Submitted: October 25, 2016
from United States District Court for the District of
Nebraska - Lincoln
RILEY, Chief Judge,  BEAM and LOKEN, Circuit Judges.
March 2012, Nebraska state trooper Mark White stopped a Ford
Ranger pickup truck on Interstate 80 in Seward County,
Nebraska for following another vehicle too closely.
See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-6, 140(1). After the
driver, Raul De La Rosa, provided his Arizona license,
Trooper White issued a warning and completed the traffic stop
in less than fifteen minutes. However, when De La Rosa
refused to consent to a search of the pickup, Trooper White
called for a drug detection dog and detained De La Rosa for
fifty minutes before the dog arrived from Omaha. The dog
alerted to De La Rosa's vehicle; an interior search
uncovered a small amount of marijuana and three concealed
firearms. De La Rosa was arrested and charged in state court
with carrying concealed firearms. The charges were dismissed
after the state trial court granted De La Rosa's motion
to suppress the firearms.
Rosa then filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 damage action in
state court, alleging that Trooper White unconstitutionally
initiated a traffic stop and questioned, detained, and
arrested De La Rosa without reasonable suspicion or probable
cause. White removed the case to the United States District
Court for the District of Nebraska and now appeals the
district court's denial of his motion for summary
judgment based on qualified immunity. "An interlocutory
order denying qualified immunity is immediately appealable to
the extent that it turns on an issue of law." Aaron
v. Shelley, 624 F.3d 882, 883 (8th Cir. 2010)
(quotations omitted). Reviewing the denial of qualified
immunity de novo, we reverse. See New v.
Denver, 787 F.3d 895, 899 (8th Cir. 2015) (standard of
Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil
damage liability for discretionary action that "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 (1982).
Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit, not a mere
defense to liability. The Supreme Court has "stressed
the importance of resolving immunity questions at the
earliest possible stage in litigation." Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009) (quotation omitted).
To avoid pretrial dismissal, a plaintiff must present facts
showing the violation of a constitutional right that was
clearly established at the time of the defendant's act.
Id. at 232-33, 236.
Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and
seizures. A traffic stop is constitutionally reasonable
"where the police have probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation has occurred." Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996). A traffic stop may
include inquiries incident to determining whether to issue a
citation, and limited unrelated inquiries such as checking to
determine if the vehicle occupants are wanted for prior
offenses. See Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct.
1609, 1614-15 (2015). However, extending the detention beyond
the time needed to complete the traffic-ticketing process is
unlawful unless additional investigation, such as a dog sniff
of the vehicle's exterior, is warranted by the
officer's reasonable suspicion that other criminal
activity may be afoot. See Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at
1616; United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7
(1989). In this case, the district court granted Trooper
White summary judgment "to the extent that De La Rosa is
claiming a constitutional violation based on the initial
stop." De La Rosa does not challenge that ruling on
appeal. Thus, the only issue before us is whether Trooper
White is entitled to qualified immunity from the claim that
he lacked reasonable suspicion warranting a fifty-minute
extension of the traffic stop while he summoned a drug dog
that alerted to De La Rosa's pickup.
Reasonable suspicion is a fact-specific determination: a
reviewing court must "look at the totality of the
circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining
officer has a particularized and objective basis for
suspecting legal wrongdoing." United States v.
Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (quotations omitted).
Reasonable suspicion requires that the officer possess at
least "some minimal level of objective
justification." Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 7
(quotation omitted). Thus, courts must not uphold
"virtually random seizures" based on
"circumstances [that] describe a very large category of
presumably innocent travelers." Reid v.
Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 441 (1980). But in making
determinations of probable cause and reasonable suspicion,
"the relevant inquiry is not whether particular conduct
is 'innocent' or 'guilty, ' but the degree of
suspicion that attaches to particular types of noncriminal
acts." Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 10 (quotation
case, after initiating the traffic stop, Trooper White
observed a spare tire in the bed of the pickup truck,
obtained De La Rosa's Arizona driver's license, and
asked De La Rosa about his travels and employment. De La Rosa
said he was traveling from Phoenix, Arizona to visit family
or friends in Peoria, Illinois. Though unemployed, De La Rosa
said he performed "odd jobs" in Arizona to finance
the trip. Trooper White asked if De La Rosa had "been in
trouble in the past with drugs, guns, or anything else."
De La Rosa said no. Lincoln Dispatch advised that De La Rosa
had a criminal history for destruction of property in 2005.
Questioned further, De La Rosa explained that the charges
were dropped, an explanation confirmed in the report
dispatched to White's computer. Trooper White issued a
warning ticket, returned De La Rosa's documentation, and
told him that he was "free to go." As De La Rosa
exited the patrol car, White asked whether he had drugs or
anything in the vehicle that shouldn't be there. De La
Rosa said no. White asked for consent to search the vehicle;
De La Rosa refused. White then told De La Rosa he was calling
a drug detection canine unit to conduct an exterior sniff of
denying Trooper White qualified immunity, the district court
considered the uncontroverted facts in White's statement
of undisputed material facts, supplemented by facts in De La
Rosa's affidavit and exhibits that provided "little
additional substance." The court properly recognized
that an officer needs reasonable suspicion to detain the
motorist after completing a traffic stop, an inquiry based on
the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the
time. The court then identified the following facts as the
basis for Trooper White's suspicion of criminal activity:
De La Rosa allegedly lied about having a criminal history
because he said he had not "been in trouble with guns,
drugs, or anything else" but he had been charged, in