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Mayo v. City of York

January 9, 2007

SHANNON MAYO, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE CITY OF YORK, PA; JOHN VEATER; CLAY STEVENS; NICK HANSEL; BART SEELIG; AND SHAWN ROSIER, DEFENDANTS



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

(Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

In this civil action, Plaintiff has brought suit against the City of York, Pennsylvania, and five of the city's police officers, alleging that Defendants violated his civil rights when they took him into custody pursuant to Section 7312 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Act and, in connection therewith, conducted a warrantless search of Plaintiff's home, seizing and retaining firearms and ammunition in the process. Now pending before the Court for disposition are cross-motions for summary judgment and a motion to strike filed by Plaintiff. (Doc. Nos. 46, 56, 74.) Magistrate Judge Smyser has issued a report and recommendation to which Plaintiff and Defendants have filed timely objections. (Doc. Nos. 78, 87, 91.) For the reasons that follow, Magistrate Judge Smyser's Report and Recommendation will be adopted in part, Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Strike will be granted, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background*fn1

In the early morning hours of October 18, 2004, Plaintiff, a resident of the City of York, had been drinking and got into an argument with his underage son at Plaintiff's home. After Plaintiff's son left the home, Plaintiff attempted to seek counseling at the York Hospital Crisis Intervention Unit. However, Plaintiff reconsidered and returned home without speaking to a counselor. Upon his return, Plaintiff discovered that, in his absence, his son had broken various items in Plaintiff's kitchen. Thereafter, Plaintiff called 911 and asked to be put through to the York Hospital Crisis Intervention Unit. The 911 operator asked whether Plaintiff needed police or medical response, and Plaintiff responded that he did not want either. The 911 operator told Plaintiff to hold while his call was routed to the intervention unit.

While Plaintiff remained on hold with the 911 operator, Defendant York City Police Officers Veater and Hansel arrived at Plaintiff's house. Defendant Officers Stevens, Seelig, and Rosier also arrived and took positions near Plaintiff's home. Through their previous interactions with Plaintiff, Defendants were aware that Plaintiff owned firearms. Defendants decided that Defendant Veater should make contact with Plaintiff, Defendant Stevens would wait in a nearby alley, and Defendant Hansel would take a position on the sidewalk to the left of Plaintiff's front stoop. After the officers took their positions, Defendant Veater knocked on Plaintiff's front door.

Though Plaintiff refused Defendant Veater's requests for entry, the two spoke through Plaintiff's closed storm door, and Plaintiff advised Officer Veater that his son was no longer in the house. During the course of the conversation, Defendant Veater pulled on the handle of the storm door several times. Plaintiff was upset and at one point struck the storm door window with his hand. At some point during the conversation, an ambulance arrived at the home but it ultimately left the scene, as Plaintiff was unwilling to go to the hospital.

Eventually, Plaintiff made a final comment to Defendant Veater and closed his front door.*fn2 Defendant Veater attempted to kick open Plaintiff's door, and Plaintiff subsequently came out of the house. Officers patted him down and discovered that he was carrying live .410 caliber shotgun shells. Plaintiff was handcuffed and transported by Defendant Hansel to the York Hospital for the purpose of having him evaluated for an involuntary civil commitment pursuant to § 7302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 7101 et seq. Defendants Seelig and Rosier also traveled to York Hospital to assist Defendant Hansel. Plaintiff was released from the hospital later that morning.

After Plaintiff had been taken to the hospital, Defendants Veater and Stevens conducted a warrantless search of Plaintiff's home. During the search, the officers discovered firearms and ammunition on the second floor of Plaintiff's residence in an alcove or closet near his bedroom. Defendants Veater and Stevens seized the firearms and ammunition without a warrant. Plaintiff's firearms were not returned until November 3, 2003.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a complaint on October 18, 2004, (Doc. No. 1), which he subsequently amended on November 26, 2004. (Doc. No. 10.) Plaintiff brings a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff has named as Defendants the City of York, Pennsylvania ("York") and City of York Police Officers John Veater,*fn3 Clay Stevens, Nick Hansel, Bart Seelig, and Shawn Rosier.

Counts I through V of Plaintiff's amended complaint are brought against the Defendant officers in their individual capacities alleging violations of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Similarly, Counts VI and VII are against Defendant York for violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights and Count VIII is brought against Defendant York for violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights.

