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Scheetz v. Morning Call Inc.

argued: May 7, 1991.

ROSANN C. SCHEETZ; KENNETH L. SCHEETZ, JR., APPELLANTS
v.
THE MORNING CALL, INC.; TERRY L. MUTCHLER; JOHN DOE AND/OR JANE DOE



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil Action No. 89-06755.

Mansmann and Nygaard, Circuit Judges, and Paul H. Roney, Circuit Judge.*fn* Mansmann, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Nygaard

Opinion OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge

In this section 1983 action, plaintiff-appellants Kenneth and Rosann Scheetz allege that the defendants, a local newspaper, a reporter, and an unnamed state actor, conspired to deprive the Scheetzes of their constitutional right of privacy. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. We will affirm.

I.

Kenneth Scheetz is a police officer in the City of Allentown. Rosann Scheetz is his wife. In the course of an argument between them in their home in January of 1988, Kenneth struck Rosann. Rosann left the house, but returned approximately a half an hour later. The argument resumed, and Kenneth again struck Rosann.

Rosann called the Allentown police. Two officers responded and prepared a standard "offense/incident" report, consisting of a face sheet and supplemental reports. The "face sheet" of this report*fn1 stated that Rosann Scheetz had reported a domestic disturbance, that two police cars had responded, and that Rosann had left the home.

In the meantime, Rosann had driven to the Allentown police station, apparently with the intention of filing a Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Petition. The officers who interviewed Rosann prepared two "supplemental reports" and made them part of the file. They reveal that Rosann stated that her husband had beaten her before and had refused counseling. The police gave Rosann three options: file criminal charges, request a protection from abuse order, or initiate department disciplinary action against Kenneth. These supplements also note that Rosann had visible physical injuries, that Rosann did not want to return home and that she was permitted to spend the night in the shift commander's office.

Chief Wayne Stephens filed a third supplement to the report. He had spoken to Kenneth about the incident, and the third supplement memorialized this fact, as well as Kenneth's statement to the Chief that he and his wife were scheduled to speak with a marriage counselor. None of the supplements indicated that the Chief took any disciplinary action against Kenneth.

Shortly after the incident, Kenneth Scheetz was named "Officer of the Year" by Chief Stephens. Several months later, as part of "Respect for Law Week," press releases and photos of Kenneth were released. A dinner and official ceremony were held in Kenneth's honor. The Morning Call ("The Call"), a local newspaper, published a story and photo on this honor.

Terry Mutchler, a reporter for The Call, became interested in investigating the prior incident involving Kenneth and Rosann. Another reporter from the paper had tried to get the police report from the police, who refused to release it. Mutchler's request for a copy of the report from the department was also formally refused. Mutchler nonetheless managed to get a copy of the report.*fn2

Mutchler then interviewed Chief Stephens about the incident. Chief Stephens initially denied the incident, but when confronted with Mutchler's information, he claimed that the report was stolen and refused further comment. Chief Stephens did, however, offer his insights into the subject of spousal abuse, stating "people fake it" and "women . . . tear their dresses and rip up their bras and say they were raped." Mutchler also interviewed Deputy Chief Monaghan, who offered assorted rationalizations for why no follow up had been done on the Scheetz incident. The Scheetzes refused comment on the incident.

The Call published an article by Mutchler titled "Police didn't investigate assault complaint against officer." Eight paragraphs of the article were comprised of quotes from the police report of the beating incident which detailed the injuries Rosann received. The bulk of the article, however, focused on the lack of investigation and follow-up by the police department. Chief Stephens was quoted as saying that the incident had not been investigated. The article also quoted the comments Chief Stephens had made to Mutchler about domestic abuse, as well as Deputy Chief Monaghan's explanations for why no charges were pressed. The last two columns of the article consisted of quotes from Kenneth's superiors praising his work.

Apparently Chief Stephens's comments provoked a number of calls to the department questioning his commitment to the protection of women. At Chief Stephens's request, The Call sent a different reporter to interview Stephens the next day. The Call then published an article entitled "Chief says beating report investigated like others." In this article, Stephens attempted to clarify his earlier statements. He stated that the incident with Scheetz had been investigated. He explained he had initially thought he was being asked if he had personally investigated the complaint, and that was why he said no investigation was done. He also attempted to clarify his statements about domestic abuse. Three paragraphs towards the end of the article briefly recap the events listed in the police reports.

Kenneth and Rosann then sued Mutchler, The Call, and "John or Jane Doe." The complaint alleged that Mutchler and The Call had conspired with an unknown state actor (the Doe defendant) to deprive the Scheetzes of their constitutional right to privacy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint also raised several pendent state law claims.

The Call and Mutchler filed an answer that denied liability and raised jurisdictional and other defenses. After limited discovery, The Call and Mutchler filed a motion to dismiss the Doe defendant and to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court considered the motion to dismiss and to dismiss the Doe defendant and decided to deny it, but indicated that it would reconsider the issues after reasonable discovery had been completed. 130 F.R.D. 34. After the defendants refused to answer questions about Mutchler's source, the Scheetzes filed a motion to compel. Defendants then renewed their prior motions, and filed additional motions for judgment on the pleadings, summary judgment and a protective order.

The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment in part, denied it in part, granted judgment to the defendants on the § 1983 claim, dismissed the pendent state claims, dismissed the Doe defendant and dismissed all remaining motions as moot. 747 F. Supp. 1515. The Scheetzes appeal.

The district court had jurisdiction over the subject matter of this section 1983 action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1343. We have jurisdiction over this appeal from a final order by ...


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