arrested plaintiff for DWI without probable cause.
II. Defendant's Claim of Qualified Immunity
Defendant Robles claims that even if there was sufficient
evidence to support a finding he arrested plaintiff for DWI
without probable cause, he is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law on qualified immunity grounds. Robles argues that "[i]t is
illogical for a jury to have found that Trooper Williams, the
arresting officer, was entitled to qualified immunity because a
reasonably competent trooper in his position would have found
probable cause for the arrest while finding, at the same time,
that Trooper Robles, who had no direct involvement in the
decision to arrest was not entitled to immunity." (Def.Mem. at
The Second Circuit has stated that the "doctrine of qualified
immunity shields public officials performing discretionary
functions from civil liability insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known . . . or insofar as it
was objectively reasonable for them to believe that their acts
did not violate those rights." Bradway v. Gonzales,
26 F.3d 313, 317-18 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal citations and quotations
omitted). The right not to be arrested without probable cause has
long been clearly established. Golino v. City of New Haven,
950 F.2d 864, 870 (2d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 505 U.S. 1221, 112
S.Ct. 3032, 120 L.Ed.2d 902 (1992). However, a police officer is
entitled to qualified immunity from a claim for arrest without
probable cause if: (1) it was objectively reasonable for the
officer to believe that probable cause existed, or (2) officers
of reasonable competence could disagree on whether there was
probable cause. Id. "An officer's actions are objectively
unreasonable when no officer of reasonable competence could have
made the same choice in similar circumstances." Lennon v.
Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 420-21 (2d Cir. 1995).
The question of qualified immunity is distinct from the
question of probable cause. "It can be objectively reasonable for
an officer to believe that probable cause existed for the arrest,
even in the absence of a finding that probable cause in fact
existed." Naccarato v. Oliver, 882 F. Supp. 297, 303 (E.D.N Y
1995). The Second Circuit, in a case in which it affirmed the
district court's holding that probable cause did not exist, but
decided the court should have submitted the issue of qualified
immunity to the jury, noted that "we have been authoritatively
instructed that the objective reasonableness component of the
inquiry as to lawfulness is not the same as the objective
reasonableness component of the inquiry as to qualified
immunity." Oliveira v. Mayer, 23 F.3d 642, 648 (2d Cir. 1994),
cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1076, 115 S.Ct. 721, 130 L.Ed.2d 627
(1994). "The result of the distinction between reasonableness as
a component of a Fourth Amendment violation and reasonableness as
a component of an immunity defense is that an officer is
protected in some circumstances even when he `mistakenly
conclude[s] that probable cause is present,' . . . i.e., when he
reasonably believes that a reasonably prudent police officer
would have acted even though a reasonably prudent police officer
would not have acted." Id. at 649 (internal citation omitted).
Evidence that a defendant's conduct was improperly motivated
does not rebut a defense of qualified immunity and an officer's
subjective belief as to whether probable cause existed is
irrelevant to the inquiry. Crawford-El v. Britton,
523 U.S. 574, 118 S.Ct. 1584, 1592, 140 L.Ed.2d 759 (1998); see also
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3040,
97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). "A subjective inquiry into an official's
personal belief is rejected in favor of an objective analysis of
what a reasonable officer in defendant's position would believe."
v. Lussier, 955 F.2d 841, 843 (2d Cir. 1992).
The Second Circuit has held that when "the factual record is
not in serious dispute . . .[,] [t]he ultimate legal
determination whether . . . a reasonable police officer should
have known he acted unlawfully is a question of law better left
for the court to decide." Lennon v. Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 421 (2d
Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, "if — even
when all facts alleged by the nonmoving party are regarded as
true — the moving party is still entitled to judgment as a
matter of law, then factual disputes however genuine are not
material." Cartier, 955 F.2d at 845.
Here, as discussed supra in Part I.B., there were disputed
issues of fact as to some of the events that defendant Robles
claims led to his decision that there was probable cause to
arrest plaintiff for DWI. Nonetheless, even assuming the truth of
plaintiff's evidence and giving plaintiff every reasonable
inference, sufficient undisputed facts remain to support a
finding that it was objectively reasonable for defendant Robles
to believe that probable cause existed for plaintiff's arrest.
