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6th Cir. Affirms 'Invalid' Arrest Warrants Against Strippers

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 18, 2016 9:57 AM

Here's an interesting case out of the Sixth Circuit fit for a bar exam question analysis. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a dismissal of case against an Ohio county whose officers had allegedly used "invalid warrants" to arrest "exotic dancers" over various time periods for crimes ranging from prostitution to drug distribution to witness intimidation. Each failed in their appeal for what looks be a stupid error on their part.

This case presents a teachable moment in pleading practice. Always include your critical elements, folks. Let's take a look at what went wrong.

Quick and Dirty Facts

The principal plaintiff and eight other exotic dancer plaintiffs brought suit against an Ohio town for deprivation of rights under 42 USC sec. 1983. The ladies alleged that police had used "invalid warrants" to arrest them. In fact, the whole process of adding the new plaintiffs and the adding of new claims was a bit of a fiasco. The complaint ended up being amended four times.

Critically, however, a simple mistake was made by the plaintiffs which allowed the defendants to move for dismissal for failure to state a claim. This failing would be the case's downfall.

Critical Elements Missing

So, what did the plaintiff's pleading lack? Allegations that the various arrests were made without probable cause, thereby bringing the facts into the realm of a possible Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis. It appeared that the lower court gave the plaintiffs ample opportunity to address the concern, but plaintiffs dropped the ball and wasted the amending opportunities on at least four different occasions.

The circuit took the time to shine a light on the two major clauses contained within the Fourth Amendment: the Reasonableness Clause and the Warrant Clause. In the case of the former clause, persons are protected against all "unreasonable searches and seizures," while the Warrant Clause mandates probable cause before a lawful search may stand in court.

Part of the problem, however, is that plaintiffs conflated arrest warrants with search warrants. The latter have typically never needed the production of a warrant so long as probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed or is being committed. And in the case of the search warrant, evidence eventually found may still escape poisonous exclusions so long as the searching officer's invalid warrant is supported by probable cause.

In this case, however, the court hardly needed to dive that deeply. It was clear that plaintiffs needed only make a few line changes to save their case. They did not, and a dismissal was proper.

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