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Stansbury v. Wertman

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 26, 2013

LINDA STANSBURY, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHAD WERTMAN, Defendant-Appellant, JOSEPH LUTZ AND JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 10, Defendants.

Argued: March 11, 2013

Plaintiff-Appellee Linda Stansbury initiated this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Holwell, Judge) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. Defendant-Appellant Chad Wertman moved for summary judgment, asserting that (1) there was probable cause for the arrest and prosecution, or, in the alternative that (2) he was entitled to qualified immunity based on the existence of arguable probable cause. Defendant timely appeals from the district court's January 24, 2012 opinion and order denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment. We find that the district court erred by analyzing the evidence seriatim and in isolation. In its totality, the evidence provided Defendant with probable cause to arrest and prosecute Plaintiff; we therefore hold that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND with instruction to enter judgment in favor of Wertman.

SUDARSANA SRINIVASAN, Assistant Solicitor General (Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Cecelia C. Chang, Deputy Solicitor General, on the brief), for Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Appellant Chad Wertman.

RANDOLPH M. McLAUGHLIN (Jeffrey M. Norton, on the brief), Newman Ferrara LLP, New York, NY, for Appellee Linda Stansbury.

Before: Walker, Sack, And Wesley, Circuit Judges.

Wesley, Circuit Judge:

Chad Wertman ("Wertman") appeals from the January 24, 2012 opinion and order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Holwell, J.) denying Wertman's motion for summary judgment. Linda Stansbury ("Stansbury") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. Wertman moved for summary judgment, asserting that (1) there was probable cause for the arrest and prosecution, or, in the alternative that (2) he was entitled to qualified immunity based on the existence of arguable probable cause. The district court analyzed each piece of evidence in the case seriatim and in isolation and concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Wertman had probable cause or arguable probable cause to arrest Stansbury. This was error. Analyzing the evidence in its totality, we hold that no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Wertman did not have probable cause to arrest and to prosecute Stansbury. We therefore reverse the district court's opinion and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment for Wertman.

Background

At 8:30 p.m. on April 4, 2006, a woman shoplifted approximately $800 of goods from a Stop & Shop supermarket in Somers, New York. Mary Sue Cirrincione ("Cirrincione"), the store detective who was trained "to focus on distinctive facial characteristics, " observed the crime on the store's three-inch by five-inch monitor. Cirrincione Decl.; see also Stansbury v. Wertman, No. 09-cv-04638-RJH, 2012 WL 183849 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2012). Cirrincione alerted co-worker Mark John ("John"), who physically observed the perpetrator and watched her open tightly-folded, crisp, new Old Navy bags and place items from the shelves into the bags and then in her shopping cart. Id. When she tried to leave, John attempted to block the perpetrator's exit and asked to see her receipt; she ran around him, exited the building, and jumped into a white van. Id. John noted the van's license plate number as it drove away. Id.

Cirrincione and John reported the incident to the police, and New York State Trooper Chad Wertman arrived to investigate. Wertman recovered a bus receipt from an Old Navy bag the perpetrator had left behind. He watched the videotape of the theft and took the tape as evidence. Cirrincione and John both described the perpetrator as a "black female wearing blue jeans and a maroon windbreaker;" John added that she was "about 5'5"." Id. The bus ticket and license plate number did not yield any additional leads.

Noting that the perpetrator's Old Navy bags were in mint condition, Wertman traveled to one of the two nearby Old Navy stores. The Old Navy manager reported that a middle-aged black woman had attempted to buy some clothing at the store at 8:08 p.m. that evening, but that her credit card was declined. The manager reported that new bags, typically stored in the rear of the store, were discovered strewn on the ground near the door around the same time. Id. at *2. Wertman traced the credit card receipt to a card belonging to Nicole Stansbury ("Nicole"), Linda Stansbury's daughter. After repeated attempts, Wertman was able to contact Nicole by telephone; she alleged that she had been in Old Navy on April 4 before visiting an A&P supermarket and returning to her mother's house.

Wertman went to Stansbury's house on May 22 to interview Nicole. Wertman asserts that on his arrival, "he recognized Linda Stansbury as the perpetrator he had seen on the videotape." Id. He interviewed both women, but his "notes of the interview reflect that Linda was nervous, that she would not answer his questions directly, and that Nicole answered many of the questions he asked of her mother." Id.

After the interview, Wertman reviewed Stansbury's criminal history and discovered an arrest for grand larceny. He then obtained a DMV photograph of Stansbury and asked another trooper to prepare a photo array. Before the array was complete, Wertman and two senior officers reviewed the videotape, compared it to the DMV photograph and confirmed their collective belief that Stansbury was the perpetrator.

Wertman scheduled a follow-up interview with Linda and Nicole Stansbury at the police barracks in Somers. He planned to have Cirrincione and John come to the station and view Linda Stansbury to see if they could identify her as the shoplifter; the Stansburys never arrived. Id. at *3. Because the photo array was not yet ready, Wertman showed Stansbury's DMV photograph to Cirrincione and John without any control photographs, in violation of the New York State Police Field Manual ("Field Manual").[1] Both Cirrincione and John identified Stansbury as the perpetrator and signed a sworn statement under penalty of perjury to that effect. Cirrincione confirmed "without any doubt or reservation" that Stansbury was the perpetrator, and John "was positively without a ...


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