United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit
JOEL DÍAZ-NIEVES; GIOVANNY DÍAZ-NIEVES; AIDA NIEVES-PÉREZ; SAÚL DÍAZ-RODRÍGUEZ,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO
[Hon. Bruce J. McGiverin, U.S. Magistrate Judge]
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.
Raúl S. Mariani-Franco, for appellants. Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.
June 5, 2017
TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff Joel Díaz-Nieves
("Joel") appeals from the district court's grant of partial summary
judgment in favor of defendant-appellee the United States,
dismissing his false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious
prosecution claims. Co-plaintiffs, Joel's parents, Saúl Díaz-
Rodríguez and Aida Nieves-Pérez, and Joel's brother,
Giovanny Díaz-Nieves,1 (collectively hereinafter his "family" or
"relatives") also appeal, challenging the district court's
dismissal of their derivative and independent tort claims under
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). After careful consideration, we affirm.
A. Factual Background
This case originates under the Federal Tort Claims Act
("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2671-2680, concerning an arrest
made during "Operation Guard Shack," a reverse sting operation
launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") with the
goal of identifying corrupt police and corrections officers in
Puerto Rico.2 In July 2010, a corrections officer falsely claiming
1 Because Joel Díaz-Nieves and Giovanny Díaz-Nieves are brothers with the same last name, and their parents have similar last names, we refer to plaintiffs-appellants by their first names in order to distinguish them. We mean no disrespect in doing so. 2 "Operation Guard Shack" has been described in detail in other cases arising out of the same operation. See United States v. Díaz–Castro, 752 F.3d 101 (1st Cir. 2014); United States v. Delgado–Marrero, 744 F.3d 167 (1st Cir. 2014); United States v.
to be Joel Díaz-Nieves participated in Deal 105 of Guard Shack (a
controlled buy of fake cocaine). The government verified that a
man by that name did work for the Department of Corrections and
requested his employee file, among other records. On August 5,
2010, the FBI received Joel's employment file, which included his
picture. Joel Díaz-Nieves was indicted and a warrant was issued
for his arrest. Nothing in the record suggests that at the time
they sought the warrant the FBI agents knew that Joel Díaz-Nieves
was not the real name of the corrections officer that had
participated in Deal 105.
On October 6, 2010, the FBI agents executed the arrest
warrant at Joel's home. Joel lived with his parents, Saúl and
Aida, and his brother, Giovanny. Saúl opened the door and, with
a gun pointed at him, was made to stand against an exterior wall.
At some point, his pants fell to the ground and he was left standing
naked in the street. Aida was also ordered to face a wall.
Giovanny observed laser sights on his head and chest upon exiting
to the balcony of his house. Joel, who was a Department of
Corrections officer and had no previous criminal record, located
his work weapon and headed to the front door. There, Joel observed
Díaz–Maldonado, 727 F.3d 130 (1st Cir. 2013).
laser sights on his body coming from the FBI agents' weapons;
consequently, he surrendered and was arrested.
Joel asked why he had been arrested and was told by FBI
agents that he had been charged with drug trafficking, which he
denied. An agent showed Joel a photograph taken from a video
recording of Deal 105, which showed a man involved in a drug
transaction, but Joel said he was not the man in the photo. Joel
was processed and interviewed by the FBI, and he continued to
assert his innocence. He was detained in the Metropolitan
Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico for three days. Joel's
family retained a lawyer and paid fees for appraisals of properties
in anticipation of obtaining bail. On October 9, 2010, Joel was
released from custody. The FBI eventually discovered that the
corrections officer claiming to be Joel Díaz-Nieves was in fact
another corrections officer named José Nieves-Vélez ("Nieves-
Vélez"), who had used Joel's name to shield his identity. Nieves-
Vélez was arrested on October 12, 2010. The following day, the
government moved to dismiss the indictment as to Joel.
