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Warren v. Township of Derry

March 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


This is a civil rights action filed by Samuel Warren ("Samuel") and Olandis Warren ("Olandis"), against the Township of Derry and several members of its police force. Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment, filed by defendants Township of Derry ("Township"), Chief William D. Smith ("Smith"), Sergeant Patrick O'Rourke ("O'Rourke"), and Officer Kenneth M. Shank ("Shank"). (Docs. 38, 41.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

On December 29, 2002, plaintiffs, who are both African-American males, entered Fox's Food Market between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 4-5; Doc. 39 ¶ 10; Doc. 48 ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs allege that they intended to purchase various food items, as well as baby diapers, from the market. (Doc. 39 ¶ 10; Doc. 48 ¶ 10.)

Plaintiffs sensed they were being watched by the store manager, Alan Rehm ("Rehm"), so they decided to leave their groceries in the cart and exit the store without purchasing any items.*fn2 (Doc. 39 ¶¶ 11-12; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 11-12.) Plaintiffs allege that Rehm followed them into the store lobby, where Samuel offered to allow Rehm to search him for evidence of theft. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 72.) Samuel also alleges that he removed his coat and lifted his shirt to demonstrate that he was not concealing any items on his person. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 72.)

Rehm, believing a crime was in progress, directed an employee to contact the police. (Doc. 39 ¶ 15; Doc. 48 ¶ 15.) Rehm exited the store to get a description of plaintiffs' vehicle and their direction of travel. He relayed that information, along with a description of the plaintiffs, to a police dispatcher.*fn3 (Doc. 39 ¶ 16; Doc. 48 ¶ 16.) A radio transmission was sent to all on-duty Township police officers, advising them that a retail theft had occurred. (Doc. 39 ¶ 17; Doc. 48 ¶ 17.) A later radio transmission advised that "the suspects had fled from the store and were last seen driving southbound on Cherry Drive in a blue Honda-type vehicle." (Doc. 39 ¶ 18; Doc. 48 ¶ 18.)

After leaving Fox's Food Market, plaintiffs went to a nearby convenience store. (Doc. 39 ¶¶ 19-20; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 19-20.) Officer Shank observed plaintiffs' blue coupe, which matched the description of the target vehicle, parked in front of the convenience store. Shank saw a black male exit the passenger side door of the vehicle and enter the store. He then saw a second black male exit the driver's side door of the vehicle. Believing that this individual matched the description of one of the suspects in the retail theft, Shank approached the blue coupe and asked the individual for identification. (Doc. 39 ¶¶ 19-21, 23; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 19-21,23.) The individual identified himself as Samuel L. Warren. (Id.) Samuel alleges that, despite his lack of resistance, Shank and another officer pulled him out of his car and threw him to the ground. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 32, 48.) He states that one of the officers slammed a knee into his back while handcuffing him. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 32.) He alleges that he asked the purpose of the confrontation and was told to "shut the hell up and sit on the curb." (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 33.)

Officer Shank then entered the convenience store and approached the second black male, who identified himself as Olandis Warren. (Doc. 39 ¶ 24; Doc. 48 ¶ 24.) Samuel alleges that, when Olandis exited the convenience store, the officers grabbed Olandis, forced him to the police car, slammed his head against the hood, and handcuffed him. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 36-37.) Olandis alleges that he was frisked and placed in the police car, from which he observed the officers "picking [Samuel] up by his arms." (Doc. 40, Ex. B at 67-68.)

The officers also conducted a search of Samuel's car, which Samuel alleges damaged the upholstery and the seats. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 38; Doc. 40, Ex. F at 17.) Shortly thereafter, O'Rourke arrived at the convenience store with Rehm, who identified plaintiffs as the suspects. (Doc. 39 ¶ 25; Doc. 48 ¶ 25.) Police officers then learned that plaintiffs had outstanding warrants from Lancaster County.*fn4 (Doc. 40, Ex. B at 71; Doc. 40, Ex. E at 14; Doc. 40, Ex. F at 34.) At that point, plaintiffs were arrested and were transported to the police station to await their preliminary arraignment. (Doc. 39 ¶ 26; Doc. 48 ¶ 26.)

