Nathaniel Hicks v. Gerald Ferreyra, No. 22-1339 (4th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, a now-retired Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, filed a civil suit against two United States Park Police officers (“officers”) under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiff asserted that the officers violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully seizing him during two traffic stops. A jury found the officers liable for Plaintiff’s emotional injuries resulting from the constitutional violations and awarded him a total of $205,000 in compensatory damages and $525,000 in punitive damages. The district court entered final judgment in accordance with the jury verdict and later denied the officers’ post-trial motions seeking judgment as a matter of law or a new trial.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that Plaintiff presented a cognizable Bivens claim because his claim is not meaningfully different from the claim asserted in Bivens. Both cases involved allegations of unjustified, warrantless seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment committed by federal “line” officers conducting routine police work. Also, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. They violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights by significantly prolonging the initial stop without justification and by initiating a second, unjustified stop. This constitutional right to be free from such unlawful seizures was clearly established at the time the seizures occurred. Further, the court held that Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of emotional injury to support the compensatory damage award, and the punitive damages award was not excessive.