On Appeal from the United States District Court for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 01-cv-6160) Magistrate Judge: Honorable M. Faith Angell
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge
Argued September 27, 2004
Before: RENDELL, FUENTES, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.
After Kimberly Wright was sexually assaulted by two men, she broke a window and entered the house in which the assault took place for the purpose of retrieving her clothes. Following two separate investigations, conducted by the defendant officers concerning the sexual assault and the break-in, Wright was charged with burglary, theft, criminal trespass, and criminal mischief. The charges against Wright were eventually dismissed. Thereafter, she filed a § 1983 action against the defendant officers alleging that they violated her constitutional rights. The District Court denied the officers' motion for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity and the defendants now appeal. Because the facts and circumstances within the arresting officers' knowledge were sufficient to warrant a prudent person believing that Wright had committed the crime of criminal trespass, we conclude that there was no constitutional violation. Therefore, we hold that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity and we will reverse denial of the officers' motion for summary judgment.
A. The Assault Wright's action arises from two separate police investigations, one for a sexual assault and one for a reported breaking and entry. *fn1 On the morning of December 16, 1999, Wright was driving alone on Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia when her car broke down. Two men, Ronald Jackson and Nimar Thompson, stopped and offered Wright assistance. Instead of helping her, they drugged her and forcibly took her to a beauty parlor owned by Jackson. Soon thereafter, Jackson and Thompson took Wright from the beauty parlor to a home on Cedar Park Avenue where she was held in an intoxicated state for several hours. When she awoke, she was partially undressed. She believed that she had been sexually assaulted. Eventually, the two men forced Wright out of the house, leaving her on the front porch. Wright knocked on several neighbors' doors for help, but received no response. She then returned to the house where she had been assaulted, broke a small window pane and reentered the property. Once inside, Wright retrieved her personal belongings, as well as three plastic bags containing several items such as: a photograph of one of her attackers, several pieces of mail, two cancelled checks made out to Jackson, unopened bottles of alcohol, watches, a jacket, clothes, and a cordless phone. Wright later told police that she took these items to help identify her attackers.
After leaving the Cedar Park home with the items, Wright was able to get a ride from a taxi to a friend's home. The following day, Wright's sister took her to the hospital where she was treated for her physical injuries. At the hospital, Wright was interviewed by Officer Manning to whom she described the circumstances of the attack and explained that she had broken a window to get back inside the residence to retrieve her clothes. Sometime during her hospital stay, she was treated and examined for sexual assault.
Specimens were taken for the purpose of collecting any DNA evidence that may have been left on her body by her attackers.
Meanwhile, Jackson's sister Denise Pue, the owner of the Cedar Park home where the assault occurred, reported the break-in of her home. There were thus two criminal investigations initiated by the Philadelphia Police Department: one related to Wright's sexual assault that was to be investigated by Officer Denise O'Malley and one related to Pue's allegations of a break-in that was to be investigated by Detective Daniel Heeney.
The investigation of the sexual assault began on December 17, 1999, when O'Malley first interviewed Wright. In the interview, Wright described the circumstances of the assault and said that she had broken the window to get back into the house to get her clothes. On December 19, the police, accompanied by Wright and her mother, proceeded to locate the house where she had been assaulted. After locating the house, Wright's mother told police that Wright had removed property from the house to prove that she had been there. Thereafter, Wright gave police the three bags of items taken from Pue's house. The items were later released to Pue.
Meanwhile, the burglary investigation had begun on December 16 when Heeney went to the Cedar Park home to examine the scene of the break-in. Pue told Heeney during an interview that she learned from a neighbor that her brother, Jackson, had brought a woman to the house while she was at work. During the investigation, Heeney discovered a broken pane of glass by the front door and he recovered a slip of paper with the name "Kimberly Wright" on it. The following day, Heeney interviewed Jackson. Jackson admitted that he brought Wright to his sister's house, but he claimed that she was extremely intoxicated and that she refused to go when he told her to leave. Jackson denied having sexual intercourse with Wright and told Heeney that he and a friend had left the house after calling the police because she refused to leave.
The two police investigators, O'Malley and Heeney, disagree as to when each first became aware of the other's investigation. O'Malley remembers December 19 as the day on which she received facsimiles of Pue's burglary complaint from Heeney's office. Heeney, however, documented in his report, dated December 17, 1999, that O'Malley had related to him a summary of Wright's allegations. The officers spoke on a few occasions throughout their respective investigations.
On January 24, 2000, O'Malley determined that Wright's sexual assault complaint was unfounded and told Heeney that the case did not have a sufficient foundation to proceed. At some unknown date, but prior to O'Malley closing the sexual assault case, Heeney prepared an affidavit of probable cause for Wright's arrest in regard to the burglary of Pue's residence. His affidavit was approved by an Assistant District Attorney on January 30, 2000.
On February 8, 2000, Heeney arrested Wright without a warrant for a number of offenses, including burglary, theft, and criminal trespass. The arrest report lists both Heeney and O'Malley as the police personnel involved. Nearly two months after her arrest, the charges against Wright were dismissed for failure to prosecute because Pue failed to appear at the preliminary hearing.
Shortly after the dismissal of the charges against Wright, Philadelphia police authorities reopened a number of sexual assault investigations, including Wright's case. The cases were reopened following complaints made by victims, the Women's Law Project, and other advocacy groups concerning the manner in which Philadelphia police officers were handling sexual assault cases. After the case was reopened, DNA samples confirmed that Jackson was the source of the semen found in the rape exam that was performed on Wright. Within three months after Wright's case was reopened, Jackson and Thompson were arrested and charged with the sexual assault on Wright. Both men later pled guilty and were sentenced to periods of incarceration. In November 2001, the Philadelphia Police Internal Affairs Division issued a report finding that O'Malley had "conducted a less than proper/thorough investigation" of Wright's assault case and that her case should not have been closed as unfounded.
After her case was reopened and Jackson and Thompson were arrested, Wright filed the present § 1983 action in the District Court against the City of Philadelphia and the officers for violating her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. She specifically claimed that she was falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted by Heeney and O'Malley. Wright moved for summary judgment on a number of issues, including that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. The defendants opposed Wright's motion for summary judgment, and independently moved for summary judgment on two issues, including that O'Malley and Heeney were entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court denied both cross-motions for summary judgment. Specifically with regard to the issue of qualified immunity, the District Court ruled that if all disputed facts were viewed in the light most favorable to Wright, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that O'Malley and Heeney unreasonably dismissed Wright's purported reason for her break-in – to obtain evidence of the sexual assault against her – and that the reason for the break-in should have negated any perception of probable cause ...