Police Department’s Improper Arrest Target of Louisiana Woman’s Claim

On January 25, 2010, while at work at The Oaks Nursing Home in West Monroe, Sheriff Royce Toney of Ouachita Parish wrongfully arrested Ms. Annette Brown for aggravated battery. Despite showing Dep. David Germany of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office (“OPSO”) her drivers license, which listed an address separate from the one on the arrest warrant, she was still taken into custody. Ms. Brown then had to gather $1,255 to pay a bail bondsmen.

Upon release, she brought hospital records showing where she was on the night of the alleged battery and her driver’s license. The charges were quickly dropped. Despite several requests for a return of her $1,255, city officials replied there was nothing they could do about it. Ms. Brown then filed suit demanding general damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

OPSO filed for, and was granted, summary judgment asserting that it was MPD that gave the wrong name to the issuing magistrate. OPSO argued that it acted pursuant to a facially valid warrant, while Ms. Brown argued that someone likely in the OPSO mistakenly grabbed her DMV record instead of the real culprit, Annette Bryant. While ruling in favor of OPSO, the court explained that a “suspicion of what might have happened” is not sufficient evidence to connect OPSO to the warrant. Upon appeal, the court used a duty-risk analysis to determine whether to impose liability under La. C.C. art. 2315 A, which holds “every act whatever of a man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.”

The court in this case used the element of determining whether the defendant’s substandard conduct was a cause in fact of the plaintiff’s injuries. In this case, with multiple defendants, Ms. Brown as the plaintiff carried the burden to prove that the harm “would not have occurred absent the specific defendant’s conduct.” Ms. Brown urged that OPSO participated in the investigation which resulted in incorrectly identifying her as the perpetrator and that the person who supplied the incorrect name was employed by OPSO.

Despite Ms. Brown’s contentions, the court held that there was no specific facts to show that OPSO officers provided incorrect information in support of the warrant. The mere speculation on the part of Ms. Brown was held inadequate to warrant a genuine issue of material facts. The court went on to explain that a person arrested pursuant to a valid warrant has no claim for false arrest or false imprisonment. In her last claim, Ms. Brown urged the court erred in denying her opportunity for additional discovery. However, the court held that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion to regulate pretrial discovery. In the end, the court of appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of OPSO.

This case highlights two key components: that a filing must be thoroughly vetted with factual bases for the court to determine them as valid argument and that the proper defendant needs to be identified in the claim.