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Law School Case Brief

Barna v. City of Perth Amboy - 42 F.3d 809 (3d Cir. 1994)

Rule:

The test for an arrest without probable cause is an objective one, based on the facts available to the officers at the moment of arrest. Evidence that proves insufficient to establish guilt at trial may still be sufficient to find the arrest occurred within the bounds of the law. Probable cause need only exist as to any offense that could be charged under the circumstances. 

Facts:

Plaintiffs Louis and Theresa Barna sued eight police officers, the City of Perth Amboy, and the Town of Woodbridge for violations of their constitutional rights stemming from an alleged assault and the subsequent detention of Theresa Barna and arrest and prosecution of Louis Barna. Following presentation of the plaintiffs' case, Officers Otterbine, Echevarria, Ruiz, and Sanabria moved for judgment as a matter of law, which the district court granted. The district court also dismissed their complaint as to Officer Hawkins for failure to effect proper service. The Barnas appealed from those orders.

Issue:

Was there probable cause to arrest Louis Barna for aggravated assault and to detain Theresa Barna for public intoxication?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment as a matter of law. As to Louis’ assault-based claim, there was no evidence that defendants were acting under color of state law and, as to the false arrest claim and Theresa’s forcible detention claim, defendants did not violate the Barnas’' U.S. Const. amend. IV rights because there was evidence that defendants had probable cause to arrest Louis for aggravated assault and to detain Theresa for public intoxication. The court reversed the dismissal of the claim for lack of proper service and remanded for a determination as to whether any objection to improper service was waived.

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