B. Procedural History
On March 14, 2013, Joel and his family (collectively,
the "Plaintiffs") filed a complaint alleging that, as a result of
Joel's arrest, they had suffered damages and injuries compensable
under the FTCA.3 Specifically, Joel asserted claims of negligent
investigation, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious
prosecution. His relatives asserted derivative claims for the
actions against Joel and independent claims of excessive use of
force under Article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 31, § 5141. On November 26, 2013, the United States
filed a motion to dismiss Joel's negligent investigation, false
arrest, and false imprisonment claims. The Plaintiffs opposed the
motion to dismiss. On July 9, 2014, the district court dismissed
the negligent investigation claim because it was "jurisdictionally
barred by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA," but
refused to dismiss at that stage Joel's claims of false arrest and
After discovery was completed, the parties filed cross-
motions for partial summary judgment. In its motion, the United
States requested the dismissal of only Joel's claims. On July 1,
2015, the district court denied Joel's motion for partial summary
judgment and granted the United States' motion for partial summary
3 The complaint was amended on April 11, 2013. 4 The district court stated that because the Plaintiffs had only sued the United States and their allegations did not support constitutional violations, it would read "the complaint only to allege violations sounding in tort against the United States pursuant to the FTCA."
judgment, dismissing Joel's only remaining claims of false arrest,
false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. The district court
denied Joel's subsequent motion for reconsideration.
The case continued as to Joel's relatives. On
September 18, 2015, the government filed a motion to dismiss the
remaining claims. The relatives opposed the motion. On
December 14, 2015, the district court granted the government's
motion, which it treated as one for judgment on the pleadings,
finding that the relatives had failed "to state a[ny] plausible
claim for relief." Accordingly, the district court entered
judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety. Plaintiffs
On appeal, Joel challenges the granting of partial
summary judgment dismissing his false arrest, false imprisonment,
and malicious prosecution claims under the FTCA.5 In turn, his
relatives challenge the district court's dismissal of their
independent claims for excessive use of force and their derivative
claims due to Joel's arrest.
5 Joel did not appeal the dismissal of his claim for negligent investigation.
A. Joel's Claims
This court reviews de novo the grant of a motion for
summary judgment. Sch. Union No. 37 v. United Nat'l Ins. Co., 617
F.3d 554 , 558 (1st Cir. 2010). Typically, this court will reverse
a district court's grant of summary judgment "only if, 'after
reviewing the facts and making all inferences in favor of the non-
moving party . . . , the evidence on record is sufficiently open-
ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor
of either side.'" Thompson v. Coca-Cola Co., 522 F.3d 168 , 175
(1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Maymí v. P.R. Ports Auth., 515 F.3d 20 ,
25 (1st Cir. 2008)). The presence of cross-motions does not alter
this general standard. "Cross motions simply require us to
determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a
matter of law on facts that are not disputed." Barnes v. Fleet
Nat'l Bank N.A., 370 F.3d 164 , 170 (1st Cir. 2004) (quoting
Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry., 100 F.3d 228 , 230 (1st Cir.
The FTCA provides a limited congressional waiver of the
sovereign immunity of the United States for tortious acts and
omissions committed by federal employees acting within the scope
of their employment. Domínguez v. United States, 799 F.3d 151 ,
153 (1st Cir. 2015) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2645). Under
the statute, the United States may be held civilly liable in the
same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under
like circumstances. Solís-Alarcón v. United States, 662 F.3d 577 ,
582 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Abreu-Guzmán v. Ford, 241 F.3d 69 , 75
(1st Cir. 2001)). The FTCA is strictly construed in favor of the
federal government. Holloway v. United States, 845 F.3d 487 , 489
(1st Cir. 2017).
The FTCA exempts intentional torts from its sovereign
immunity waiver but expressly allows actions against the United
States for claims of "'assault, battery, false imprisonment, false
arrest, abuse of process, or malicious prosecution' arising out of
'acts or omissions of investigative or law enforcement officers of
the United States Government.'" Solís-Alarcón, 662 F.3d at 583
(quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h)). The "law of the place" where the
alleged act or omission occurred governs actions under the FTCA.
Calderón-Ortega v. United States, 753 F.3d 250 , 252 (1st Cir. 2014)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1)). Here, then, we look to Puerto
Rico tort law.
