Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 91-00652).
Present: Sloviter, Chief Judge, Hutchinson and Roth, Circuit Judges.
HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.
Robert Jeffrey Linnen (Linnen) appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granting summary judgment to appellee police officers John Armainis, George J. Titler, Walter B. Davis, Daniel Mamrose, Norman Hilf, Robert McKeown, and Elizabeth Hoover (collectively the "officers"). The issue presented on appeal is whether Linnen's guilty plea to state possessory offenses precludes the civil rights claim he brought under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 1981) for violation of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. His § 1983 claim is based on the state's search and seizure of property for use as evidence against Linnen in the state criminal case in which he entered his guilty plea. In that criminal case, Linnen, while represented by counsel, had filed pro se motions to suppress the items the officers had seized but entered his guilty plea before those motions were decided. If Linnen had been successful in suppressing the evidence he claims the officers seized unconstitutionally, he would have had a complete defense to the possessory offenses charged against him in the state criminal case.
The state court that had accepted Linnen's guilty plea in the criminal case later denied his post-conviction attack on counsel's alleged ineffectiveness for failing to challenge the constitutionality of the officers' seizure of Linnen's property as evidence of crime. Linnen appealed, and that appeal is still pending in the state's intermediate appellate court as of the date of this opinion.
After the appeal was filed, the magistrate Judge to whom the instant § 1983 case was referred concluded that Linnen's voluntary guilty plea "precludes a subsequent § 1983 action challenging the search and seizure of the evidence which was the object of the abandoned suppression motions." He therefore recommended that the district court grant the officers' motion for summary judgment. Linnen v. Armainis, No. 91-652, Magistrate's Report and Recommendation, at 8 n.1 (W.D. Pa. May 11, 1991) (hereinafter "Magistrate's Report and Recommendation"). In doing so, the magistrate Judge relied in part on the state court's order denying the PCRA petition that is the subject of Linnen's pending state appeal. The district court adopted the magistrate Judge's recommendation and entered summary judgment for the officers.
We hold that the district court incorrectly decided that Linnen's guilty plea precluded him on the issue of the unconstitutionality of the search. We also hold that it erred in relying on the order that is the subject of Linnen's PCRA appeal as precluding his civil rights action. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County's order denying his petition for post-conviction relief does not decide whether the officers' search and seizure of any of Linnen's personal property violated the Constitution. Nevertheless, a final Disposition of Linnen's pending state appeal of that order may or may not be preclusive on the constitutionality of the search and seizure. If it is, it could determine his § 1983 action one way or the other. Therefore, in order to avoid unnecessary conflict with a final decision of a state court that may affect the constitutional question, we will vacate the district court's order and remand with instructions to stay this action pending final resolution of Linnen's state court appeal from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief.
The district court exercised federal question jurisdiction over Linnen's civil rights claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(3), (4). This Court exercises appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291.
In January 1990, Linnen pled guilty to three separate criminal informations charging him with twelve counts of violating the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 780-101 to 780-144 (Purdon 1977 & Supp. 1992), three counts of firearms violations, and two counts of criminal conspiracy. In March 1990, Linnen pled guilty to three additional controlled substance charges and one additional criminal conspiracy charge. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sentenced Linnen to an aggregate five- to ten-year prison term. He filed a pro se motion for modification and reconsideration of his sentence, which was denied.
Instead of pursuing a direct appeal, Linnen, in August 1990, filed a pro se petition under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-9546 (Purdon 1982 & Supp. 1992). Appointed counsel filed an amended petition in April 1991. The court of common pleas denied this petition on January 29, 1992. Linnen's appeal ...