Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11th Circuit Says Suit Against Steroid Prosecutors Should Have Been Dismissed

In Soares, et al v. Signature Pharmacy Inc. et al (10-13514), the Eleventh Circuit released an unpublished opinion reversing the district court's order that denied summary judgment as to certain counts of the complaint. "The claims [in the underlying lawsuit] arise from a raid of Signature’s premises and the arrest of Signature’s owners and employees in connection with an anabolic steroids investigation. This appeal addresses the claims against the Appellants Albany DA, Soares, and Baynes." Generally, the court described the facts as follows:
In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) and the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecutor Anne Wedge-McMillen asked the [Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation] MBI to assist in an investigation of Signature, a pharmacy with two locations in central Florida. MBI agreed and Wright was assigned as the lead agent on the case. The investigation focused on potential violations of state and federal laws restricting the prescription and sale of anabolic steroids and human growth hormones.
After the government arrested the pharmacists based upon a New York arrest warrant, the "Appellees sued Soares and Baynes pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on claims of unlawful arrest and unlawful conspiracy, and pursuant to Florida common law for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Appellees sued Soares and the Albany DA for injurious falsehood and defamation under Florida common law. Appellees also brought a § 1983 claim against the Albany DA pursuant to Monell v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978), alleging liability for the actions of its decision maker, Soares, for unlawfully arresting the Individual Appellees." 

The defendants/prosecutors moved for summary judgment and the "district court granted summary judgment as to the Florida IIED claim, but denied summary judgment as to all other claims." On appeal:
Soares and Baynes argue that the district court erred in denying them prosecutorial immunity and qualified immunity against the unlawful arrest claim. The district court concluded that Soares and Baynes had no prosecutorial business in Florida, but that in directing the arrest of the Appellees, they were acting as Wright’s “fellow investigative officers.” The court noted that the only prosecutorial function Soares and Baynes “could have performed in Florida would have been to assist the Florida State Court in carrying out a demand from New York to extradite [the Appellees]—a task Soares and Baynes eschewed in favor of making quick and highly publicized arrests.” The court concluded, “taking all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiffs, Soares’ and Baynes’ activities on February 27, 2007 appear to have been focused in significant part on ensuring that [Appellees’] arrests and the raids would be covered by the media.” 
 With regard to the legal analysis, the court stated:
Absolute immunity depends on the function performed by the prosecutor and not the job title itself. Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir.1999). Thus the court examines “the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 259, 113 S. Ct. 2606, 2608 (1993). Accordingly, absolute immunity applies to the prosecutor’s actions “in initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State’s case.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431, 96 S. Ct. 984, 995 (1976). Even if a prosecutor is denied absolute immunity, a prosecutor may have qualified immunity when performing a function that is not associated with his role as an advocate for the state. Jones, 174 F.3d at 1281–82.....
However, that court did not need to perform that analysis and stated: "This court need not determine whether absolute immunity applies because we conclude from the record that the Appellees have failed to show the violation of a clearly established right.....The Appellees devote a substantial part of their briefs to, perhaps justifiably, complaining about Soares’ and Baynes’ bad behavior—noting that Soares and Baynes failed to bring the New York warrants (and that they were technically deficient), arguing that they were obsessed with the media attention and made defamatory remarks about the Appellees, and claiming they acted crudely on the flight from Florida to New York."
Regardless of whether the warrants in New York were valid, it is undisputed that there were pending felony charges against the Appellees in the state of New York. Fla. Stat. § 941.14 permits the warrantless arrest of individuals so long as there are pending felony charges against the person or persons arrested. There is no requirement under § 941.14 that there be valid arrest warrants in that state as well. Therefore, the uncontested fact that there were pending felony charges in New York, with or without the arrest warrants, would have provided a sufficient basis for the Appellees’ arrest under Florida law...Likewise, whether it was improper for Soares and Baynes to have been in Florida, involved in the execution of the search warrants, or to have made statements to the press is not germane to an unlawful arrest claim.


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