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SHOWERS v. SPANGLER

March 5, 1997

MICHAEL W. SHOWERS, ANN G. SHOWERS, Plaintiffs
v.
STEVEN A. SPANGLER, LARRY HAYNES, GREG HOUGHTON, TIM SMITH, HOWIE KESSEL, RON CLOUSER, JAMES R. BEARD, J. R. FAGAN, DAVID SLOAN, PETER S. DUNCAN, all in their individual capacity, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CALDWELL

 The Plaintiffs, Michael W. Showers and Ann G. Showers, brought this civil rights action against the Defendants, officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, alleging violations of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Before us is Defendants' motion for summary judgment, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

 I. Background1

 Plaintiffs own and operate Bear Mountain Taxidermy, Inc. Michael W. Showers ("Showers") is a taxidermist, operating under a permit issued by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Showers' Pennsylvania taxidermist's permit requires "strict observance of all applicable laws." (Showers Dep., vol. I, ex. A). Plaintiffs' business is in three separate buildings, adjacent to their home. (M.F., P 8).

 Defendants are all officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Defendants Spangler, Haynes, Houghton, and Smith are employed as Wildlife Conservation Officers ("WCO" or "Conservation Officer"). Defendant Kessel is employed as a Deputy Game Warden. Defendant Clouser is the Game Commission's Regional Law Enforcement Director. Defendant Beard is the Game Commission's Deputy Director of Law Enforcement. Defendant Fagan is the Game Commission's Director of Law Enforcement. Defendant Sloan is the Game Commission's South Central Pennsylvania Regional Director. Defendant Duncan is the Game Commission's Executive Director.

 The complaint advances claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. These claims arise out of a search of Plaintiffs' residence and business property by Defendants on April 13, 1993, and out of the seizure of a taxidermy mount of a wolf and a caribou (the "wolf-caribou mount"), which occurred on May 19, 1993, and continued until August 19, 1993.

 Prior to April 13, 1993, Showers sent letters to Defendants Sloan and Duncan, both Spangler's superiors, complaining that Spangler was harassing him, and seeking their assistance. (Showers Dep., vol I, at 42-47; Plaintiffs' Docs. 1 & 2).

 On Tuesday, April 13, 1993, at approximately 9:00 a.m., a team of eight *fn2" Game Commission officers, including Defendants Clouser, Haynes, Houghton, Kessel, Smith, and Spangler, conducted an inspection *fn3" of Plaintiffs' property. The inspection was conducted pursuant to a four-page operation plan, titled "Operation U-Haul," prepared by Defendant Spangler. (Spangler. Dep. at 179-80; Plaintiffs' Doc. 3). The inspection included an examination of Plaintiffs' business premises, a review of Plaintiffs' business records, and the examination of animal remains stored in various freezers in the business premises and in Plaintiffs' home. (Showers Dep., vol. I, at 91. 94-98, 104-05, 117-23).

 On May 19, 1993, Defendant Spangler placed a seizure tag on the wolf-caribou mount. At the time, the mount was on display at Bowhunters Warehouse, in Wellsville, Pennsylvania. The mount included a grey wolf, for which Showers possessed a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) export permit from Quebec. (Spangler Decl., P 8; Plaintiffs' Doc. 5, at 9; Showers Aff., P 14). Showers possessed no other permits pertaining to the grey wolf. (Spangler Decl., P 8; Showers Aff., P 14). Spangler believed that Showers was attempting to sell the mount. (Spangler Decl., P 5).

 On May 19, 1993, in connection with the seizure of the wolf-caribou mount, Spangler filed charges with two District Justices regarding the possession and sale of an endangered species without a permit. Showers and his attorney met with Game Commission officials, including Defendants Beard, Clouser, and Sloan on June 3, 1993. (M.F. P 39; Beard Dep. at 89-90)

 Spangler withdrew the charges regarding sale of an endangered species on June 4, 1996, at the direction of his superiors. (M.F. PP 38-39). Spangler withdrew the possession of an endangered species charges on August 5, 1993, at the direction of his superiors. (M.F. P 41). On August 19, 1993, Spangler removed the seizure tag from the mount. (M.F. P 42).

 Plaintiffs contend that both the April 13 search and the seizure of the wolf-caribou mount were unlawful under the United States and the Pennsylvania Constitutions. Defendants have moved for summary judgment under Rule 56, arguing that the searches and seizures were constitutional, and that all Defendants are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity.

 II. Standard of Review

 Summary judgment is appropriate "if 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; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In reviewing the evidence, facts and inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 553 (1986). Summary judgment must be entered in favor of the moving party "where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. . . ." Id., 475 U.S. at 586-87, 106 S. Ct. at 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d at 552 (citations omitted).

 When a moving party has carried his or her burden under Rule 56, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . ." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87, 106 S. Ct. at 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d at 552 (citations omitted). The nonmoving party "must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment," and cannot "simply reassert factually unsupported allegations contained in [the] pleadings." Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). However, "if the [nonmoving party's] evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 212 (1986) (citations omitted).

 III. Discussion

 A. The Constitutional Provisions

 The Fourth Amendment provides that: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. . . ." U.S. Const. amd. 4. The Fourth Amendment is incorporated as against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 87 S. Ct. 1727, 18 L. Ed. 2d 930 (1967).

 B. Qualified Immunity

 The Supreme Court has stated that "government officials performing discretionary functions are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 410 (1982). Even where they violate clearly established rights, officials will nonetheless be immune from suit if they acted in a manner which they reasonably believe to be lawful. Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 483 (3d Cir. 1995). The focus of this inquiry is objective reasonableness: whether a reasonable officer could have believed that the search was lawful, "in light of clearly established law and the information the searching officers possessed." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 3040, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523, 532 (1987). The Defendants' subjective beliefs about the lawfulness of the search are irrelevant. Id. Indeed, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity even if they knew that their conduct was unlawful, so long as a "reasonable public official" would not have known. Grant v. Pittsburgh, 98 F.3d 116, 123-24 (3d Cir. 1996).

 The Defendants' state of mind may be considered, however, where "state of mind is an essential element of the constitutional violation itself." Id. at 124. Subjective knowledge of unlawful conduct will not defeat qualified immunity by itself, but a defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity where a reasonable public official could not have believed the search to be lawful in light of the state of mind which motivated the search. Id. at 124-25. An allegation of improper motive will not preclude the entry of summary judgment on behalf of a defendant based on qualified immunity, however, if state of mind is not an essential element of the violation. Id. at 125-26.

 State of mind is relevant only where "clearly established law makes the conduct illegal depending on the intent with which it is performed." Id. at 125 (quoting Halperin v. Kissinger, 257 U.S. App. D.C. 35, 807 F.2d 180, 184 (D.C. Cir. 1986)). In Grant, for example, the Third Circuit held that inquiry into the defendants' state of mind was called for where the plaintiffs had alleged a substantive due process violation, based on defendants' politically motivated arbitrary and capricious conduct in nominating plaintiffs' buildings for historic preservation (and thereby preventing their demolition by plaintiffs). Id.

 Plaintiffs allege violations of their rights to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. State of mind is not an essential element of a cause of action for a Fourth Amendment violation. Maryland v. Macon, 472 U.S. 463, 470-71, 105 S. Ct. 2778, 2783, 86 L. Ed. 2d 370, 378 (1985); United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 246-47 (3d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 116 S. Ct. 2528, 135 L. Ed. 2d 1052 (1996). Defendants' state of mind is, therefore, irrelevant. We must consider Defendants' ...


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