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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reverses district court dismissal of plaintiff’s Title 42 § 1983 over-detention case, finding that plaintiff’s allegation that he was unnecessarily detained for three days bases on a case of mistaken identity were sufficient to survive dismissal.

On September 20, 2021, in Sosa v. Martin County, Florida et al., No. 20-12781, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment over-detention claim against a county jail. The plaintiff had twice been erroneously arrested by the Martin County Sheriff’s Department based on a case of mistaken identity, on the second occasion spending three days and nights in jail before the Department acknowledged that he was not the wanted Sosa. After he was arrested on the second occasion, Sosa allegedlyrepeatedly mentioned the previous error to law enforcement personnel. When he appeared by video before a magistrate judge, he attempted to explain the mistaken identity again, but, as he alleged in his complaint, “several Martin County jailers threatened him and told him not to talk to the judge during his hearing.” The district court concluded that the deputies did not violate Sosa’s constitutional rights with either their arrest or detention of Sosa, so it did not reach the question of qualified immunity on either issue. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed as to the over-detention claim, citing its previous decision in Alcocer v. Mills, 906 F.3d 944, 953 (11th Cir. 2018), in which the Court held that to prove a claim of overdetention, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to the plaintiff’s due process rights by proving three elements: (1) the defendant’s subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm in the form of continued detention even after the plaintiff had a right to be released; (2) disregard of that risk; and (3) disregard by conduct that is more than mere negligence. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that assessing the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the allegations sufficiently established that law enforcement personnel had enough information to know (1) that a substantial possibility existed that Sosa was not the wanted Sosa and (2) that they had the means readily available to rapidly confirm Sosa’s identity but took no action for three days and nights while Sosa sat in jail.

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