On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands
Celeste R. Deary brought two civil actions alleging a number of common law causes of action and violations of her civil rights, all due to her claimed unreasonable arrest and detention by various defendants. Her amended complaint named as defendants the Government of the Virgin Islands, five individual members of the Virgin Islands Department of Public Safety, and an FBI agent. All of the defendants moved for dismissal based upon Deary's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or, alternatively, summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. The district court granted summary judgment for each defendant and dismissed Deary's case.
We conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the section 1983 and other common law tort claims on the ground of qualified immunity because the determination of probable cause, which is a necessary predicate to the qualified immunity determination, was for the jury on the record of this case.
However, we conclude that Deary's failure to comply with the procedural provisions of the Virgin Islands Tort Claims Act ["VITCA"] is fatal to her claim against the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Finally, we conclude that FBI Agent Patton did not violate state or federal law, thus affording him the protection of qualified immunity established under controlling precedents.
We will therefore affirm the judgment of the district court as to FBI Agent Patton, the United States Government, and the Government of the Virgin Islands, although in the case of the Virgin Islands we do not assign the same reasons for that action as those stated by the district court judge. See Guthrie v. Lady Jane Collieries, Inc., 722 F.2d 1141, 1145 n. 1. (3d Cir. 1983) ("An appellate court may affirm a result reached by the district court on different reasons, as long as the record supports the judgment."). We will reverse the grant of summary judgment as to police officers Evans, Tuckett, Turnball, Campbell, and Hodge, and remand their case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The facts leading up to Deary's arrest are not in dispute. On August 1, 1978, a Citibank in Charlotte Amalie was robbed by a black female who was photographed by the bank's surveillance camera. One of these photographs appeared in local newspapers and was seen there by a Virgin Islands police office who thereafter relied on a newspaper photograph in deciding to arrest Deary.
According to the allegations in Deary's amended complaint, while Deary was jogging to work early in the morning of August 4, 1978, she was accosted by three police officers (later identified as Evans, Tuckett, and Turnball), arrested, taken to police headquarters, read her rights, and then extensively interrogated by two other officers (Hodge and Campbell) and an FBI agent (Patton)*fn1 about her involvement in the bank robbery that had taken place three days earlier. Deary was released on bail later that day, and two months later, on October 12, 1978, all charges against her were dropped when another suspect was apprehended.
Deary then brought two actions for damages, one based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Virgin Islands Tort Claims Act, and the other based on the Federal Tort Claims Act.*fn2 Her 1983 action claimed violation of her constitutional, statutory, and common law rights, and included charges of common law torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and infliction of emotional distress. The original complaint, filed on August 4, 1980 (two years to the day after the arrest) named "three unknown police officers" as defendants. The amended complaint, filed October 7, 1981, was the first pleading to name Officers Evans, Tuckett, Turnbull, Campbell, and Hodge individually. Each of those defendants, as well as the Government of the Virgin Islands, alleged the statute of limitations bar as an affirmative defense in answering Deary's amended complaint.*fn3
The district court judge thereafter granted summary judgment as to each defendant, reasoning that under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982), government officials were entitled to qualified good faith immunity if their actions were within recognized legal bounds. Having found that Deary's arrest was based on probable cause, the judge determined that the defendants were protected by qualified immunity and dismissed Deary's claims, under section 1983 and for common law torts.*fn4
Evans, Tuckett, Turnbull, Campbell and Hodge
Evans, Tuckett, and Turnbull were the arresting officers named in Deary's amended complaint. As to them, the district court judge concluded that "the factors available to the defendants at the time of her arrest, i.e., the strong likeness of plaintiff to the photographs and/or the newspaper reprint, and what appeared to be flight, was sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that plaintiff had committed the robbery," thus giving the defendants probable cause to arrest the plaintiff. (Dist. Ct. Op. at 16). As to the supervising officers, Campbell and Hodge, the district court concluded that there was "sufficient probable cause for them to maintain plaintiff under arrest." (Id. at 19). Based on these findings, the judge reasoned that all five defendants were protected by qualified immunity under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982), and he granted summary judgment in their favor. We conclude that the district court erred in disposing of this case in that manner.
In Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841 (3d Cir. 1978), parents of a young woman who apparently committed suicide after being arrested for driving while intoxicated, brought a section 1983 action against city and city police employees, alleging various constitutional and common law violations including false arrest. The district court granted the defendants' motion for a directed verdict at the end of the plaintiffs' case. This Court affirmed as to all defendants except the City of Philadelphia, limiting the reversal as to that defendant solely to the Patzigs' false arrest claims.*fn5 In analyzing the Patzigs' constitutional claim, the Court determined that "whether or not plaintiffs have any constitutional claim at all must stand or fall on whether the arresting police officer had probable cause to arrest Patzig." Id. at 848.
The question we were required to answer in Patzig was whether the issue of probable cause (or the lack thereof) should have been allowed to go to the jury. We concluded that the question of probable cause in a section 1983 damage suit is generally one for the jury reasoning as follows:
It is true that a magistrate or judge makes probable cause determinations in the criminal context. But that fact is not dispositive here. In a civil case, whether an issue must be submitted to a jury depends on an historical analysis of whether it would have been cognizable at law or in equity. . . . "If a new cause of action is created by Congress [such as a § 1983], and nothing is said about the mode of ...