1. False Arrest / False Imprisonment Claim
Joel alleges the district court erred in granting
summary judgment for the government and dismissing his false arrest
and false imprisonment claims under the theory that an arrest made
pursuant to an arrest warrant issued with probable cause is
conditionally privileged and forecloses his false arrest and false
imprisonment claims. He argues that in so holding the district
court misapplied Puerto Rico law, specifically the Puerto Rico
Supreme Court's holding in Valle v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,
157 P.R. Dec. 1 (2002). According to Joel, applying Puerto Rico
law would have required him to merely prove that the agents acted
negligently, he suffered damages, and his damages were caused by
the agents' negligent actions. Joel argues that he satisfied his
burden of proof under this test. He stresses that the agents'
negligent actions consisted of failing to corroborate whether the
person depicted in Deal 105 was Joel by comparing the photograph
in Joel's employee file obtained in August 2010 with the video
recorded of Nieves-Díaz participating in Deal 105 in July 2010.
This, in turn, improperly caused the return of an indictment and
issuance of an arrest warrant against Joel.
Under Puerto Rico law, false arrest and false
imprisonment claims have identical elements, therefore courts
treat them as identical causes of action. Abreu-Guzmán, 241 F.3d
at 75. Thus, for the sake of simplicity we refer to Joel's claims
for false arrest and false imprisonment as one for false arrest.
A claim for false arrest arises, as defined by the Puerto Rico
Supreme Court, when "[a] person, whether or not a law enforcement
officer, may by himself or through another one unlawfully detain
or cause the unlawful detention of another person. In both cases,
said person would be liable for damages if said action is tortious
or negligent." Ayala v. San Juan Racing Corp., 12 P.R. Offic.
Trans. 1012, 1021 (1982). For the claim to go forward, it is
essential that the individual performing the arrest lack
reasonable cause for believing that the arrestee committed a
felony. Abreu-Guzmán, 241 F.3d at 75 (noting that false arrest
and false imprisonment claims "focus on whether the arresting
officer 'lacked reasonable cause for believing that [the suspect]
committed a felony'" (alteration in original) (quoting Harrington
v. United States, 748 F. Supp. 919 , 933 (D.P.R. 1990))).
In Rodríguez v. United States, 54 F.3d 41 (1st Cir.
1995), this court considered for the first time a false arrest
claim under Puerto Rico law, based on the execution of a valid
arrest warrant against the wrong person. There, a Puerto Rican
woman who had been arrested by federal agents on the mistaken
assumption that she was the person identified in a valid warrant,
sued under the FTCA for false arrest. The plaintiff had the same
name, social security number, birthplace, birthdate, and general
physical features (with some slight discrepancies) as the person
named in the warrant. Id. at 42-43. In addition, both women had
a sister with the same name and their parents were deceased. Id.
In determining the applicable law, this court noted that "careful
research ha[d] disclosed no reported Puerto Rico Supreme Court
decision addressing [the issue]" and pointed out that "[a]s a
general matter, however, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court has
conformed its limited 'false arrest' jurisprudence to common law
principles." Id. at 45. "Accordingly, consistent with our
longstanding practice in cases where the Puerto Rico court has not
diverged from common law principles, . . . we adopt[ed] the
Restatement (Second) of Torts, §§ 35-45A, 112-36, as the
appropriate framework" for analysis of the false arrest claim at
issue in Rodríguez. Id. (citations omitted). Under that
framework, generally "an arrest conducted pursuant to a valid
warrant is conditionally privileged, and no false arrest liability
lies against the officers responsible." Id. (citing Restatement
(Second) of Torts §§ 118, 122 (1965)).
The "conditional privilege" doctrine protects officers
from liability if the arrestee was:
(a) . . . a person sufficiently named or otherwise described in the warrant and [was] reasonably believed by the [officer] to be, the person intended, or
(b) although not such person, . . . knowingly caused the actor[s] to believe [her] to be so.
Id. at 46 (alterations in original) (quoting Restatement (Second)
of Torts § 125). Accordingly, an officer "is privileged to arrest
the person to whom the name [in the warrant] applies with complete
accuracy, although the [officer] may have reason to suspect that
a mistake has been made, and that the person, though accurately
named, is not the person intended." Id. (alterations in original)
(quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 125 cmt. f). Applying
this doctrine, this court concluded in Rodríguez that the officer
had acted reasonably inasmuch as the arrestee had similar or
identical physical and personal characteristics as the person
named in the warrant and, thus, "the United States was entitled to
rely on the privilege which attached to the arresting deputy
marshals as a complete defense to liability for false arrest."
