The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDUARDO ROBRENO, District Judge
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.
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.
A. The Underlying Incident*fn2
The underlying criminal prosecution of plaintiff Michael Snell arose
from an incident that allegedly occurred on
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
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
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 ...