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Diaz-Nieves v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 5, 2017

JOEL DIAZ-NIEVES; GIOVANNY DIAZ-NIEVES; AIDA NIEVES-PEREZ; SAUL DIAZ-RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Bruce J. McGiverin, U.S. Magistrate Judge]

          Raúl S. Mariani-Franco, for appellants.

          Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiff Joel Díaz-Nieves ("Joel") appeals from the district court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee the United States, dismissing his false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims. Co-plaintiffs, Joel's parents, Saúl Díaz-Rodríguez and Aida Nieves-Pérez, and Joel's brother, Giovanny Díaz-Nieves, [1] (collectively hereinafter his "family" or "relatives") also appeal, challenging the district court's dismissal of their derivative and independent tort claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). After careful consideration, we affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         This case originates under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2671-2680, concerning an arrest made during "Operation Guard Shack, " a reverse sting operation launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") with the goal of identifying corrupt police and corrections officers in Puerto Rico.[2] In July 2010, a corrections officer falsely claiming to be Joel Díaz-Nieves participated in Deal 105 of Guard Shack (a controlled buy of fake cocaine). The government verified that a man by that name did work for the Department of Corrections and requested his employee file, among other records. On August 5, 2010, the FBI received Joel's employment file, which included his picture. Joel Díaz-Nieves was indicted and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Nothing in the record suggests that at the time they sought the warrant the FBI agents knew that Joel Díaz-Nieves was not the real name of the corrections officer that had participated in Deal 105.

         On October 6, 2010, the FBI agents executed the arrest warrant at Joel's home. Joel lived with his parents, Saúl and Aida, and his brother, Giovanny. Saúl opened the door and, with a gun pointed at him, was made to stand against an exterior wall. At some point, his pants fell to the ground and he was left standing naked in the street. Aida was also ordered to face a wall. Giovanny observed laser sights on his head and chest upon exiting to the balcony of his house. Joel, who was a Department of Corrections officer and had no previous criminal record, located his work weapon and headed to the front door. There, Joel observed laser sights on his body coming from the FBI agents' weapons; consequently, he surrendered and was arrested.

         Joel asked why he had been arrested and was told by FBI agents that he had been charged with drug trafficking, which he denied. An agent showed Joel a photograph taken from a video recording of Deal 105, which showed a man involved in a drug transaction, but Joel said he was not the man in the photo. Joel was processed and interviewed by the FBI, and he continued to assert his innocence. He was detained in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico for three days. Joel's family retained a lawyer and paid fees for appraisals of properties in anticipation of obtaining bail. On October 9, 2010, Joel was released from custody. The FBI eventually discovered that the corrections officer claiming to be Joel Díaz-Nieves was in fact another corrections officer named José Nieves-Vélez ("Nieves-Vélez"), who had used Joel's name to shield his identity. Nieves-Vélez was arrested on October 12, 2010. The following day, the government moved to dismiss the indictment as to Joel.

         B. Procedural History

         On March 14, 2013, Joel and his family (collectively, the "Plaintiffs") filed a complaint alleging that, as a result of Joel's arrest, they had suffered damages and injuries compensable under the FTCA.[3] Specifically, Joel asserted claims of negligent investigation, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. His relatives asserted derivative claims for the actions against Joel and independent claims of excessive use of force under Article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 5141. On November 26, 2013, the United States filed a motion to dismiss Joel's negligent investigation, false arrest, and false imprisonment claims. The Plaintiffs opposed the motion to dismiss. On July 9, 2014, the district court dismissed the negligent investigation claim because it was "jurisdictionally barred by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA, " but refused to dismiss at that stage Joel's claims of false arrest and false imprisonment.[4]

         After discovery was completed, the parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment. In its motion, the United States requested the dismissal of only Joel's claims. On July 1, 2015, the district court denied Joel's motion for partial summary judgment and granted the United States' motion for partial summary judgment, dismissing Joel's only remaining claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. The district court denied Joel's subsequent motion for reconsideration.

         The case continued as to Joel's relatives. On September 18, 2015, the government filed a motion to dismiss the remaining claims. The relatives opposed the motion. On December 14, 2015, the district court granted the government's motion, which it treated as one for judgment on the pleadings, finding that the relatives had failed "to state a[ny] plausible claim for relief." Accordingly, the district court entered judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety. Plaintiffs timely appealed.

         On appeal, Joel challenges the granting of partial summary judgment dismissing his false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims under the FTCA.[5] In turn, his relatives challenge the district court's dismissal of their independent claims for excessive use of force and their derivative claims due to Joel's arrest.

         II. ...


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