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Farah v. Weyker

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 12, 2019

Yasin Ahmed Farah Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, in her individual capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant-Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Does 1-5, in their individual capacities as St. Paul Police Officers; Richard Roes 1-5, in their individual capacities as federal law enforcement officers Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant Ifrah Yassin Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, individually and in her official capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant - Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Does 1-2, individually and in their official capacities as St. Paul Police Officers; John Does 3-4, individually and in their official capacities as supervisory members of the St. Paul Police Department Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant Hamdi Ali Osman Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, in her individual capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant - Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Bandemer, in his individual and official capacities as a St. Paul Police Sergeant; Robert Roes 4-6, in their individual and official capacities as supervisory members of the St. Paul Police Department Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant Ahmad Abnulnasir Ahmad Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, in her individual capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant - Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Bandemer, in his individual and official capacities as a St. Paul Police Sergeant; John Does 1-2, in their individual capacities as St. Paul Police Officers; John Does 3-4, in their individual and official capacities as supervisory members of the St. Paul Police Department Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant Bashir Yasin Mohamud Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, in her individual capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant - Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Bandemer, in his individual and official capacities as a St. Paul Police Sergeant; John Does 1-2, in their individual capacities as St. Paul Police Officers; John Does 3-4, in their individual and official capacities as supervisory members of the St. Paul Police Department Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant Mohamed Amalle Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Heather Weyker, in her individual capacity as a St. Paul Police Officer Defendant - Appellant The City of St. Paul; John Bandemer, in his individual and official capacities as a St. Paul Police Sergeant; John Does 1-2, in their individual capacities as St. Paul Police Officers; John Does 3-4, in their individual and official capacities as supervisory members of the St. Paul Police Department Defendants The Human Trafficking Institute Amicus on Behalf of Appellant

          Submitted: November 14, 2018

          Appeals from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before COLLOTON, SHEPHERD, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          STRAS, Circuit Judge.

         If a federal law-enforcement officer lies, manipulates witnesses, and falsifies evidence, should the officer be liable for damages? We hold that the Constitution does not imply a cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), so the answer must come from Congress, not from us. And Congress has, so far, answered no.

         I.

         In 2008, police officers in St. Paul, Minnesota, were investigating a suspected sex-trafficking operation involving minors. After one alleged victim was reported missing in Minneapolis and then turned up in Nashville, federal investigators in Tennessee became involved too. The government eventually charged thirty people with a variety of crimes allegedly arising out of an extensive conspiracy that spanned ten years and four states.

         The cases against nine of the defendants, including Ahmad Ahmad and Mohamed Amalle, proceeded to trial in the Middle District of Tennessee. The jury acquitted some, while the district court acquitted the others after the jury found them guilty. See United States v. Adan, 913 F.Supp.2d 555, 579 (M.D. Tenn. 2012). In affirming, the Sixth Circuit expressed "acute concern, based on [a] painstaking review of the record, that this story of sex trafficking and prostitution may be fictitious." United States v. Fahra, 643 Fed.Appx. 480, 484 (6th Cir. 2016) (unpublished). Prosecutors dropped the charges against the remaining defendants, including Yasin Farah, Hamdi Osman, and Bashir Mohamud.

         Ahmad, Amalle, Farah, Osman, and Mohamud each sued Officer Heather Weyker, who had led the investigation for the St. Paul Police Department. They accused Weyker of exaggerating and inventing facts in reports, hiding evidence that would have exonerated them, and pressuring and manipulating the alleged victims into lying. She deceived prosecutors, the grand jury, and other investigators, according to the complaints filed in each case, about the ages of the alleged victims, whether the victims were coerced into sex, and the relationships among the supposed conspirators. By doing so, the plaintiffs claimed, Weyker caused them to be charged and detained for periods ranging from four months to over three years, all in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable seizures. See Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 919-20 (2017).

         A sixth plaintiff, Ifrah Yassin, was not part of the alleged federal conspiracy. Rather, according to Yassin's complaint, she was arrested for witness intimidation based on false information from Weyker. The arrest arose out of a fight between a cooperating witness in the sex-trafficking investigation and one of Yassin's friends. After the fight started, Yassin called 911 and the witness called Weyker. Weyker then told the officer responding to the 911 call that, based on "information and documentation," Yassin and her friends were trying to intimidate the witness and prevent her from cooperating in a federal investigation. Relying on Weyker's tip, the officer arrested Yassin, who was later charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice. A jury acquitted her of both charges.

         The crux of Yassin's case against Weyker is that no "information and documentation" ever existed. Rather, Weyker caused Yassin's unlawful arrest and detention by lying about the reason for the altercation.

         All six, including Yassin, sought damages. Recognizing that Weyker had been deputized as a U.S. Marshal toward the conclusion of the joint investigation, they pleaded causes of action under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which authorizes constitutional claims against state officials; and Bivens, which operates similarly against federal officials, notwithstanding the absence of a statutory cause of action, see 403 U.S. at 397. Weyker moved to dismiss, arguing that neither theory was viable. She reasoned that section 1983 did not apply to her because she was a deputized federal official. As for Bivens, she claimed that nothing she was accused of doing was actionable. And even assuming the plaintiffs could sue her, she added, she was entitled to qualified immunity because the facts they alleged did not show that she had violated their clearly established constitutional rights.

         The district court disagreed. It concluded that even if Weyker was right that Bivens was the plaintiffs' only remedy, the claims against her could still proceed. Weyker immediately appealed, see Wilkie v. Robbins, 551 U.S. 537, 549 n.4 (2007) (holding that the courts of appeals have jurisdiction to hear interlocutory appeals challenging "the recognition of the entire [Bivens] cause of action" in qualified-immunity cases), and we consolidated all six appeals in light of the overlapping facts and legal issues involved.

         II.

         We begin with the five plaintiffs charged in the original conspiracy prosecution. The threshold question is whether their cases are the type for which a Bivens remedy is available. See, e.g., Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367, 390 (1983) (holding that a federal employee demoted for exercising his First Amendment rights did not have a Bivens claim). We address this "purely legal question" de novo. Neb. Beef, Ltd. v. Greening, 398 F.3d 1080, 1083 (8th Cir. 2005).

         On only three occasions has the Supreme Court implied a cause of action under Bivens. See Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 16-18 (1980); Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 248 (1979); Bivens, 403 U.S. at 397. Since then, the Court has become "far more cautious" and has, in fact, "'consistently refused to extend Bivens to any new context or new category of defendants'" for almost forty years. Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1855, 1857 (2017) (quoting Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61, 68 (2001)). Recognizing that the Bivens inquiry is about "who should decide" whether to ...


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