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Manning v. Cotton

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 5, 2017

Tabatha Manning Plaintiff- Appellee
Vaughn Cotton, an Omaha Police Officer; Theodore Delezene, an Omaha Police Officer; City of Omaha Nebraska Defendants - Appellants

          Submitted: May 11, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha

          Before RILEY, BEAM, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          BEAM, Circuit Judge.

         Tabatha Manning sued Vaughn Cotton and Theodore Delezene, both police officers for the City of Omaha ("Officers"), and the City of Omaha (collectively "Defendants") following her arrest for possession of methamphetamine. Manning filed a civil rights action against the Officers for violating her Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and against the City under a theory of municipal liability. The district court[1] denied qualified immunity for the Officers and denied the City of Omaha's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the district court's denial of qualified immunity and dismiss the City's appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Manning was driving to pick up her children from a house in Omaha, Nebraska, when the Officers stopped her for a broken taillight. Manning had attempted to cover the taillight with tape, but white light showed through. The broken taillight violated Nebraska Revised Statutes §§ 60-6, 219(3) and (6)(b).[2]Manning disputes that her taillight was defective and that white light was showing. The Officers' police cruiser was equipped with a video camera that turns on when the lights are activated and records footage both outside and inside the police cruiser. Once stopped, the Officers approached Manning's vehicle and told her the reason they pulled her over. Manning then confessed that she did not have a driver's license or registration and that she had warrants out for her arrest. Officer Cotton confirmed with dispatch that there were two warrants out for her arrest. He then informed her that they would have to arrest her and take her to the Douglas County Correctional Center. Neither officer searched Manning, but they handcuffed her before placing her in the police cruiser. After she was handcuffed, Manning asked Officer Delezene to take her cell phone out of her left back pocket so that it would not break. He complied. Officer Cotton searched Manning's purse. Officer Delezene then helped Manning into the passenger side of the backseat. As he did, his flashlight illuminated the backseat. Neither the Officers nor Manning saw anything in the backseat at that time.

         During the ride, Manning was the only person in the backseat of the police cruiser. Once they arrived at the Correctional Center, the Officers exited the vehicle and according to the officers, placed their weapons in the trunk of the police cruiser. Manning disputes that the officers even went to the trunk. At this point, the video recording stopped. The government explains that it stopped recording at the time Officer Cotton turned the engine off, but Manning states that the video stopped because one of the officers turned it off. Officer Cotton entered the backseat from the driver side of the vehicle to unbuckle Manning's seatbelt. Officer Delezene opened the passenger side door to help Manning out of the police cruiser. After Manning exited the police cruiser, Officer Delezene noticed a small package on the door seal that appeared to be drugs. Testing later confirmed that it was methamphetamine. No one had ridden in the police cruiser before Manning, and at the beginning of their shift, Officer Cotton inspected the backseat of the police cruiser and found nothing. Manning denied the package was hers. Officer Delezene threatened to have her tested for drugs if she did not tell the truth about the package. Manning asked if she could take a drug test and if the package could be fingerprinted. Officer Cotton reviewed the camera footage from inside the police cruiser and determined that it was inconclusive. The Officers refused to administer a drug test or fingerprint the package.

         The Officers arrested Manning for possession of methamphetamine, and she remained incarcerated for three days. She then brought a civil rights action against the Officers alleging that they violated her Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by planting the methamphetamine, conspiring together against her, falsely implicating her in a felony, and falsely testifying against her. She also alleged that the City of Omaha proximately caused the Officers' unconstitutional conduct and failed to adequately train the Officers. The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment challenging the merits of the claims and claiming qualified immunity. The district court granted summary judgment on the conspiracy claim, holding that there was no evidence of a conspiracy, only "pure speculation." The district court denied the motion in all other respects. Holding that the Officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, the district court stated, "[I]f hypothetically speaking an officer illegally plants drugs on or around someone, there would be no qualified immunity. So, because of the claims of the plaintiff, the Court finds there is no qualified immunity based on these allegations." Denying the City of Omaha's motion for summary judgment on Manning's municipal liability claim, the district court held that although "evidence of a policy or custom is thin, . . . based on [a] previous incident and the alleged [inadequate] response by law enforcement, a jury could find there is an unwritten custom or practice of not thoroughly investigating such incidents."

         Defendants now appeal, arguing that the district court (1) failed to make the required individualized analysis for qualified immunity; (2) erred in holding that Officer Cotton was not entitled to qualified immunity; (3) erred in holding that Officer Delezene was not entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) erred in denying the City of Omaha's motion for summary judgment.


         A. Standard of Review

         Although we generally lack jurisdiction to hear an immediate appeal from the district court's denial of summary judgment, we have "limited authority . . . to review the denial of qualified immunity through an interlocutory appeal under the collateral order doctrine." Shannon v. Koehler, 616 F.3d 855, 861 (8th Cir. 2010) (alteration in original) (quoting Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 455 (8th Cir. 2010)). Under this doctrine, we may only "determine whether all of the conduct that the district court 'deemed sufficiently supported for purposes of summary judgment' violated the plaintiff's clearly established federal rights." Lockridge v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ark., 315 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (quoting Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 313 (1996)). Thus, "we have jurisdiction to decide whether, accepting [Manning's] version of the facts, [the Officers are] entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law." Shannon, 616 F.3d at 861.

         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bishop v. Glazier, 723 F.3d 957, 960-61 (8th Cir. 2013). A party is entitled to summary judgment only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "When a defendant asserts qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact regarding whether the defendant violated a clearly established right." Bishop, 723 F.3d at 961. In doing so, the plaintiff "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . ...

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