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Rogers v. Powell

August 11, 1997




On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania

(D.C. Civ.No. 95-cv-01204)

Before: BECKER, ROTH, Circuit Judges, and ORLOFSKY, District Judge. *fn*

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

Filed August 11, 1997

nuary 28, 1997


This is an appeal by plaintiff Robert Rogers from a district court final judgment in a civil rights action, 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, in favor of four Pennsylvania state police troopers who Rogers claims violated his civil rights by arresting him without probable cause and by using excessive force in connection with the arrest. The unlawful arrest claim was disposed of by summary judgment. The excessive force claim was tried to a jury which found for the defendants. We find no error in connection with the trial, and affirm summarily with respect to the excessive force claim. However, we find the existence of a triable fact with respect to aspects of the unlawful arrest claim against some of the defendants.

More specifically, we conclude that the information received by Trooper James Edwards from Probation Officer Rita Miller about the supposed existence of an arrest warrant for Rogers was too insubstantial to justify detaining him. Moreover, because Edwards' reliance on the vague and inconclusive statements of a parole officer was not reasonable, he was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Thus, we reverse the grant of summary judgment as to Edwards. With respect to Trooper Timothy Eiler, who arrested Rogers along with Edwards based on Edwards' representation that there was a valid arrest warrant, we affirm the grant of summary judgment on the grounds that he is properly held entitled to qualified immunity.

We also conclude that Troopers Jeffrey Stine and Kevin Powell, whose detention of Rogers was also based on Edwards' representation, are entitled to qualified immunity, but only up to the point at which they were informed that there was no reason to hold Rogers in custody. Their qualified immunity disappeared when they continued to detain him for approximately one hour thereafter. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part with respect to Stine and Powell.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On September 25, 1994, Troopers James Edwards and Timothy Eiler were working the midnight shift in Clinton County, Pennsylvania. *fn1 Edwards was assigned to the desk while Eiler was on patrol with Trooper Dale Gillette. Prior to starting his shift, Edwards claims that he had spoken with Trooper Davy. During this conversation, Davy allegedly mentioned that there was a "court paper out on Rogers." The record, however, is devoid of any declaration or deposition by Davy, so we cannot confirm exactly what he said to Edwards.

Later that evening Edwards received a report of afight in nearby Logantown in which Rogers was allegedly involved. Edwards dispatched Eiler and Gillette to the scene of the fight. When they arrived, Rogers was not present. Eiler and Gillette then began to search for him. At this point, because of Edwards' earlier conversation with Davy, as well as Rogers' alleged involvement in the Logantown fight, Edwards decided to determine if any warrants were pending for Rogers.

Following Pennsylvania State Police procedure, Edwards contacted the Clinton County Communications Center which informed him that there were two summary warrants pending for Rogers. Additionally, Edwards said he was informed that there might be other "open" paperwork on Rogers from the Clinton County Probation Office. As a result, Edwards called the probation office and requested that the officer on duty that evening contact him. Edwards then contacted Eiler and Gillette and told them not to pick up Rogers if they found him because the only warrants of whose existence Edwards knew were summary warrants. When an individual is arrested for outstanding summary offense warrants, he must be taken to appear before the proper issuing authority "without delay." Pa. R. Cr. P. 76(b)(4). Therefore, officers typically do not arrest an individual during the late evening or early morning hours for outstanding summary offense warrants because they are reluctant to awaken the district justice on duty.

Later that night, Rita Miller, from the Clinton County Probation Office responded to Edwards' call. She too advised Edwards of the two summary warrants. Miller also stated that Trooper Davy wanted Rogers "because he [Davy] said that Lycoming County said that they'll hold him as an absconding witness." *fn2 Edwards maintains that this statement gave him the belief that there was a warrant for Rogers' arrest in Lycoming County.

A transcript of the conversation between Edwards and Miller, prepared by police communications officer Ruth Eoute at the request of Sergeant Salinas of the Pennsylvania State Police, the accuracy of which is not disputed by any of the parties, supports Miller's claim that she never confirmed the existence of a warrant for Rogers' arrest in Lycoming County:

Edwards: State Police, Tpr. Edwards.

Miller: Hi, it's Rita Miller.

Edwards: Rita?

Miller: Yeah.

Edwards: Do you want Robert Rogers?

Miller: There's a warrant out for him. It's a summary warrant. Davy wants him. Because he says that Lycoming County said that they'll have him as an absconding witness.

Edwards: Who will? Lycoming County?

Miller: Yeah. Because he's to testify against Doctor Bender in the hearing.

Edwards: Mm Hm.

Miller: Okay. And also I think there's two warrants out from Lycoming County. *fn3 I think they're both from Frazier's office. One's for Hit and Run over at (inaudible) and one's for assaulting that guy and they charged him with harassment. So he has two summary warrants. Do you have them? Copies of the warrants.

Edwards: No. The Comm. Center does.

Miller: Okay. No. I don't have him on any more because they left him off of probation after giving him that deal. You know, if he would testify?

Edwards: Yeah.

Miller: So I don't have anything on him any more. Do ...

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