Submitted: June 12, 2019
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and SEITZ, Justices.
Strine, Jr. Chief Justice.
appellant and plaintiff below, John Smith, appeals from the
Superior Court's entry of summary judgment for the
defendants, the First State Animal Center and SPCA and
various individuals employed by the SPCA. On appeal, Smith
challenges the trial court's rulings on his claims
against the defendants for false arrest or imprisonment,
malicious prosecution, and violation of his constitutional
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
These claims arise out of an incident in which Smith's
dog, Millie, attacked both a neighbor's dog and the
neighbor, causing serious injury to the neighbor's dog.
After an investigation, the SPCA sought to quarantine Millie
for a limited time and, due in part to a previous biting
incident involving Millie, label her a dangerous dog.
Accordingly, the SPCA seized Millie under the authority of a
warrant and kept her in its kennel for about a month pending
the dangerous dog hearing.
After Smith took certain actions that the SPCA claims
obstructed its investigative and enforcement efforts, the
SPCA obtained an arrest warrant against Smith for one count
of maintaining a dangerous animal that causes death or
physical injury to another animal and one count of hindering
prosecution. Smith turned himself in and was promptly
released pending trial after being processed.
Ultimately, a dangerous dog hearing panel determined that
Millie was potentially dangerous and let Smith and his wife
take her back home after agreeing to additional safety
precautions. The Delaware Department of Justice also dropped
the criminal charges against Smith.
Each of Smith's claims below and on appeal relate to the
SPCA's decision to obtain either the arrest warrant (as
to Smith) or seizure warrant (as to Millie). There are
essentially two premises underlying his claims. First, Smith
argues that the SPCA and its officers did him wrong because
the officers who swore out the warrants lacked the authority
to do so. That is, Smith argues, the law in effect at the
time required that to be done by a certified police officer.
Second, Smith argues that the SPCA lacked probable cause to
arrest him because he had not done anything that comes close
to hindering prosecution.
to Smith's false arrest or imprisonment claim, we agree
with the Superior Court that the SPCA officer who swore out
the arrest warrant had (i) the necessary authority to arrest
Smith for maintaining a dangerous animal; and (ii) probable
cause to do so.
to Smith's malicious prosecution claim, we affirm on the
basis that Smith failed to introduce evidence that would
support a jury finding that the SPCA officer who swore out
the arrest warrant acted with actual malice in doing so.
to Smith's § 1983 claims, we affirm on three
grounds. First, we agree with the Superior Court that the
individual defendants are protected by qualified immunity to
the extent that Smith's claims are premised on a
purported lack of authority to swear out warrants. Second, to
the extent that Smith's § 1983 claims against the
individual defendants are premised on a purported lack of
probable cause to arrest him, these claims fail because the
undisputed facts establish as a matter of law that the SPCA
had probable cause to arrest him for maintaining a dangerous
animal. Finally, Smith's claims against
the SPCA fail under the United States Supreme Court's
decision in Monell v. Department of Social Services of
the City of New York.
THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED that the judgment of the Superior