EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:
This appeal is about an arrest, the Fourth Amendment, and mistaken identity. Joe John Rodriguez sued Sergeant Wayne Farrell ("Sgt.Farrell") and Officer Lorri Szczepanski ("Officer Szczepanski"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the police officers violated the Constitution when they mistakenly arrested him pursuant to a valid arrest warrant for another person. Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski, in their personal capacities, appeal the district court's denial of qualified immunity. We reverse.
On 8 September 1995 at 12:10 a.m., Officer Szczepanski pulled over a vehicle driven by Patricia Foulkes ("Ms.Foulkes"): the vehicle had a broken tag light. Rodriguez was the only passenger in Ms. Foulkes's car. Shortly after the initial traffic stop, Sgt. Farrell arrived to provide backup.
Officer Szczepanski told Ms. Foulkes to get out of the car and then asked for her driver's license. After Ms. Foulkes said that her driver's license was in her purse which was in her car, Officer Szczepanski returned to the car and asked Rodriguez, who was seated in the car with his arm in a sling and resting on a pillow,
Officer Szczepanski returned to Ms. Foulkes, found unlawful drugs (methamphetamine, as well as others) in her purse, and arrested her. Officer Szczepanski thereafter began to search Ms. Foulkes's car. Then, Sgt. Farrell — who, to this point, had only been observing the situation from a position behind Ms. Foulkes's car
Sgt. Farrell asked Rodriguez for identification. Rodriguez directed Sgt. Farrell's attention to a duffle bag, which contained more than ten pieces of identification, including Rodriguez's Florida driver's license, birth certificate, military discharge papers, social security card, credit card, and V.A. patient data card.
Sgt. Farrell called dispatch over his radio and ran a check on Rodriguez's driver's license information. The dispatcher responded, "no wants or warrants." Sgt. Farrell continued to talk with the dispatcher when a "name hit" was obtained on Rodriguez's name. Teletype communications to the dispatcher indicated that three warrants existed for a Victor Heredia who used the alias "Joe Rodriguez."
The following chart lists relevant descriptive information from the warrant that was available and the corresponding information for Rodriguez:
Name: Victor Manuel Heredia Joe John Rodriguez a/k/a Joe Rodriguez Sex: Male Male Race: White White Date/Birth: 6/24/53; 3/23/53 7/2/53; 6/23/53(multiple) Place/Birth: New York New York SSN: 112-42-9808; 115-42-5388 112-42-5808; 112-43-9809 (multiple) Tattoos 4 tattoos: right forearm, 6 tattoos: both biceps, both left arm, right arm, back shoulder blades; both ankles (none on right forearm) Height: 5'6" 5'11" Weight: 139 lbs. 180 lbs. Hair Color: Brown Brown Eye Color: Green Brown Scar Scar: forehead No scar Residence: St. Augustine, Florida Apopka, Florida
After Sgt. Farrell received identifying information from the dispatcher, Sgt. Farrell
When Sgt. Farrell arrested Rodriguez, Sgt. Farrell grabbed Rodriguez's left arm, twisted it behind Rodriguez's back, and forced it up to just below the shoulder-blade. Rodriguez fell to the ground screaming in pain, telling Sgt. Farrell that he was hurting his arm.
"Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions ... from liability if their conduct violates no `clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Lassiter v. Alabama A&M Univ., Bd. of Trustees, 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir.1994) (en banc).
"Unless a government agent's act is so obviously wrong, in the light of pre-existing law, that only a plainly incompetent officer or one who was knowingly violating the law would have done such a thing, the government actor has immunity from suit." Id. Whether a defendant official has violated a constitutional right at all is, of course, "a `necessary concomitant' to the question of qualified immunity: if a defendant has not violated the law at all, he certainly has not violated clearly established law." Hudson v. Hall, 231 F.3d 1289, 1294 (11th Cir.2000) (quoting GJR Investments, Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1366-67 (11th Cir.1998)).
A. The Arrest
1. Constitutional Violation
"A warrantless arrest without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and forms a basis for a section 1983 claim." Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir.1996). We conclude that no violation occurred in this case. In reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court's opinion in Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 91 S.Ct. 1106, 28 L.Ed.2d 484 (1971), and various cases from the Seventh Circuit (as well as other circuits) guide our determination.
In Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 91 S.Ct. 1106, 28 L.Ed.2d 484 (1971), the Supreme Court determined, in a criminal case, whether the mistaken arrest of one person (for whom no probable cause to arrest existed) based upon the misidentification of that person as a second person (for whom probable cause to arrest existed) violated the Constitution. The Court concluded "no," writing that "[w]hen the police have probable cause to arrest one party, and when they reasonably mistake a second party for the first party, then the
The same "reasonable mistake" standard applies (1) in the context of a section 1983 action and (2) when the police have a valid warrant — as opposed to just probable cause — to arrest someone, but mistakenly arrest someone else due to a misidentification. E.g., White v. Olig, 56 F.3d 817, 820 (7th Cir.1995) (using Hill "reasonable mistake" standard in section 1983 case and determining that mistaken arrest pursuant to valid warrant was reasonable); cf. Rodriguez v. Jones, 473 F.2d 599, 605-06 (5th Cir.1973) (concluding plaintiff could not recover, under section 1983, against officers who forcibly entered plaintiff's residence pursuant to mistaken belief that two fugitives named in arrest warrants were in residence because officers' mistaken belief was reasonable under the circumstances). See generally U.S. Const. amend. IV ("The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.") (emphasis added). We must, therefore, determine as a legal matter whether Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski's mistaken arrest of Rodriguez — pursuant to the execution, in the field, of a valid arrest warrant for Heredia — was outside the scope of "reasonable mistakes."
The Eleventh Circuit has no precedents for what constitutes an unreasonable seizure due to a mistaken identification and arrest under a valid warrant in the field. The Seventh Circuit, however, has addressed this problem in several opinions: their discussions guide us today.
According to a district court in the Seventh Circuit, these three cases stand for this proposition: "In the Seventh Circuit's view, a police officer acts reasonably if he arrests a person after determining that the person's name matches the name
Rodriguez's identifying information was identical to the information listed in Heredia's warrant in four critical aspects: same name, same sex, same age,
In other words, in the context of this case, a mistaken estimate of no more than five inches does not equal a constitutional violation. After all, Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski were in the field, not in a police station. Cf. Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558 (11th Cir.1993) (reinstating jury verdict against official who worked at police station after concluding that official's failure, when under no time pressure over seven-day period at police station, to investigate discrepancies between descriptive information contained in arrest warrant and description of person arrested pursuant to that warrant amounted to constitutional violation), modified, 15 F.3d 1022 (11th Cir.1994). They — after midnight, on a dark street, immediately after finding unlawful drugs in a container in the vehicle in which Rodriguez was one of only two occupants — were trying to determine whether Rodriguez was the person described in the warrant, a warrant charging the listed person with drug possession. See Patton, 822 F.2d at 699-700 (relying on fact that arrestee "was in an automobile rather than at home; if [the officer] had let him go it might have taken a long time to catch up with him again (if he was the `real' [person listed in the warrant])" and "the edginess all policemen feel in confronting a criminal suspect at night on a highway" when concluding that no finder of fact could conclude that officer acted unreasonably in arresting wrong person for arrest warrant despite discrepancies).
Time was short in the situation facing Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski: a nighttime traffic stop. The officers had minutes to make their determination, not months or even days: Rodriguez soon had to be either arrested or let go. Cf. Tillman v. Coley, 886 F.2d 317, 321 (11th Cir.1989) (concluding that sheriff's failure to investigate discrepancies in identity of person against whom he sought arrest warrant — discrepancies of which he was aware three months before seeking the warrant — could constitute constitutional violation sufficient to form foundation of section 1983 constitutional false arrest claim); Cannon, 1 F.3d at 1558 (seven day detention period). Given all the circumstances, the Constitution's guarantee against "unreasonable" seizures was not violated by an estimate of height that was accurate within 5 inches.
2. Clearly Established Law
In the alternative, we conclude that, given the law at the time of arrest, the unlawfulness of the arrest was not already clearly established. "A government-officer defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless, at the time of the incident, the `preexisting law dictates, that is, truly compel[s],' the conclusion for all reasonable, similarly situated public officials that what Defendant was doing violated Plaintiffs' federal rights in the circumstances." Marsh v. Butler County, 268 F.3d 1014, 1030-31 (11th Cir.2001) (en banc) (quoting Lassiter, 28 F.3d at 1150). Furthermore, because Fourth Amendment qualified-immunity determinations turn on the reasonableness of an officer's acts in a certain set of facts, the Supreme Court recently stressed that the determination of whether a legal right was already clearly established "must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001).
Assuming, arguendo, that Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski's mistaken arrest of Rodriguez was unreasonable in the constitutional sense and that Rodriguez, thus, has stated a claim for unconstitutional arrest, the constitutional violation — at the time of the arrest — was not already clearly established: Rodriguez cited to no case (nor can we find one) in this Circuit or from the United States Supreme Court
The cases that are factually closest to the instant case (and that conclude that an officer is, or may be, liable under section 1983) are Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558 (11th Cir.1993), and Tillman v. Coley, 886 F.2d 317 (11th Cir.1989). Both of these cases are, however, materially different from this case.
