The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge
Presently before the Court for disposition are two motions for
summary judgment, the first filed by Defendants Schuykill County
and Sheriff Francis McAndrew (collectively "Schuykill
Defendants"), and the second by Defendants Corporal Scott Price,
Police Communication Supervisor Elizabeth Honicker, Pennsylvania
State Trooper Christopher Bayzick, Trooper Thomas Powell, Trooper
Robert Betnar, and Trooper Wesley Levan (collectively
"Commonwealth Defendants"). Plaintiff Joan Starr ("Plaintiff") is
the mother of Raienhna Bechtel and grandmother of Jacob Bechtel,
both deceased. She seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging that the defendants violated the deceased's
constitutional rights by returning a firearm to Raienhna's
husband, Michael Harvey Bechtel, which he subsequently used to
murder Raienhna, Jacob, and two other individuals.
The parties have fully briefed and argued these matters, and
thus, they are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, we will grant summary
judgment for the defendants and dismiss this case.
The background facts leading to the deaths of Raienhna and
Jacob are tragic and largely undisputed. Raienhna and Michael had
a history of domestic violence that included incidents on
September 23, 2001, and December 25, 2001, where the Pennsylvania
State Police intervened. (Pl. Counter Statement of Facts to
Commonwealth Motion ("Pl. Ex.") Ex. A at 24-26, Tarson Dep.; Pl.
Ex. B at 23, Bayzick Dep.; Pl. Ex. C at 24, Powell Dep.). During
the second incident, Michael informed the troopers he had
firearms on his person, but they did not seize the weapons. (Pl.
Ex. B at 23-26; Ex. C at 16, 20-22).
On March 14, 2002, Troopers Wesley Levan and Robert Betnar
arrived at the Bechtel residence following a report of domestic
violence. (Pl. Ex. E at 8, Levan Dep.; Pl. Ex. F at 7-8, Betnar
Dep.). Michael informed the officers that he had two firearms on
his person. (Pl. Ex. E at 12; Pl. Ex. F at 20). Both he and
Raienhna denied that he used the weapons in the incident. (Pl.
Ex. E at 15; Pl. Ex. F at 28). Troopers Levan and Betnar asked if
they could retain the firearms, and Michael provided the guns
without complaint. (Pl. Ex. E at 21; Pl. Ex. F at 30). The
troopers personally transported Michael to his friend's residence
for the evening. (Pl. Ex. E at 20-22; Pl. Ex. F at 30). Trooper
Levan suggested that Raienhna obtain a Protection From Abuse
Order ("PFA") and explained the application process. (Pl. Ex. E
After transporting Michael to his friend's house, Troopers
Levan and Betnar brought the firearms to the Frackville
Pennsylvania State Police barracks, determined that they were registered in Michael's name with the Schuykill County Sheriff's
office, and placed them in an evidence room. (Pl. Ex. E at 23;
Pl. Ex. F at 24-25, 35). Trooper Betnar then sent an e-mail to
Corporal Scott Price relating the facts of the incident and
explaining that he had confiscated two weapons. (Pl. Ex. G at
13-14, Price Dep.).
Later that same day, March 14, 2002, Raienhna obtained a
temporary PFA. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). In the application
process, Raienhna completed a Schuykill Women in Crisis PFA
worksheet. (Commw. Def. Ex. J, PFA worksheet). The worksheet
contained a space for the applicant to describe the weapons that
were used in the incident of domestic violence, and Raienhna's
application provided no response in this space. (Commw. Def. Ex.
J). When the temporary PFA was issued, it did not refer to the
confiscated firearms or indicate that any firearm was used in the
incident. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). It did provide notice to
law enforcement agencies that "[s]ubsequent to an arrest [for a
violation of the Final PFA], the law enforcement officer shall
seize all weapons used or threatened to be used during the
violation of this Order OR during prior incidents of abuse."
On March 18, 2002, pursuant to an agreement between Michael and
Raienhna, Raienhna obtained a Final PFA. (Commw. Def. Ex. O, PFA
Hearing Transcript, Pl. Ex. K, Final PFA). The PFA stated
"Defendant shall not abuse, stalk, harass, threaten the Plaintiff
or any other protected person in any place where they might be
found." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 1). Regarding firearms, it directs,
"Defendant is prohibited from possessing, transferring or
acquiring any other firearms license or weapons for the duration
of this order. Any weapons and/or firearms license delivered to
the sheriff pursuant to this order or the Temporary Order shall
not be returned until further order of the court." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 6). It
includes the following notice to law enforcement officers:
This Order shall be enforced by the police who have
jurisdiction over the plaintiff's residence OR any
location where a violation occurs OR where the
defendant may be located. . . . An arrest for
violation of Paragraphs 1 through 6 of this order may
be without warrant, based solely on probable cause,
whether or not the violation is committed in the
presence of the police. 21 PA.C.S. § 6113.
Subsequent to an arrest, the law enforcement officer
shall seize all weapons used or threatened to be used
during the violation of this Order OR during prior
incidents of abuse. The [sic] shall maintain
possession of the weapons until further order of this
(Pl. Ex. K).
In conjunction with the Final PFA, the Schuykill County
Prothonotary issued a Pennsylvania State Police data sheet. (Pl.
Ex. L at 4-5, 25-26). The data sheet contained Michael and
Raienhna's personal information, such as birthdays, names, and
addresses, and was created by a computer program called the
Protection From Abuse Database ("PFAD") for the benefit of the
Pennsylvania State Police. (Id. at 25-27). It also contained
protection codes describing the conditions of the Final PFA.
(Id. at 27). Raienhna's final data sheet contained numerous
protection order codes, including a code of "07". (Pl. Ex. M,
Pennsylvania State Police Protection from Abuse Datasheet). This
code indicates that "the subject is prohibited from possessing
and/or purchasing a firearm or other weapon." (Pl. Ex. O,
Protection From Abuse Datasheet Code Overlay). Her datasheet also
included a box entitled "Brady Indicator," marked "No." (Pl. Ex.
On April 15, 2002, Michael Bechtel returned to the Frackville
Barracks to retrieve his guns. (Id. at 38-39). Corporal Price
believed that he had no right to withhold the guns from Michael any longer. (Pl. Ex. G at 33-34, 40). Therefore, he
returned the two firearms, a nine millimeter Beretta and a nine
millimeter Kel-tec. (Id. at 38-39, Commw Ex. F at ¶ 10, Michael
On August 15, 2002, Michael used the nine millimeter Beretta to
kill Raienhna, Jacob, and two other adults. (Commw. Ex. F at ¶
11). At the time he committed the murders he had access to
another nine millimeter handgun. (Id. at ¶ 22). Michael's
housemate kept the weapon in a holster next to his bed in his
unlocked bedroom. (Id.). Thus, Michael admits that he would
have used this weapon to kill Raienhna and Jacob had Corporal
Price not returned his Beretta. (Id. at ¶ 20-22). On January
21, 2004, he pleaded guilty to four counts of first degree murder
and numerous lesser charges, and was sentenced to four
consecutive life sentences. (Commw. Ex. F. at ¶ 12-13).
Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v.
Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R.
CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence
of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co.,
898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party
to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the
non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the
party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing
that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to
admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the
non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden,
the burden ...