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PADILLA v. MILLER

April 9, 2001

FAYNE DEANGELO PADILLA, AND CHRISTY LEE PADILLA, HIS WIFE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF ELIJAH DEANGELO PADILLA AND ELISA LEE PADILLA, PLAINTIFFS
V.
GREGORY MILLER, A PENNSYLVANIA STATE TROOPER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie, Chief Judge

  MEMORANDUM

Following a one-day non-jury trial held on April 12, 1999, this Court, on November 17, 1999, issued a Memorandum opinion setting forth findings of fact supporting the conclusions that (1) defendant Pennsylvania State Trooper Gregory Miller violated plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights by the unreasonable detention and search of their vehicle during a traffic stop; and (2) Trooper Gregory Miller was not entitled to qualified immunity. It was also concluded, however, that plaintiffs failed to establish actual injury. Thus, they were awarded only nominal damages. In addition, because plaintiffs had not established that Trooper Miller had acted with evil motive or reckless indifference to their constitutional rights, punitive damages were denied. Consistent with these findings, judgment was entered in favor of each plaintiff in the amount of $1.00.

On November 29, 1999, the plaintiffs filed a motion to "Amend Findings, or to Make Additional Findings, and for Amendment of Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b) and 59, or in the Alternative, for a New Trial Limited to the Issue of Damages." Plaintiffs' motion challenges three aspects of the November 17, 1999 decision, all of which concern the relief to which they claim entitlement. First, plaintiffs contend that the Court erred in holding that plaintiff Fayne DeAngelo Padilla could not recover damages for the period of time he spent in custody on charges of unlawful possession of the weapons and narcotics found during the unconstitutional search of the vehicle. Second, plaintiffs claim that they had established other compensable injury as a result of the violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. Finally, plaintiffs assert that punitive damages are warranted.

As to the first matter, I find that the Third Circuit's recent decision in Hector v. Watt, 235 F.3d 154 (3d Cir. 2000), validates the conclusion reached in the November 17, 1999 Memorandum opinion:

`Victims of unreasonable searches or seizures may recover damages directly related to the invasion of their privacy — including (where appropriate) damages for physical injury, property damage, injury to reputation, etc.; but such victims cannot be compensated for injuries that result from the discovery of incriminating evidence and consequent criminal prosecution.'

Id. at 157 (emphasis added) (quoting Townes v. City of New York, 176 F.3d 138, 148 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 964 (1999). Accordingly, Fayne Padilla is not entitled to recover damages from the point in time when he was placed under arrest based upon the discovery of guns and drugs in his car until he was released from confinement following a state court determination that the search of the vehicle and seizure of the evidence were unconstitutional.

Having also given careful consideration to the second matter raised by plaintiffs — whether they sustained actual injury as a result of the constitutional violations, I am now persuaded that each plaintiff is entitled to compensation for the period of time during which they were wrongfully detained. I remain convinced, however, that plaintiffs failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, following the traffic stop, they suffered emotional distress or mental anguish as a result of the unconstitutional detention and search.

Finally, having carefully considered again the question of punitive damages, I remain of the opinion that plaintiffs did not show that Trooper Miller acted with evil motive or callous indifference to their rights. Thus, the judgment will not be amended to impose exemplary damages against Trooper Miller.

BACKGROUND

The November 17, 1999 Memorandum opinion set forth in separately numbered paragraphs 57 findings of fact pertinent to the claims raised by the parties. Notably, plaintiffs do not challenge the accuracy of any particular finding of fact.*fn1 Nor do the plaintiffs cite to a particular proposed finding of fact that they submitted in connection with this matter that was erroneously omitted from the findings made in the November 17, 1999 decision. Instead, they essentially request that the Court make additional findings of fact, not previously specifically requested, concerning compensable harm and punitive damages.*fn2

To place plaintiffs' request for supplemental findings in proper perspective, and for the convenience of the reader, the findings of fact made in the November 17, 1999 Memorandum will be repeated verbatim. The evidence pertinent to plaintiffs' requested supplemental findings will then be addressed.

Findings of Fact Made in the Court's November 17, 1999 Memorandum

A. The Parties

1. Trooper Gregory Miller was employed as a Pennsylvania State Police Officer on January 13, 1996. (Dkt. Entry 40, Defendant's Designation of Disputed and Undisputed Findings to Plaintiff's Original Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (D's Stmt of Facts) at 1.)*fn3

2. Fayne DeAngelo Padilla is a resident of Springfield, Missouri who was born November 5, 1970. (April 12, 1999 Trial Transcript (Tr.), Dkt. Entry 42, at 22.)