Id. at 46–47.
The facts in this case are similar to those in Rodríguez.
Here, Joel was arrested by federal agents pursuant to a valid
arrest warrant that had his name, on the mistaken assumption that
he was the person who had committed the crime. Joel essentially
concedes that if Rodríguez is still good law, his arrest would
have been conditionally privileged and the government would not be
liable for false arrest. He argues, however, that Rodríguez is
no longer good law after the Puerto Rico Supreme Court case of
Valle, which, according to him, binds us to reach a different
conclusion. The government, on its part, argues that Valle is
clearly distinguishable and does not change the scenario outlined
In Valle, an arrest warrant was issued against one "John
Doe I." 157 P.R. Dec. at 6. Law enforcement agents went into
Valle's residence to execute the warrant allegedly issued against
him (which named "John Doe I") for violations of the Puerto Rico
Controlled Substances Act. Id. The news media was present during
the arrest operation, which was broadcast by television networks
in Puerto Rico and the United States, and Valle was identified as
a drug dealer. Id. at 10-11. Valle was arrested and remained
incarcerated for three days until he was able to secure bond. Id.
at 7.6 During the preliminary hearing, an undercover agent stated
that Valle was not the person with whom he had engaged in the drug
transaction underlying the arrest warrant. Id. The judge found
no cause to prosecute Valle and dismissed all charges pending
against him. Id. Valle then filed a false arrest claim against
the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Id. At trial, the Commonwealth
introduced as evidence a surveillance report that described "John
Doe I" as approximately 21 years old, weighing approximately 130
pounds, and standing about 5'5" tall. Id. at 8. Valle, however,
was 23 years old, about 6'0" tall, and weighed around 180 pounds.
6 According to Valle, while in jail, he was physically and sexually assaulted by other inmates. Valle, 157 P.R. Dec. at 11 n.6. He also claimed that people treated him differently after his arrest, and that he had not been able to obtain a job. Id. at 11.
Id. The undercover agent testified at trial that after the drug
transaction took place, he did not personally participate in
Valle's identification process or in the operation that led to his
arrest; thus, he was not at the scene to identify Valle. Id. at
9. The undercover agent tried to justify Valle's arrest on the
fact that he "had a yellow Ford Splash truck that was registered
under his name in the Department of Transportation and Public
Works, and that this vehicle was similar to the one driven by the
person with whom [the undercover agent] actually made the
transaction." Id. Another witness testified that he showed the
undercover agent the picture of Valle that was on file in the
Department of Transportation and Public Works and that the
undercover agent told him he bore some resemblance to the person
he had dealt with. Id.
In Valle the Puerto Rico Supreme Court reiterated the
elements of a tort claim under Puerto Rico law,7 but clarified that
7 To wit, the need "to prove (a) the occurrence of an act or omission resulting in the illegal or noncontractual act; (b) the illegal nature of said act or omission; (c) the fault or negligence of the agent; (d) the occurrence of damage; and (e) a causal relationship between the act or omission and the damage." Id. at 14 (emphasis omitted). It also clarified that "a cause is not every condition without which the damage would not have been produced, but that which ordinarily produces it according to the general experience." Id. at 19 (citing Toro Aponte v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 42 P.R. Offic. Trans. __, 142 P.R. Dec. 464, 474 (1997)).
it needed to "strike a fair and appropriate balance between the
right of the State to act vigorously in the investigation and
prosecution of criminal causes and the right to liberty of our
fellow citizens." Id. at 22–23 (emphasis omitted). There, the
court distinguished between situations in which a suspect's
identity is clear and the suspect is thus identified by his or her
name, and those situations in which all that is available is a
nickname or physical description of the suspect. Id. at 21–22.
