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Nieves v. Bartlett

Supreme Court of the United States

November 26, 2018, Argued; May 28, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1174.


 [*1720]  Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Russell Bartlett sued petitioners—two police officers—alleging that they retaliated against [***7]  him for his protected First Amendment speech by arresting him for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The officers had probable cause to arrest Bartlett, and we now decide whether that fact defeats Bartlett’s First Amendment claim as a matter of law.

Bartlett was arrested during “Arctic Man,” a weeklong winter sports festival held in the remote Hoodoo Mountains near Paxson, Alaska. Paxson is a small community that normally consists of a few dozen residents. But once a year, upwards of 10,000 people descend on the area for Arctic Man, an event known for both extreme sports and extreme alcohol consumption. The mainstays are high-speed ski and snowmobile races, bonfires, and parties. During that week, the Arctic Man campground briefly becomes one of the largest and most raucous cities in Alaska.

The event poses special challenges for law enforcement. Snowmobiles, alcohol, and freezing temperatures do not always mix well, and officers spend much of the week responding to snowmobile crashes, breaking up fights, and policing underage drinking. Given the remote location of the event, Alaska flies in additional officers from around the State to provide support. Still, the number of police  [**8]  remains limited. Even during [***8]  the busiest periods of the event, only six to eight officers are on patrol at a time.

On the last night of Arctic Man 2014, Sergeant Luis Nieves and Trooper Bryce Weight arrested Bartlett. The parties dispute certain details about the arrest but agree on the general course of events, some of which were captured on video by a local news reporter.

At around 1:30 a.m., Sergeant Nieves and Bartlett first crossed paths. Nieves was asking some partygoers to move their beer keg inside their RV because minors had been making off with alcohol. According to Nieves, Bartlett began belligerently yelling to the RV owners that they should not speak with the police. Nieves approached Bartlett to explain the situation, but Bartlett was highly intoxicated and yelled at him to leave. Rather than escalate the situation, Nieves left. Bartlett disputes that account. According to Bartlett, he was not drunk at that time and never yelled at Nieves. He claims it was Nieves who became aggressive when Bartlett refused to speak with him.

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139 S. Ct. 1715 *; 204 L. Ed. 2d 1 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 3557 ***; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 847

LUIS A. NIEVES, et al., Petitioners v. RUSSELL P. BARTLETT

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Bartlett v. Nieves, 926 F.3d 1179, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 17673 (9th Cir., June 13, 2019)


Bartlett v. Nieves, 712 Fed. Appx. 613, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 20682 (9th Cir. Alaska, Oct. 20, 2017)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.


arrest, retaliatory, probable cause, motive, cases, retaliation, protected speech, absence of probable cause, animus, the First Amendment, causation, rights, courts, common law, defeat, but-for, false imprisonment, make an arrest, causal, similarly situated, arresting officer, retaliation claim, circumstances, privileged, probable cause to arrest, decisions, malicious prosecution, prosecution's case, warrantless arrest, no-probable-cause

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Scope, Torts, Intentional Torts, Malicious Prosecution, Civil Rights Actions, Elements, Lack of Probable Cause, Criminal Law & Procedure, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Arrests, Arrests, Probable Cause, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Governments, Courts, Common Law