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Probable cause to arrest means no civil rights violation

The lawsuit by Livingston Manners  claiming federal civil rights violations by several police officers from the City of Hollywood for excessive force, malicious prosecution and a common law false arrest was ultimately rejected.  This is how the facts unfolded.

At 3:00 in the morning Manners was sitting in his car on the side of a residential street in Hollywood Florida getting ready to drive to work when Officer Cannella drove by. The officer was patrolling the area in response to recent theft crimes in the area. As Cannella passed, Manners drove off. Believing that he saw Manners run a stop sign, Cannella made a u-turn and began following Manners about four or five blocks before activating his lights and siren. It was undisputed that Manners did not stop when he saw Cannella’s behind him with lights and siren. Manners explained that he was afraid, so he continued driving and until he reached a well-lit gas station where there was surveillance and there he pulled over.

Canella approached and informed Manners he was under arrest and ordered him to stay seated in the car. According to video taken from the surveillance cameras, a physical struggle took place when Cannella attempted to arrest Manners and place him into custody. Eventually other officers arrived while the struggle was underway, and Manners was tazed and eventually subdued.

The district court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motions finding the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they violated no clearly established constitutional right. Manners’ civil rights attorney appealed the summary judgment order. Ultimately the court of appeals agreed and rejected Manner’s claim for relief. The central question was whether the officer was entitled to qualified immunity giving him total immunity from the lawsuit. Qualified immunity allows government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation. First, the officer must show he was acting within his discretionary authority. Second, the officer must show his actions and conduct did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

The key issue in Manner’s appeal in this civil rights claim was whether Officer Cannella had probable cause to arrest Manners. The court of appeals found that he did have probable cause to arrest him for fleeing and attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, a violation of Florida Statutes section 316.1935 which makes it a felony to flee or attempt to elude a law enforcement officer.   It found there was no dispute that Manners continued driving after he was aware the police car was behind him with lights and sirens activated.  This gave the officer arguable probable cause to arrest Manners. A law enforcement officer only needs arguable probable cause to make an arrest which will give the officer qualified immunity from any civil rights claim for a violation of the Fourth Amendment of constitution prohibiting an unlawful seizure.  The court found a reasonable officer in Cannella’s shoes could have believed that Manners had committed the fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer. The qualified immunity applied and defeated the false arrest and excessive force claims.