EDUARDO SOTO-CINTRON, on his own behalf and on behalf of his minor son A.S.M.; A.S.M., Minor, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
UNITED STATES, Defendant, Appellee. WINDY MARRERO-COLON, solely on behalf of her minor son A.S.M., Plaintiff,
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO Hon. Salvador E. Casellas, U.S. District Judge
Martínez-Luciano, with whom Emil
Rodríguez-Escudero was on brief, for appellants.
A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa
Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney,
and Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney,
Acting Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for
Howard, Chief Judge, Lipez and Thompson, Circuit Judges.
Eduardo Soto-Cintrón and his 17-year-old son went to a
post office in Coto Laurel, Puerto Rico to pick up some mail.
While Soto-Cintrón waited in his red Ford F-150 truck,
his son retrieved some envelopes from the post office and
returned to his father's vehicle. As the two pulled out
of the parking lot, they were stopped by a number of federal
law enforcement agents with guns drawn. Soto-Cintrón
was removed from his vehicle and handcuffed, and he and his
son were detained for up to twenty minutes.
agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives ("ATF") had stopped the wrong people.
Once they realized their mistake, the agents arrested the
person who had received the illegal shipment of firearms, and
released Soto-Cintrón and his son. Soto-Cintrón
later filed a claim against the United States under the
Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") for false
imprisonment. The district court granted summary judgment to
the government, and Soto-Cintrón appealed. Though our
analysis of Soto-Cintrón's FTCA claim differs from
the district court's, we ultimately reach the same
conclusion, and affirm.
2013, the United States Postal Inspection Service
("USPIS") intercepted a package sent from Orlando,
Florida to Puerto Rico. Suspecting that the package contained
six illegal Glock semi-automatic pistols, USPIS personnel
requested the assistance of the ATF to set up a controlled
delivery. The agencies devised a plan to leave a notice at
the addressee's residence informing him that he could
claim the package at the U.S. Post Office in Coto Laurel.
Pursuant to the plan, USPIS personnel would assume the
primary surveillance positions inside the post office and in
the parking lot, while ATF agents would be posted around the
perimeter of the parking lot. Whoever showed up to collect
the package would be arrested, as would anyone else linked to
the receipt of the package.
the operation, a USPIS inspector used radio communication to
announce the separate arrival of two vehicles to the post
office parking lot. First, the inspector identified a red
Ford F-150 which turned out to be Soto-Cintrón's.
The inspector stated that the occupants of the vehicle
remained seated for some amount of time before the younger
occupant went into the post office. Second, the inspector
announced the arrival of a white Ford F-150 which, as it
turned out, was driven by the suspect.
both vehicles were still in the parking lot, the USPIS
inspector broadcasted that the package had been delivered to
the suspect. Then, without identifying which vehicle the
suspect placed the package in, the radio operator stated that
the red Ford F-150 -- belonging to Soto-Cintrón -- was
leaving the parking lot.
the ATF agents on the receiving end of these radio
communications was Special Agent Vladimir González. He
was stationed on an access road at the perimeter of the
parking lot in a vehicle driven by ATF Task Force Officer
Jose Fajardo, and also occupied by Special Agent Raul
Peña-López. When Special Agent González
heard the radio transmissions he could not discern which
truck contained the suspicious package. After unsuccessfully
attempting to obtain clarification from a USPIS inspector, he
made the decision to stop the red truck driven by
Soto-Cintrón before it could leave the parking lot.
Special Agent González instructed Officer Fajardo to
block the parking lot exit with his vehicle, and the three
agents approached Soto-Cintrón's truck with guns
drawn, identifying themselves as police and ordering
Soto-Cintrón and his son to put their hands up.
and his son had the windows rolled up and the air
conditioning and radio turned on, so they could not hear the
agents' commands. One of the officers pulled
Soto-Cintrón out of his vehicle, handcuffed him, and
placed him face down on the pavement. His son was also
handcuffed and placed next to him, but was soon uncuffed and
allowed to sit on the ground away from the vehicle. The
agents questioned Soto-Cintrón about the package and
performed a visual inspection of his truck.
Soto-Cintrón, of course, denied any knowledge of the
illegal firearms, and the agents' visual inspection did
not reveal the suspicious package.
point during Soto-Cintrón's detention, the agents
learned that the actual suspect -- the person in the white
truck -- had been apprehended, and that Soto-Cintrón
and his son were not involved in the illegal firearms
delivery. The agents accordingly released ...