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Arguable Probable Cause as to Any One Offense Defeats a § 1983 Malicious Prosecution Claim

February 4, 2020

 

            In 2011, Sergeant Omar Paez, Sergeant Lyndean Peters, and Officer Yovany Diaz (“Appellees”) of the Golden Beach Police Department were arrested for fraudulently failing to report off-duty police work that would have required them to pay administrative fees. However, the charges were dropped three years later. They now allege the arresting officers violated their constitutional rights by intentionally omitting exonerating information from the affidavits that secured their arrest warrants. Paez v. Mulvey, 915 F.3d 1276 (11th Cir. 2019).

 

            On appeal, the issue presented to the court was whether the arrests violated the Fourth Amendment because of exculpatory information left out of the warrant affidavits. The affidavits alleged two separate violations: that the Appellees “double billed” off-duty work hours and the Appellees did not pay administrative fees for off-duty work hours. As for the unpaid administrative fees, Appellees allege that officers were not required to pay the fees when billed and that over time, the officers had actually overpaid fees.

 

            The affidavits alleged that there was probable cause to believe each Appellee had committed multiple crimes. At oral argument, all of the parties conceded that the existence of probable cause (or even arguable probable cause) as to any one offense would defeat a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. Arguable probable cause as to any one offense is sufficient to defeat § 1983 claims for other Fourth Amendment violations, including false arrest and unlawful searches. Even with conflicting information about whether the officers were responsible for paying the administrative fees, the affiants still could reasonably believe that Appellees were required to report their off-duty work hours and pay the administrative fees. The omissions of potentially exculpable facts do not undercut the reasonableness of the belief and the Appellants are entitled to qualified immunity.  Accordingly, the Appellants were entitled to qualified immunity.

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