The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge
Before the Court is an Appeal from the Order of the Magistrate Judge by Defendants City of Spring Valley (the "City") and Douglas Bernabei ("Bernabei") (hereinafter referred to jointly as the "City Defendants"). In their Appeal, the City Defendants take issue with certain of Magistrate Judge Gorman's rulings with respect to Plaintiff's First, Second, and Third Motions for Protective Order, Defendants' Motion to Compel, and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike. Each argument will be addressed in turn.
Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) grants magistrate judges the authority to issue orders regarding pretrial matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (1993). A district court reviews any portion of a magistrate judge's order to which written objections have been made, and ". . . shall consider such objections and shall modify or set aside any portion of the magistrate judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).
The City Defendants argue that the scope of discovery must be broad enough to permit them to defend themselves against Plaintiff's claims and every element of damages sought. They contend that the Magistrate Judge's rulings erroneously limit the scope of discovery by preventing them from fully discovering evidence necessary to: (1) defend against Plaintiff's claims that they violated her Constitutional rights because they lacked probable cause to arrest/manufactured evidence; (2) support the affirmative defense of qualified immunity; and (3) limit Plaintiff's claims for damages.
I. Defense of Constitutional Claims
With respect to their ability to defend against Plaintiff's claim that they lacked probable cause leading up to her arrest, the City Defendants assert that they must be allowed discovery relating to each and every independent and corroborating piece of evidence that supported their belief that probable cause existed prior to the arrest.*fn1
According to Defendants, this would include an examination of the statements of John Doe, an individual with whom Plaintiff had an extra-marital sexual relationship. Discovery of this evidence is argued to be essential to proving Bernabei's belief that there was probable cause, because Doe's testimony purportedly corroborated and added credibility to the statements made by the student by establishing Plaintiff's pattern of behavior and habits relating to extramarital sexual relationships. Put another way, the City Defendants contend that details provided by Doe paralleled similar details and accounts provided by the student including her behavioral pattern in initiating extramarital sexual relationships, her way of gaining trust and sympathy from male partners, and her sexual conduct once in such a relationship. Accordingly, such evidence is argued to establish Plaintiff's modus operandi in pursuing extra-marital sexual relationships.
Plaintiff responds that this evidence was excluded from her state court criminal trial as irrelevant and non-probative because it deals with her adult sex life and not the alleged sexual abuse of a minor. Moreover, and more importantly, she points out that information from John Doe could not have had any part in Bernabei's probable cause determination because he did not interview John Doe until one week after Plaintiff's arrest, a fact that is conspicuously absent from Defendants' argument.*fn2 As the probable cause determination depends on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time of arrest, this after-acquired information cannot be used to bolster his prior state of mind and is simply not relevant to the probable cause inquiry. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge's ruling was entirely proper.
Having found no clear error or decision contrary to law in the Magistrate Judge's ruling with respect to the John Doe evidence, this portion of the City Defendants' objection is overruled.
II. Qualified Immunity Defense
The City Defendants next argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity if a reasonable officer could have believed that, in light of the facts and circumstances within his knowledge and clearly established law, that the plaintiff had or was committing an offense. They further contend that a reasonable, but mistaken, belief that probable cause existed is sufficient to justify a finding of qualified immunity. The City Defendants again suggest that the information provided by John Doe was relied upon by Bernabei in establishing probable cause and must be considered in determining whether he is entitled to qualified immunity.
With all due respect, this is simply a restatement of the probable cause argument that was rejected in the prior section of this Order. The same ruling applies whether in the context of constitutional claims or qualified immunity: facts not known to the officer at the time of arrest are not relevant to the probable cause inquiry. Thus, this ...