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Picatti v. Miner

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 10, 2019

STEVEN L. PICATTI, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
AARON MINER and DENNIS LAURENCE, Defendants-Respondents, and MARK WILLIAMSON, RANDALL GOODSPEED, and JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Jason D. Scott, District Judge.

         The district court's order granting summary judgment is affirmed in part and vacated in part.

          Johnson & Monteleone, LLP, Boise, for appellant. Bruce S. Bistline argued.

          Jan M. Bennetts, Ada County Prosecuting Attorney, Boise, for respondent. Erica White argued.

         SUBSTITUTE OPINION. THE OPINION PREVIOUSLY RELEASED ON JUNE 7, 2019 IS HEREBY WITHDRAWN.

          BRODY, JUSTICE.

         This appeal arises from the district court's decision to bar Steven Picatti's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 claims against two deputies on the basis of collateral estoppel. On July 12, 2014, Picatti struggled to drive home because road access was blocked for the Eagle Fun Days parade. After circumventing some orange barricades, Picatti drove toward two uniformed deputies who were on foot patrol by a crosswalk, which was marked with a large sign reading: "road closed to thru traffic." The factual background from that point becomes heavily disputed.

         Picatti alleges that Deputy Miner hit the hood of his car, then pulled Picatti out of his truck to tase and arrest him. The deputies contend that Picatti "bumped" Deputy Miner with his truck and then resisted arrest, forcing them to tase him into submission. Picatti was ultimately arrested on two charges: resisting and obstructing officers (I.C. § 18-705), and aggravated battery on law enforcement (I.C. § 18-915(3)). At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Picatti was bound over. Prior to trial, Picatti accepted a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace (I.C. § 18-6409) for "failing to obey a traffic sign and driving into a restricted pedestrian area." The court entered a judgment of conviction, which has not been appealed, overturned, or expunged.

         Two years later, Picatti brought a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against his arresting deputies, claiming deprivations of his protected rights to be free from (1) unreasonable seizure, (2) excessive force, and (3) felony arrest without probable cause. The district court granted summary judgment to the defending deputies holding that collateral estoppel barred Picatti from relitigating probable cause once it was determined at the preliminary hearing. Picatti timely appealed. We affirm the order granting summary judgment to the deputies as to Picatti's claims of false arrest and unreasonable seizure; however, we vacate the summary judgment as to Picatti's excessive force claim. The district court correctly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to Picatti's claims of false arrest and unreasonable seizure, but not as to excessive force. In addition, we cannot find as a matter of law that the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity on Picatti's excessive force claim when there is a genuine issue of material fact.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On the afternoon of July 12, 2014, Steven Picatti drove west on Highway 44 through Eagle, Idaho, on his way home. Because the community was celebrating the Eagle Fun Days festival, a parade blocked access to Picatti's residence. With several access points closed, Picatti drove his vehicle around orange barrel barricades toward a pedestrian crosswalk where two uniformed deputies were on foot patrol. The crosswalk was blocked by a sign marked "road closed to thru traffic."

         Picatti alleges that he approached one officer in his vehicle to ask for directions home. Deputy Miner then advanced towards the vehicle and slammed his hands onto the hood. Miner was agitated and yelling at Picatti, but Picatti could not hear Miner's shouts over the noisy engine. Picatti contends Miner went to the driver's door, opened it, and "grabbed [Picatti] around the neck." Picatti said he could not exit the vehicle because his seatbelt was on, and he was afraid to remove his hands from the steering wheel. He repeated the words "seat belt" to Miner several times. Miner then reached across Picatti to unlatch the seatbelt. Miner and another officer, Deputy Laurence, then pulled Picatti out of the vehicle, and pushed Picatti to the ground in an effort to arrest him. Picatti said he struggled simply to get off the hot pavement and claims he could not breathe as the deputies pushed him against the ground. He also claims that the deputies never gave him any instructions, commands, or explanations as they wrestled him from his truck to the ground. After multiple attempts to push himself off the ground, Picatti was tased in the back and handcuffed.

         Miner, however, alleges that Picatti did not slow his truck down as he came around the barricades, nor did it appear that he would stop the vehicle. Laurence even began unholstering his gun out of concern Picatti would not stop the truck. Miner pushed through some pedestrians to place himself in front of the crosswalk, and ordered Picatti to stop the vehicle. The truck slowed down but physically pushed Miner back into the crosswalk before stopping. Miner claimed that Picatti looked frustrated and gestured at him with his hands. Miner slammed his hand on the hood of Picatti's truck. The truck then "jerked" forward and hit Miner a second time. Miner walked over to the driver's door, opened it, and ordered Picatti to exit the vehicle. Picatti refused. Miner released Picatti's seatbelt, then he and Laurence pulled Picatti out of the truck. As the three men struggled against one another, Picatti and the deputies went to the ground.

