Mr. Ashford further contends that he did not resist arrest, act in a threatening manner, or make any statements to the police officers at the time this incident took place (Tr. at 22).
The next thing that Mr. Ashford remembers is waking up in the police station at approximately 6:00 p.m. that same day and being taken to the hospital with bruises all over his body and a leg injury (Tr. at 22). At the hospital, Mr. Ashford was told that he had torn ligaments in his left leg that required a leg brace (Tr. at 22). Mr. Ashford does not remember how he sustained these injuries (Tr. at 22).
According to Officers Skiles and Neimer, Mr. Ashford was unconscious at the time his car was stopped and remained unconscious throughout the time that the defendant officers had contact with him (Tr. at 50, 66). Officer Skiles testified that when he stopped Mr. Ashford's car, he found the car's driver side door open, with the left half of Mr. Ashford's body hanging outside the door, and the car in neutral and moving forward (Tr. at 48). When he approached the car, Officer Skiles realized that Mr. Ashford was unconscious (Tr. at 48). Based upon Mr. Ashford's erratic driving, the strong odor of alcohol emanating from Mr. Ashford, and the relatively short period of time in which Mr. Ashford had become unconscious, Officer Skiles placed Mr. Ashford under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (Tr. at 50).
According to Officer Neimer, Mr. Ashford was placed in a police car approximately one hour after his arrest, and transported by Officer Neimer and a Community Services Aide from the police station to St. Josephs Hospital for a blood alcohol test (Tr. at 72). Upon arrival at the hospital, Mr. Ashford was placed in a wheelchair and wheeled to the room where his blood was eventually drawn by Nurse Newcomer (Tr. at 75). At no time did a physician or nurse make a medical determination as to why Mr. Ashford was unconscious (Tr. at 83). Officer Neimer testified that Mr. Ashford was still unconscious at the time that he was returned to the police station (Tr. at 76). Mr. Ashford was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (Tr. at 51).
On July 29, 1991, Mr. Ashford instituted this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Officers Steven Skiles, James Neimer, Andrew Morgan, Jeff Kraus, Ken Switzer, and Ralph Anderson of the Lancaster County Police Department, Nurse Ann Newcomer, an employee of St. Josephs Hospital, and St. Josephs Hospital. On September 3, 1991, the action was transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Ashford asserts three distinct claims: (1) that all of the defendant officers used excessive force by assaulting him in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) that Nurse Newcomer and St. Josephs Hospitals withdrew his blood without his consent in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and, (3) that Officer Neimer and Nurse Newcomer conspired to conceal the defendant officers' use of excessive force.
All of the defendants have moved for summary judgment. Both sets of defendants seek to rely on the doctrine of issue preclusion, arguing that the factual basis of plaintiff's claims has already been litigated. The defendant officers assert that the issue of excessive force was litigated and decided at a suppression hearing prior to plaintiff's trial for driving while intoxicated. Nurse Newcomer and St. Josephs Hospital argue that the issue of consent was also decided against plaintiff in that hearing, barring further litigation. In addition, the Hospital defendants argue that they are immune from civil liability pursuant to 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1547(j) (Supp. 1992). While neither Officer Neimer nor Nurse Newcomer have addressed the plaintiff's allegation of conspiracy to cover-up the use of excessive force, that claim is precluded by this court's favorable ruling on the two prior issues.
To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish that no genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). An issue is "genuine" only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party; a factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). In deciding whether the standards for summary judgment have been met, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Mellon Bank Corp. v. First Union Real Estate Equity and Mortg. Invest., 951 F.2d 1399, 1404 (3d Cir. 1991). Where there is a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case, all other facts are rendered immaterial, and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.
A. Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against the Lancaster County defendants.
To maintain his § 1983 claim against the Lancaster County defendants, plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law and that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420, 101 S. Ct. 1908 (1981); Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993).
The Lancaster County defendants argue that the question of whether the officers violated plaintiff's constitutional rights was decided against plaintiff at the suppression hearing prior to his criminal trial in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Lancaster County on the charge of driving under the influence. If plaintiff cannot re-litigate that issue, he cannot prove one of the basic elements of his § 1983 claim and the Lancaster County defendants are thus entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
The doctrine of issue preclusion is applicable to § 1983 actions where the alleged conduct underlying the § 1983 claim was the subject of a state court criminal proceeding which afforded the parties a full and fair opportunity to litigate all potential civil rights claims. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 120, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308, 101 S. Ct. 411 (1980). A finding of probable cause made in a state court suppression hearing may be an appropriate basis for application of the doctrine of issue preclusion in a § 1983 claim. Lomax v. Smith, 501 F. Supp. 119, 122 (E.D. Pa. 1980); Moore v. Smythe, 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 239, at *4, No. 90-0432 (E.D. Pa. 1993); Forrey v. Switzer, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11479, No. 89-9150 (E.D. Pa. 1991).
