Supreme Court to Define Contours of False Arrest Claims

What if a police officer arrests someone because the officer doesn’t believe the person is telling the truth and there is evidence the officer is right?

 In District of Columbia v. Wesby the Supreme Court will decide whether, when the owner of a vacant house informs police he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ claims of an innocent mental state.

 Facts similar to those in this case may not arise very often. But police officers must assess claims of innocence in numerous other instances (theft, assault, even homicide). 

 Police officers arrested a group of late-night partygoers for trespass. The party-goers gave police conflicting reasons for why they were at the house (birthday party v. bachelor party). Some said “Peaches” invited them to the house; others said they were invited by another guest. Police officers called Peaches who told them she gave the partygoers permission to use the house. But she admitted that she had no permission to use the house herself; she was in the process of renting it. The landlord confirmed by phone that Peaches hadn’t signed a lease. The partygoers were never charged with trespass.

 The partygoers sued the police officers for violating their Fourth Amendment right to be free from false arrest. To be guilty of trespass the partygoers had to have entered the house knowing they were doing so “against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge.” The partygoers claimed they did not know they lacked permission to be in the house. 

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Ninth Circuit: City Not Entitled to Summary Judgment on Housing Discrimination Claims

GavelThe Ninth Circuit issued its decision Friday in Pacific Shores Properties, LLC v. City of Newport Beach, No. 11-55460. In the case, plaintiffs alleged that a City ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the Equal Protection Clause because the ordinance had the practical effect of prohibiting new group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug users from opening in most residential districts. Although the district court had granted summary judgment for the City, the Ninth Circuit today reversed that decision. It concluded that the plaintiffs had created a triable issue of fact as to whether the City enacted the ordinance to discriminate against them, and whether its enactment and enforcement harmed them.

I wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the League of California Cities, which urged the court to find that evidence of arguably discriminatory intent or motive in adopting a city ordinance was not, standing alone, enough to invalidate a facially neutral ordinance. But, the court found the district court should have taken into account circumstantial evidence of discriminatory motivation—as expressed by individual council members participating in the decision—when reviewing what was otherwise a facially neutral ordinance restricting group homes. It also found, among other things, that the plaintiffs were not required to identify similarly situated individuals who were treated better than those subjected to the ordinance.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Brian Turner (creative-commons license, no changes made).