Harvey v. Navajo County, et al.
ORDER denying 177 Motion for New Trial; denying 177 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. Signed by Judge John W Sedwick on 7/27/12.(JWS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF ARIZONA
NAVAJO COUNTY, et al.,
ORDER AND OPINION
[Re: Motion at docket 177]
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 177, plaintiff Edward Harvey (“Harvey”) files a renewed motion for
judgment in his favor as a matter of law or for a new trial. Defendants Navajo County,
et al., (collectively “defendants”) oppose the motion at docket 178. Harvey replies at
docket 179. Oral argument was requested but would not assist the court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a trial court may
enter a judgment as a matter of law on an issue as to which it finds that “a reasonable
jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that
issue.”1 Where, as here, the court has been presented with a renewed motion for
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).
judgment as a matter of law made after the verdict has been returned, the grounds for
the renewed motion are, “limited to those grounds asserted in the pre-deliberation
Rule 50(a) motion.”2 Moreover, in deciding a Rule 50 motion the district court may not
make any credibility determination nor may it weigh the evidence.3 Rather, the test
which the court must apply is “whether the evidence permits only one reasonable
conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury’s verdict.” 4
Motions for a new trial are made pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. A motion for a
new trial should be granted only if there is no evidence to support the verdict, or failing
to grant the motion would reflect a trial court’s misapplication of the law.5
The parties are familiar with the facts giving rise to the lawsuit, and they need not
be repeated here. Readers who did not observe the trial may wish to read the parties’
trial briefs at dockets 135 and 140, as well as the motion papers identified in Section 1
of this order. Harvey advances four grounds in support of his motion, the last two of
which are very closely related. First, he contends that the community caretaker doctrine
could not have been used to arrest and confine him. Second, he argues that the verdict
for defendants on his claim relating to the killing of his dogs “was against the weight of
the evidence.”6 Third, he argues that the court erred by denying his request for a ruling
E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software, Inc. 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009).
Id. quoting Josephs v. Pacific Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2006).
Id. at 962.
Doc. 177 at 3.
that as a matter of law his arrest and detention for possessing a firearm on school
grounds warrants relief. The fourth contention is closely related to the third: Harvey
asserts that the failure to give a jury instruction that set out the elements of the offense
of carrying a deadly weapon on school grounds requires a new trial. The court
addresses these in turn.
A. Arrest and Detention
The court begins with the observation that Harvey has not advanced any error in
Deputy Adams’ stopping him as a basis for relief. Rather, it is the arrest and decision to
detain rather than release which are advanced to support the motion.
When deputy Adams (“Adams”) made the arrest and later when he made the
decision to detain rather than release Harvey, there was probable cause to believe
Harvey had been carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, an act which at the
time was a felony under Arizona law. Probable cause was established by testimony at
trial showing that prior to the stop Harvey’s daughter had advised that Harvey always
carried a sidearm in his pocket, Adams’ observation of a bulge inside Harvey’s pocket
consistent with a firearm, Adams’ discovery of the firearm concealed in the pocket, and
the officers’ pre-stop inquiry which had established that Harvey did not have a permit to
carry a concealed weapon.7
The first question then is whether Adams’ belief that he should arrest Harvey
based on the community caretaker doctrine renders the arrest unlawful, which would
At trial, Harvey testified that the sidearm was partly poking out of the pocket which
would have rendered it an unconcealed weapon, but Adams’ testimony was to the contrary.
The court cannot resolve credibility issues in deciding the pending motion.
then entitle Harvey to judgment on his claims relating to the arrest. With respect to the
arrest, it does not matter what was in Adams’ mind, because the legality of the arrest
depends on the existence of probable cause arising from the totality of the
circumstances. The Supreme Court has explained: “Our cases make clear that an
arresting officer’s state of mind (except for the facts that he knows) is irrelevant to the
existence of probable cause. That is to say, his subjective reason for making the arrest
need not be the criminal offense as to which the known facts provide probable cause.”8
The evidence at trial clearly established probable cause for the arrest on the concealed
weapons violation, so the arrest was lawful, even if one assumes that Adams’ only
reason for making the arrest was to protect Harvey’s daughter and ex-wife by invoking
the community caretaker doctrine.
The second question is whether Adams’ decision to detain rather than release
Harvey based on concerns for the safety of Harvey’s daughter and ex-wife violated
Harvey’s constitutional rights. It did not. Once arrested, Harvey had a right (which he
was afforded) to be promptly taken before a judicial officer to determine whether he
should be detained. Harvey argues that Adams’ discretion had to be exercised in a way
that was both “rational and reasonable.”9 Harvey relies on Colorado v. Bertine.10 While
that case recognized that an officer’s conduct must be reasonable to avoid a Fourth
Amendment violation, the case involved an inventory search of an automobile, not a
Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153 (2004).
Doc. 177 at 6 (emphasis in original).
479 U.S. 367 (1987).
decision to detain an arrested person. Moreover, Bertine reiterated the principle
announced in earlier cases that the Fourth Amendment may not be read always to
require a less restrictive alternative than the one actually used by a police officer.11
Assuming that an arresting officer’s decision to hold a person arrested on a
felony charge pending an appearance before a judicial officer may support a false arrest
or civil rights claim if the decision was an irrational or unreasonable exercise of
discretion, Harvey would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this issue only if
the evidence at trial could support but a single conclusion–that Adams’ decision was
irrational or unreasonable.12 Based on the information available to Adams at the time,
Harvey could properly be viewed as a threat to his daughter and ex-wife such that
holding him until a judicial officer could review the need for his detention on the
concealed weapon charge was not necessarily irrational nor was it necessarily
B. Killing Harvey’s Dogs
Harvey maintains that the weight of the evidence shows that there was no need
to kill the dogs. However, even if the weight of the evidence were aligned with Harvey’s
view, that is not the pertinent inquiry. The question is whether the evidence can support
no conclusion other than that the dogs did not need to be killed. Depending on what
conclusions the jury drew about witness credibility and the weight of the evidence, this
issue could have been decided either way. Given that the court cannot invade the jury’s
Id. at 373-74.
Go Daddy Software, 443 F.3d at 1062.
province with respect to credibility and the weight to give any particular evidence, the
jury’s decision on this issue cannot be overturned by the court.
C. Gun on School Grounds
As Harvey points out, the evidence at trial clearly established that Harvey could
not have been arrested for possessing a gun on school grounds, because he was not
on school grounds when he was arrested. At trial in the jury’s presence, defendants
conceded that Adams was mistaken when he believed Harvey had committed that
crime. As noted above, Adams’ state of mind is irrelevant to Harvey’s arrest, because
the arrest was supported by probable cause that Harvey had committed the crime of
carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. For that reason, and because the
defendants foreswore any reliance on the school grounds crime to support their actions,
it would have served no purpose for the court to enter a judgment for Harvey on that
issue. Similarly, it would have served no purpose to instruct the jury on the elements of
the gun on school grounds charge.
To the extent that Harvey may maintain these related arguments on the theory
that the jury would have then awarded Harvey some damages, he overlooks the point
that the arrest and detention were justified on other grounds. That being the jury’s
decision, Harvey would not have been entitled to any damage based on Adams’
mistaken belief that Harvey had carried a gun on school grounds.
For the reasons above, the court concludes that Harvey’s motion falls well short
under the demanding standards applicable to Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions. The
motion at docket 177 is DENIED.
DATED this 27th day of July 2012.
/s/ JOHN W. SEDWICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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