her boyfriend, Randy Cannon, to her mother's home in Georgia. When they ran out of funds, they stopped at a rest area and contacted some local relatives to borrow some money. They spent the night in the rest area waiting for the financial help to arrive. The next day, they were questioned by Macon County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Knowles, who offered to try to get aid for them from the Department of Human Resources.

[14] Knowles radioed the name "Mary Parrott" to the Macon County Sheriff's office, and got back a "hit" from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), informing him that a Mary E. Mann, a.k.a. Mary E. Parrott, was wanted for theft by deception in Kentucky. Knowles placed Cannon under arrest and transported her to the Macon County jail. As soon as Knowles arrived at the jail, Deputy Robin Collins, the officer in charge of the jail, sent Knowles out on another assignment. Knowles left the arrest report for Collins to complete. Cannon testified that from the time of her initial detention at the rest area, she repeatedly maintained that she was not Mary E. Mann.

[15] Collins initially testified that he obtained information necessary for completing the arrest report directly from Cannon. Collins testified that he identified the plaintiff as Mary E. Mann based on the match in social security numbers and birth dates and the fact that Mann used the alias Mary E. Parrott. He further testified that had there not been a match in the social security numbers and birth dates, then Cannon would not have been arrested and held in the Macon County jail. The critical data Collins wrote on Cannon's arrest report included the following:

[16] Last, First, Middle Name: Mary E. Parrott

[17] Alias AKA: Mary E. Mann

[18] Sex: F

[19] Race: W

[20] Hgt: 5'5"

[21] Wgt: 120

[22] Eye: Bro

[23] Hair: Bro

[24] Skin: Med

[25] SSN: 317-54-6239

[26] Date of Birth: 12-27-51

[27] Age: 38

[28] This data does not accurately describe the plaintiff. Cannon's driver's license, which the Sheriff's office apparently had in its files shortly after her arrest, indicates that the plaintiff's name was "Mary Rene Parrott," that she was only 5'1" tall, that her eyes were blue, that her social security number was 255-11-9117, and that her date of birth was 12-15-63, making her 12 years younger than Mary E. Mann.

[29] There was substantial evidence that Collins did not obtain the identifying information from Cannon, but copied it directly from the NCIC report. With one exception, all of the above information that Collins wrote on the arrest report is identical to the NCIC printout on Mary E. Mann. The one exception is the social security number, which belongs to neither Mann nor Cannon. Instead, the social security number provided by Deputy Collins matches the number of another fugitive listed on the same page of the NCIC report containing information on Mary E. Mann.

[30] Collins also completed and presented to the Macon County District Judge a "Fugitive Warrant," attesting that he believed Cannon to be the wanted Mary E. Mann.*fn1 Based on this affidavit, the judge issued a fugitive warrant for Cannon's arrest on March 6, 1989.

[31] Cannon testified that on Tuesday, March 7th, she was taken before a Macon County District Judge. At this hearing, Cannon's mother attempted to offer evidence to the judge to show that Cannon was not Mary E. Mann. The judge refused to hear any such evidence, stating that the only purpose of the hearing was to determine if Cannon would waive extradition to Kentucky. Cannon refused to sign a waiver of extradition, and was returned to the Macon County jail.

[32] Cannon further testified that, once they were back at the jail, Collins advised her to sign the waiver of extradition or face the possibility of being "played back and forth like on a baseball field." After this conversation, Cannon told Collins that she would waive extradition. She was then taken back before the judge, where she signed the waiver. After spending three more days in the Macon County jail, she was transported to Kentucky. Upon her arrival in Kentucky, Cannon was promptly released when it became evident that Cannon was not Mary E. Mann.

[33] Cannon filed a complaint against Macon County, Deputy Robin Collins in his individual capacity, and Macon County Sheriff Elbert Dawson in his official capacity, seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, and asserting pendent state claims of false imprisonment and false arrest. After the district court entered an order dismissing defendants Dawson and Macon County, Cannon amended her complaint, adding Deputy Mike Knowles as an individual capacity defendant, and again asserting a claim against Macon County.

[34] The district court then dismissed Macon County with prejudice, and denied Cannon's request for leave to amend her complaint. After a trial against the two individual capacity defendants, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Knowles and against Collins, with a judgment against Collins for $50,000.

