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Leaver v. Shortess

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 21, 2016

Ryan Leaver, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Gary Shortess, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued January 7, 2016

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 14-C-224 - William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Manion, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Ryan Leaver was arrested in Montana on a Wisconsin warrant for theft by lessee after he failed to return a rental car to Hertz Rent-A-Car in Appleton, Wisconsin. He spent more than two months in a Montana jail before being extradited to Wisconsin. The theft charge was eventually dropped.

          Leaver then filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the investigating officer, Sergeant Gary Shortess of the Outagamie County Sheriff's Department, intentionally or recklessly omitted certain exculpatory information from his police reports that would have defeated probable cause for the charge and accompanying warrant. The district court granted summary judgment for Shortess.

         We affirm. No evidence suggests that Shortess was personally aware of the information Leaver claims was wrongly omitted from the police reports. And even if he was aware of it, qualified immunity applies. It's not clear that the information would have negated probable cause.

         I. Background

         The saga of Leaver's arrest and extradition begins in August 2010 in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Leaver was then living in a motel. On August 2 Leaver's parked car was struck by a driver who was insured by West Bend Mutual Insurance Company. West Bend covered Leaver's loss and agreed to pay for a rental car from Hertz. That same day Leaver went to Hertz's Appleton office, signed a rental agreement, loaded all his belongings into a rented 2010 Toyota Camry, and set off westward, leaving the state. He wound up in Montana. There he stayed.

         The rental contract, however, provided that the Camry was due back to Hertz Appleton on August 12. At Leaver's request, and with West Bend's consent, Hertz extended the return date to August 16. That date came and went, but Leaver did not return the car. When he still hadn't returned the car by August 18, Hertz reported it stolen.

          Deputy John Drews of the Outagamie County Sheriff's Department took the initial theft report from Hertz. He learned that Leaver had designated Sam Carrier, his roommate in Appleton, as his contact person. Drews contacted Carrier, who said he had last spoken to Leaver on August 9 or 10. Cartier also explained that Leaver had packed all his belongings in the rental car and was possibly headed for California. Cartier gave Drews the last contact information he had for Leaver-a phone number for a Motel 6 in Montana. Drews called the number but Leaver had already checked out. With no further leads on either Leaver or the car, Drews directed the communications center in the Outagamie County Sheriff's Department to enter the car into the stolen-vehicle registry and send an alert to the Montana Highway Patrol to be on the lookout for the missing Camry.

         On September 10 Sergeant Shortess picked up the investigative trail when the Sheriff's Department received a teletype that the stolen Camry had been located, undamaged, in Montana. Shortess reviewed Drews's report and the statement he had taken from the complaining witness at Hertz Appleton. He also looked at the rental agreement, which showed that Leaver had a Michigan driver's license. Shortess called the Michigan State Police looking for contact information for Leaver or anything else that might assist in locating him or a family member. This inquiry turned up nothing. Based on what he then knew, Shortess concluded that he had enough to refer the matter to the Outagamie County District Attorney for a theft charge. He prepared a report to that effect, listing that day's date-September 10, 2010-as the date the car was recovered in Montana.

          The matter stalled for six months. Then on March 16, 2011, an Outagamie County Assistant District Attorney filed a criminal complaint charging Leaver with theft by lessee. See Wis. Stat. § 943.20(1)(e). An arrest warrant was issued that same day, though many weeks would pass before Leaver was located and arrested.

         Leaver maintains that he was entitled to keep the Camry for up to 62 days and return it to any Hertz location in the country. He points to the following clause in the rental agreement: "This vehicle must be returned to Appleton, WI on 08/12/10 at 16:42 or a higher rate and/or inter city fee will apply. Minimum keep: 1 rental day. Maximum keep: 62 days @26.99/day." But a separate section entitled "Return" also states: "You must return the car to Hertz by the due date specified on the rental record, or sooner if demanded by Hertz." Adding to the confusion, the ...

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