The opinion of the court was delivered by: BERLE M. SCHILLER, District Judge
Pro se Plaintiff Gene Benckini commenced this civil rights
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Coopersburg Borough,
Coopersburg Police Department ("CPD"), Police Chief Daniel
Trexler, and Coopersburg Mayor Jonathan J. Mack, Jr. Presently
before the Court are Plaintiff and Defendants' cross-motions for
summaryjudgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56(c). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is
denied and Defendants' motion is granted.
The following undisputed facts chronicle the ongoing drama
between Plaintiff Gene Benckini and Defendants, which began on
October 20, 1999 and has culminated in the instant action. On
that date, then-Patrolman Trexler of the CPD was dispatched by
the Lehigh County 911 center to speak with Heather
Lloyd.*fn1 Lloyd informed Trexler that a vehicle had been
following her in a harassing manner and provided a written
statement of the incident. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. E
(Voluntary Statement).) On the basis of Lloyd's description of
the driver and the vehicle, which included a business logo on the door, Trexler believed the
perpetrator to be Plaintiff. (Id. (Police Supplemental Rep.
Oct. 22, 1999).) Trexler took Lloyd to Plaintiff's residence,
where she positively identified the vehicle parked in the
driveway as the vehicle that had been following her. (Id.)
Lloyd also positively identified a picture of Plaintiff as the
driver. (Id.) Based on the information provided by Lloyd,
Trexler filed a non-traffic summary citation against Plaintiff
for harassment. (Id. (Non-Traffic Citation).) On January 5,
2000, following a summary trial, Plaintiff was found guilty of
this charge. (Trexler Dep. at 20-21; Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex.
E (Supplemental Police Rep. Jan. 5, 2000, Aff. of Probable
Cause).) According to the supplemental police report filed on the
same day, Plaintiff indicated his intent to appeal this
conviction, but the Court is not aware of the status of the
appeal or whether it in fact was filed. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.
Ex. E (Supplemental Police Rep. Jan. 5, 2000).)
On March 9, 2000, Lloyd again contacted CPD and reported that,
on several occasions, Plaintiff had driven by her business, the
Critter Corral Pet Shop, and watched her while parked in a nearby
lot. (Id. (Supplemental Police Rep. Mar. 10, 2000).) The police
report also indicates that two witnesses corroborated Lloyd's
complaints. (Id.) While no additional criminal charges were
filed against Plaintiff at this time, Lloyd was instructed to
contact the police if there were any further incidents. (Id.
(Supplemental Police Rep. Apr. 22, 2000).) On June 15, 2001,
Lloyd contacted CPD because she had received a harassing phone
call from a man whose voice she believed to be Plaintiff's.
(Id. (Incident Investigation Rep. M2862).) Trexler documented
the incident. (Id.) On September 27, 2001, Lloyd called CPD and
reported that Plaintiff had again been contacting the store, this
time seeking information regarding the store's relocation. (Id.
(Incident Investigation Rep. M3914).) Lloyd also informed CPD
that Plaintiff threatened her in the parking lot by driving very close to her. (Id.)
On October 12, 2001, Lloyd called CPD and advised Trexler that
she was currently being followed by Plaintiff. (Id. (Lloyd
Voluntary Statement Oct. 12, 2001, Investigation Rep. M4087).)
Trexler proceeded to her location and spoke with Lloyd, who
explained that Plaintiff had been following her, at points
running her off of the road and onto the curb. (Id.) Following
his investigation, Trexler, with the authorization of the Lehigh
County District Attorney's Office, filed a Criminal Complaint and
Affidavit of Probable Cause detailing the aforementioned
incidents and charging Plaintiff with aggravated assault,
recklessly endangering another person, and stalking. (Id.
(Criminal Complaint), (Aff. of Probable Cause).) After the
criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause were approved
by District Justice David B. Harding, an arrest warrant was
issued and Plaintiff was arrested. (Id. (Incident Investigation
Following a preliminary hearing, Plaintiff was held over for
trial on all charges to the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.