         Officer Goodspeed also came to assist in subduing and arresting Picatti. Goodspeed noted that Picatti was "very fit" despite being seventy years old, and struggled against the officers as they tried to handcuff him. Miner contends that Picatti refused to put his hands behind his back, and instead continually tried to get up. During the struggle, Laurence also felt someone tugging on his gun and yelled out, "get your hands off my gun." Once Laurence could see his weapon, he saw that Picatti's hand had become trapped between Laurence's gun and holster; Picatti's "wild" arm movements tugged at the holster even though he did not reach for the weapon. Upon hearing Laurence's shout, however, Miner tased Picatti to quickly quell the struggle. Both Laurence and Goodspeed were also shocked by the taser wires. Finally subdued, the deputies handcuffed Picatti. Deputy Williamson then transported Picatti to the Ada County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of resisting and obstructing officers (I.C. § 18-705), as well as a felony charge for aggravated battery on law enforcement (I.C. § 18-915(3)).

         On August 20, 2014, Picatti appeared before a judge for a preliminary hearing. Picatti and Miner were the only witnesses at the hearing, and both testified. Picatti's attorney cross examined Miner at length, and questioned Picatti as well. At the hearing's conclusion, the court determined there was probable cause to bind Picatti over to the district court on the felony charge, and sufficient cause to believe he was guilty of both charges. The magistrate court explained that Picatti's vehicle came into contact with Miner, with Picatti knowing that Miner was a deputy.

         Prior to trial, Picatti reached a plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace (I.C. § 18-6409) for "failing to obey a traffic sign and driving into a restricted pedestrian area." The court entered a judgment of conviction, which has not been appealed or overturned.

         Almost two years later, Picatti filed a civil suit against Miner and Laurence, asserting under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 a deprivation of his protected right to be free from (1) unreasonable seizure, (2) excessive force, and (3) felony arrest without probable cause. While the initial complaint asserted claims against four defendants-Miner, Laurence, Goodspeed, and Deputy Mark Williamson-the court dismissed the claims against Williamson and awarded summary judgment to Goodspeed. Only Miner and Laurence remain as defendants.

         On July 17, 2017, the deputies filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in their memorandum that Picatti's claims were barred by collateral estoppel because the criminal court adjudicated and found probable cause for his arrest. Picatti then filed a Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting there was no probable cause determination to his claim, nor was there full and fair litigation on the issue of probable cause. After evaluating the parties' claims, the district court granted the deputies' motion for summary judgement on the basis of collateral estoppel-namely, that the August 20, 2014 hearing barred Picatti's civil claim because the earlier criminal proceedings established probable cause for the arrest. The court explained that Picatti's excessive-force claim and false-arrest claim would require the court to re-litigate the existence of probable cause. Picatti timely appealed to this Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Determining whether collateral estoppel bars claims from relitigation is a question of law over which the Court exercises free review. Rodriguez v. Dep't of Correction, 136 Idaho 90, 92, 29 P.3d 401, 403 (2001). Likewise, determining whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity requires de novo review on appeal. James v. City of Boise, 160 Idaho 466, 477, 376 P.3d 33, 44 (2016).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The district court erred in granting summary judgment to the deputies.

         Picatti's claims for false arrest and unreasonable seizure are premised on the assertion that the deputies did not have probable cause to seize him. The magistrate court ruled at a contested hearing that there was probable cause to believe that Picatti was guilty of committing the charges of aggravated battery on an officer and resisting or obstructing officers. Picatti simply cannot relitigate probable cause for his arrest or felony prosecution. In addition, while Picatti's final claim of excessive force was not decided in the prior criminal proceedings-and, consequently, is not precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel-we cannot determine whether the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity until the disputed facts are resolved below. Accordingly, collateral estoppel bars Picatti's claims as to the claims for false arrest and unreasonable seizure, but not his claim for excessive force.

         1. Picatti's claims for false arrest and unreasonable seizure are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

         Picatti argues that the preliminary hearing cannot collaterally estop his civil claims because the lower standard of proof in a preliminary hearing should not bar relitigation of the issue of probable cause. He also argues that the possibility Miner lied in the preliminary hearing should permit a new determination on the existence of probable cause. However, Picatti's arguments miss the mark on the collateral estoppel inquiry-the question is whether Picatti fully and fairly litigated the issue of probable cause before the magistrate court, and was fully incentivized to contest probable cause because of the significance of the preliminary hearing.

         Collateral estoppel stems from the doctrine of res judicata, and establishes a legal barrier against the relitigation of an identical issue with the same party or its privy. Rodriguez v. Dep't of Correction, 136 Idaho 90, 92, 29 P.3d 401, 403 (2001); Anderson v. City of Pocatello, 112 Idaho 176, 183, 731 P.2d 171, 178 (1986). This doctrine, also known as issue preclusion, prevents a party from resurrecting a lawsuit already put to rest; it protects litigants from unnecessary costs and promotes judicial economy from needless and likely inconsistent adjudications. Berkshire Investments, LLC v. Taylor, 153 Idaho 73, 81, 278 P.3d 943, 951 (2012); Pines, Inc. v. Bossingham, 131 Idaho 714, 717, 963 P.2d 397, 400 (Ct. App. 1998).

         This Court established five factors that must be evident for collateral estoppel to bar the relitigation of an ...


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