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Capone v. Marinelli

filed: February 23, 1989.

CAPONE, UMBERTO
v.
MARINELLI, DETECTIVE ROBERT AND VOLPE, JOHN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY CHIEF OF POLICE OF PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AND O'NEILL, CORPORAL RODNEY M. AND BAMBI, WILLIAM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, CHIEF OF POLICE OF NORRISTOWN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY V. CAPONE, LAURA HARGROVE, CORPORAL RODNEY M. O'NEILL AND CHIEF WILLIAM BAMBI, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Action No. 87-0681.

Higginbotham and Mansmann, Circuit Judges, and Dumbauld, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HlGGlNBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

The Appellants appeal from the district court's order denying them qualified immunity in a suit brought against them, as well as other defendants, pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), for unlawful arrest and prosecution. The complaint also included pendent state law tort claims. Because we find that the Appellants reasonably relied upon a bulletin establishing the existence of a warrant for arrest, they are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. Therefore, we will vacate the order of the district court and remand with instructions to enter judgment accordingly.

I.

Officer Robert Marinelli is a member of the police department in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania. On March 13, 1985, Marinelli swore to an Affidavit of Probable Cause for arrest, based on the following alleged criminal conduct attributed to the Appellee, Umberto Capone. On the morning of March 13, Capone called his former girlfriend, Laura Hargrove,*fn1 asking whether he could visit her and their natural child, two-year-old Heather Marie Hargrove. The couple's relationship had ended two months earlier, and Hargrove had taken Heather from Capone's home in Paterson, New Jersey, to live with her parents in Plymouth. Capone met Hargrove and Heather at the Plymouth Mall, and asked that they get into his car. After several hours of driving them around the neighborhood, Capone returned to the Mall. But when Hargrove attempted to leave Capone's car with the child, Capone allegedly stated that it "was his turn with the baby and that if he could not provide a good life for her he would kill her and the[n] himself." Affidavit of Probable Cause, No. 85 C-45 (March 13, 1985), reprinted in Appellants' Appendix ("App.") at 262. Capone allegedly then pushed Hargrove out of the car and drove away with Heather.

On that same day, a Magistrate for the County of Montgomery issued a warrant for the arrest of Capone based on Marinelli's affidavit. The warrant accused Capone of committing six crimes: kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats and disorderly conduct. The details of the outstanding warrant were entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system, which then sent out an electronically transmitted bulletin across the country. The bulletin stated that Capone was wanted by the Plymouth Police Department for kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and false imprisonment; that he was armed with a gun and a knife; that his two-year-old daughter was in the car; that he had no rights to the child; that he was possibly headed to Florida; and that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. See NCIC Bulletin, reprinted in App. at 267. Thereafter, on March 15, 1985, in reliance upon the bulletin, officer Rodney O'Neill of the police department in Norristown Township, Pennsylvania, arrested Capone within the jurisdiction of Norristown.

At a subsequent hearing, the kidnapping charge against Capone was dismissed. Capone v. Roth, No. 123 (Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, April 17, 1985), reprinted in App. at 42. The remaining criminal charges resulted in a nolle prosequi. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Capone, No. 1225-85 (Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Aug. 5, 1985), reprinted in App. at 352. Thereafter, Capone brought this suit under § 1983 against officers Marinelli and O'Neill, and their respective supervisors, police chiefs John Volpe and William Bambi. The complaint alleged violations of Capone's constitutional rights on grounds that there was no probable cause for his arrest and prosecution. In addition, he asserted related state law tort claims under pendent claim jurisdiction.

The defendants then filed a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a cause of action. The district court granted the motion with respect to the related state claims that were predicated on a theory of negligence, but denied it with respect to the § 1983 claims and the state claims based on intentional misconduct. Capone v. Marinelli, No. 87-0681 (E.D. Pa. June 22, 1987) (order granting, in part, and denying, in part, motion for dismissal), reprinted in App. at 31. Following the completion of discovery, O'Neill and Bambi filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that, as a matter of law, they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied their motion without opinion,*fn2 Capone v. Marinelli, No. 87-0681 (E.D. Pa. June 15, 1988) (order denying motion for summary judgment), and from that order this appeal was taken.*fn3

II.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether a police officer who reasonably relies upon a bulletin that establishes the existence of a warrant for arrest is entitled to qualified immunity in a civil rights action brought against him for unlawful arrest and prosecution.*fn4

The doctrine of qualified immunity shields "government officials performing discretionary functions . . . from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982). The issue of an official's objective good faith is purely a legal question, and the Court admonished that "reliance on the objective reasonableness of an official's conduct, as measured by reference to clearly established law, should avoid excessive disruption of government and permit the resolution of many insubstantial claims on summary judgment." Id (footnote omitted).

In this case, the district court erred by not focusing on the "clearly established law" before denying the motion for summary judgment. Upon our review of the relevant case law, we find that the Supreme Court has twice addressed the issue of whether police officers can reasonably rely upon bulletins from other police departments in carrying out their law enforcement duties. Both of the Court's decisions ...


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