July 16, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Qualifed Immunity Denial Reversed Because No Constitutional Duty to Release Person Arrested Based on Probable Cause

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Panagoulakos v. Yazzie on Friday, December 20, 2013.

Defendant Officer Patricia Yazzie appealed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity in this § 1983 action alleging wrongful arrest and imprisonment (Count I) and illegal seizure of property (Count II). This is an interlocutory appeal following the district court’s ruling in an action brought by Spero Panagoulakos pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

An Albuquerque police officer pulled over Panagoulakos in a traffic stop. Panagoulakos informed the officer he had a firearm in the vehicle. The officer ran a check and learned Panagoulakos was the subject of a protective order. Officer Yazzie was called to the scene and instructed to take Panagoulakos to the station and confirm the protective order was valid and that it did not contain an exception to the prohibition on firearm possession claimed by Panagoulakos. Yazzie mistakenly believed all orders of protection prohibit firearms possession, but 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) prohibits such possession only when the subject is classified as an “intimate partner.” Yazzie prepared a criminal complaint and had Panagoulakos detained.

The Tenth Circuit stated that to show that Yazzie violated a clearly established constitutional right, Panagoulakos would need to “show that, even though probable cause supported his initial arrest, clearly established law gave fair warning to Officer Yazzie that following her review of the protective order it was her constitutional duty to release him.” Because the majority of courts had never imposed such a duty, the court, in a 2-1 decision, held that Yazzie was entitled to qualified immunity and reversed the district court.

 

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