(Id. (Incident Investigation Rep. M4087).) After a jury trial,
Plaintiff was convicted of stalking and recklessly endangering
another person and acquitted on the charges of aggravated assault
and simple assault. (Id. (Weintraub Aff. ¶ 7, Incident
Investigation Rep. M4087).) Plaintiff was sentenced to 11½ to 23
months in prison. (Id. Ex. H (Sentence Sheet).) There is no
evidence that Plaintiff's conviction has been overturned on
appeal. (Id. (Weintraub Aff. ¶ 8).)
Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence
fails to demonstrate a dispute of material fact and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56 (c) (1994); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-48 (1986). When the moving party does not bear the burden of
persuasion at trial, that party may meet its burden on summary
judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is
insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion at trial. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thereafter, the
nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if
sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable jury to
find for him at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In order to
meet this burden, the opposing party must point to specific,
affirmative evidence in the record and not simply rely on mere
allegations, conclusory or vague statements, or general denials
in the pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Ridgewood Bd. of
Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999)
(noting that bare assertions or suspicions will not withstand
motion for summary judgment). In reviewing the record, "a court
must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Armbruster
v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, a
court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the
evidence in making its determination. See Reeves v. Sanderson
Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v.
Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff brings his claims for constitutional violations
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which requires him to demonstrate
that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a
federal right. Gorman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628,
633 (3d Cir. 1995). Defendants do not dispute that they are state
actors for purposes of § 1983. The issue, therefore, is whether
Defendants' conduct violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.*fn2
A. Claims Against Police Chief Trexler
Plaintiff alleges that Chief Trexler violated his
constitutional rights by: (1) arresting and initiating criminal
proceedings against him without probable cause; (2) subjecting
him to malicious prosecution; and (3) conspiring to obstruct
justice. Trexler has moved for summary judgment and asserted the
defense of qualified immunity. As a government official engaged
in discretionary functions, Trexler is immune from suits brought
against him for damages under § 1983 if his "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 (1982). When the defense of
qualified immunity is asserted in a motion for summary judgment,
"the plaintiff bears the initial burden of showing that the
defendant's conduct violated some clearly established statutory
or constitutional right." Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396,
399 (3d Cir. 1997). "Only if the plaintiff carries this initial
burden must the defendant then demonstrate that no genuine issue
of material fact remains as to the `objective reasonableness' of
the defendant's belief in the lawfulness of his actions." Id.
Thus, the Court's first inquiry is whether Plaintiff has
demonstrated a violation of a clearly established constitutional
right. 1. Arrest Without Probable Cause
Plaintiff claims that Trexler violated his constitutional
rights by filing charges and arresting him on the basis of
Lloyd's statements without getting his "side of the story."
(Benckini Dep. at 7.) The Fourth Amendment prohibits a police
officer from arresting a citizen except upon probable cause,
which has been defined as "facts and circumstances within the
arresting officer's knowledge [that] are sufficient in themselves
to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has
been or is being committed by the person to be arrested."
Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir.
1995) (quoting United States v. Cruz, 910 F.2d 1072, 1076 (3d
Cir. 1990)). In determining whether probable cause exists, police
officers are permitted to rely upon the statements of
eyewitnesses or victims if they reasonably believe the statements
are credible. Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 790 (3d Cir. 2000)
(noting that positive identification by victim would usually be
sufficient to establish probable cause in absence of exculpatory
evidence or evidence of witness's unreliability); Lynch v.
Hunter, Civ. A. No. 00-1331, 2000 WL 1286396, at *3 (E.D.
Pa. Sept. 1, 2000) ("But when an officer has received his information
from some person normally the putative victim or an eyewitness
who it seems reasonable to believe is telling the truth, he has
probable cause to arrest the accused perpetrator." (internal
quotations and citations omitted).) Although the question of
probable cause in a ...