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Crawford v. Miller

January 4, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 33.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.


Plaintiffs collectively initiated this civil action by a complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 1, 2005, claiming that employees of the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") violated their civil rights. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 12, 2005. (Doc. No. 31.) Although the facts specific to each Plaintiff's claim vary, the lawsuit arises, in large part, out of an investigation by the PSP into the unauthorized sale of PSP property on eBay and the actions PSP officers took with respect to Plaintiffs during and after the investigation.

While the Court will discuss the facts underlying each Plaintiff's claim in more detail below, a brief overview of the claims being asserted is appropriate at this time. In the first count of the amended complaint, Plaintiff Margaret Crawford claims that Defendants Croft and Staskiewicz violated her right to be free from malicious prosecution. She alleges that these two PSP officers unlawfully arrested her during their criminal investigation and then brought baseless and false criminal charges against her. (Doc. No. 31, ¶¶ 11-12.) In the second count, Plaintiff William Crawford brings a claim against PSP officer Erdley*fn1 on the grounds that he unlawfully damaged and retained possession of William Crawford's personal property, his computer, "for no just or proper reason without due process of law." (Id. at 5.) In the third count, Plaintiff James Murphy alleges that Defendants Miller and Bock, also PSP officers, unlawfully took Murphy's personal property, including some items that have allegedly been used by the PSP for display in memorabilia collections.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 19-22.)

In moving for summary judgment, Defendants argue that Margaret Crawford's claim is time-barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations and that, even if it were timely, Officers Croft and Staskiewicz had probable cause to bring the charges. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs William Crawford and James Murphy have failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish the necessary elements of their claims, such that there is no genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment is appropriate. Defendant Miller asserts that he had no personal involvement with the handling of Murphy's property, making § 1983 liability unavailable. Finally, "if the preceding arguments are rejected by the Court," all Defendants argue that they have qualified immunity from Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. No. 34, at 15.)


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is proper when "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-51 (1986). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, who is "entitled to every reasonable inference that can be drawn from the record." Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000). However, the nonmoving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in his complaint; instead, he must "go beyond the pleadings and by [her] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Id. at 322.

With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the nonmoving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one sided that one party must, as a matter of law, prevail over the other." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.


A. Margaret Crawford's Malicious Prosecution Claim

1. Background

As a result of the criminal investigation into the sale of PSP property, Margaret Crawford was charged with receiving stolen property and criminal conspiracy on February 11, 2002. The affidavit of probable cause for Margaret's arrest was signed by Defendants Croft and Staskiewicz and was based, in part, on the following facts:

1. A straight jacket was discovered missing from the PSP, Troop J, Lancaster facility;

2. On or about December 5, 2001, a straight jacket bearing the writing "Lancaster

Troop J" was being offered on eBay;

3. The eBay user identifier was that of William Crawford;

4. A search of the home owned by William and Margaret Crawford turned up a variety of items of PSP property, including the straight jacket;

5. The e-mail address for the computer which was used for eBay transactions was under the ...

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