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NELSON v. MATTERN

January 14, 1994

CHARLES NELSON, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
TODD MATTERN, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANITA B. BRODY

 AND NOW, this 14th day of January 1994, I have considered the State Police Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Todd Mattern's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and plaintiffs' response and find that:

 1. This civil rights suit is brought by plaintiffs Charles Nelson, Stephen Spangler and Jerry Berger under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs' civil rights claims include Fourth Amendment violations for arrest without probable cause, excessive force and unlawful search. State police defendants are Timothy Shay, Timothy Sprowls, Douglas Brose, and John Dell. Local police defendant is Todd Mattern.

 2. In their motion for summary judgment, state police defendants contend that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Defendant Todd Mattern moves for summary judgment, and raises the defense of qualified immunity, only on the issue of probable cause for plaintiffs' arrests.

 3. Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Defendants are entitled to summary judgment only if no reasonable resolution of the conflicting evidence and the inferences that could be drawn from that evidence could result in a judgment for plaintiffs. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Where there is a dispute or disagreement over what inferences reasonably could be drawn from the facts, even if those facts are undisputed, summary judgment is improper. See Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, 926 F.2d 1368, 1380 (3d Cir. 1991).

 4. For the purposes of summary judgment, plaintiffs' version of the facts is taken as true. All three plaintiffs are white males. Nelson is 38 years old, 5'10" and 175 lbs; Spangler is 25 years old, 6'2" and 170 lbs; and Berger is 27 years old, 6' and 225 lbs. On August 8, 1990, 2:30 p.m., after drinking some beers at a club, plaintiffs took a six pack of beer to a swimming hole near a covered bridge at West Seven Stars Road and Mill Road ("covered bridge area"). (Deposition of Jerry Berger at 22, 25.)

 5. Later that afternoon at the covered bridge area, Berger saw police cars next to Nelson's van and policemen talking with some teens. Defendants Shay and Sprowls, standing with defendant Mattern, called Berger over to the group. When Berger came over, Shay and Sprowls immediately arrested him, put on tight handcuffs, and took him to defendant Brose in a car, where he was interrogated. (Berger Dep. at 31-33, 44.)

 6. Mattern called to Nelson when he came looking for Berger. According to Nelson, Mattern "grabbed me by the arm, threw me on the hood of the car, put my arms behind me, and handcuffed me." (Deposition of Charles Nelson at 32-33, 35-36.) Mattern then held Nelson's face on the hood of the running car. (Nelson Dep. at 37.) Brose looked into Nelson's van, which Shay, Sprowls and Mattern then searched. (Nelson Dep. at 39.)

 7. Spangler appeared from the bushes and started to sit under a tree. When Mattern called to him he walked away. Dell then began running after him, so Spangler ran. Dell tackled Spangler and Brose held him bending back his wrist, handcuffed him, and later placed him in the car with Nelson. (Deposition of Stephen Spangler at 28-37.) *fn1"

 8. Brose drove Berger to the East Vincent police station, questioned him, and handcuffed him to a chair. (Berger Dep. at 45, 50.)

 9. Mattern drove Nelson and Spangler to the same station. When Nelson was getting out of the car, Mattern grabbed his leg and pulled him to the ground. Mattern also hit Spangler in the face. Inside the station Nelson and Spangler were handcuffed to the wall. (Nelson Dep. at 51; Spangler Dep. at 42.)

 10. Plaintiffs finally were released after 10:00 p.m. and no charges were ever brought. Nelson and Spangler went to the hospital, where the doctor found that Nelson's hip was partially dislocated and that Spangler's rib was fractured. *fn2" Spangler could not work for the next three days due to soreness from the tight handcuffs. (Spangler Dep. at 61.)

 11. Although not taken as true, defendants' version of the facts is included below to provide some context for the incident. On August 8, 1990, Dr. George Govette arrived at his home as it was being burglarized. As the burglars drove away, Dr. Govette chased them in his car to a field, where shots were fired and the burglars fled. Dr. Govette contacted the police and described the burglars as three white males, mid-20s to early 30s, driving a beige Chrysler sedan. Later that day, the suspect car was found and identified as belonging to a John Hess. The car had been reported as stolen from the covered bridge area. (State Def. Br. Exhibit O, [hereinafter Rpt.] at 5, 10-12.)

 12. That afternoon defendants Shay and Sprowls happened to meet Hess at a store during their patrol. (Rpt. at 12.) Hess reiterated to them that his car had been stolen and Shay and Sprowls became suspicious when they realized it was the car involved in the shootout. They wanted Dr. Govette to do a "drive-by" to try to identify Hess. During the ...


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