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February 12, 1965


Biggs, Chief Judge, and McLaughlin and Staley, Circuit Judges.

Author: Staley

STALEY, Circuit Judge

This is an appeal by defendants, New Jersey State Police officers, from a judgment entered against them upon a directed verdict in an action for damages under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn1 A cross appeal challenging the measure of damages used by the district court was filed by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff Ernest L. Anderson, a resident of South Toms River, New Jersey, brought suit against Robert E. Haas and Joseph Wert, alleging that, while acting under color of state law, they illegally arrested him and detained him and, therefore, that he was "deprived * * * of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States," and that the officers "maliciously and without probable cause" commenced an action against him.

The trial was to a jury. At the conclusion of defendants' case, the court directed a verdict for the plaintiff on the issue of liability. The question of damages, however, was left to the jury which awarded $100. For the reasons which follow we must reverse and remand for a new trial.

Defendants contend that the district court erred in directing a verdict for the plaintiff and in failing to grant a new trial. They argue that, under proper instructions, the jury could have determined that the arrest without a warrant was legal or that, if the arrest was technically illegal, the officers acted "in good faith and without malice" and are therefore not liable under the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, we do not have the advantage of an opinion from the district court setting forth the reasons for its directed verdict for the plaintiff. We do not, therefore, have any clear guide to the authority used by the court to support its conclusion. Remarks made by the court and recorded in the trial transcript indicate, however, that the court thought the officers were liable under § 1983 because their acts were not sanctioned by the applicable New Jersey statutes covering arrest. In their briefs and argument on the question of the legality of the arrest, the parties have treated the matter as one of state law, to be resolved by the application of the pertinent state arrest statutes to the facts.

The Supreme Court, in Ker v. State of California, 374 U.S. 23, 34, 83 S. Ct. 1623, 1630, 10 L. Ed. 2d 726 (1963) stated:

"* * * While this Court does not sit as in nisi prius to appraise contradictory factual questions, it will, where necessary to the determination of constitutional rights, make an independent examination of the facts, the findings, and the record so that it can determine for itself whether in the decision as to reasonableness the fundamental - i.e., constitutional - criteria established by this Court have been respected. The States are not thereby precluded from developing workable rules governing arrests, searches and seizures to meet 'the practical demands of effective criminal investigation and law enforcement' in the States, provided that those rules do not violate the constitutional proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures and the concomitant command that evidence so seized is inadmissible against one who has standing to complain. See Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257 [80 S. Ct. 725, 4 L. Ed. 2d 697] (1960). Such a standard implies no derogation of uniformity in applying federal constitutional guarantees but is only a recognition that conditions and circumstances vary just as do investigative and enforcement techniques." (Emphasis ours.)

"It is immaterial whether respondents' conduct is legal or illegal as a matter of state law." McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 674, 83 S. Ct. 1433, 1437, 10 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1963); Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171-187, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961). Here, the plaintiff's claim is based upon an alleged violation of his rights under the Constitution of the United States, and we must look to Federal law to determine whether such violation occurred.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Beck v. State of Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 85 S. Ct. 223, 13 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1964), set forth the criteria for determining the constitutional validity of an arrest with which we are here concerned. There it stated:

"* * * Whether that arrest was constitutionally valid depends in turn upon whether, at the moment the arrest was made, the officers had probable cause to make it - whether at that moment the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had committed or was committing an offense . Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-176 [69 S. Ct. 1302, 93 L. Ed. 1879]; Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 102 [80 S. Ct. 168, 4 L. Ed. 2d 134]. 'The rule of probable cause is a practical, nontechnical conception affording the best compromise that has been found for accommodating * * * often opposing interests. Requiring more would unduly hamper law enforcement. To allow less would be to leave law-abiding citizens at the mercy of the officers' whim or caprice.' Brinegar v. United States, supra, 338 U.S. at 176 [69 S. Ct. at 1311]." (Emphasis ours.)

With this in mind, we review the facts developed at the trial, together with the inferences from them, in the light most favorable to the defendants since the district court directed a verdict against them.

At approximately 10:30 P.M. on the evening of February 16, 1962, State Police Troopers Robert E. Haas and Joseph Wert, defendants, while on patrol, received a call reporting shooting in the Brook Forest area of South Toms River, New Jersey. Proceeding to the scene, they discovered that four or five residents of the area had come out of their houses. The people on the street reported hearing shooting near the home of Ernest L. Anderson at 400 Brook Forest Drive. The officers proceeded to the Anderson house and knocked on the rear door near the garage. Anderson appeared and admitted firing the gun. He explained that he had received it from his wife for his birthday and was trying it out by firing it in the back yard. At the request of the officers he promised not to fire it again. On this visit, the officers saw two or three spent shotgun shells at the back of the house near the garage. Anderson and his wife had been drinking.

During this visit, one of Anderson's neighbors, who lived in a house 250 to 300 feet away from him, reported he had heard what sounded like a gunshot about 10:00 P.M., and, immediately after, heard something hit the side of his house. He had then gone outside to quiet his dog but had been forced to fall to the ground when he saw Anderson, who ...

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