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Investigators were not liable for omitting possibly exonerating information from an arrest affidavit

The three plaintiff’s in Paez v Mulvey case were police officers of the Golden Beach, Florida police department were arrested in 2011 on various charges of public corruption. The criminal accusations alleged that these officers fraudulently failed to report off-duty police work that would have required them to pay administrative fees to the department. The allegations in the probable cause affidavit claimed the officers were paid simultaneously by the department for work performed at the same time they were billing for off-duty work. The affidavit also claimed the officers submitted fewer hours for off-duty work than they were actually paid in order to avoid paying the town of Golden Beach a five-dollar-per-hour administrative fee for off-duty work to cover costs like insurance and the use of police vehicles.

The criminal charges against the officers were eventually dropped by the State Attorney’s Office and the case was dismissed in 2014. The officers then sued the four Miami-Dade investigators who were assigned to investigate the alleged misconduct at the Golden Beach police department and who submitted probable cause affidavits to a judge sitting the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County that led to the issuance of arrest warrants for the officers.

The officers filed a section 1983 Civil Rights claim for a violation of the Fourth Amendment for initiating a malicious prosecution along with state common law malicious prosecution claims against the Miami-Dade investigators. The section 1983 complaint alleged that the affidavits submitted by the investigators should have included additional and exonerating information known to the affiants which would have shown that their conduct was not criminal. It alleged that the Golden Beach had no authority to charge the officers for the administrative fees. The complaint alleged that the Miami-Dade investigators knew that the officer’s conduct was not criminal or improper and detailed relevant pieces of omitted evidence. Furthermore it alleged that since the investigators knew of the relevant omitted evidence, the probable cause affidavit contained knowingly false and misleading statements and omitted substantial exculpatory evidence.

The district court rejected the defendant investigators’ motion to dismiss the section1983 malicious prosecution claims finding that the complaint plausibly alleged that the investigators intentionally or recklessly made material omissions in their probable cause affidavits and that the inclusion of the omitted information would have negated any finding of probable cause.

The appeals court reversed the lower court and found the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.   The appellate court said the issue was whether the arrests violated the Fourth Amendment by omitting exculpatory information from the arrest warrant affidavits.

The court of appeals rejected the attorney’s argument of a civil rights violation. It found the omitted information did not undercut the reasonableness of the belief that a crime was committed. Even if the omitted information had been included, a reasonable officer could have believed an offense had been committed. Therefor the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. The investigators reasonably believed that the police officers committed fraud by their repeated failure to report their off-duty work regardless of the fee-payment status.