Going With the Flow of an Investigation
Guiding our clients through the complexities of a law enforcement investigation is sometimes just as important as advising them on the legal ramifications of a case. So we educate those we defend on the challenges and subtleties ripe in this space—and ultimately, we refuse to back away from even the most challenging of cases.
In this case, Rissman attorney Michael Masci obtained a dismissal for his clients on behalf of their insurance company in an Orange County circuit court.
The case arose from an incident of theft that occurred at a watch company, wherein the plaintiff ran out of the store in an effort to steal a luxury watch. The defendants, employees of the watch company, cooperated in the resulting investigation and provided a description of the plaintiff as well as information they got from an anonymous call where the caller identified the plaintiff as the person who stole the watch.
Later, the plaintiff sued the defendants, alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C.A. §1983 (Civil action for deprivation of rights). During the investigation, one of the employee-defendants was improperly served with materials both for the company as well as materials for himself as an individual on the same day. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, and the defendant’s employer amended the motion to dismiss for improper service of process and failure to state a cause of action.
During the hearing, the Rissman team argued that Section 48.081(3) of the Florida statutes requires that service on the registered agent was attempted at least once in good faith, and the failure to comply with the statutes caused the inability to serve the registered agent. There was no evidence that this was done, so we argued that the plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed.
Perhaps even more relevant was the defendant’s alleged violation of 42 U.S.C.A. §1983. To meet this requirement, the plaintiff needs to establish that he was deprived of a right granted by the US Constitution and that the individual who denied the right was a state actor.
The plaintiff alleged the defendants fabricated evidence to help the state officials deprive him of his constitutional rights—but we argued that this statute requires intentional acts to deprive the individual of their rights. Here, the defendants didn’t work with state officials with the intentional purpose to violate the plaintiff’s rights. Rather, they cooperated with state officials in the investigation of theft on their property.
Ultimately, all decisions regarding the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of the plaintiff weren’t made by the defendants, but by law enforcement officials. Merely by participating in an investigation of theft, the defendants don’t assume liability.
We also argued they didn’t intentionally fabricate or misrepresent evidence, so the complaint should be dismissed. The court agreed and granted the motion for dismissal.