When determining whether a state judicial or administrative proceeding precludes a subsequent federal court action, the federal courts must "give a prior state judgment the same effect as would the adjudicating state." Gregory v. Chehi, 843 F.2d 111, 116 (3d Cir. 1988); Forrey, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11479, at *5, No. 89-9150.
Therefore, the Pennsylvania law on issue preclusion must be applied in deciding whether the defendant is collaterally estopped from asserting his claim.
Under Pennsylvania law, a party is precluded from asserting a claim when: (1) the party against whom issue preclusion is asserted was a party or in privity with the party to the prior litigation; (2) the party against whom issue preclusion is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question at the prior adjudication; (3) the issue sought to be precluded was the same as that raised in the prior action; (4) the decision in the prior proceeding was essential to the judgment; and (5) a final judgment was rendered on the merits. See Pittsburgh v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, 522 Pa. 44, 55, 559 A.2d 896, 901 (1989); Forrey, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11479, at *5, No. 89-9150.
Four of these five elements have been met.
At his trial for driving under the influence of alcohol, Mr. Ashford, represented by counsel, filed a motion to suppress the results of the blood alcohol test performed at St. Josephs Hospital. Mr. Ashford argued that the results of the blood alcohol test should be suppressed because: (1) he was rendered unconscious by the police officers, and therefore the withdrawal of his blood without a warrant constituted a search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; or, in the alternative, that (2) the police officers lacked probable cause to believe that he was intoxicated, and therefore the withdrawal of his blood without a warrant constituted a search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Tr. at 106).
The Commonwealth argued that if the police officers had probable cause to believe that Mr. Ashford was driving while intoxicated, the officers were authorized, pursuant to 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1547(a)(1) (Supp. 1992), to request the withdrawal of Mr. Ashford's blood (Tr. at 105). The Commonwealth also contended that a motorist has the right to refuse the administration of a blood alcohol test only when he or she is conscious; thus, an unconscious motorist is taken to have impliedly consented to having his or her blood withdrawn (Tr. at 105).
The Honorable Louis J. Farina, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, held that Officers Neimer and Skiles had probable cause to believe that Mr. Ashford was driving under the influence of alcohol, and that Mr. Ashford's unconsciousness "was not the result of anything done to him by the police" (Tr. at 112). Judge Farina concluded that Mr. Ashford had "passed out because of inebriation" and the motion to suppress the blood alcohol test results was denied (Tr. at 112).
The first and second elements of the doctrine of issue preclusion have been met since the plaintiff was a party in the underlying case, and the plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his civil rights contentions at the suppression hearing. Mr. Ashford, through his attorney Barry G. Goldman, Esq., cross-examined both Officer Skiles and Officer Neimer; he also had the opportunity to call the other officers he claims used excessive force. Mr. Ashford also testified as to his arrest, and was represented by counsel at both his suppression hearing and at his criminal trial. No more is necessary for purposes of collateral estoppel. See Commonwealth v. Martinelli, 128 Pa. Commw. 448, 563 A.2d 973 (1989)(where court held that the fact that more conclusive evidence might be presented at a subsequent hearing is not sufficient nor relevant for disallowing the application of the doctrine); see also Forrey, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11479, at *8, No. 89-9150 (where court held that pro se plaintiff bringing § 1983 action had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his civil rights claim at suppression hearing because he had cross-examined all of the witnesses against him and testified to his version of the arrest, detention, and interrogation at the hearing).
The third element of the doctrine of issue preclusion has also been established since the claim of excessive force was distinctly put at issue in the suppression hearing. At the suppression hearing Mr. Goldman stated:
Your Honor, there's [sic] two matters which are related here in terms of suppression, in my opinion, and one is whether or not Mr. Ashford was rendered unconscious by excessive force on the part of police, and the other is, if he was not rendered unconscious, whether they had probable cause, despite the fact that he was unconscious to request blood be drawn