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SNELL v. DUFFY

January 6, 2004.

MICHAEL SNELL, ET AL., Plaintiffs, v., ROBERT DUFFY, ET AL., Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDUARDO ROBRENO, District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Michael C. Snell ("plaintiff")*fn1 filed a complaint in this case against Pennsylvania State Troopers Robert J. Duffy and Jeffrey Wlock, and the Pennsylvania State Police, alleging several causes of action arising from plaintiff's prosecution on simple assault charges stemming from an incident which occurred November 13, 1999. Plaintiff's complaint is essentially based on his allegations that Troopers Duffy and Wlock did not have probable cause to request the issuance of a citation (which led to the plaintiff's prosecution) and that the affidavit of probable cause that defendants filed to obtain the citation from the District Justice contained false statements and omitted relevant information. Page 2

Under the undisputed facts of this case, the court finds that (1) plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence establishing malice, a required element of a malicious prosecution claim; and that (2) no reasonable jury could find that plaintiff lacked probable cause to request a citation against Michael Snell. Furthermore, plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence that Trooper Duffy made false statements of material fact in the affidavit of probable cause or that, with reckless disregard for the truth, he omitted any material facts therein.

  Because the court finds that plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence with which a reasonable jury could find that his constitutional rights have been violated, summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to Counts I and IV of plaintiff's complaint is appropriate.

 I. BACKGROUND

  A. The Underlying Incident*fn2

  The underlying criminal prosecution of plaintiff Michael Snell arose from an incident that allegedly occurred on Page 3 November 13, 1999. On that day, Michael Snell and his son, Woodrow, went hunting with a. 22 caliber rifle (a ".22") and a scope in a field behind their house in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. As they were walking by their neighbors' backyard, they saw their neighbors' three young boys who were throwing rocks and cursing at them. According to plaintiff, he and his son continued walking and went hunting for about an hour.

  Later, Pennsylvania State Trooper Duffy received a call on his police radio regarding a report that an individual had pointed a gun at three children. Both Troopers Duffy and Wlock responded to the call, which came from the home of the Snells' neighbors. At the scene, Trooper Duffy interviewed the alleged victims, Tyler and Brian Brady and Zachary Buck, in the presence of their parents, Mrs. Brady and Mrs. Buck. The children alleged that Michael Snell had pointed a gun at them on three separate occasions and screamed at them.*fn3 Duffy inspected the area where the alleged incident took place, but found no physical evidence to support the boys' claim.

  Duffy then interviewed Michael Snell. During the interview, Snell confirmed that he owned a ".22" and that earlier that afternoon he and his son had gone hunting in a field behind the Bradys' home, taking with them that particular gun. Snell Page 4 also confirmed that he had seen the Brady and Buck children in the backyard as he and his son walked by. Although Duffy did not reveal the nature of the incident he was investigating, Snell said during the interview, "Are you here because somebody pointed an unloaded and unbolted gun at these children."*fn4 (Def. Exh. 1 at 21.)

  Trooper Duffy then asked plaintiff for the gun. Snell complied by going into his shed to get the gun. Snell, however, would not allow Duffy to enter the shed without a warrant. Despite Snell's refusal to consent, Trooper Wlock entered the shed behind Snell and allegedly pushed Woodrow Snell aside to take the weapon from the plaintiff.*fn5 Wlock left the shed with the gun and turned it over to Duffy. Troopers Duffy and Wlock then left the scene with Snell's rifle.

  Based on the interview of the alleged victims and the plaintiff's voluntary statements to him, Trooper Duffy requested that the District Justice issue a citation for Michael Snell to appear in court to answer the charge that he pointed a gun at the children. Upon receiving the citation, Snell appeared for a Page 5 hearing in front of District Justice Susan Welsh in the Magisterial District Court of Delaware County on December 9, 1999.

  At the hearing Tyler Brady testified that Michael Snell pointed a gun at himself, Brian Brady and Zachary Buck. The District Justice determined that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the charges of simple assault and harassment and set bail in the amount of $5,000. Snell was also told that he was not allowed to leave the state (other than for work) without calling the Chester County Bail Office.

  Snell subsequently went to trial on the charges and a jury returned ...


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