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Alcocer v. Mills

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 9, 2018

JUDITH ALCOCER [1], Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ASHLEY MILLS, JOHN STATEN, Defendants- Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 6:15-cv-00094-JRH-GRS

          Before JORDAN, ROSENBAUM, and DUBINA, Circuit Judges.

          ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge

         Much has been said about the art of diagnosis. For example, Mahatma Gandhi[2] opined, "A correct diagnosis is three-fourths the remedy." Prashant Gupta, Wisdom of Gandhi 53 (2008).

         After all, a misdiagnosis can prevent a solution from ever being found. Take, for instance, the case of President James A. Garfield. After an assassin wounded President Garfield, the President's physician became convinced that the bullet was lodged near the liver, and he performed several unsuccessful operations to remove it. CBS News, How Doctors Killed President Garfield, July 5, 2012, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-doctors-killed-president-garfield/ (last visited Oct. 9, 2018). But, in fact, the bullet was on the other side of President Garfield's body. Id. And the unsuccessful operations-not the bullet-caused infection and ultimately felled President Garfield. Id.

         Not surprisingly, diagnosing the problem correctly is also crucial to resolving 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims of constitutional-rights violations: the first step in any § 1983 analysis requires identification of the precise right that is alleged to have been violated. Different rights prescribe different legal analyses, so accurately diagnosing the right at issue is critical to properly analyzing a § 1983 plaintiff's claims. And correctly diagnosing the precise right involved, in turn, demands careful consideration of the alleged facts.

         Here, Plaintiff-Appellee Judith Alcocer was arrested and detained for the misdemeanor offense of driving with a suspended license. After Alcocer satisfied the bond requirements, the Bulloch County jail continued to detain her because jail officers became suspicious that she might be present illegally in the United States. She wasn't. But that was not resolved to the jail's satisfaction until after Alcocer had already spent the night there.

         Alcocer sued Defendants-Appellants Ashley Mills and John Staten, [3]employees of the Bulloch County jail, for violating her constitutional rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment, invoking qualified immunity, and the district court denied the motion.

         On appeal, we must consider whether the district court correctly identified the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures as the right allegedly violated, or whether instead, as Defendants assert, the facts here concern the alleged violation of Alcocer's Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from continued detention after law enforcement should have known that she was entitled to release. The right involved makes a significant difference. If the facts implicate Alcocer's Fourth Amendment right, to receive qualified immunity, Defendants must have had probable cause, or at least arguable probable cause, to believe Alcocer was illegally in the United States. If, on the other hand, the Fourteenth Amendment governs the fact pattern here, Alcocer must show that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to her right to be released. We conclude the district court did not err in determining that the Fourth Amendment governs the analysis here.

         But while the district court accurately identified the precise right involved, it did not conduct an individualized analysis of each Defendant's actions and omissions and whether they were causally related to the alleged violation of Alcocer's Fourth Amendment rights. So we must reverse the denial of summary judgment. We remand to the district court to, in the first instance, conduct an individualized analysis of each Defendant's actions and omissions to determine whether either or both Defendants can be held liable for the deprivation Alcocer experienced.

         I.[4]

         At around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 30, 2014, Bulloch County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Alcocer for the misdemeanor offense of driving with a suspended license. After arresting Alcocer, deputies took her to the Bulloch County jail, where they transferred her to the custody of the jail staff.

         At the jail, at roughly 3:30 p.m., Mills, then a jailer with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office, booked Alcocer. As part of the process, Mills asked Alcocer for, among other information, her address and her Social Security number, to input into the Sheriff's Office's computer system. She also noted in the system Alcocer's Georgia driver's license number.

         When Mills finished reporting Alcocer's demographic information, Alcocer was fingerprinted. According to Alcocer, the same woman who booked her- Mills-also took her fingerprints.[5]

         At some point in this process, Alcocer's information was run through computerized databases, including those of the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC"), the Georgia Crime Information Center ("GCIC"), and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System ("AFIS"). Mills testified that it was the fingerprinting jailer's responsibility to perform this task.

         After the Sheriff's Office submitted Alcocer's information to the databases, it received a fax from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") office located in Savannah. The fax stated with respect to Alcocer, "[ICE] RECORDS INDICATE THAT THIS SUBJECT IS NOT LEGALLY IN THE UNITED STATES AND APPEARS TO BE SUBJECT TO REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS." But significantly, the document cautioned, "THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT DETAINER! THE INFORMATION IS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT USE AND IS BEING PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS RESPONSE IS NOT SUPPORTED BY FINGERPRINTS."

         Apparently based on this fax, after Alcocer was processed into the jail, and before Mills finished her shift at 7:00 p.m. that night, Mills's supervisor, Sergeant Kirkland, directed Mills to add a note to Alcocer's information contained in the Sheriff's Office's computer system: "CONTACT ICE IN ATLANTA GA FOR PICK UP BEFORE RELEASING."

         While these events were occurring, Alcocer's sister, Susana Hinojosa, was hard at work trying to get Alcocer released from the jail. Alcocer had called to advise Hinojosa that she had been arrested. So Hinojosa went to the jail to see about getting Alcocer out.

         At some point in the afternoon of January 30, the Sheriff's Office staff informed Hinojosa that Alcocer had to satisfy a $2, 000 bail requirement to obtain release. So Hinojosa went across the street to a bail bondsman and arranged for bail for Alcocer. Then Hinojosa returned to the jail to wait for Alcocer's release.

         Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., the Sheriff's Office staff informed Hinojosa that it would not release Alcocer, despite Hinojosa's payment of the bail, because ICE had a hold on Alcocer. When Hinojosa asked the reason for the ICE hold, the Sheriff's Office staff said that Alcocer was "illegal or they're trying to deport her or something showed up on her record."

         Hinojosa responded that Alcocer was "not illegal[;] she's a U.S. citizen, . . . born in South Carolina." And Hinojosa asked what she needed to bring to the jail to prove that fact. The Sheriff's Office staff ignored her. So she left to ...


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