On July 26, 2005, Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. No. 46.) On August 15, 2005, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 57.) Subsequently, Plaintiff moved to strike certain exhibits that Defendants filed. (Doc. No. 74.) The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

On October 13, 2005, Magistrate Judge Smyser issued a report and recommendation on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and Plaintiff's motion to strike. (Doc. No. 78.) In his Report and Recommendation, Judge Smyser recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendants Veater, Stevens, and Hansel on the issue of whether the seizure of Plaintiff's property and retention thereof was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Sysmer also recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of all Defendants and against Plaintiff on the issue of whether the search of Plaintiff's home was a violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment. Similarly, Judge Smyser recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of all Defendants on the issue of whether the seizure of Plaintiff's person was conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Smyser further recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of Defendants Seelig and Rosier on all issues but denied with respect to Defendant York on the issue of whether the seizure and retention of Plaintiff's property violated the Fourth Amendment. Finally, Judge Smyser recommends that the Court grant Plaintiff's Motion to Strike exhibits 9 and 10 filed in support of their motion for summary judgment.

On November 4, 2004, Defendants filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. No. 87.) Defendants contend that Judge Smyser erred by failing to grant summary judgment in favor of Defendant Hansel on the issue of whether the seizure of Plaintiff's property violated the Fourth Amendment. Defendants also object to Judge Smyser's determination that Defendants Veater and Stevens violated the Fourth Amendment when they seized and retained Plaintiff's property. Defendants further contend that Judge Smyser erred when he recommended that summary judgment be denied against Defendant York on the issue of whether the seizure and retention of Plaintiff's property was in violation of his rights.

On November 11, 2005, Plaintiff filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. No. 91.) Plaintiff contends that Judge Smyser erred in recommending that the Court grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff on the issues of seizure of Plaintiff's person and search of Plaintiff's residence. Although Judge Smyser recommended that the Court decline to grant summary judgment to Defendant York on the issue of seizure and retention of Plaintiff's property, Plaintiff asserts that Judge Smyser failed to address the question of whether the search of Plaintiff's home occurred as a result of a policy, practice, custom or procedure of Defendant York.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When objections to a report and recommendation have been filed, the Court must make a de novo consideration of those portions of the report to which objections relate. Carter v. Apfel, 220 F. Supp. 2d 393, 395 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (citing Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989)). In so doing, the Court may accept, reject, or modify the findings and recommendations contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.1. Further, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, the Court may rely on the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984) ("[T]he Supreme Court has recognized the discretion afforded federal district courts in their use of magistrate's reports").

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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(c). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Factual disputes are genuine only if there is sufficient evidentiary basis which would allow a reasonable fact-finer to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 249. 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).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in his complaint; instead, he must "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] 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 of proof at trial." Id. at 322.

III. DISCUSSION

To prevail in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, committed by a person acting under color of state law. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). Plaintiff has alleged that Defendants acted under color of law to violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his home and seizure of his person and property. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights through the seizure and retention of Plaintiff's person and property and the search of his home without legal justification or due process of law.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims, arguing that:

(a) Defendants Seelig and Rosier are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims because they were not personally involved in the search of Plaintiff's home or seizure of his person or property; (b) individual Defendants had probable cause to seize Plaintiff's person pursuant to § 7302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act ("MHPA") because Plaintiff presented an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others; (c) individual Defendants had probable cause to search Plaintiff's home; (d) individual Defendants had probable cause to seize Plaintiff's firearms because Plaintiff no longer could legally possess the weapons pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105, and because exigent circumstances existed to justify the seizure; (e) the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (f) Plaintiff has failed to show municipal liability by establishing that Defendant York maintained a policy, practice, or custom that violated Plaintiff's rights. (Doc. No. 56.)

Plaintiff has cross-moved for partial summary judgment on the issues of whether Defendants Veater and Stevens violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search of his home and unreasonable seizure of his property. (Doc. No. 46.) Plaintiff argues that exigent circumstances were not present and the search did not constitute a valid sweep because Plaintiff was seized outside his home and no one else was at the residence. In addition, Plaintiff has filed a motion to strike two of Defendants' exhibits from the record.

A. Personal Involvement

It is a fundamental tenet of § 1983 jurisprudence that in order to be held liable, an individual defendant must have had personal involvement in the acts alleged. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Defendants argue that the complaint fails to allege personal involvement in the violations asserted on the parts of Defendants Seelig and Rosier, and therefore they should be entitled to summary judgment. Magistrate Judge ...


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