Thurairajah v. Hollenbeck, No. 17-3419 (8th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to a state trooper, in an action brought by plaintiff alleging claims of First Amendment retaliation and Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure. The trooper arrested plaintiff for disorderly conduct after plaintiff yelled a two-word expletive at him from a moving vehicle. The trooper believed the shout constituted unreasonable or excessive noise in violation of state law.
The court held that the trooper lacked even arguable probable cause for an arrest and thus violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. In this case, plaintiff's conduct may have been offensive, but it was not an unreasonable or excessive noise. The court also held that the district court did not err as to the First Amendment retaliation claim where the trooper had neither probable cause nor arguable probable cause to arrest plaintiff, because plaintiff's profane shout was protected activity and the arrest was an action that would chill continued activity by a person of ordinary firmness.
Court Description: Smith, Author, with Wollman and Grasz, Circuit Judges] Civil case - Civil rights. Plaintiff's action in shouting a two-word profanity at a passing state trooper, while possibly offensive, did not constitute an unreasonable or excessive noise and did not provide probable cause for plaintiff's arrest; plaintiff's right to be free from unreasonable seizures was clearly established at the time of his arrest, and his warrantless arrest,unsupported by probable cause, violated his Fourth Amendment rights; as a result, the district court did not err in denying the trooper's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity; nor did the court err in denying the trooper summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that his speech was protected First Amendment speech which should have been free from retaliatory government action.