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Wesley v. Campbell

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 20, 2017

Richard Wesley, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Alison Campbell, et al., Defendants, Joanne Rigney, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Covington. No. 2:10-cv-00051-David L. Bunning, District Judge.

          Jeffrey C. Mando, ADAMS, STEPNER, WOLTERMANN & DUSING, PLLC, Covington, Kentucky, for Appellant.

          Paul J. Hill, Covington, Kentucky, for Appellee.

          Before: DAUGHTREY, CLAY, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.


          MARTHA CRAIG DAUGHTREY, Circuit Judge.

         We previously addressed aspects of this civil rights case in Wesley v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 421 (6th Cir. 2015) (Wesley II). In Wesley II, plaintiff Richard Wesley appealed an adverse decision by the district court in the lawsuit he brought against Joanne Rigney, an officer with the Covington Police Department. Wesley had claimed that Rigney was liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for arresting him without probable cause. The district court, concluding that probable cause existed for the arrest and that Rigney was qualifiedly immune, granted Rigney's motion to dismiss the claim. Wesley v. Rigney, 913 F.Supp.2d 313, 321 (E.D. Ky. 2012) (Wesley I). We reversed that decision and remanded to the district court, where the case proceeded to trial. After a jury determined that Rigney did arrest Wesley unlawfully, Rigney filed a renewed motion for a directed verdict and a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment for a new trial. The district court denied both motions. Wesley v. Rigney, No. 10-51-DLB-JGW, 2016 WL 853505, at *14 (E.D. Ky. Mar. 3, 2016) (Wesley III).

         On appeal, Rigney challenges the district court's denial of her motion for a directed verdict on both the false-arrest claim and her entitlement to qualified immunity. Further, she challenges the district court's denial of her motion for a new trial based on the district court's failure to instruct the jury adequately about the issue of qualified immunity, and the district court's reference to J.S.'s psychological history during the probable-cause jury instruction. Finally, Rigney contends that the district court erred in denying her motion for a directed verdict regarding the availability of punitive damages and in refusing to remit both the punitive and compensatory damage awards. We find no reversible error and affirm.


         At trial, the proof established that Wesley was a counselor and intervention specialist at Sixth District Elementary School in Covington, Kentucky. In this position, Wesley periodically counseled a seven-year-old boy, "J.S., " who suffered from psychological and behavioral problems. On February 5, 2009, Wesley was notified that J.S. was attempting to harm himself in the hallway. Wesley brought J.S. into his office, where J.S. waited with two other students while Wesley called J.S.'s mother and notified her that J.S. needed to be taken to NorthKey Community Care, a local mental health center. Wesley's office was located directly next to the principal's office, in the school's administrative hub. Peri Fischer, an administer who sat often at the desk directly across from Wesley's office, testified that Wesley was alone with J.S. only for a few minutes before J.S.'s mother came to pick him up, that Wesley's office door was fully open the entire time he was alone with J.S., and that she was able to observe J.S. and Wesley the entire time they were alone together.

         J.S.'s mother picked him up from school, and the two took a cab to NorthKey. On the way, apparently J.S. told his mother that Wesley had sexually assaulted him in his office earlier that day. In response to these allegations, Alison Campbell, a social worker, came to NorthKey to talk to J.S. J.S. told Campbell that he was in Wesley's office earlier that day with two other children, but that after the other children left, Wesley closed the door further-but still left it open a crack-and then touched J.S.'s "private part" over the top of J.S.'s clothes. J.S. reported that both he and Wesley had their clothes on during this incident, and that Wesley told him not to tell anyone. Based on this allegation, Campbell contacted Joanne Rigney, a detective in the Covington Police Department. At some point shortly after the initial allegations, J.S.'s mother called the Covington Police Department and told an officer a version of events that involved Wesley taking J.S.'s penis out of his pants. J.S. also was interviewed by the Children's Advocacy Center regarding the alleged sexual abuse. At this interview, J.S. testified that Wesley had sodomized him multiple times throughout the year. He also reported that Wesley had sexually abused two other students at the school.

