Rotbergs v. Guerrera
"Probable cause exists when, based on the totality of circumstances, the officer has knowledge of, or reasonably trustworthy information as to, facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed," pursuant to Finigan v. Marshall, a 2009 decision of the 2nd Circuit. In July 2009, the defendant police officer, Jason Guerrera, was on patrol at an apartment complex and observed the plaintiff driver in the visitor's parking lot. Officer Guerrera stopped and approached the motor vehicle. Allegedly, he smelled marijuana when the plaintiff driver rolled down the window. Guerrera searched the driver and allegedly discovered marijuana in his pocket. He also allegedly discovered drug paraphernalia and the driver's 2-year-old child in the motor vehicle. Officer Guerrera arrested the plaintiff driver on charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and risk of injury to a minor. The Department of Children and Families investigated, and the plaintiff driver underwent a drug test that allegedly was positive for marijuana. A prosecutor nolled charges against the driver. The plaintiff driver sued, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution, in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. §1983. "The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest," pursuant to Weyant v. Okst, a 1996 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Even if the plaintiff driver had not smoked marijuana in the motor vehicle that day, the plaintiff or his motor vehicle could have smelled of marijuana. No reasonable juror would find that the defendant police officer lacked probable cause to arrest. The defendant police officer was entitled to qualified immunity on the plaintiff driver's false arrest claim. On malicious prosecution, the plaintiff driver failed to establish criminal proceedings terminated in his favor. Even if he proved this, a reasonable juror could not find the plaintiff driver established malice. The plaintiff driver effectively abandoned his First Amendment claim, and the court granted the defendant police officer's motion for summary judgment.