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Walker v. Peterson

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

November 20, 2013

SHAWN PETERSON and BRIAN FRANKLIN, in their individual capacity, Defendants.


KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Clayton Walker, brought suit against defendants, Shawn Peterson and Brian Franklin, alleging various § 1983 claims and state-law claims. A jury trial commenced on May 14, 2013, and the jury was ultimately instructed on three claims: (1) § 1983 excessive force; (2) § 1983 unlawful arrest; and (3) trespass. The jury found in favor of defendants on the § 1983 excessive force and trespass claims.

Walker's § 1983 unlawful arrest claim depends on whether defendants had probable cause to arrest Walker, which is a legal question for the court. Defendants argue probable cause existed at the time of the arrest while Walker argues it did not. Because the probable cause determination is dependent upon the facts surrounding the arrest, the court had the jury determine certain facts that were in dispute. The court now takes up the merits of Walker's § 1983 unlawful arrest claim. After considering the jury's determination of the facts and the court's application of the law to those facts, the court finds in favor of defendants on Walker's § 1983 unlawful arrest claim.

Walker also moves for a new trial based on alleged jury misconduct. Defendants oppose the motion. For the following reasons, Walker's motion for a new trial is denied.


Walker is a resident of Brookings, South Dakota. Defendants are Brookings city police officers.

On or about May 3, 2009, at 3 a.m., defendants were dispatched to an apartment complex because of a noise complaint. Upon arriving at the apartment complex, defendants heard loud music and followed the loud music to its source, which was later determined to be Walker's apartment.

Defendants knocked on the door of the apartment, and Walker answered. After a brief discussion, defendants asked Walker to provide identification. Walker initially produced a college ID. After defendants stated the college ID was inadequate, Walker then produced an Oklahoma state driver's license.

After conducting a records check, defendants informed Walker that they were going to issue him a citation for disturbing the peace. Shortly thereafter, Walker "forcibly remove[d] his driver's license from defendant Peterson's hand" and then "use[d] the door to his apartment to forcibly exclude defendants Peterson and Franklin from his apartment."[1] Docket 30 at 2. Defendants reacted by grabbing Walker's arm, and a struggle ensued. Defendants subdued Walker and placed him under arrest.

Walker was charged with disturbing the peace, obstructing a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, common nuisance, and escape. During the state-court proceedings, a magistrate judge found probable cause existed for the case to proceed to trial. All charges, with the exception of disturbing the peace, were dismissed prior to trial. The judge presiding over the trial on Walker's disturbing the peace charge found there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction and Walker was acquitted.



Walker claims defendants violated his constitutional rights when they acted under color of state law[2] and arrested him without probable cause or a warrant.[3] "It is well established that a warrantless arrest without probable cause violates an individual's constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." Marksmeier v. Davie, 622 F.3d 896, 900 (8th Cir. 2010).

Defendants claim they are entitled to qualified immunity.[4] "Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Small v. McCrystal,708 F.3d 997, 1003 (8th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations omitted). An officer is entitled to qualified immunity for a warrantless arrest if the arrest was supported by probable cause or at least arguable probable cause. Joseph v. Allen,712 F.3d 1222, 1226 (8th Cir. 2013). Probable cause exists when the totality of the circumstances at the time of the arrest is sufficient to lead a reasonable person to believe that the arrested individual committed an offense. Id. at 1226. "Arguable probable cause exists even where an officer mistakenly arrests a suspect believing it is based on probable cause if the mistake is objectively reasonable.'" Id. at 1226 (quoting Borgman v. Kedley,646 F.3d 518, 522-23 (8th Cir. 2011)); see also Peterson v. City of Plymouth,60 F.3d 469, 473-74 (8th Cir. 1995) ("Officers are immune from liability if, in light of ...

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