         After the Advocacy Center interview, Rigney and Campbell coordinated interviews of 32 other students who had contact with Wesley. None of these children disclosed any inappropriate behavior by Wesley. Despite visiting the school, Rigney did not interview the employees who worked near Wesley's office about the sexual abuse that allegedly had occurred in Wesley's office, while the door was ajar. Rigney arranged for J.S. to be medically examined for any physical signs of trauma from the alleged rape. The exam did not reveal any evidence of abuse.

         On April 27, 84 days after J.S.'s first allegation against Wesley, Rigney sought a warrant for Wesley's arrest. Prior to submitting the application for the arrest warrant, Rigney testified that she discussed the facts of the case with Stephanie Durstock, an assistant Kenton County Commonwealth attorney. Durstock reviewed and approved Rigney's draft affidavit, which stated the following:

Affiant states that on February 06, 2009, she was assigned to investigate a Sexual Abuse in the First Degree report. Affiant states that she was contacted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in regard to a disclosure that was made by the minor victim J.S., age 7, on February 05, 2009. At that time, J.S. stated that the defendant had fondled his penis while in the defendants [sic] office at 6th District School. The defendant is employed as a school counselor at 6th District School. The minor, J.S., was then scheduled for a forensic interview at the Children's Advocacy Center, at that time the child stated that the defendant had put his private part in his butt. J.S. stated that this took place in Mr. Wesley's office. J.S. described that the defendant pulled down the back of his pants while he was near a blue round table. J.S. also advised that the defendant was squeezing J.S.'s private part. J.S. stated that he was told by the defendant that he would kick him out of school if he told anyone. J.S. stated that this happened more than once.

         A state magistrate, concluding that there was probable cause to arrest Wesley, issued a warrant for Wesley's arrest. The charges ultimately were dismissed.

         After four days of testimony, the jury found that Wesley had proven by a preponderance of the evidence (1) that Rigney lacked probable cause to secure a warrant for his arrest; (2) that the facts misrepresented in or omitted from Rigney's affidavit and warrant application were material; and (3) that the misrepresentation or omission of material facts was done intentionally, deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth. The jury awarded Wesley $589, 000 in compensatory damages, and $500, 000 in punitive damages.


         False-Arrest Claim

         "A false arrest claim under federal law requires a plaintiff to prove that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to arrest the plaintiff." Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 305 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Rigney argues that the district court erred in denying her motion for a directed verdict as to Wesley's false-arrest claim because she had probable cause to arrest Wesley, and because she is entitled to qualified immunity. "Qualified immunity protects public officials from liability for civil damages if their conduct does not violate 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Martin v. City of Broadview Heights, 712 F.3d 951, 957 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). We review the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo. Moore v. KUKA Welding Sys. & Robot Corp., 171 F.3d 1073, 1078 (6th Cir. 1999). "Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when there is a complete absence of fact to support the verdict, so that no reasonable juror could have found for the nonmoving party." Id. We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and "we cannot weigh the credibility of witnesses and cannot substitute our judgment for that of the jury." United States v. Alpine Indus., Inc., 352 F.3d 1017, 1022 (6th Cir. 2003).

         To determine whether Rigney is entitled to qualified immunity, we must determine whether the facts within the trial record make out a violation of a constitutional right, and whether that right was clearly established "such that a reasonable officer would have known that [her] conduct violated it." Martin, 712 F.3d at 957. "These two steps may be addressed in any order." Id. In Wesley II, we held that, based on the allegations in Wesley's complaint, it was plausible that Rigney was not entitled to qualified immunity. Wesley II, 779 F.3d at 433. "After trial, if defendants continue to urge qualified immunity, the decisive question, ordinarily, is whether the evidence favoring the party seeking relief is legally sufficient to overcome the defense." Ortiz v. Jordan, 562 U.S. 180, 184 (2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 50).

         Clearly ...

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