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Bill v. Sternby

November 29, 2006

WILLIAM ROBERT BILL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TROOPER VICTOR J. STERNBY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, William Robert Bill, filed the instant complaint against several defendants under, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Pennsylvania Constitution. On August 24, 2005, this Court granted a motion to dismiss several parties and claims, leaving only Bill's claim against Defendant, Trooper Victor J. Sternby, based upon the "state-created danger" doctrine. On May 4, 2006, Defendant Trooper Sternby filed a motion for summary judgment as to this claim. For the reasons which follow, this motion is granted.

The following facts are undisputed. On February 22, 2003, at approximately 6:00 A.M., Defendant, Trooper Victor J. Sternby, along with his partner, was dispatched to investigate a report of a truck parked on the side of a road in a snow bank. At approximately 6:23 A.M., the officers arrived at the scene and activated the video camera in their police cruiser.

As depicted in the video tape provided as Exhibit 3 to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the officers approached the vehicle at approximately 6:23:28 and found Plaintiff, William R. Bill, and another passenger, Mr. Joyce, asleep inside. Bill exits the vehicle and puts on his coat at approximately 6:23:40, after which Bill and Trooper Sternby spend several minutes speaking.

According to Trooper Sternby, this portion of the conversation consisted of inquiries into how Bill got there, how long he had been there, who had been driving, and a request to provide a driver's license, as well as registration and insurance cards.*fn1

The video reflects that, at approximately 6:25:48, Trooper Sternby repositioned the camera towards the road in order to capture the field sobriety tests he was about to administer. For approximately 4 minutes, the parties are outside of the view of the camera. Trooper Sternby avers that he spent that 4 minutes speaking to the passenger, Mr. Joyce, and that Bill did not leave the immediate area during that time.

At approximately 6:30:23, the parties walk into the road, reappearing on the camera. For approximately 2 minutes, Trooper Sternby is seen speaking with Bill, shining his flashlight, and demonstrating for Bill how to perform the various field sobriety tests. Bill does not attempt to perform any of the field sobriety tests.

At 6:32:36, Trooper Sternby and Bill start walking towards the front of the patrol car. They appear to be no more than 3 feet apart as they are walking, with Trooper Sternby slightly in front of Bill. Upon reaching the vehicle, Trooper Sternby points his flashlight at the spot near the front of the vehicle where he wished Bill to stand. At approximately 6:32:50, as Trooper Sternby is stepping away from the front of the vehicle, Bill suddenly falls down, striking his head on the pavement in front of the vehicle.

Throughout the encounter, up until that point, Bill had been able to walk and stand under his own power, without the help of Trooper Sternby. The video depicts Bill exiting his vehicle and putting on his coat without difficulty, and Bill, although moving slowly and with some hesitation, does not appear to sway or stumble during any of the encounters or movements depicted in the video tape prior to the fall. Trooper Sternby remained within a 3 or 4 feet radius of Bill during all times when Bill was walking or standing without a vehicle to lean upon for support.

Following Bill's fall, an ambulance was called and Bill was taken for medical treatment. A blood sample drawn from Bill at approximately 7:35 A.M. reflected a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.25.

II. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [each] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating whether the non-moving party has established each necessary element, the Court must grant all reasonable inferences from the evidence to the non-moving party. Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 410, n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citingMatsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio ...


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