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Date: 01-20-2023

Case Style:

David Sosa v. Martin County, Florida, et al.

Case Number: 20-12781

Judge: William Pryor

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on appeal from the Southern District of Florida (Miami-Dade County)

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Description: Miami, Florida civil right lawyers represented Plaintiff, who sued Defendants on civil rights violation theories under 42 u.s.c. 1983.

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The Martin County Sheriff’s Department twice has arrested David Sosa based on an arrest warrant for a different man with the same name. In 2014, a deputy sheriff stopped Sosa, a resident of Martin County, Florida, for a traffic violation. The deputy checked Sosa’s driver’s license using the Sheriff’s computer system and discovered a warrant issued 22 years earlier in Harris County, Texas for another man named David Sosa. Although Sosa protested during the traffic stop that the wanted man’s date of birth, height, weight, social security number, and tattoo information did not match his own identifiers, deputies arrested, detained, and fingerprinted Sosa. After three hours, the sheriff’s department confirmed his identity and released him. Four years later, on Friday, April 20, 2018, another deputy sheriff checked Sosa’s driver’s license during a traffic stop and found the same Texas warrant. Again, Sosa objected that the identifiers listed on the warrant did not describe him. Sosa also told the deputies about the misidentification in 2014. Deputies arrested Sosa and brought him to the Martin County jail, where, despite Sosa’s continued insistence to deputies and jailers that he was not the wanted man, his detention lasted three days over a weekend. On Monday, April 23, 2018, Sosa was fingerprinted, and the sheriff’s department released him after the fingerprints confirmed that the warrant was for a different man. Sosa filed a civil-rights action, see 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against Martin County; the Martin County Sheriff in his official capacity; Deputy Killough, the officer who arrested Sosa in 2018; Deputy Sanchez, an officer to whom Sosa protested his innocence during his threeday detention; and other unnamed deputies. Sosa alleged that the defendants “searched and detained and arrested him without probable cause or reasonable suspicion,” that they took “an [u]nconstitutionally lengthy time” “to check [his] identity,” and that the Sheriff and County “did not have adequate written policies, or train or supervise the deputies properly” to prevent Sosa’s arrest.

The district court dismissed the complaint. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). It determined that Sosa had not plausibly alleged that the deputies had violated Sosa’s rights under the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendments. And it held that because the deputies were not liable, there was no basis for liability against the Sheriff and County.

* * *

Our decision begins and ends with Baker. There, Leonard McCollan “procured” a driver’s license that bore his own picture but, in all other respects, the information of his brother, Linnie. 443 U.S. at 140. “Leonard, masquerading as Linnie, was arrested . . . on narcotics charges,” “booked as Linnie,” and “released on bail as Linnie . . . .” Id. at 140–41. Evidently, Leonard violated the terms of his bond because an arrest warrant was soon after issued for Linnie McCollan. See id. at 141. When Linnie ran a red light, the police checked his driver’s license, discovered the warrant, and arrested him, despite his protests of mistaken identity. Id. On Saturday, December 30, 1972, the police defendants took custody of Linnie “until [Tuesday,] January 2, 1973, when officials compared his appearance against a file photograph of the wanted man and, recognizing their error, released him.” Id. Linnie later filed a civil-rights action alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. After the Fifth Circuit reversed a directed verdict against Linnie on the theory that the police must “mak[e] sure that the person arrested and detained is actually the person sought under the warrant,” McCollan v. Tate, 575 F.2d 509, 513 (5th Cir. 1978), the Supreme Court reversed and held that he had no constitutional right not to be detained for three days: Absent an attack on the validity of the warrant under which he was arrested, respondent’s complaint is simply that despite his protests of mistaken identity, he was detained . . . from December 30 . . . until January 2, when the validity of his protests was ascertained. Whatever claims this situation might give rise to under state tort law, we think it gives rise to no claim under the United States Constitution. Id. at 143–44. The Baker Court rejected Linnie’s over-detention claim based on its consideration of only two criteria: the validity of Linnie’s arrest warrant and the length of his detention. Id. It recognized that Linnie was “deprived of his liberty for a period of days,” which spanned three days from Saturday to Tuesday. And it recognized that his detention was “pursuant to a warrant conforming . . . to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 144. It concluded based on these two facts that Linnie had no cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claim for over-detention. As the Court explained, any other conclusion would read too much into the constitutional guarantee of due process. The Constitution does not guarantee that innocent people will never be arrested, so a detainee’s claims of innocence are “largely irrelevant.” Id. at 145. Nor does the Constitution guarantee that officers will “investigate independently every claim of innocence . . . based on mistaken identity.” Id. at 146. When officers do investigate, the Constitution does not guarantee an “error-free investigation.” Id. And regardless of whether errors are made, the Fourteenth Amendment is not a constitutional bulwark against a few-days detention, “[g]iven the requirements that arrest be made only on probable cause [under the Fourth Amendment] and that one detained be accorded a speedy trial [under the Sixth Amendment.]” Id. at 145. Even though the Due Process Clause affords protections to people deprived of their liberty, those protections do not extend to detainees in Linnie’s particular situation. Under Baker, no violation of due process occurs if a detainee’s arrest warrant is valid and his detention lasts an amount of time no more than the three days that Linnie was detained. Id. at 144. And both conditions are met here. Like Linnie, Sosa was arrested pursuant to a valid warrant supported by probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. See id. at 143. And like Linnie, who was held from Saturday to Tuesday, see 443 U.S. at 144, Sosa was held for three days from Friday to Monday. So, under Baker, Sosa has no claim for a violation of his due-process rights. Baker’s holding did not clarify when prolonged detentions unlike Linnie’s would give rise to a constitutional violation. The Baker Court “assume[d], arguendo, that, depending on what procedures the State affords defendants following arrest and prior to actual trial, mere detention pursuant to a valid warrant but in the face of repeated protests of innocence will after the lapse of a certain amount of time deprive the accused of ‘liberty without due process of law.’” Id. at 145 (alteration adopted). But the Court did not decide that issue. Neither do we. Like the Baker Court, we limit our inquiry to the material facts of the case before us. And as the Baker Court was “quite certain that [Linnie’s] detention of three days over a New Year’s weekend does not and could not amount to such a deprivation,” id., we are sure that Sosa’s commensurate three-day detention did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. We need not go any further. That Baker did not draw a bright line between lawful and unlawful detentions does not mean that it instituted a fact-intensive, totality-of-the-circumstances analysis for over-detention claims, as our dissenting colleague proposes. See Dissenting Op. at 34–40. Of course, there are some factual differences between Baker and this case. For example, Linnie was detained over a holiday, 443 U.S. at 141, and Linnie’s detention began in 1972, when technology was less advanced and identification may have taken longer, id. at 141. But the Court did not treat these facts as material. See id. at 143–44. Nor did the Court rely on the unstated “limiting principle” of reasonableness that our dissenting colleague has discerned from Baker. Dissenting Op. at 27. If we treated every factual distinction with a precedential decision as necessarily material, the doctrine of precedent would lose most of its function. Glanville L. Williams, Learning the Law 93 (A.T.H. Smith ed., 14th ed. 2010) (“We know that in the flux of life all the facts of a case will never recur; but the legally material facts may recur and it is with these that the doctrine [of precedent] is concerned.”) Judges would be freed from the requirement that they apply the law, so long as they could unearth any factual discrepancy between binding caselaw and the case they wanted to decide a different way. Bryan A. Garner, et al., The Law of Judicial Precedent § 7, at 92 (2016) (“For one decision to be precedent for another, the facts in the two cases need not be identical. But they must be substantially similar, without material difference.”) So, where the two conditions identified by the Supreme Court in Baker are met, we give no weight to facts beyond those material to the two conditions. And even if Baker had introduced a fact-intensive, totalityof-the-circumstances analysis for over-detention claims, the circumstances of Sosa’s detention would still convince us that he has no such claim. None of the facts differentiating Baker from this case are material. For instance, Linnie was held over the New Year’s holiday, id. at 141, and Sosa was held over a non-holiday weekend. But detainees have the same due-process rights on holidays as they do every other day of the year, so the incidence of a holiday does not change our constitutional analysis. Nor is the lower technological standard for police investigations in 1972, in contrast to 2018, a material distinction. It was permissible for the police to hold Linnie for three days, not because computers were unavailable back then, but because “a detention of three days” is objectively shorter than the duration that might give rise to an unlawful deprivation of liberty without due process. 443 U.S. at 143–45. Indeed, the identification in Baker required only a low-technology photograph comparison, so Baker did not depend, even implicitly, on a technological standard. And it does not matter that the warrant in this case was comparatively older than the Baker warrant or that it listed a comparatively more common name. “Absent an attack on the validity of the warrant under which [a detainee] was arrested,” id. at 144 (emphasis added), we make no inquiry into the warrant. After distinctions immaterial to the Baker Court’s holding are set aside, the facts of Baker and this case are strikingly similar. So, our holding is the same too. Sosa and the dissent argue that our precedent in Cannon supports Sosa’s over-detention claim. See Dissenting Op. at 13–16. In Cannon, officers questioned a traveler named Mary Parrott at a highway rest stop in Alabama, learned that a Mary Parrott was wanted in Kentucky for theft, arrested the traveler, filled out an arrest report with the information of the wanted Mary Parrott instead of the traveler, and used that arrest report purportedly to support detaining the Alabama traveler for seven days and sending her to Kentucky, despite her accurate insistence that she had been misidentified. Id. at 1560–61. We held that a jury could have found that the arresting officer had violated the woman’s constitutional rights. Id. at 1565. Specifically, the officer erred by keeping her detained “after it was or should have been known that [she] was entitled to release.” Id. at 1563. Sosa and the dissent contend that, under Cannon, he was entitled to release because the deputies who detained him knew he may have been misidentified based on his protests and did not verify his identity. Sosa and the dissent misread Cannon: we could decide Cannon as we did because the two conditions required for Baker’s holding were not met. First, it is not evident that the Cannon detainee was arrested on a valid warrant supported by probable cause. The officer who wrote the report that the county judge used as the basis for the arrest warrant did not record the information for the woman the officer sought to arrest. Instead, he copied from a computer database the personal information of the woman wanted in Kentucky—plus, a social security number that belonged to a third person, an unrelated fugitive also in the database. Id. at 1560–61; see Wilkerson v. Seymour, 736 F.3d 974, 978 (11th Cir. 2013) (asserting that probable cause exists where a prudent person would believe, based on “trustworthy information,” that “the suspect has committed” an offense) (internal quotation marks omitted). We explained that the plaintiff had “essentially a claim of false imprisonment rising to the level of a liberty deprivation.” Cannon, 1 F.3d at 1562; cf. Luke, 50 F.4th at 95 (stating that a detainee’s right to be free from process-based seizure is violated where “the legal process justifying his seizure was constitutionally infirm” and “his seizure would not otherwise be justified . . .”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Second, the Cannon detainee was held for seven days, a period more than twice greater than the duration sheltered from liability in Baker. Cannon, 1 F.3d at 1561. In short, the Cannon detention satisfied neither of the two Baker conditions for lawful detentions. Baker controls this case. Unlike the Cannon detainee, Sosa was arrested on a valid warrant and held for only three days. So, under Baker, Sosa’s complaint did not state a claim for a violation of his due-process rights.

Outcome: Affirmed

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