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Amanieh v. Maura

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

May 10, 2017




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendants Jorge Maura and the City of Fort Lauderdale's (collectively “Defendants”) Motion for Final Summary Judgment, ECF No. [28] the “Motion”). The Court has carefully reviewed the Motion, the record, all supporting filings, [1]the exhibits attached thereto, and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         This case involves an investigation into a building code violation initiated by Robert J. Masula (“Masula”), a Building Inspector and Code Officer for the City of Fort Lauderdale (“City”), involving a property located at 3233 N.E. 34th Street Unit 1614 (the “property”). See ECF No. [31], Ex. 3. On November 5, 2014, Masula visited the property and found that the kitchen and bathroom were under demolition without the necessary permits or inspections. Id. at Ex. 3. For that reason, Masula immediately issued a stop work order. Id. Masula maintained a log where he documented his investigation. Id. at Ex. 14. In that log, he documented that Mary Varvarigos owned the property, but her son Dean Varvarigos, who claimed to have a power of attorney for his mother, was overseeing the renovation project. Id. Mr. Varvarigos advised Masula that Plaintiff was the main person working on the project at the property along with a man named Francisco. Id. Masula made numerous efforts to speak with Plaintiff and, on January 22, 2015, Plaintiff and Masula met briefly. Id. On April 14, 2015, Plaintiff returned to meet with Masula and Detective Jorge Maura (“Maura”). Id. Maura is employed by the City as a police officer and has been assigned to the code enforcement division for the last eight years. Id. at 15.[3] During this meeting, Plaintiff informed Masula and Maura that he prepared a contract to perform work on the property and he hired Francisco to work on the project. Id. at 53; Ex. 14. Plaintiff also admitted that he was not a licensed contractor. Id. at Ex. 1; ECF No. [30] at 31.

         Based on Plaintiff's admissions to Maura that he had entered into a written contract with Mr. Varvarigos to remodel the property, that he hired at least one worker to assist in the demolition of the property without the required permits, and that he was not a licensed contractor, Maura issued a Notice to Appear to Plaintiff.[4] See ECF No. [31] at 22, Ex. 1. The Notice to Appear cited Plaintiff for violations of working without a permit and working as an unlicensed contractor. Id. at Ex. 1. During their meeting, Plaintiff was not in Maura's custody. Id. at P. 40-41. Plaintiff could leave the meeting and decline to sign the Notice to Appear without a resulting arrest. Id. at 43, 45. The municipal prosecutor eventually charged Plaintiff under a Municipal Information with “Alteration without Permit FBC 104.1” and “Unlawful Contracting MO 16-1 (17).” See ECF No. [29] at 7. More specifically, Plaintiff was charged with performing demolition and remodeling work without filing an application and obtaining a permit in violation of Florida Building Code 105.1[5] and Municipal Ordinance 16-1 and with engaging in a business or acting in a capacity of a contractor without being duly registered or certified in violation of Municipal Ordinance 16-1 and Florida Statute § 489.127(1)(f). Id. On September 4, 2015, the Disposition Order reflects the charges were nolle pros. See ECF No. [31] at Ex. 16.

         After the charges were dropped, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Maura and the City. See ECF No. [1]. Count I asserts a claim against Maura individually under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Id. All remaining claims are pled under state law for false arrest/false imprisonment against the City in Count II, false arrest/false imprisonment against Maura in Count III, and malicious prosecution against Maura in Count IV. Id. Defendants' Motion followed. See ECF No. [28].


         A court may grant a motion for summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The parties may support their positions by citation to the record, including, inter alia, depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if “a reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the party's favor. See Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Carlin Comm'n, Inc. v. S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 802 F.2d 1352, 1356 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         The moving party shoulders the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008). If a movant satisfies this burden, “the nonmoving party ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'” Ray v. Equifax Info. Servs., L.L.C., 327 F.App'x 819, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Instead, “the non-moving party ‘must make a sufficient showing on each essential element of the case for which he has the burden of proof.'” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The non-moving party must produce evidence, going beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designating specific facts to suggest that a reasonable jury could find in the non-moving party's favor. Shiver, 549 F.3d at 1343. But even where an opposing party neglects to submit any alleged material facts in controversy, a court cannot grant summary judgment unless it is satisfied that all of the evidence on the record supports the uncontroverted material facts that the movant has proposed. See Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268-69, 1272 (11th Cir. 2008); United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 S.W. 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1103 n.6 (11th Cir. 2004).


         Defendants argue that Maura is entitled to summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim asserting violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments because there was probable cause to believe that Plaintiff violated the Florida Building Code and the municipal ordinance. Similarly, Defendants argue that the existence of probable cause is also dispositive of Plaintiff's false imprisonment and malicious prosecution claims. The Court agrees.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         “Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1231 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “This formulation of the qualified immunity inquiry is intended to protect government officials ‘from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability.'” Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559, 1565 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at 806); see also Jackson v. Humphrey, 776 F.3d 1232, 1241-42 (11th Cir. 2015) (“The purpose for qualified immunity is to permit officials to act without fear of harassing litigation as long as they can reasonably anticipate before they act whether their conduct will expose them to liability.”). The doctrine “‘gives ample room for mistaken judgments' but does not protect ‘the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” Kingsland, 382 F.3d at 1231-32 (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343, 341 (1986)). “Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense from liability.” McClish v. Nugent, 483 F.3d 1231, 1237 (11th Cir. 2007).

         “To receive qualified immunity, ‘the public official must first prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Kingsland, 382 F.3d at 1232 (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002)); see also O'Rourke v. Hayes, 378 F.3d 1201, 1205 (11th Cir. 2004) (“To be even potentially eligible for qualified immunity, the official has the burden of establishing that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority.”) (citation omitted). Here, it is undisputed that Maura was acting in his discretionary capacity when he issued the Notice to Appear. Once a defendant raises the issue of qualified immunity and demonstrates that the acts complained of were committed within the scope of his or her discretionary authority, “the burden then shift[s] to the [plaintiff] to show that qualified immunity should not apply because: (1) the officers violated a constitutional right; and (2) that right was clearly established at the time of the incident.” Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1166 (11th Cir. 2009). “Additionally, the standard for determining if an officer violated clearly established law is an objective one and does not include inquiry into the officer's subjective intent or beliefs.” Jackson, 206 F.3d at 1165 (citing Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 579 (11th Cir.1990)). ‚ÄúThus, a police officer is entitled to qualified immunity if a reasonable police officer could have believed his or her actions were lawful in light of clearly established law and the information possessed by the officer at the time ...

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