Samuel alleges that while he was detained at the police station, he requested a cup of water from O'Rourke. O'Rourke allegedly retrieved the cup of water and threw it in Samuel's face. (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 19.) Samuel also alleges that in response to his request to make a telephone call, O'Rourke said, "Your black ass will get a phone call when you get to Dauphin County Prison." (Doc. 40, Ex. A at 19.) O'Rourke denies these allegations, stating that the use of racial slurs "flies in the face of the mission statement" of the Township Police Department. (Doc. 40, Ex. E at 63.)

At their arraignment, plaintiffs pled not guilty to retail theft and criminal conspiracy. (Doc. 39 ¶ 37; Doc. 48 ¶ 37.) Samuel was released, but Olandis was incarcerated at Dauphin County Prison on his outstanding warrant.*fn5 (Doc. 39 ¶¶ 32, 37; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 32, 37.) The retail theft and criminal conspiracy charges were ultimately dismissed by District Justice Dominick A. Pelino. (Doc. 39 ¶ 38; Doc. 48 ¶ 38.)

On December 23, 2004, plaintiffs initiated the instant action against the Township and its police officers, as well as Fox's Food Market and store manager Alan Rehm.*fn6 (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs allege that defendants: (1) violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) conspired to deprive them of their civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, (3) intentionally discriminated against them on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and (4) subjected them to ethnic intimidation in contravention of 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 8309. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 64, 70, 74, 78.) Plaintiffs also aver that defendants violated several provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution and committed various torts, including false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"), and malicious prosecution. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 81-84, 86.)

Defendants now move for summary judgment on each of plaintiffs' claims. 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. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

A. Section 1983 Claims*fn7

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means of redress for violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . . Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To establish a civil rights claim, the plaintiff must show a "deprivation" of a constitutional or statutory right by a person "acting under color of state law."*fn8 Id. (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Satisfaction of these elements, however, does not guarantee recovery. Certain officials, including police officers and other state actors performing "discretionary functions," are shielded from suit if their conduct did not violate a "clearly established statutory or constitutional right[] of which a reasonable person would have known." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999); Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01 (2001). This doctrine, known as "qualified immunity," provides not only a defense to liability, but "immunity from suit." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). In Saucier, the Supreme Court explained the analytical process for determining when to apply the privilege of qualified immunity:

A court required to rule upon the qualified immunity issue must consider . . . this threshold question: Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the [defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right? This must be the initial inquiry . . . . If no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity. On the other hand, if a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established.

Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Thus, the qualified immunity analysis requires a two-step inquiry.

First, the court must determine whether the facts alleged show that the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory right. If so, the court must then determine whether the constitutional or statutory right allegedly violated by the defendant was "clearly established." If the court concludes that the defendant's conduct did violate a clearly established constitutional or statutory right, then it must deny the defendant the protection afforded by qualified immunity.

Williams v. Bitner, 455 F.3d 186, 190 (3d Cir. 2006); cf. Wright v. City of Phila., 409 F.3d 595 (3d Cir. 2005) (discussing whether the constitutional violation is a separate inquiry or part of the qualified immunity analysis); Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

When immunity is raised at the summary judgment stage, the court's analysis of the merits of the claims for purposes of summary judgment essentially merges with its analysis of the existence of a deprivation of federal rights for purposes of immunity. See Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 299-300 (3d Cir. 2000); Russoli v. Salisbury Twp., 126 F. Supp. 2d 821, 838-41 (E.D. Pa. 2000); see also Grant v. City of Pittsburgh, 98 F.3d 116, 122 (3d Cir. 1996) ("[C]rucial to the resolution of [the] assertion of qualified immunity is a careful examination of the record . . . to establish . . . a detailed factual description of the actions of each individual defendant (viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff).").

Proceeding under the above framework, the court will consider each of plaintiffs' ยง 1983 claims to determine, first, whether plaintiffs have offered prima facie evidence of their claims and, second, whether defendants enjoy qualified immunity on ...

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