The court clearly stated that in the latter, which was the
situation present in Valle, officers will be found liable for false
arrest if they are negligent by failing to take the necessary steps
to validate the suspect's identity.8 Id. at 24. The court then
concluded that, inasmuch as the identification efforts made in
Valle consisted of writing down a license plate number of a truck,
checking who it belonged to in the Department of Transportation
and Public Works files, and showing a picture of the truck owner
to the undercover agent (without then following up when the agent
8 Such measures may include: having "the agents who supervise the undercover agents . . . take pictures from a distance of the person involved in the criminal act; [following] the criminal to his or her residence or workplace"; having the undercover agent "identify the criminal from a distance, and, at the very least, if it has not been possible to fully identify the criminal, on the day of the arrest -- when there is already no reason to continue protecting the identity of the undercover agent -- the agent must be present in order to identify or point at the person to be arrested." Id. at 22 (emphasis omitted).
raised a red flag that the man in the picture "had some
resemblance" with the man that participated in the drug
transaction), the agents involved in the operation that led to
Valle's arrest "did not fully comply with the[ir] obligation."
Id. at 23 (emphasis omitted). They "took the 'easiest way out';
in other words, they made an extremely minimum effort, 'as if to
get it over with,' to carry out an identification procedure they
had a duty to follow thoroughly." Id.
Valle is silent, however, as to what circumstances would
lead to a finding of negligence, and thus liability, in cases where
an arrest warrant adequately identifies and names a suspect, such
as in the instant appeal, where the arrest warrant did not rely on
a nickname or description to identify the subject, but rather
explicitly named "Joel Díaz Nieves." Thus, contrary to Joel's
contentions, Valle is not controlling and does not alter our
holding in Rodríguez.
Our post-Valle decision in Solís-Alarcón, 662 F.3d 577 ,
also supports our conclusion that Rodríguez is still good law. In
Solís-Alarcón, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration
("DEA") and Puerto Rico police officers went to Solís's residence
to arrest an individual, who they had "ample reason to believe"
had engaged in drug transactions, and a warrant had been issued
for his arrest. 662 F.3d at 579. The agents believed they would
find the individual at Solís's house, based on events that occurred
earlier in the year. Id. Although the agents had no warrant to
search the house, they searched it looking for the individual and
seized a sport utility vehicle believed to have been used in a
drug crime. Id. at 580. The individual was nowhere to be found.
Id. Solís and his wife sued the government and DEA agents
asserting tort claims against the United States for the agents'
conduct under the FTCA. The district court dismissed their claim.
On appeal, this court applied the common law approach discussed in
Rodríguez and affirmed, finding that the officers were not liable
because they had acted under the reasonable belief that the suspect
was inside the house. Id. at 583-84. We found Rodríguez to be
consistent with Valle, and held that "[although] Puerto Rico
imposes liability for fault or negligence that causes injury, . . .
protecting law enforcement agents for reasonable mistakes is
common." Id. at 583 (citing Unus v. Kane, 565 F.3d 103 , 117 (4th
Cir. 2009)). We "assumed that Puerto Rico tort law would not
impose personal liability for mistaken arrests where the officers
would be protected . . . by qualified immunity" inasmuch as an
opposite position might raise "a significant question" of "whether
any local court could impose damage liability on federal officers
where they would be exempt in a federal lawsuit and whether
Congress under the FTCA would expect the federal government to
shoulder such liability." Id. at 583-84 (citations omitted).
Under Rodríguez and Solís-Alarcón, and consistent with
the statements made in Valle regarding the need to balance the
right to compensation with the interest or duty of investigating
criminal causes, we hold that the arresting officers had reasonable
belief that they were arresting Joel pursuant to a valid arrest
warrant based on probable cause. Thus, his arrest was conditionally
privileged, which forecloses his false arrest claim.
