The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge
This matter is before the Court following a remand for further proceedings from the court of appeals. See Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d 494 (D.C. Cir. 2007). The court of appeals stated that on remand, "the district court must determine whether the three officers' actions in arresting Mr. Pitt 'violate[d] clearly established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Id. at 510 (brackets in original) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)).
The Court will repeat the factual background of this case as described by the court of appeals. See Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d at 498-500.
At approximately 12:00 p.m. on January 2, 2001, two senior citizens -- Henry and Gloria Feldman -- were violently robbed in their apartment building in Northwest Washington. The robber had followed the Feldmans into their building and then into the elevator. In the hallway outside the Feldmans' apartment, the robber "socked" Mr. Feldman in the face and took his wallet, then grabbed Mrs. Feldman's purse before escaping down a nearby staircase. The Feldmans immediately called 911. During the 911 call, Mrs. Feldman described the robber as a black man around 5'8" tall with a medium complexion and dark hair, who was wearing a black leather jacket and a "beige-y" shirt. She told the operator that the perpetrator had not used a weapon during the robbery.
Meanwhile, Keith Dade, an employee of the apartment building, was notified of the robbery and saw the perpetrator leaving the building. Mr. Dade followed the man and attempted to ask him a few questions, but the robber told Mr. Dade to "back up" and started to run away. Mr. Dade saw the robber make a suspicious "gesture" as though he might have had a weapon, but did not actually see a weapon. After following the perpetrator out of the building and across the street, Mr. Dade lost sight of him. Mr. Dade gave a description of the robber to the police, who subsequently broadcast a lookout alert to officers in the area.
Responding to the lookout alert, Officers Bryan Adams and Steven Baxter arrived at the intersection where Mr. Dade last saw the perpetrator. After conferring with other officers at the scene, Officer Adams looked down the street and saw an individual who matched the description of the perpetrator get into a car and begin driving toward Rock Creek Park. The individual spotted by Officer Adams was the plaintiff, Christopher Pitt. Officers Adams and Baxter returned to their vehicle and followed plaintiff through Rock Creek Park and onto Calvert Street before pulling him over on the Taft Bridge on Connecticut Avenue. During the officers' pursuit, plaintiff failed to fully stop at some of the stop signs, but he was not speeding. After stopping the plaintiff, the officers told him that he was a suspect in a robbery, asked him to step out of the vehicle, and handcuffed him for their protection. The officers confirmed that plaintiff's clothes and physical characteristics matched the description of the robber. Plaintiff permitted the officers to search his vehicle, and during this search they found a hunting knife and a BB gun. Mr. Pitt informed the officers that he worked as a courier, and that the knife and BB gun were for his protection. Plaintiff also provided the police with a list of the pickups and deliveries he had made that day, as well as two receipts for recent deliveries to the embassies of Kuwait and Qatar.
After being notified that a suspect had been apprehended, other police officers brought the Feldmans and Mr. Dade to the Taft Bridge for a "show-up" identification to determine whether any of the eyewitnesses could identify plaintiff as the robber. Mrs. Feldman told the officers she got a "good look" at the robber, and that she was "certain" plaintiff was not the person who had robbed them. Mr. Feldman told the police he "wasn't sure" whether plaintiff was the perpetrator, but that he "doesn't think so." Mr. Dade thought plaintiff looked somewhat like the robber, but he "couldn't make a positive ID" because the plaintiff's hair was "longer and curlier" than the robber's, and the plaintiff -- unlike the robber -- was wearing a hat.
Lieutenant Josiah Eaves was at the Feldmans' apartment building reviewing the building's security videotapes when he heard over the radio that a suspect had been arrested. Surveillance cameras had captured the robber's image as he entered the building behind the Feldmans. Lt. Eaves went to the Taft Bridge to determine whether plaintiff was the person seen on the tapes. Lt. Eaves told the officers on the scene that he was confident plaintiff was the robber.
While the show-up identification was being conducted, two other officers -- Detectives Sean Caine and James Bovino --conducted a brief investigation of plaintiff's alibi that he was making deliveries at a nearby embassy at the time of the robbery. The two detectives questioned a guard at the Kuwaiti Embassy about whether plaintiff had been there earlier that day, but the details of this interaction are disputed. Detective Caine testified at trial that the guard told him that "he hasn't seen Chris today." However, the embassy guard testified that he told the officers that a "Chris" had been at the embassy on the day of the robbery.
After the show-up, Mr. Pitt was arrested and taken into custody. The next day, Officers Adams and Baxter presented the case to screening prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Officer Adams gave the prosecutors an affidavit that contained a detailed description of the robbery, but did not mention the negative identifications or Mr. Pitt's alibi. It is disputed whether the officers' handwritten notes -- which did describe the negative identification and alibi -- were given to the screening prosecutors along with the affidavit. The affidavit also stated that a cell phone ear piece cover was found at the scene of the robbery, and that Mr. Pitt's cell phone ear piece was "missing its cover."
Based on the information contained in this affidavit, on January 3, 2001, a Superior Court Magistrate Judge ordered Mr. Pitt committed to a halfway house. Mr. Pitt spent ten days incarcerated before being released on January 13, 2001. Six days later, the government dismissed the criminal case against Mr. Pitt.
Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d at 498-500.
The jury found for Mr. Pitt on his claim of false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The undersigned thereafter granted the individual officers' motion for judgment as a matter of law on this claim under Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Pitt v. District of Columbia, 404 F. Supp. 2d 351, 356 (D.D.C. 2005), "holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. . . ." Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d at 500. As the court of appeals explained, "[i]n reaching this conclusion, the district court relied in part upon the jury verdict on the common law claims, in which the jury found that the officers were not liable for false arrest because they had a reasonable good faith belief that their conduct was lawful." Id. The court of appeals held that it was error for the Court to "consider the jury verdict from the common law false arrest claims in [a] qualified immunity analysis." Id. at 509.*fn1 The issue on remand is whether Officers Adams and Baxter and Detective Bovino are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Mr. Pitt's claim of false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As explained ...