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Olson v. Tyler

decided: July 8, 1987.

DENNIS L. OLSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT TYLER AND O.J. FOSTER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 82 C 738, John C. Shabaz, Judge.

Cummings and Cudahy, Circuit Judges, and Will, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Cudahy

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.

On August 6, 1982 an innocent man was arrested pursuant to a warrant issued upon probable cause. The innocent man -- plaintiff-appellant Olson -- then sued the chief of police -- defendant-appellee Tyler -- whose affidavit supplied the probable cause.*fn1 Olson alleged that Tyler violated Olson's civil rights by withholding material information from the affidavit. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Tyler, and Olson now appeals. We affirm.

I.

Tyler was the chief of police of Elroy, Wisconsin, a town of 1,500 people. During the spring and summer of 1982, Tyler conducted an undercover drug investigation in Elroy with the help of some paid informants. One such informant was Linda Jorgenson, who received $50 for each drug purchase that she reported to Tyler.

Olson was a long-time resident of Elroy. During most of 1982 he worked in Elroy in his father's construction business and as a part-time bartender at Kaz's Bar. On June 19, 1982, Jorgenson went to Kaz's Bar and purchased some hashish from "the bartender." A friend of Jorgenson who accompanied her to Kaz's Bar that evening identified the bartender as Olson. Jorgenson reported the buy to Tyler, and, based on her report, Tyler eventually obtained an arrest warrant charging Olson with the sale of a controlled substance. (Six weeks elapsed between the reported buy and the issuance of the warrant; the delay presumably permitted the undercover investigation to continue.)

In fact, however, Olson was innocent of the charge. Everyone agrees about this because Olson was in jail 40 miles away from Elroy on June 19, 1982. There is also no dispute that, on its face, the affidavit supporting the warrant provided probable cause to arrest Olson for the June 19 sale. In general, if probable cause supports an arrest warrant, an arrest pursuant to that warrant is valid even if events later prove the charges inaccurate, as we held in our earlier opinion in this case. Olson v. Tyler, 771 F.2d 277, 280-81 (7th Cir. 1985); see Friedman v. Village of Skokie, 763 F.2d 236 (7th Cir. 1985). In the present case, however, Olson claims that Tyler knew or should have known that Olson was in jail on June 19 but sought the arrest warrant regardless. In addition, Olson claims that Tyler purposefully withheld from the affidavit supporting the warrant the fact that it was an unnamed, unreliable informant (rather than Jorgenson) who identified the bartender as Olson. These claims are relevant because, if an officer seeking a warrant purposefully or recklessly withholds facts that could negate probable cause, the officer may be liable for violating the victim's civil rights. See Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 106 S. Ct. 1092, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271 (1986); Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 57 L. Ed. 2d 667, 98 S. Ct. 2674 (1977); Olson, 771 F.2d at 280-81 (applying Franks to omission of facts while seeking arrest warrant); Leslie v. Ingram, 786 F.2d 1533, 1535 (11th Cir. 1986).

On appeal Olson essentially raises two challenges to the adverse judgment entered by the district court. First, Olson contends that the jury was improperly instructed regarding the sort of conduct by Tyler that would constitute reckless disregard for the truth. Second, Olson argues that, as a matter of law, Tyler's conduct constituted reckless disregard for the truth and violated Olson's civil rights.

II.

A. Jury Instructions

The jury answered "No" to the following special verdict interrogatory:

Did the defendant, Robert Tyler, intentionally or with reckless disregard violate the constitutional rights of plaintiff, Dennis L. Olson, by obtaining a warrant for his arrest?

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, Olson filed a post-trial motion to amend the judgment or in the alternative for a new trial, which the district court denied. On appeal, Olson contends that the jury instruction defining "reckless disregard for the truth" was improper and led to an erroneous ...


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