2. Malicious Prosecution Claim
Joel seems to argue that the district court also erred
in dismissing his malicious prosecution claim. According to him,
viewing all the facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to him would have required the district court
to deny summary judgment as to this claim. He points out that
since July 2010 the FBI possessed a video recording of Nieves-
Vélez participating in Deal 105 and the FBI also obtained Joel's
photograph in August 2010, when the FBI got his personnel record
from the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections to verify that Joel
was indeed a corrections officer. Thus, Joel argues, the FBI
could have compared the two images prior to September 21, 2010,
when the indictment was issued. By failing to do so, his argument
goes, the FBI was negligent, submitted "false/incorrect evidence"
to the grand jury, and caused an indictment to be improperly
obtained, which gives rise to a malicious prosecution claim. We
Under Puerto Rico law, to prove a malicious prosecution
claim, the moving party must show that officers "acted with malice
and without probable cause, defined as 'a suspicion founded upon
circumstances sufficiently strong to warrant a reasonable man in
the belief that the charge is true.'" Abreu-Guzmán, 241 F.3d at
75 (quoting Lora-Rivera v. Drug Enforcement Admin. Dep't of
Justice, 800 F. Supp. 1049 , 1051–52 (D.P.R. 1992)). To succeed
on a malicious prosecution claim, the claimant must prove four
elements: "(1) that a criminal action was initiated or instigated
by the defendants; (2) that the criminal action terminated in favor
of plaintiff; (3) that defendants acted with malice and without
probable cause; and (4) that plaintiff suffered damages." Barros-
Villahermosa v. United States, 642 F.3d 56 , 58 (1st Cir. 2011)
(quoting González Rucci v. U.S. I.N.S., 405 F.3d 45 , 49 (1st Cir.
2005)). "The third element may also be described as two separate
elements because plaintiff must show both that the defendant acted
with malice and that he acted without probable cause." Rivera-
Marcano v. Normeat Royal Dane Quality, 998 F.2d 34 , 37 (1st Cir.
1993) (emphasis in the original) (citing Vince v. Posadas de P.R.
S.A., 683 F. Supp. 312 , 315 & n.4 (D.P.R. 1998)). "For purposes
of malicious prosecution, Puerto Rico courts equate malice with
bad faith." Paret-Ruiz v. United States, 827 F.3d 167 , 178 (1st
Cir. 2016) (quoting Barros-Villahermosa, 642 F.3d at 59). "[A]
grand jury indictment definitively establishes probable cause"
unless "law enforcement defendants wrongfully obtained the
indictment by knowingly presenting false testimony to the grand
jury." González Rucci, 405 F.3d at 49.
Joel's claim for malicious prosecution falters on the
third element because he has failed to show that officers acted
without probable cause and with malice. To the contrary, the
record shows that Joel was named in the indictment and,
"[g]enerally, a grand jury indictment definitively establishes
probable cause." Id. Although "courts have recognized an
exception if law enforcement defendants wrongfully obtained the
indictment by knowingly presenting false testimony to the grand
jury," id., nothing in the record suggests that the FBI agents
knowingly presented false information to the grand jury. This is
buttressed by Joel's concession that the FBI determined the actual
identity of the impersonator after Joel's arrest, which supports
the government's argument that the agents did not "knowingly
present" false testimony to the grand jury. In addition, although
Joel claims that the agents were negligent by failing to compare
the images prior to providing evidence to the grand jury, mere
negligence does not equate to malice.9 See Jiménez v. Sánchez, 60
P.R. 406, 409-10 (1942), 1942 WL 6900 (P.R.) ("[T]he element of
malice, so essential in [malicious prosecution] cases, should not
be confused with mere negligence, inasmuch as the characteristic
of negligence is 'inadvertence,' or an absence of an intent to
injure, whereas the characteristic of malice is the improper
purpose to vex, prejudice, damage, [and] injure." (quoting with
approval the lower court's judgment)). Accordingly, the district
court did not err in summarily dismissing Joel's malicious
B. The Relatives' Claims
We now turn to consider the district court's entry of
judgment on the pleadings dismissing the claims of Joel's
relatives. This court reviews the grant of judgment on the
pleadings de novo. Pérez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26 ,
29 (1st Cir. 2008). A motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) for
judgment on the pleadings is treated like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss. Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36 , 43–44 (1st Cir. 2007).
Accordingly, "the court must view the facts contained in the
pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw
all reasonable inferences therefrom." Pérez-Acevedo, 520 F.3d at
9 Furthermore, Joel conceded at oral argument that "there is no allegation of maliciousness" here.
29. We will affirm a dismissal on the pleadings if it appears
that the nonmovant could prove no set of facts that would entitle
him or her to relief. Mass. Nurses Ass'n v. N. Adams Reg'l Hosp.,
467 F.3d 27 , 31 (1st Cir. 2006) (citing Rivera-Gómez v. de Castro,
843 F.2d 631 , 635 (1st Cir. 1988)).
Joel's relatives allege that the district court
erroneously dismissed their derivative claims under Article 1802
of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 5141.
