Friday, March 31, 2017

Close but no cigar

Not every bad arrest gives you a lawsuit against the police. Sometimes, the charges are dismissed, and there is no recourse against the police. That's what happened here.

The case is Arroyo v. City of New York, a summary order decided on March 21. The summary order does not tell us everything about the case, but the district court ruling describes a place of residence in New York City where a mother lived with her daughter. The plaintiff-daughter is paraplegic. The mother was sitting in a room by herself. Someone called the police to complain about possible elder abuse at the home, and according to defendants, the caller who made the report was an employee from a visiting nurse service, who stated that the daughter in the household was bipolar and kept a sword under her mattress.

The police showed up and found a gun in the apartment. They also removed plaintiff from the home because they thought she was a danger to herself and others. The Mental Health Law authorizes these seizures. The criminal court suppressed the gun as the fruit of an unlawful search, and from what I can see, the hospital said the was not a danger to anyone.

The police are off the hook under qualified immunity, which shields them from suit if they had arguable probable cause. This is not a difficult standard for the police to satisfy. On the mental health claim, the Court (Cabranes, Wesley and Sessions [D.J.]) says:

the Officers had arguable probable cause to remove Arroyo from her home pursuant to MHL § 9.41. Under MHL § 9.41, a police officer “may take into custody any person who appears to be mentally ill and is conducting . . . herself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to the person or others.” As the District Court noted, the Officers (1) received a 911 call from an identified caller reporting possible elder abuse and stating that Arroyo was bipolar; (2) spoke with an identified source (the supervisor of Arroyo’s mother’s home attendant) with knowledge of Arroyo’s conduct who indicated that Arroyo was threatening to her mother and kept a gun at home;1 (3) observed Arroyo acting in an erratic and unresponsive manner; and (4) spoke to Arroyo’s mother, who expressed that she was not permitted to leave her bedroom. With these facts taken together, a reasonable officer could have found that probable cause existed to remove Arroyo to a hospital under MHL § 9.41.
On the gun claim, we have a similar analysis."At the time she was arrested, the Officers had heard from the supervisor of Arroyo’s mother’s home attendant that Arroyo kept a gun at home, and Officer Vega had discovered a gun in Arroyo’s purse. The fact that the gun was later suppressed does not preclude a determination that there was arguable probable cause for the arrest." For this proposition, the Court cites, Townes v. City of New York, 176 F.3d 138, 148 (2d Cir. 1999): “Victims of unreasonable searches or seizures . . . cannot be compensated [under § 1983] for injuries that result from the discovery of incriminating evidence and consequent criminal prosecution.”

So while the plaintiff was innocent, the police were close enough in thinking she was guilty that they cannot be sued for false arrest. The "close but no cigar" rule may work in some areas of life, but not false arrest. Close enough means no lawsuit.

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