United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
October 12, 2005.
JASON OLAH, VERONICA OLAH, and JOHN OLAH, Plaintiffs,
THE BOROUGH OF BRENTWOOD, ROBERT VICKLESS, SCOTT HARDING, THE BOROUGH OF BALDWIN, TOM KEARNS, BRIAN HENDERSON, INDIVIDUALLY, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARY LANCASTER, District Judge
This is a civil rights and personal injury action. Plaintiffs,
Jason Olah, Veronica Olah and John Olah, allege that defendants,
the Boroughs of Brentwood and Baldwin, and officers Robert
Vickless, Scott Harding, Tom Kearns, and Bruce Henderson,
violated Jason's civil rights by falsely arresting (Count I) and
imprisoning (Count II) him, and subjecting him to excessive force
resulting in battery (Count V). 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action
stems from an incident on August 4, 2002, when Veronica summoned
the Brentwood police to her home to have Jason, who suffers from
severe depression, involuntarily committed pursuant to the Mental
Health Procedures Act. 50 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7301. Both Jason and
his mother, Veronica, allege intentional infliction of emotional
distress (Count IV) and Veronica contends that defendants subjected her to an assault during the same incident
(Count V). John, Jason's father, has alleged a claim for loss of
consortium (Count VI). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive
Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Specifically, defendants Borough of Baldwin and
officers Kearns and Henderson argue that Jason's section 1983
claims against the officers must fail because the officers are
entitled to qualified immunity; that Jason has failed to
establish that the Borough of Baldwin had any custom or policy
that caused a constitutional deprivation; and that plaintiffs
have failed to establish that defendants' conduct was extreme,
outrageous, or reckless so as to cause intentional infliction of
emotional distress. Further, defendants argue that neither Jason
nor his mother can prove that they were put in reasonable and
immediate fear by the officers so as to constitute an assault.
Likewise, defendants Borough of Brentwood and officers Vickless
and Harding argue that Jason cannot sustain his claims for false
arrest and false imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he
cannot demonstrate that the arrest was initiated without probable
cause, and that even if defendants' conduct resulted in
unconstitutional violations, they are entitled to qualified
immunity. Defendants further argue that plaintiffs' claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and
assault must fail because plaintiffs have not set forth
sufficient medical testimony documenting physical manifestations
of harm, and because the Brentwood officer who responded to the
Olah residence does not carry pepper spray, and thus, could not
have assaulted plaintiffs as claimed.
In further support of their motions for summary judgment,
defendants argue that Jason has failed to establish that the
officers acted without probable cause when placing him into
custody, and thus, he cannot support a cause of action for false
For the reasons that follow, the motions will be DENIED as to
Counts I, II, III and V. Defendants' motions for summary judgment
as to Count IV, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and
Count VI, loss of consortium, are GRANTED.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be
granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving
party, "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 a judgment as a matter of
law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
The mere existence of some factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion
for summary judgment. Id. at 247-48. A dispute over those facts
that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
substantive law, i.e., the material facts, however, will preclude
the entry of summary judgment. Id. at 248. Similarly, summary
judgment is improper so long as the dispute over the material
facts is genuine. In determining whether the dispute is genuine,
the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine
the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the
evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.
It is on this standard that the court has reviewed defendants'
motions and plaintiffs' response thereto. Based on the pleadings
and evidence of record, and the briefs filed in support and
opposition thereto, the court concludes, as a matter of law, that
there remains a genuine dispute over material facts which
precludes the entry of summary judgment in this matter.
There are numerous genuine issues of material fact in this
case, including, whether Jason's arrest and/or physical restraint
with the use of pepper spray, was initiated without probable
cause to believe he committed a crime. A genuine issue of
material fact also exists as to whether Jason was properly
detained while awaiting involuntary commitment and whether the
officers physically abused him during that time period. It is also disputed whether Jason was assaulted by one or more of the
defendants during transport, including whether he was
intentionally thrown around in the backseat of the police car due
to abrupt braking by the officer operating the vehicle.
There are also material facts in dispute to preclude summary
judgement on Jason's section 1983 claims based on qualified
immunity. It is well-settled that the relevant, fact-specific
question in qualified immunity cases is whether any police
officer could have, in light of the preexisting law, reasonably
believed that his action was unlawful. Anderson v. Creighton,
483 U.S. 635, 639-41 (1987). Here, plaintiffs have placed on the
record evidence, which if believed, would establish that Jason
was arrested without probable cause and subjected to excessive
force. A reasonable police officer in the same situation would
have known that such conduct was unlawful.
Plaintiffs do not oppose defendants' motions for summary
judgment as to Count IV (intentional infliction of emotional
distress) or Count VI (loss of consortium). As such, no genuine
issues of material fact exist as to those claims, and we will
enter summary judgment as to those two counts.
Accordingly, this 12th day of October, 2005, upon
consideration of defendants' motions for summary judgment
[document nos. 26 & 28], IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants'
motions are DENIED as to Counts I, II, III and V. Summary judgment in favor of defendants is GRANTED on Counts IV and VI.
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