Cannon and Tillman share a fundamental distinction from our case: neither case involves an on-the-spot decision to arrest by an officer in the field. Cannon concluded that an official at a police station was liable for failing to identify correctly the plaintiff during seven days of incarceration under the official's care. Cannon, 1 F.3d at 1562-63. Cannon did not conclude that the officer, who executed the warrant (the validity of which was not challenged) in the field, was liable. Id. at 1561. Tillman deals with the application for an arrest warrant that the court concluded was insufficient because the affidavit submitted to the magistrate lacked probable cause; Tillman decides nothing about the execution of a valid arrest warrant in the field. Tillman, 886 F.2d at 320-21. Thus, Cannon and Tillman are not like this case: they do not address situations involving an officer's execution of a valid arrest warrant in the field. Given the circumstances of the case at hand, the precedents cannot have clearly established the applicable law for the purposes of the qualified immunity defense. See generally Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1031-34 (explaining use of precedents to determine clearly established law).
Public officers need not err on the side of caution. Id. at 1030 n. 8. And, "[p]ublic officials are not obligated to be creative or imaginative in drawing analogies from previously decided cases." Adams v. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Dep't, 962 F.2d 1563, 1575 (11th Cir.1992) (Edmondson, J., dissenting), approved en banc, 998 F.2d 923 (11th Cir.1993). At the time of the pertinent arrest, no precedent had decided that an officer committed a constitutional violation by mistakenly executing a valid arrest warrant against the wrong person. Closer to the point, no precedent had decided that the nighttime arrest, in conjunction with a traffic stop, of a person — who had been riding in an automobile in which unlawful drugs were being carried, and who was admittedly within five inches of the height of a fugitive for which a valid warrant for arrest (for offenses including a drug offense) was in existence and known to the arresting officers — violated the Federal Constitution when the arrested person shared with the fugitive (1) similar birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, birth places and tattoos as well as (2) the identical name, sex, race and age.
B. Excessive Force During the Arrest
We conclude that the force used by Sgt. Farrell during his arrest of Rodriguez did not violate the Constitution. The use of excessive force in carrying out an arrest constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). But, "the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it." Id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865. In the Eleventh Circuit, we recognize that the typical arrest involves some force and injury. See Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1257-58 (11th Cir.2000).
The evidence, in the light most favorable to plaintiff, shows that Sgt. Farrell grabbed plaintiff's arm, twisted it around plaintiff's back, jerking it up high to the shoulder and then handcuffed plaintiff as plaintiff fell to his knees screaming that Farrell was hurting him. Plaintiff was placed in the rear of Sgt. Farrell's patrol car, kept handcuffed behind his back and transported to the police station. The handcuffs were removed minutes after arrival at the police department. The handcuffing technique used by Sgt. Farrell is a relatively common and ordinarily accepted non-excessive way to detain an arrestee.
Plaintiff's orthopedic surgeon testified that the handcuffing was a "very serious, painful event," that resulted in the loosening of the internal surgical hardware, and caused the displacement of a key bone fragment. The resulting complications included more than twenty-five subsequent surgeries and ultimately amputation of the arm below the elbow.
Painful handcuffing, without more, is not excessive force in cases where the resulting injuries are minimal. See Nolin, 207 F.3d at 1257-58 (concluding, as a matter of law, that force used during arrest, including handcuffing, was not excessive when force and resulting injury were minimal); Brissett v. Paul, 141 F.3d 1157 (4th Cir.1998) (table) (concluding, as matter of law, that painful handcuffing with minimal injury not constitutional violation); Foster v. Metropolitan Airports Comm'n, 914 F.2d 1076, 1082 (8th Cir.1990) (same); see also Martin v. Gentile, 849 F.2d 863, 869-70 (4th Cir.1988) (concluding that force used, as a matter of law, was not excessive); Silverman v. Ballantine, 694 F.2d 1091, 1096-97 (7th Cir.1982) (same).
This case is different from Nolin because Rodriguez's earlier surgery made what otherwise would be a common non-excessive handcuffing technique (that ordinarily would be painful but cause minimal injury) a maneuver that caused severe injury and tragic results. This distinction, however, is not important legally and does not preclude a conclusion that Rodriguez has shown no constitutional violation: no evidence has been presented that Sgt. Farrell knew of plaintiff's recent elbow surgery or, more important, knew that handcuffing plaintiff would seriously aggravate plaintiff's preexisting condition.
REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Under the circumstances of this case, defining "reasonable mistake" to exclude the acts of Sgt. Farrell and Officer Szczepanski — thereby creating a cause of action against them and subjecting them personally to possible monetary liability — would likely deter future officers too much from making arrests in public places on valid warrants about which they do not have first-hand knowledge: the risk of error in identification, and then a lawsuit, would simply be too great. As a result, persons sought for crimes would, therefore, find it easier to evade capture. See Johnson, 680 F.2d at 41 ("If an officer executing an arrest warrant must do so at peril of damage liability under section 1983 if there is any discrepancy between the description in the warrant and the appearance of the person to be arrested, many a criminal will slip away while the officer anxiously compares the description in the warrant with the appearance of the person named in it and radios back any discrepancies to his headquarters for instructions.").
