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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides Wisconsin deer hunting case

In Mitch Rooni v. Bradley Biser (WD Wis.), a 12-page opinion, Chief Judge Wood writes:

Deer hunting is serious business in the state of Wisconsin. Although the hunters and the state game wardens may coexist peacefully most of the time, in this case they did not. A dispute erupted between Mitch Rooni, a hunter, and Bradley Biser, a warden employed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and it has now wended its way into federal court. According to Rooni, on November 19, 2005, Biser arrested him without probable cause and used excessive force against him both before and after the arrest. Asserting that his civil rights had been violated by these actions, Rooni brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Biser; Biser responded with a motion for summary judgment in his favor on all counts. The district court granted the motion with one exception, for the charge that Rooni used excessive force before the arrest. The parties then jointly filed a motion to dismiss the pre‐arrest excessive‐ force claim with prejudice. The district court agreed to do so and entered a final judgment in Biser’s favor.

Rooni contends on appeal that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on the unlawful‐arrest claim and the claim of excessive force after the arrest in connection with his handcuffing. He also argues that the court was mistaken to conclude that Biser was entitled in any event to qualified immunity. We conclude that the district court correctly granted summary judgment in Biser’s favor on the handcuffing claim; at a minimum, Biser is entitled to qualified immunity on this part of the case. Rooni’s arrest claim, however, is another matter. Taking his reasonable allegations as true, as we must, we conclude that neither probable cause nor “arguable” probable cause supported Rooni’s arrest. This means that a trier of fact could conclude (if it accepted Rooni’s evidence) that Biser violated Rooni’s clearly established constitutional rights in so arresting him. We thus affirm in part and remand in part to the district court for further proceedings on the wrongful‐arrest claim. * * *

In closing, we cannot resist commenting that it strikes us as unfortunate that the kind of dust‐up that gave rise to this case can wind up in federal court. Nevertheless, as the Supreme Court reminds us, we have an “unflagging duty” to hear cases that fall within our jurisdiction, and the broad principles that underlie the right of citizens to be free from unlawful arrests and the use of excessive force by public officers are far from trivial. We thus AFFIRM the judgment of the district court on the handcuffing and REVERSE and REMAND the unlawful‐arrest decision for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 4, 2014 02:34 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions