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Baxter v. Rivers

September 30, 2010

JOSEPH JACKSON BAXTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEN RIVERS AND JUSTIN HENDRICKSON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief U.S. District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 32). The Court finds that oral argument would not significantly assist the decisional process, thus the Court considers the motion on the parties' briefing, without a hearing. The Court rules as follows.

BACKGROUND

On January 12, 2005, a bondsman falsely identified Plaintiff Joseph Baxter as Jared Hillier, for whom a bench warrant had been issued. The bondsman contacted police. On the bondsman's information, Officer Rivers stopped the car in which Baxter was a passenger; three other people were in the car. Baxter got out and identified himself as Joseph Baxter. Baxter indicated he had no identification with him. Other officers, including Officer Hendrickson, began to arrive at the scene. Rivers frisked Baxter and asked to remove his wallet. During search of Baxter's wallet, Rivers and Hendrickson found baggies of methamphetamine, and placed Baxter under arrest.

In Baxter's criminal proceedings, the state court judge found that Baxter consented to the search of his wallet, although Baxter denied having given consent. The judge concluded that the search of Baxter's wallet was reasonable, and denied his motion to suppress. On November 2, 2005, a jury found Baxter guilty of possession of methamphetamine and being a persistent violator, and Baxter was sentenced to a unified term of seven years. See State v. Baxter, 144 Idaho 672 (2007).

On appeal, Baxter argued that Rivers and Hendrickson lacked reasonable grounds to believe he was armed and dangerous, and thus lacked justification to frisk Baxter under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968). Citing to a then-newly issued Idaho Supreme Court decision, the Idaho Court of Appeals held that the facts in Baxter's case did not support an "objectively reasonable" basis for the officers to conclude it was necessary to frisk Baxter to protect the officers or others. Baxter, 144 Idaho at 679, citing State v. Henage, 143 Idaho 655, 661 (2007). The Court concluded that the state court erred in finding that Baxter's frisk was justified. Baxter's convictions for possession of a controlled substance and being a persistent violator were thus vacated.

On October 29, 2008, Baxter filed a Complaint against Rivers and Hendrickson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting violations of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search. Baxter filed an Amended Complaint (Dkt. 21) on May 15, 2009. Defendants Rivers and Hendrickson now move to dismiss, asserting absolute and qualified immunity.

ANALYSIS

1. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). In a motion for summary judgment, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

In this case, the sole basis for Defendants' motion to dismiss and for summary judgment is that Defendants are immune as a matter of law, under the doctrines of absolute and qualified immunity.The Court addresses these arguments in turn.

2. Immunity From Liability For Perjury

In support of his § 1983 claim, Baxter asserts that Officer Hendrickson committed perjury in the October 2005 suppression hearing. See Complaint, Dkt. 21 at 6. Baxter argues that Officer Hendrickson's false testimony was intended to persuade the court that Baxter was less credible than the officers, and thus to support Baxter's conviction.

The United States Supreme Court has held that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not authorize damages claims against a police officer for giving perjured testimony in a claimant's criminal proceedings. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983). Relying on Briscoe, the Ninth ...


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