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8th Circuit OKs tiny award for cops’ search of KC coffee shop

Scott Lauck//April 26, 2023

8th Circuit OKs tiny award for cops’ search of KC coffee shop

Scott Lauck//April 26, 2023

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 26 that a Kansas City coffee-shop owner missed his chance to seek punitive damages after winning a nominal award against a police officer who searched his stores.

Last year, Micah Riggs, owner of Coffee Wonk and Wonk Exchange, won $1 in damages against Kansas City Police Detective Robert Gibbs in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Gibbs was one of several officers whom Riggs alleged had unlawfully searched and seized items from his businesses and a separate suite in 2010 and 2012.

The officers contended that the searches, made on the belief that the shops were selling the synthetic cannabinoid K2, were lawful. The case went to trial against eight officers, but Gibbs was the only officer held liable at the end of the three-day trial.

On appeal, Riggs argued that the jury should have been asked to award punitive damages. The 8th Circuit, however, noted that the judge never denied Riggs’ request for jury instructions on punitive damages, instead promising to reconsider the issue if there was a finding in favor of the plaintiff. Riggs’ attorney didn’t renew the request after the nominal damages were awarded, even though the jury had declined his request for a multimillion-dollar award.

“We can only speculate as to the reason for the jury’s verdict on damage,” Judge Ralph R. Erickson wrote for the court. Judges Jane Kelly and David R. Stras concurred.

Jon R. Dedon of Kennyhertz Perry in Mission Woods, Kansas, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment. Riggs’ lead trial counsel, Henry T. Bell of New York, couldn’t be reached.

The case is Riggs v. Gibbs, 22-1876.

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