[35] The district court then granted Collins' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and entered judgment for Collins. Cannon appeals the district court's dismissal of Macon County and the grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict for Collins.

[36] Judgment notwithstanding the verdict for Deputy Collins

[37] Cannon's § 1983 claim against Collins was based on an asserted deprivation of liberty without due process*fn2, and went to the jury on three theories: (1) that Cannon was incarcerated by Collins under circumstances that Collins knew or should have known that Cannon had been arrested without probable cause, (2) that Collins held Cannon in jail for seven days without making any effort to attempt to determine Cannon's identity, and (3) that Collins represented to the district court of Macon County that Cannon was the person wanted in Kentucky without having any reasonable basis for believing that Cannon was Mary E. Mann.

[38] The trial court found that judgment notwithstanding the verdict was warranted because Cannon failed to show that Collins violated clearly established law and acted with deliberate indifference. The court also held that Cannon failed to establish her state claims.

[39] When reviewing a district court's decision to grant or deny judgment notwithstanding the verdict, we apply the same standard used by the district court. Boeing Co. v. Shipman,411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th Cir.1969). If the facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that the court believes that reasonable jurors could not arrive at a contrary verdict, granting of the motion is proper. On the other hand, if there is substantial evidence opposed to the motion, the motion should be denied. A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to present a question for the jury. The substantial evidence standard requires evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded jurors might reach different conclusions. Von Stein v. Brescher,904 F.2d 572, 578 (11th Cir.1990). A court determining whether the record contains substantial evidence supporting the jury verdict must view the evidence, and all logical inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Smith v. PAPP Clinic, P.A.,808 F.2d 1449, 1452 (11th Cir.1987). We may not weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, nor substitute our judgment for that of the jury.

[40] Our inquiry into the propriety of the trial court's grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict to Collins is two-fold: First, did Cannon present substantial evidence of a cognizable § 1983 claim, and second, does the qualified immunity doctrine shield Collins from liability?

[41] Cannon's § 1983 claim against Collins is essentially a claim of false imprisonment rising to the level of a liberty deprivation. The trial court found that Cannon suffered no actionable deprivation of constitutional rights, because under Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 99 S. Ct. 2689, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433 (1979), she had no due process right to have an officer investigate her claims of innocence and mistaken identity.

[42] In Baker, the Supreme Court dismissed a fourteenth amendment action brought by a claimant who had been mistakenly incarcerated. The police were actually seeking the claimant's brother, who had previously been booked under the claimant's name because he carried an altered driver's license with his own picture but with the name and other identifying information of the claimant. After being transferred to the county seeking his arrest, the claimant was held for three additional days before it was discovered, based on a file photo of the brother, that they had detained the wrong person.

[43] The court held that detention pursuant to a valid warrant but in the face of protests of innocence does not necessarily deprive one of liberty without due process. Arresting officers and those responsible for maintaining custody of detainees are not constitutionally required "to investigate independently every claim of innocence, whether the claim is based on mistaken identity or a defense such as lack of requisite intent." Id. at 146, 99 S. Ct. at 2695.

[44] Under certain circumstances, however, detention on the basis of misidentification may present a viable § 1983 claim. The Baker Court recognized, for example, that after the lapse of a certain amount of time, continued detention in the face of repeated protests will deprive the accused of liberty without due process. Id. at 144, 99 S. Ct. at 2694.

[45] The Baker decision has not been read to preclude all § 1983 claims based on false imprisonment. In Douthit v. Jones, 619 F.2d 527 (5th Cir.1980), we stated that a § 1983 false imprisonment claim must meet the elements of common law false imprisonment*fn3 and establish that the imprisonment worked a violation of fourteenth amendment due process rights. Id. at 532. We held in that case that the plaintiff's claim based on detention for 30 days beyond the expiration of the plaintiff's sentence without a valid court order or warrant was not precluded by Baker.

[46] The constitutional right to be free from continued detention after it was or should have been known that the detainee was entitled to release has been recognized in other circuits as well. See Sivard v. Pulaski County,959 F.2d 662 (7th Cir.1992) (continued detention where sheriff knew it was wrongful states claim under § 1983 for due process violation); Sanders v. English,950 F.2d 1152 (5th Cir.1992) (failure to release after officer knew or should have known that plaintiff had been misidentified gives rise to cause of action under § 1983).