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Alfano v. Lynch

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 1, 2017

PETER ALFANO, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
THOMAS LYNCH, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Richard G. Stearns, U.S. District Judge]

          David Milton, with whom Howard Friedman and Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C. were on brief, for appellant.

          Alexandra R. Hassell, with whom Douglas I. Louison and Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, LLP were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Kayatta, Circuit Judge, Souter, Associate Justice, [*] and Selya, Circuit Judge.

          SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         The doctrine of qualified immunity shields from liability public officials, including police officers, whose conduct does not violate clearly established federal statutory or constitutional rights. It is a strong, but not impenetrable, shield. After careful consideration of the record in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we conclude that qualified immunity is not available: given the state of the preexisting law, the unconstitutionality of a police officer's actions in taking a person into protective custody, handcuffing that person, transporting him to a police station, and jailing him without probable cause to believe that he is incapacitated should have been apparent. Consequently, we vacate the district court's entry of summary judgment in the defendant's favor and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Inasmuch as the court below resolved this case at the summary judgment stage, we rehearse the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant (here, the plaintiff), consistent with record support. See DePoutot v. Raffaelly, 424 F.3d 112, 114 (1st Cir. 2005).

         On the morning of July 11, 2014, plaintiff-appellant Peter Alfano and two friends set out to attend a concert at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. They travelled to Mansfield on a chartered bus that provided round-trip transportation from downtown Boston to the concert venue. The threesome consumed beers both on the bus and at a tailgate party upon their arrival. All told, Alfano (by his own admission) drank between six and eight beers over a span of some four to six hours.

         When it came time for the concert to begin, Alfano and his friends made their way to a security checkpoint at the entrance of the amphitheater. Alfano was feeling the effects of the alcohol that he had consumed, but he did not feel out of control. As he reached the checkpoint, two security guards asked him to step out of the line and escorted him to a separate holding area on the Xfinity Center property. There, Alfano was turned over to defendant-appellee Thomas Lynch, a lieutenant from a neighboring town's police department, who was working a security detail at the Xfinity Center. According to Lynch, the security guards told him that they thought that Alfano might be incapacitated and, thus, took him aside for further scrutiny.

         Massachusetts law permits police officers to take "incapacitated" persons into civil protective custody. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111B, § 8; see id. § 3 (specifying, as pertinent here, that an "[i]ncapacitated" person is one who is both intoxicated and, "by reason of the consumption of intoxicating liquor is . . . likely to suffer or cause physical harm or damage property"). To evaluate whether Alfano was in fact incapacitated, Lynch - acting under color of state law - asked Alfano to perform a series of field sobriety tests. The parties dispute how Alfano performed on these tests. They agree, however, that he refused to take a breathalyzer test. Following that refusal, Lynch handcuffed Alfano and placed him in protective custody.

         At first, Alfano was shackled to a bench. He was later transported to the Mansfield police station (some miles away) and confined in a holding cell. Roughly five hours later, he was released. By that time, the concert was over.

         The matter did not end there. In July of 2015, Alfano sued in the federal district court.[1] His complaint alleged, in substance, that Lynch lacked probable cause to take him into protective custody and, accordingly, abridged his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures. After a course of pretrial discovery, Lynch moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Over Alfano's opposition, the district court granted Lynch's motion. See Alfano v. Lynch, No. 15-12943, 2016 WL 2993615, at *3 (D. Mass. ...


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