from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 9:17-cv-80327-KAM.
WILLIAM PRYOR, NEWSOM, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges.
Newsom, Circuit Judge.
can't make this stuff up. We have hair-pulling,
wrist-scratching, face-punching, and rock-throwing-all the
makings of a good old-fashioned schoolyard scrap. But alas,
the combatants in the fracas underlying this Fourth Amendment
case were grown-ups-sisters, in fact. Sheesh.
No. 1, Lori Huebner, was arrested for simple battery
following an altercation with Sister No. 2, Kathleen Dobin.
Huebner later sued Deputy Peter McDonough, alleging that he
violated her Fourth Amendment rights (1) by arresting her
without probable cause-in particular, by relying on what she
claims was untrustworthy information and by failing to
conduct an adequate investigation-and (2) by using excessive
force in the course of effectuating the arrest. The district
court granted summary judgment to McDonough, and Huebner now
that McDonough had ample probable cause to arrest Huebner-the
underlying information indicating that she had battered her
sister was credible and his investigation was sufficient-and
that McDonough didn't use excessive force in making the
story underlying this appeal began when one of our two
antagonists, Kathleen Dobin, dropped off her elderly mother
at her sister Lori Huebner's home in Palm Beach County,
Florida. Just as Dobin was about to leave, she and Huebner
got into a dispute, apparently over the specifics of their
cancer-stricken mother's last wishes. Dobin alleged
that as she was pulling away, Huebner ran outside, reached
into Dobin's car, and "pulled her by the hair,
punched her several times in her left cheek, and scratched
her on the left wrist." Dobin called 911; just 11
minutes later, Huebner did the same. About half an hour after
the fight, Deputy Yhon Gutierrez met Dobin down the street
from Huebner's house. He took Dobin's statement, in
which she alleged that Huebner had tried to attack her while
she was inside her car-"pulling [her] hair" and
"punching [her] in the face"-and that even
Huebner's husband got in on the action, coming out of his
house to "throw rocks at [Dobin's] car."
Roughly an hour after the 911 calls came in, Deputy Peter
McDonough arrived to relieve Gutierrez. He examined Dobin for
scratches or other injuries but didn't find any.
Dobin's car showed no signs of damage.
then went to Huebner's home, where her daughter answered
the door. Huebner came to the door and identified herself,
and McDonough placed her under arrest. Huebner said that she
was the one who had called 911, that she had "a cut on
[her] arm where [Dobin] scratched [her]," and that she
had "two witnesses" to the incident with her
sister-presumably her daughters. McDonough declined to speak
with Huebner's "witnesses"; instead, Huebner
alleges, he handcuffed her and "tried to pull [her]
rings off [her] finger." Throughout the arrest, Huebner
says, she repeatedly complained that McDonough was hurting
her-that the handcuffs were too tight, that her arms were
pulled too far back, and that his efforts to remove her rings
initially took Huebner to a police sub-station, where he had
to complete domestic-battery paperwork before he could
transport her to the main detention center. Because the small
sub-station didn't have a place to hold arrestees,
Huebner remained in the patrol car for what she says was
between an hour and a half and two hours. McDonough explained
to Huebner how to position herself in the car to minimize the
discomfort caused by the handcuffs, but she declined because
it too, she said, was uncomfortable. Although the record
isn't clear about exactly what happened next, we think we
can fairly deduce that McDonough took Huebner from the
sub-station to the central jail, where she was processed and
then later released.
alleges that as a result of her arrest, she suffers from neck
and shoulder pain as well as and nerve damage. She has
received epidural and cortisone shots for the pain, and her
doctor attributes her injuries to her handcuffing.
brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that her
arrest violated the Fourth Amendment in two respects. First,
she asserted that McDonough arrested her without probable
cause. In particular, she said, McDonough failed to conduct a
reasonable investigation because he relied solely on her
sister's unreliable and uncorroborated statements and
ignored exculpatory evidence. Second, and separately, Huebner
alleged that McDonough used excessive force during the arrest
by pulling her arms too far behind her back, cinching the
cuffs too tight, and tugging on her fingers and arms to
remove her rings. Huebner complains that she now has nerve
damage that causes neck and shoulder pain as well as numbness
in her arms and fingers, all as a result of the cuffing.
district court granted summary judgment to McDonough on both
counts. It concluded that McDonough had probable cause to
believe that Huebner had committed simple battery, in
violation of Florida Statute § 784.03(1)(a). The court
explained that McDonough was entitled to rely on Dobin's
recitation of events and, further, that the absence of
visible injury to Dobin's body, which Huebner emphasized,
didn't prevent a probable-cause finding because Florida
battery requires only a slight intentional touching-physical
harm isn't an element. Alternatively, the district court
found that even if McDonough didn't have actual probable
cause, he at least had "arguable probable cause,"
which entitled him to qualified immunity.
district court also held that the painful handcuffing that
Huebner alleged, without more, didn't amount to excessive
force. In so holding, the court observed that ...