We, however, do treat the fact that plaintiff was riding in an automobile in which unlawful drugs had been found in a container to which plaintiff had access and had handled as a significant part of the totality of the circumstances of plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff was not just walking down the street and stopped because passing police officers thought he might fit some outstanding warrant. He was in a car that was carrying drugs, and he (to say the least) was of the same name, sex, race, and age as a person for whom a warrant for a drug crime was outstanding. It is the arrest in these circumstances that is before us. The warrant did not have to justify this arrest in a vacuum; something, at least, approaching (if not reaching) probable cause to arrest was established by plaintiff's having been in the car where drugs were being carried. So, the warrant — with its substantial similarities between plaintiff and the person for whom the warrant was issued — need not (and should not) be viewed alone: abstract and pure.
Sgt. Farrell testified flatly that he did not see Rodriguez's arm in a sling. And, the circumstances to which Rodriguez points are not inconsistent with Sgt. Farrell's sworn testimony. Rodriguez admits that the interior of Ms. Foulkes's car — the area into which Sgt. Farrell, from his position behind the car, would have needed to have seen Rodriguez in his sling — was "dark." Never does Rodriguez tell us how far behind the pertinent car Sgt. Farrell was standing. Never does Rodriguez say that he saw Farrell focus on him while Rodriguez was in the car wearing a sling.
Given the evidence in this record, Rodriguez relies on conjecture that the sling could have, and would have, been observed by a reasonable officer. See Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir.1982) ("[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is `only a guess or a possibility,' for such an inference is not based on the evidence but is pure conjecture and speculation."). Rodriguez cannot overcome contradictory direct evidence — Sgt. Farrell's sworn testimony that he did not see the sling — and raise a genuine issue of fact. We decline to accept Rodriguez's contended-for double inference (that the sling was observable and that Sgt. Farrell made, or a reasonable officer would have made, that observation in the context of what was occurring generally in the nighttime traffic stop and arrest of Ms. Foulkes) to prove that Sgt. Farrell saw, or should have seen, Rodriguez's arm in the sling. See generally Clover v. Total Sys. Servs., Inc., 176 F.3d 1346, 1355 (11th Cir.1999) (concluding that inference that one person told a second person about a specific fact regarding a topic, based upon evidence that the first and second persons met and talked and evidence that the second person knew about the topic generally, was unreasonable speculation in the light of an affirmative denial of knowledge of the specific fact by the second person); Burrell v. Board of Trs. of Georgia Military Coll., 970 F.2d 785, 791 n. 15 (11th Cir.1992) ("Considering that Burrell cannot offer evidence of the contents of Baugh's and Baggarly's meeting, that Baugh and Baggarly provide a reasonable and consistent explanation for their meeting, that Baugh and Baggarly flatly deny having discussed Burrell, only one fact can be inferred from their meeting: that the meeting took place. Any conclusion about the content of their discussion in contradiction to their testimony would qualify as speculation, not inference."); Daniels, 692 F.2d at 1326 (concluding jury could not reasonably draw inference that nursing home's negligent act of allowing patient to wander away from home was proximate cause of patient's death because inference was only supported by mere scintilla of evidence and conflicted with uncontradicted facts). See also Pennsylvania R.R. v. Chamberlain, 288 U.S. 333, 340-41, 53 S.Ct. 391, 77 L.Ed. 819 (1933) ("And the desired inference is precluded for the further reason that respondent's right of recovery depends upon the existence of a particular fact which must be inferred from proven facts, and this is not permissible in the face of the positive and otherwise uncontradicted testimony of unimpeached witnesses consistent with the facts actually proved, from which testimony it affirmatively appears that the fact sought to be inferred did not exist."). Thus, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that Sgt. Farrell knew, or should have known, about Rodriguez's injured arm (and that the arm demanded special treatment) because Rodriguez had the arm in a sling at a time before his arrest.
Nor does Rodriguez's testimony that Sgt. Farrell briefly "looked" at Rodriguez's hospital records raise an inference that Sgt. Farrell knew, or should have known, about Rodriguez's injured arm and that the arm demanded special treatment. Rodriguez specifically testified that Sgt. Farrell "looked" at the records; he admits that Farrell did not "read" them. Rodriguez also provides no evidence tending to show specifically what the content of these hospital records would have been. Under the circumstances, this evidence, even combined with evidence that Rodriguez told Sgt. Farrell that he had just gotten out of the hospital after a motorcycle accident, is not enough to support an inference that Sgt. Farrell knew, or should have known, specifically that Rodriguez's arm was injured and that the arm demanded special care. Cf. Clover, 176 F.3d at 1355.