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Margheim v. Buljko

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

April 28, 2017

TERRY MARGHEIM, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
EMELA BULJKO, Weld County Deputy District Attorney, Defendant-Appellant, and KENNETH R. BUCK, Weld County D.A.; GREELEY POLICE CHIEF; JOHN BARBER; STEPHEN PERKINS; MR. ELLIS, unknown name employees of Greeley Police Department, Defendants.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO (D.C. No. 1:12-CV-01520-WJM-NYW)

          Malcolm S. Mead (Thomas J. Lyons and Mark J. Ratner, with him on the briefs), Hall & Evans, L.L.C., Denver, Colorado, appearing for Appellant.

          Daniel C. Wennogle (Reid A. Page, with him on the brief), Stinson Leonard Street, LLP, Greenwood Village, Colorado, appearing for Appellee.

          Before MATHESON, McKAY, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.

          MATHESON, Circuit Judge.

         Terry Margheim sued Emela Buljko, a deputy district attorney in Colorado, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. In this interlocutory appeal, Ms. Buljko asks us to reverse the district court's summary judgment order denying her absolute and qualified immunity.

         When Ms. Buljko raised the qualified immunity defense in district court, Mr. Margheim had the burden to show a violation of clearly established federal law. He failed to show an essential element of his malicious prosecution claim to establish a constitutional violation. For this reason, we reverse and remand with instructions to grant qualified immunity to Ms. Buljko.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         This case arose from Mr. Margheim's involvement in three state criminal matters-two domestic violence cases and a later drug case.[1] His malicious prosecution claim is based on his prosecution in the drug case, but the three cases are tied together. Because the timing of events is central to Mr. Margheim's claim, the facts are best expressed chronologically.

         In January 2010, police arrested Mr. Margheim in his Greeley, Colorado home on suspicion of domestic violence against his girlfriend. Weld County prosecutors then initiated a criminal prosecution-the First D.V. Case. To remain free while that case was pending, Mr. Margheim posted a $3, 000 bond. As a standard condition of his release, he had to comply with a protection order and avoid contacting his girlfriend.[2]

         In March 2010, Mr. Margheim failed to attend a pre-trial conference. The Weld County court issued a warrant for his arrest, ordered the $3, 000 bond forfeited, and ruled Mr. Margheim would have to post a new $6, 000 bond if he wanted to remain free pending resolution of the First D.V. Case.

         On April 10, 2010, police arrested Mr. Margheim. The record reveals little about the circumstances of this arrest, but Weld County prosecutors filed new charges-the Second D.V. Case-based on suspicion Mr. Margheim had violated the protection order. At this point, Mr. Margheim's original bond in the First D.V. Case had been forfeited, and although the Weld County court had announced the new bond would be set at $6, 000, Mr. Margheim had yet to post the new bond.

         On April 12, 2010-two days after his arrest-Mr. Margheim posted the new $6, 000 bond in the First D.V. Case and was again released.[3]

         On April 22, 2010, Ms. Buljko filed a motion in the First D.V. Case requesting the Weld County court (1) revoke the $6, 000 bond and (2) issue a warrant for Mr. Margheim's arrest so he could be brought before the court to address the state's motion to revoke bond.

         As the basis for her motion, Ms. Buljko said in a sworn statement that Mr. Margheim had "failed to comply with the protection order" and therefore had a "new offense." Aplt. App. at 53. Mr. Margheim's failure to comply with the protection order before his April 10 arrest had led to the charges in the Second D.V. Case. But Mr. Margheim had no "new" offense since posting the $6, 000 bond on April 12. Ms. Buljko's April 22 motion to revoke was thus based on conduct that occurred before Mr. Margheim's April 10 arrest, conduct that could not be "new" relative to the $6, 000 bond posted April 12. As Ms. Buljko's counsel said at oral argument, "the timing was wrong"; Ms. Buljko's statement to the Weld County court was "incorrect." Oral Arg. at 4:01-27; see also Aplt. Br. at 5 (conceding there was no "new offense" relative to the $6, 000 bond).

         On April 23, the Weld County court issued the arrest warrant based on Ms. Buljko's inaccurate statement.

         On May 7, police arrested Mr. Margheim pursuant to the warrant. Incident to that arrest, police searched Mr. Margheim and found drugs. This discovery led Weld County prosecutors to institute a third prosecution-the Drug Case. According to his complaint here, Mr. Margheim was held in pre-trial detention in the Drug Case for approximately six months.

         Before the Drug Case went to trial, Mr. Margheim moved to suppress the drug evidence. The Weld County court granted that motion after concluding the arrest warrant on which Mr. Margheim had been arrested lacked probable cause due to Ms. Buljko's inaccurate statement. Soon after the court granted Mr. Margheim's motion to suppress, the Weld County District Attorney's Office dismissed the Drug Case.

         B. Procedural History

         In June 2012, Mr. Margheim filed this lawsuit in federal court. His operative complaint asserted a single claim for malicious prosecution against Ms. Buljko in both her individual and official capacities. Mr. Margheim alleged Ms. Buljko's false statement in the arrest warrant application led to the issuance of the warrant, his arrest, the discovery of the drugs, the drug charge, and his prolonged pre-trial detention.

         Ms. Buljko moved for summary judgment. She argued: (1) Mr. Margheim's claim failed as a matter of law; (2) her actions as a prosecutor entitled her to absolute immunity; (3) she was entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) the Eleventh Amendment barred the claim against her in her official capacity.

         The district court granted summary judgment to Ms. Buljko on the official capacity claim, and that issue is not before us. The court otherwise denied Ms. Buljko's motion. This interlocutory appeal concerns the district court's order denying her absolute and qualified immunity on the individual capacity claim.

         The district court looked to our decision in Wilkins v. DeReyes, 528 F.3d 790 (10th Cir. 2008), for the elements a § 1983 plaintiff must show to establish a malicious prosecution claim:

(1) the defendant caused the plaintiff's continued confinement or prosecution;
(2) the original action terminated in favor of the plaintiff;
(3) no probable cause supported the original arrest, continued confinement, or prosecution;
(4) the defendant acted with malice; and (5)the plaintiff sustained damages.

Id. at 799.

         Ms. Buljko argued Mr. Margheim's claim failed on the second element- favorable termination-because he pled guilty in the First D.V. Case. The district court rejected this argument. The relevant case, the court ruled, was not the First D.V. Case but rather the Drug Case because Mr. Margheim's theory of liability was that Ms. Buljko's application for the arrest warrant led to his pre-trial detention in the Drug Case. The district court then ruled the Drug Case ended favorably for Mr. Margheim because the charges were dismissed.[4] It concluded Ms. Buljko was "not presently entitled" to summary judgment. Aplt. App. at 163.[5]

         The district court expressed concern, however, about advancing the case to a jury based on Mr. Margheim's meager evidence on the malice element. His theory, the court observed, seemed to be that Ms. Buljko had not carefully reviewed his file to check on the timing of events before she filed the motion to revoke and accompanying arrest warrant application. In the court's view, this was a negligence theory and would be insufficient as a matter of law.

         The district court invited Ms. Buljko to file a supplemental summary judgment motion "focused specifically on the malice element." Id. at 170. It included this invitation as part of its order denying summary judgment on March 11, ...


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