3. Christy Padilla (formerly Christy Settles) is a resident of Springfield, Missouri. She was nineteen (19) years old and eight and a half months pregnant at the time of the incident in question. (Tr. at 94, 179.)

4. Elijah Padilla and Elisa Padilla are the minor children of Fayne and Christy Padilla who were in their company on January 13, 1996. (Tr. at 23-24, 94.)

B. The Traffic Stop

5. On January 13, 1996, Miller was conducting a stationary patrol in a marked car on Interstate 80 in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. (D's Stmt of Facts at 1.)

6. Trooper Miller was accompanied by a dog trained to detect controlled substances. (Id.) He was dressed in a uniform distinctive to state troopers in charge of canine units.

7. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Trooper Miller stopped a vehicle bearing Missouri license plates for allegedly speeding and switching lanes without a turn signal. (Id.; Tr. at 175-76.) He directed the vehicle, operated by Fayne Padilla, to pull over at a rest stop on I-80.

8. Trooper Miller got out of his patrol car and approached the stopped vehicle on the passenger side and requested that the driver produce his license and registration. (D's Stmt of Facts at 2.)

9. The driver of the car produced a valid Missouri driver's license in the name of Fayne D. Padilla and a Missouri identification card in the name of Fayne DeAngelo Padilla. (Id.)

10. The passenger, plaintiff Christy Padilla, identified herself as Christy L. Settles, of Springfield, Missouri.*fn4 (Id.)

11. Christy Padilla identified herself as the owner of the car and provided Trooper Miller with evidence of ownership. (Id.)

12. Christy and Fayne Padilla's two minor children, Elijah DeAngelo Padilla and Elisa Lee Padilla, were also passengers in the car. (Id.)

13. Trooper Miller advised Fayne Padilla of the reasons for the traffic stop and returned to the patrol car to write a warning for the violations and conduct a radio check of the license for the driver of the car. (Id.; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Miller's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Plf's Stmt of Facts), Dkt. Entry 39, at 2); Tr. at 171.)

14. While writing the warning, Miller ran a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) check on Fayne Padilla. (Plf's Stmt of Facts at 2; Tr. at 171.)

15. Miller's NCIC check registered a hit, showing that Fayne DeAngelo Padilla, who was born November 5, 1970 and was identifiable by a scar on his chest, had been arrested for theft charges in Springfield, Missouri, including charges for the possession, manufacture and sale of illegal weapons. (Tr. at 171-72.) The NCIC check also indicated that Padilla had used as an alias the name of Paul Christopher Brown and a birth date of March 5, 1970. Under this alias, Padilla had been arrested for grand theft auto and possession, manufacture and sale of dangerous weapons. (Tr. at 172.)

16. Miller did not obtain any information that Padilla or someone matching his description was wanted in another jurisdiction or was a fugitive from justice. (Tr. at 172.)

17. After obtaining this information, Miller re-approached the car and asked Padilla to exit the car and Padilla complied. (D's Stmt of Facts at 2.) Padilla was instructed to move to the back of his vehicle, which was located in front of Miller's police car. (Tr. at 29, 173.) 18. Trooper Miller requested that Fayne Padilla lift his shirt in order to see if he could locate a scar on Padilla's chest. Miller did not tell Padilla why he wanted to examine Padilla's chest. (Tr. at 173.)

19. Miller could not find the scar and told Fayne Padilla to return to the car. (D's Stmnt. of Facts at 2.)

20. After making another radio inquiry, Miller once again approached the Padilla car from the driver's side and asked Padilla to step from the car and lift his shirt, explaining that he was looking for a scar so as to positively identify Padilla. Padilla complied. (Id.; Tr. at 174.) This occurred again between the state police cruiser and the Padilla vehicle (Id.)

21. Miller went back to the state police car and proceeded to write Padilla a traffic warning. (Tr. at 175.)

C. The Detention of the Plaintiffs

22. Before Miller finished writing the warning, two other State Police Troopers, Powell and Semler, arrived in separate cars and parked behind Miller's car. Powell arrived before Semler. Semler arrived at approximately 3:00 p.m., about 30 minutes after ...


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