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Shingara v. Miller

February 15, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


This is a § 1983 action filed by John T. Shingara ("Shingara"), an employee of the Pennsylvania State Police ("State Police") who has an expertise in radar equipment. (Doc. 17 ¶ 1; Doc. 21 ¶ 1.) The defendants are State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller ("Miller") and Chief Public Relations Official Jack J. Lewis ("Lewis"). Shingara alleges that defendants violated his First, Seventh, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they spoke publicly about alleged radar equipment malfunctions. Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

In September 2003, Shingara testified in a state court proceeding regarding an alleged malfunction affecting certain State Police radar detectors. On March 23, 2004, Shingara filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1893 (hereinafter "Shingara I"), alleging that three state police employees retaliated against him because he chose to exercise his First Amendment right to testify in the state court proceeding.*fn2 (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 2-4; Doc. 21 ¶¶ 2-4.)

On December 8, 2004, while Shingara I was pending, an article concerning State Police radar detectors was posted on the website (Doc. 17 ¶ 5; Doc. 21 ¶ 5.) The article described the radar detectors as "error prone" and used phrases such as "radar scandal," "top brass . . . decided to keep the problem secret," and "phantom speed readings." (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 5-6; Doc. 21 ¶¶ 5-6.) The article quoted Shingara's attorney, Don Bailey, as saying:

[The State Police] know they could be subjected to thousands of lawsuits and they deserve to be, because thousands of Pennsylvanians undoubtedly have been unjustly convicted based on this faulty equipment they knew about. This is criminal.

There needs to be a federal grand jury investigation of what they did because they are intentionally letting people be convicted that didn't break the law. And they are letting troopers innocently testify to judges that this equipment works properly. (Doc. 17 ¶ 7; Doc. 21 ¶ 7.) Additional articles addressing the radar issue were published in several newspapers around the state at approximately the same time. (Doc. 17 ¶ 12; Doc. 21 ¶ 12.)

On December 14, 2004, the defendants in Shingara I moved for a protective order, arguing that the information that attorney Bailey had provided to the media should not have been disclosed because it had been obtained through the discovery process. Judge Rambo granted the defendants' motion for a protective order.*fn3

(No. 1:04-CV-0621, Doc. 42.) Judge Rambo's decision was based, in large part, upon her interpretation of Local Rule 83.2.7 and Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6.*fn4 (Id.)

The day after the protective order was issued, Miller responded to a newspaper article addressing the radar issue. (Doc. 17 ¶ 13; Doc. 21 ¶ 13.) On December 17, 2004, Lewis responded to a similar article.*fn5 (Doc. 17 ¶ 16; Doc. 21 ¶ 16.) Defendants assert that the purpose of these communications was to "correct erroneous conclusions presented to the public by the press about the radar sets." (Doc. 17 ¶ 17.) Shingara counters that the communications "were intended as propaganda to conceal and mislead the public concerning the issues." (Doc. 21 ¶ 17.)

On September 6, 2005, Shingara filed the instant action ("Shingara II") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Doc. 1.) Specifically, Shingara contends that defendants: (1) retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights to testify and to file a federal complaint, (2) violated his Seventh Amendment right to a fair trial, and (3) violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.*fn6

(Doc. 1.) Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15), alleging that defendants' actions had not violated any of Shingara's constitutional rights. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. ...

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