United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
JOHNNIE ROCHELL, JR. PLAINTIFF
DETECTIVE CODY ROSS DEFENDANT
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court are Defendant Detective Cody Ross's
Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 76) and Brief in Support
(Doc. 77). Detective Ross asks that the Court reconsider its
Order of October 25, 2017 (Doc. 69), in which it dismissed
with prejudice Plaintiff Johnnie Rochell, Jr.'s
official-capacity claim against former defendant Springdale,
Arkansas, and Mr. Rochell's claim against Detective Ross
for false arrest. The Court preserved for trial Mr.
Rochell's individual-capacity claims against Detective
Ross for excessive force and for false imprisonment, finding
that Detective Ross was not entitled to qualified immunity on
either of those claims.
Motion for Reconsideration does not mention the Court's
decision to preserve the excessive-force claim for trial, so
the Court interprets that omission to mean that Detective
Ross does not request reconsideration of that decision.
Instead, the Motion focuses exclusively on the false
imprisonment claim. Detective Ross's first argument in
support of reconsideration is that the undisputed facts in
the summary judgment record showed, at most, that he was
merely negligent with respect to Mr. Rochell's false
imprisonment, and there was no evidence that Detective Ross
engaged in the type of intentional or willful conduct
necessary to create a genuine, material dispute of fact as to
whether he committed this tort. Second, Detective Ross argues
that because the Court found that he was entitled to
qualified immunity for the false arrest claim, that same
immunity should also shield him from liability for false
imprisonment. The Court will address both of his arguments in
launching into the analysis, the Court first observes that a
motion for reconsideration may be made pursuant to either
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or Rule 60(b).
"Rule 59(e) motions serve the limited function of
correcting manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly
discovered evidence." Lowryex rel. Crow v. Watson
Chapel Sen. Dist, 540 F.3d 752, 761 (8th Cir. 2008)
(quoting United States v. Metropolitan St Louis Sewer
Dist, 440 F.3d 930, 933 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal
citations and quotations omitted)). Rule 60(b) provides that
a party may be relieved from an order of the Court under
certain enumerated circumstances, including the existence of
"mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable
neglect" or "any other reason that justifies
relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1) and (6).
considering Detective Ross's arguments, the Court finds
that no manifest errors or law were made. There remains a
genuine, material dispute of fact that he willfully or
intentionally committed the tort of false imprisonment, for
the reasons set forth in detail in the Court's Order on
summary judgment. As the Court's Order made clear, when
Detective Ross arrived at the police station and commenced
the booking process for Mr. Rochell, Detective Ross was
presented, for the first time, with a copy of an ACIC report,
the contents of which formed the sole basis for arresting Mr.
Rochell for being a felon in possession. The report contained
information about another person entirely, Mr. Johnny Wayne
Russell, Jr., who was clearly identified by name at the top
of the form, as well as by race. And, of critical importance
here is the fact that Mr. Russell is Caucasian, and Mr.
Rochell is African-American.
being presented with evidence that Mr. Rochell's criminal
history had possibly been confused with that of a white man
named Johnny Russell, Detective Ross proceeded to have Mr.
Rochell booked and incarcerated in the county jail without
investigating the obvious factual inconsistencies on the face
of the first page of the ACIC report. These circumstances
create a genuine, material dispute of fact that Detective
Ross willfully or intentionally failed to conduct further
investigation in favor of simply allowing Mr. Rochell to be
incarcerated-for reasons the Court can only speculate
about-and despite the fact that: (1) Mr. Rochell adamantly
denied that he was a felon, and (2) Detective Ross admitted
in his deposition that after he arrived at the police station
and saw the report, he suspected that "there may have
been some validity to [Mr. Rochell's denials], "
(Doc. 69, p. 23), but made the decision to disregard his
suspicion and send Mr. Rochell to jail.
Ross contends that the facts in the summary judgment record
point to his mere negligence, but the Court disagrees. The
Order on summary judgment explained that an officer cannot
rest on a defense that he was "merely negligent"
when other evidence indicates his plain incompetence; and
here, the factual record creates a triable issue of fact that
Detective Ross's "skills in analyzing ACIC reports
and performing follow-up database searches [were] substandard
and not commensurate with the skills typically possessed by a
reasonable officer." Id. at 25 n.5.
Ross's second argument is that the qualified immunity he
received for falsely arresting Mr. Rochell should extend to
the claim for false imprisonment. The Court disagrees for the
reasons carefully explained in its Order on summary judgment.
Detective Ross was entitled to qualified immunity for false
arrest because he reasonably relied on a police
dispatcher's confirmation that Mr. Rochell was a
convicted arsonist. Although the dispatcher was wrong, and
the ACIC report she ran on Mr. Rochell was erroneous, the law
is clear that ''[e]ven when a suspect tells the
arresting officers that their information is faulty and that
he has not been convicted of a felony, it is 'objectively
reasonable for the officers to rely on [the suspect's]
criminal history as reported and confirmed to them by a
police dispatcher.''' Id. at 22. Because
Detective Ross reasonably relied on the dispatcher's
report relayed over the phone at the scene of the arrest, he
was entitled to qualified immunity.
qualified immunity evaporated, however, at the moment
Detective Ross arrived at the police station and was given a
copy of the ACIC report. At that point, he was no longer
entitled to blindly rely on the dispatcher's
representations. He was required to use his own knowledge and
experience as a detective to examine the report and form his
own conclusions. The first entry in the report named a
Caucasian male, Johnny Russell, who was not the same person
Detective Ross had arrested. This facial error or
inconsistency, when considered alongside Mr. Rochell's
adamant denial about having a felony record and Detective
Ross's admitted suspicion that Mr. Rochell was telling
the truth, formed a sufficient basis for the Court to
conclude that a reasonable officer in Detective Ross's
position would have conducted some amount of inquiry and
investigation before imprisoning Mr. Rochell. Moreover, as
previously mentioned, Detective Ross's apparent lack of
knowledge and training on the topic of generating/analyzing
ACIC reports revealed his incompetence in this particular
area and further justified the denial of qualified immunity.
See Id. at 25.
these reasons, the Motion for Reconsideration ...