United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
January 7, 1991
MICHAEL HACKENBURG, PLAINTIFF,
CHARLES K. ZUKOWSKI, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir, District Judge.
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:
This case arises from the arrest of the Plaintiff Michael
Hackenburg by the Pennsylvania State Police for driving under
the influence of alcohol, reckless driving, and driving while
operating privileges are suspended pursuant to the Pennsylvania
Vehicle Code, Title 75, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes,
§§ 3731, 3714 and 1543(a) respectively. Defendants are State
Police Troopers Charles K. Zukowski assigned to the Stonington
Barracks and Stephen Krehel, assigned to the Hazleton Barracks.
On June 19, 1989, Hackenburg filed a complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his rights under the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution. On October 1, 1990, Defendants filed a motion for
summary judgment and a statement of undisputed material fact
pursuant to Local Rule 401.4. After requesting an enlargement
of time, Defendants filed a brief on November 15, 1990. On
December 13, 1990, Hackenburg filed a brief in opposition.
Hackenburg failed to file a separate short and concise
statement of material facts responding to the numbered
paragraphs set forth in the statement filed by the Defendants.
The Defendants were entitled to file a reply brief on or before
December 28, 1990, but elected not to file one. This matter is
therefore ripe for a decision.
Defendants make three arguments in support of their motion
for summary judgment. First, Defendants argue that Hackenburg's
action should be dismissed because it is barred by the
applicable statute of limitations. Second, Defendants argue
that summary judgment should be entered in their favor on all
claims because there was probable cause for Hackenburg's
arrest. Third, Defendants argue that they are entitled to
summary judgment on all claims by virtue of the doctrine of
Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine
issue of material fact which is unresolved and the moving party
is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c). Summary judgment is an extreme remedy and should not be
granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the
proper inferences which a factfinder could draw from them.
Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d
"When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as
provided in . . . [Rule 56], an adverse party may not rest upon
the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's
pleading. . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The adverse party must
show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. Because summary judgment is a
severe remedy, the Court should resolve any doubt about the
existence of genuine issues of fact against the moving party.
Ness v. Marshall, 660 F.2d 517, 519 (3d Cir. 1981).
The United States Supreme Court has stated that in motions
for summary judgment a material fact is one which might affect
the outcome of the suit under relevant substantive law. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505,
91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Supreme Court also stated in
Anderson that a dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if
"the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party." Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at
2510. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there
is no `genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Electric
Industrial Company, Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corporation,
475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).
Initially, the moving party has a burden of demonstrating the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548,
2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). This may be met by the moving
party pointing out to the court that there is an absence of
evidence to support an essential element as to which the
non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at
325, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. The non-moving party then must make a
sufficient showing as to the essential elements of his or her
case that a reasonable jury could find in his or her favor. Id.
at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. at 2552-53.
The burden of proof required to defeat a summary judgment
motion is guided by the burden of proof which a reasonable jury
would be instructed to consider. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242, 106
S.Ct. at 2505. The Court in Anderson stated:
The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the Plaintiff's position will be
insufficient; there must be evidence on which the
jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. The
judge's inquiry, therefore, unavoidably asks
whether reasonable jurors could find by a
preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff
is entitled to a verdict — `whether there is
[evidence] upon which a jury can properly proceed
to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon
whom the onus of proof is imposed.'
Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512.
In light of these principles, we will now address the
Hackenburg does not dispute that the applicable statute of
limitations in this case is two years. He also does not dispute
that his civil cause of action which is based on allegations
that his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were
violated accrued on March 20, 1987 when he was arrested.
Instead, he contends that the statute of limitations was tolled
while state criminal proceedings were pending.
It is undisputed that (1) Hackenburg was arrested on March
20, 1987, (2) on July 14, 1987, his attorney, who was defending
him against the charges, filed a motion to suppress the
evidence obtained against him by Defendants Zukowski and Krehel
in the course of the stop and arrest, (3) a suppression hearing
was held at which Hackenburg as well as Defendants testified
about the events and circumstances surrounding the stop and
arrest, (4) by order dated August 26, 1987, Judge James Rossini
of the Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas granted
Hackenburg's motion to suppress, (5) on September 9, 1987,
Assistant District Attorney David Noon filed a notice of appeal
to the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging Judge Rossini's
decision granting the motion to suppress, (6) on November 4,
1987, Judge Rossini filed a memorandum opinion in support of
his prior order of August 26, 1987, granting the motion to
suppress, (7) on May 26, 1988, the Pennsylvania Superior Court
Judge Rossini's decision granting the motion to suppress, (8)
subsequently, on July 11, 1989, Assistant District Attorney
John P. Muncer filed in the Northumberland County Court of
Common Pleas a request to nolle prosequi the charges of driving
under the influence, reckless driving, and driving while
operating privileges are suspended or revoked and (9) that same
date President Judge Samuel J. Ranck of the Court of Common
Pleas of Northumberland County granted the District Attorney's
request to nolle prosequi the charges.
Hackenburg claims that the two-year statute of limitations
was tolled until at least May 26, 1988, when the Pennsylvania
Superior Court affirmed Judge Rossini's decision granting the
motion to suppress. Hackenburg argues that the doctrine of
equitable tolling of a statute of limitations is read into
every federal statute of limitations including state statutes
adopted by federal law. Furthermore, Hackenburg indicates that
whether a particular limitations period such as the two-year
statute of limitations applicable to this action should be
tolled lies within the discretion of the Court. We decline to
apply the doctrine of equitable tolling in this case and
conclude that Hackenburg's action is barred by the two-year
statute of limitations. Cf. Torres v. Superintendent of Police
of Puerto Rico, 893 F.2d 404 (1st Cir. 1990) (One-year statute
of limitations on dismissed Puerto Rican police officers'
federal civil rights claims would not be equitably tolled on
the basis that officers did not know of their injury until
criminal charges filed against them were dismissed at probable
We have been unable to discover any federal court which has
indicated that the doctrine of equitable tolling applies under
the circumstances presented by this case. The cases relied upon
by Hackenburg deal with the staying of proceedings by a federal
court once an action has been filed in federal court when there
is a state proceeding pending. These cases are not dispositive
of the issue before the Court. We are of the view that the
doctrine of equitable tolling only applies where there is a
continuing harm or where the Defendant's actions amounted "to
an affirmative inducement to Plaintiff to delay bringing the
action." Ciccarelli v. Carey Canadian Mines, Ltd.,
757 F.2d 548, 556 (3d Cir. 1985). Especially in view of the fact that
Hackenburg was released on recognizance on April 8, 1987, we
cannot conclude that there was a continuing harm that would
toll the statute of limitations. Hackenburg is presently
incarcerated on other charges unrelated to the present case.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that the Defendants
encouraged or somehow "induced" Hackenburg to delay bringing
Because we conclude that Plaintiff's cause of action is
barred by the two-year statute of limitations, it is
unnecessary to address the Defendants' other arguments relating
to the lack of probable cause and qualified immunity.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. The summary judgment motion filed on October 1, 1990, by
the Defendants is granted.
2. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this file.
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