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7th Circuit reverses Southern District judge

March 13, 2012

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a decision by U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the Southern District of Indiana involving a former police officer’s claim that he was falsely arrested for murder following a shooting outside an Indianapolis bar.

The events leading up to this false arrest action took place during a 2007 New Year’s Eve celebration at Durty Nelly’s Pub & Eatery in Indianapolis, where Shannon McComas’s wife was a manger. McComas, an off-duty Indianapolis police officer, was present when a fight broke out about 3 a.m. It resulted in a shooting outside the bar near the front entrance. A security guard was shot and killed.

The Indianapolis detective being sued, Edward Brickley, responded to the police call, and the police investigation led to McComas being interviewed. His statements about what happened that night didn’t add up, and the police investigated and eventually determined he was involved in the fatal shooting and may have assisted another man who was a suspect. State prosecutors charged him with only false informing and assisting a criminal, but after police dropped the charges, McComas filed a false arrest action under 42 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

At the District level, Barker denied Brickley’s motion for summary judgment, finding that a genuine dispute existed as to whether Brickley’s actions were protected by the existence of probable cause and whether he was protected by qualified immunity.

Barker relied on the appellate rulings in Chelios v. Heavener Chelios, 520 F.3d 678 (7th Cir. 2008), and Clash v. Beatty, 77 F.3d 1045 (7th Cir. 1996), when she held that factual disputes prevented the application of qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage. But the 7th Circuit found this case is different, because the earlier decisions involved factually intensive questions about whether officers employed excessive force, and this one did not.

Looking at all the facts together, the appellate panel found that arguable probable cause existed for an arrest on the charges of assisting a criminal and false informing based on what Brickley knew at the time of the investigation.

The 7th Circuit remanded Shannon McComas v. Edward Brickley, No. 11-2138, to Barker for further proceedings.

 

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