They concede that their derivative claims are tied to the viability
of Joel's FTCA claims and thus will suffer the same fate as Joel's,
but argue that because Joel's claims were improperly dismissed and
thus should be reinstated, their derivative claims should also be
reinstated. In addition, Joel's relatives allege that the
district court also erred by dismissing their independent claims
for damages allegedly suffered due to the agents' "excessive use
of force" during the execution of Joel's arrest warrant. We
address these arguments in turn.
Under Article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code --
Puerto Rico's General Tort Statute -- "[a] person who by an act or
omission causes damage to another through fault or negligence shall
be obliged to repair the damage so done." Id. The Puerto Rico
Supreme Court has held that individuals who are harmed because a
close relative or loved one is tortiously injured may invoke
Article 1802 as a vehicle for prosecuting a cause of action against
the tortfeasor. Santini Rivera v. Serv Air, Inc., 137 P.R. Dec. 1 ,
10 (1994). To prevail on such a claim, "a plaintiff must prove
(1) that he has suffered emotional harm, (2) that this harm was
caused by the tortious conduct of the defendant toward the
plaintiff's relative or loved one, and (3) that the defendant's
conduct was tortious or wrongful." Méndez-Matos v. Municipality
of Guaynabo, 557 F.3d 36 , 57 (1st Cir. 2009). This cause of action
is wholly derivative and depends on the viability of the underlying
claim of the relative or loved one. Cabán Hernández v. Philip
Morris USA, Inc., 486 F.3d 1 , 12-13 (1st Cir. 2007). Because, as
previously discussed, the district court correctly dismissed
Joel's claims, the derivative claims of his relatives were also
Finally, Joel's relatives argue that the following facts
give rise to an independent claim for damages under Article 1802
of the Puerto Rico Civil Code due to the agents' alleged excessive
use of force when executing Joel's arrest warrant: "immediately
upon opening the door of the house[, Saúl] was forcibly taken out
and at gunpoint made to stand against a wall" while his family
watched; at some point his pants fell to the ground and he "was
left naked outside his house in full view of his family and
neighbors"; Aida was also forced (at gunpoint) to face a wall;
Giovanny "saw how he was targeted by  dozens of laser sights on
his head and chest upon exiting the balcony of his house"; they
all witnessed how the agents surrounded their house and "feared
for their life, their physical integrity," and those of their loved
ones. These facts fail to state a plausible claim for relief.
Joel's relatives did not cite any authority suggesting
that the manner in which Joel's arrest warrant was executed was
tortious under Puerto Rico law and would result in private
liability. They merely referenced Pueblo v. Alcalá, 9 P.R. Offic.
Trans. 430, 437 (1980), for the proposition that "the conduct of
the intervening officer will be evaluated under the reasonable
person standard based on the circumstances surrounding his/her
intervention." Moreover, the pleadings show that the agents knew
Joel was a corrections officer and carried a weapon. In fact,
upon noticing the presence of third parties in the premises of the
house, Joel grabbed his weapon. Furthermore, Joel's relatives did
not allege that physical contact occurred between them and the
arresting officers. In sum, the actions taken by the arresting
officers were based on their reasonable (and correct) belief that
Joel was armed, Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 , 334 (1990) (stating
that "arresting officers are permitted [when conducting in-home
arrests] to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety"), and
Joel's relatives reference nothing beyond the general Puerto Rico
negligence statute to support their claims, Bolduc v. United
States, 402 F.3d 50 , 58 (1st Cir. 2005) (noting that a plaintiff
bringing suit under the FTCA must show that "state law would impose
liability on a private person in the same or similar circumstances"
and rejecting the contention that "stating . . . a claim for
negligence . . . automatically mean[s] that liability would attach
under [state] law"). Accordingly, the district court did not err
in dismissing the independent claims asserted by Joel's relatives.
For the reasons stated above, the orders of the district
court granting partial summary judgment for the government and
entering judgment on the pleadings are affirmed.