This is so even if we presume that the jury believed that
defendant Robles did not administer a gaze nystagmus test, or
that if he did, he misstated its results. The Second Circuit has
held that "the intentional falsification must materially
contribute to the objective basis for finding probable cause
before the defense of qualified immunity will be barred." Id.
at 846; see also Simms v. Village of Albion, 115 F.3d 1098,
1107-08 (2d Cir. 1997) (holding that a police officer who failed
to inform magistrate he initially stopped arrestee because of his
race could nonetheless reasonably rely on validity of search
warrant magistrate issued because the omitted information was not
"material and necessary to a finding of probable cause").
When plaintiff was questioned by defendants and other troopers
on the scene, he admitted to having had five beers over the
course of the evening. Plaintiff does not contest that he smelled
of alcohol at the time. The Second Circuit has noted that "[t]he
doctrine of qualified immunity serves to protect police from
liability and suit when they are required to make on-the-spot
judgments in tense circumstances." Lennon, 66 F.3d at 424. Had
plaintiff offered evidence at trial that defendant Robles
arrested him for DWI based solely on a falsified field sobriety
test, our decision in this case would be otherwise. However,
based on the undisputed facts, we are not prepared to hold that
no reasonable officer could have recommended that plaintiff be
arrested for DWI. Certainly, reasonable officers could disagree
as to whether there was probable cause to arrest a driver stopped
in the early morning hours who smelled of alcohol and admitted to
having had five beers.
Accordingly, defendant Robles' Rule 50 motion for judgment as a
matter of law is granted on grounds he is entitled to qualified
III. Defendant's Rule 59 Motion for a New Trial on Plaintiff's
False Arrest Claim
Pursuant to Rule 50(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
"[i]f the renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is
granted, the court shall also rule on the motion for a new trial,
if any, by determining whether it should be granted if the
judgment is thereafter vacated or reversed, and shall specify the
grounds for granting or denying the motion for the new trial."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(c)(1). Rule 59 states in relevant part that "[a]
new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all
or part of the issues (1) in an action in which there has been a
trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have
heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the
United States." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Where, as here, a party moves
jointly under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(a),
the court must rule separately on each motion. Taylor v.
National R.R. Passenger Corp., 868 F. Supp. 479, 482 (E.D.N Y
A district court may grant a new trial "if it `is convinced
that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that
the verdict is a miscarriage of justice.'" Sorlucco v. New York
City Police Dep't, 971 F.2d 864, 875 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing
Smith v. Lightning Bolt Productions, Inc., 861 F.2d 363, 370 (2d
Cir. 1988)); see also Piesco v. Koch, 12 F.3d 332, 345 (2d Cir.
1993) (reaffirming the "seriously erroneous" standard). A court
may order a new trial even where substantial evidence supports
the jury's verdict, and the court is not constrained to view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, as in
judgment as a matter of law. Taylor, 868 F. Supp. at 484.
However, the Second Circuit has cautioned that "the jury is
empowered and capable of evaluating a witness's credibility, and
this evaluation should rarely be disturbed." Dunlap-McCuller v.
Riese Org., 980 F.2d 153, 158 (2d Cir. 1992).
Defendant Robles claims that "if judgment as a matter of law is
denied and defendant is still found to be liable and is not found
to be entitled to qualified immunity, a new trial must be granted
in light of the overwhelming evidence presented to show the
reasonableness of defendant's actions." (Def.Mem. at 21.) We
As discussed above, there was ample evidence for the jury to
find that defendants lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiff
for DWI, including testimony from Heather Trail that plaintiff
did not appear to be intoxicated when he offered her a ride and
plaintiff's testimony that he drank five beers over the course of
ten hours. The defendants' own omissions support plaintiff's
case, including evidence that defendants did not cite plaintiff
for his alleged failure to stop at a stop sign and defendants'
failure to note the very factors they claim buttressed their
determination of probable cause on the DWI bill of particulars
used to support plaintiff's arrest.
Accordingly, defendant's Rule 59 motion for a new trial on the
issue of whether defendant violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment
rights when he arrested plaintiff for DWI is denied.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants defendant's Rule 50
motion for judgment as a matter of law on grounds defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity and denies defendant's Rule 59
motion for a new trial as to plaintiff's false arrest claim. The
Clerk of the Court is instructed to enter judgment for defendant.