I used to have cases before a federal judge who said it was a "ticket to federal court" when a criminal defendant was acquitted in state court (or the charges were dropped). This meant that if the police arrested someone but the charges didn't stick, the defendant could turn around and sue the police. Well, he can sue the police, but that doesn't mean he'll win the case. Quite often, these false arrest cases do not survive summary judgment.
The case is Droz v. McCadden, decided on September 14. Droz was arrested for criminal contempt when he acted out in Town court (he would not let the court officer see what was in his brown paper bag). The Town Judge, Shirley Herder, summoned the police, who arrested Droz. That officer was McCadden. The charge was eventually dismissed. Droz gets a ticket to federal court.
That Droz gets to sue McCadden doesn't mean he wins the case. There is no false arrest if the police have probable cause to arrest. Probable cause can exist even if the charges are dropped or a jury acquits the defendant. This is because the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for conviction is much higher than the probable cause standard.
McCadden finds a more obscure way to win the case. The parties agreed that McCadden reasonably believed that he was acting at Town Judge Herder's behest in arresting Droz. In fact, Droz's lawyer actually admitted that "McCadden ... relied upon his alleged understanding of Herder's direction to him to arrest Droz for criminal contempt." The Court of Appeals (Sack, Winter and Cogan) is a little flummoxed at counsel's weasly language about McCadden's "alleged understanding," but it's close enough to get the case dismissed. As the Second Circuit writes, "Droz concedes, then, that McCadden thought he was operating at the direction of Herder when he arrested Droz."
This belief was reasonable because Droz also "concedes that Herder agreed ... that Droz's actions should be reported to the police." So when McCadden arrested Droz for criminal contempt, his reliance on Herder's judgment gets him off the hook. This brings the case within the gray area known as "arguable probable cause," a defense to false arrest cases. Arguable probable cause is enough to win, and by its very terms this doctrine is more favorable to the police than mere probable cause. Under arguable probable cause, the case is dismissed if the officer "could have reasonably believed that probable cause existed in the light of well established law." On the facts of this case, McCadden has arguable probable cause, and Droz's ticket to the courthouse gets him nowhere.