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Ruiz v. Lebanon County

May 4, 2007

SAMUEL RUIZ AND CARMEN LYDIA FRET APONTE, PLAINTIFFS
v.
LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo

MEMORANDUM

This lawsuit arises from a case of mistaken arrest. On October 28, 2002, police officers arrived at 63 North 12th Street, Lebanon City, Pennsylvania and arrested Plaintiff Samuel J. Ruiz. They carried a warrant for the arrest of "Samuel Ruiz," alleged to be residing at 197 Lebanon Village, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The Samuel Ruiz arrested on October 28, 2002, was not the same Samuel Ruiz who the police actually sought. Plaintiff Samuel Ruiz now sues for the mistaken arrest and, with his wife Plaintiff Carmen Lydia Fret Aponte,*fn1 for the subsequent search of their home and the search of Plaintiff Fret's person.

Defendants,*fn2 Detective Martin Barrett and Detective Todd Breiner of the Lebanon County Police Department, swore affidavits of probable cause and criminal complaints that led to the arrest warrant for Samuel Ruiz of 197 Lebanon Village. They request summary judgment on all claims against them, asserting that there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding their involvement with the claims by Plaintiff Fret and that they are protected from suit by the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant their motion for summary judgment on claims by Plaintiff Fret and deny their motion for summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity.

I. Background

A. Facts

The following facts are undisputed, except where noted. At issue in this matter are three purchases of illegal drugs and the three corresponding affidavits of probable cause sworn by Defendants Barrett and Breiner. The affidavits led to the issuance of the arrest warrant executed upon Plaintiff Ruiz.

1. The Drug Buys

On June 12, 2002, Defendant Barrett conducted surveillance of a controlled purchase of illegal drugs. (Doc. 69-1 at 5; Doc. 65 ¶ 6.) Confidential police informant No. 19-2001 purchased the drugs from a dealer known to the informant as "Peto." (Doc. 69-1 at 5; Doc. 69-2 ¶ 4; Breiner Dep. 39:23-25, Nov. 29, 2006.) Defendant Barrett observed the transaction as he drove past the participants. (Barrett Dep. 9:18-21, Nov. 29, 2006.) He saw the seller from the back and the side, but never saw his face. (Id. 9:18-23; Doc. 69-2 ¶ 12.) From what he could see, Defendant Barrett observed that the seller was an Hispanic male with short, dark hair and a thin build, standing about 5'7" to 5'9" tall. (Barrett Dep. 14:10-15; Doc. 69-2 ¶ 11.)

On June 18, 2002, and July 10, 2002, Defendant Breiner conducted surveillance of controlled purchases of illegal drugs by informant No. 19-2001 and No. 15-2001, respectively, from Peto.*fn3 (Doc. 65 ¶ 8; Doc. 69-2 ¶ 4.) Defendant Breiner never actually saw Peto, but one or both of the informants described him as being a thin Hispanic male with dark hair, standing about 5'6" to 5'8" tall. (Breiner Dep. 16:21-17:9.) The confidential informants were the only people to have seen the face of the drug dealer. No member of the investigating police force saw it. (Doc. 69-2 ¶ 15.)

2. The Investigation

After the drug buys, Defendant Breiner conducted further investigation into Peto's identity and location. (Barrett Dep. 16:3-17:1.) He researched the vehicle used in one of the buys and the person who was operating it. (Breiner Dep. 11:23-12:13.) His sources included Lebanon Village administration information, driving records, and police records. (Id.) He learned, through Lebanon Village, that Peto was a nickname for a Samuel Ruiz,*fn4 residing at 197 Lebanon Village, Lebanon, Pennsylvania.*fn5 (Breiner Aff.*fn6 ¶¶ 4-6; Barrett Dep. 19:20-23.)

3. The Affidavits of Probable Cause

Based on information from the confidential informant and his own research, Defendant Breiner swore two criminal complaints and probable cause affidavits against Samuel Ruiz. (Defs.' Supp. Ex. F; Breiner Aff. ¶ 11; Breiner Dep. 10:25-12:12.) One, sworn on October 11, 2002, was for the drug buy that occurred on July 10, 2002. (Defs.' Supp. Ex. F.) The other, dated October 18, 2002, was for the drug buy that occurred on June 18, 2002. (Id.) Defendant Barrett relied on his observation of the seller in the first purchase and the information gathered by Defendant Breiner to swear a third criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause on October 11, 2002, for the drug buy that took place on June 12, 2002. (Id.)

a. Detective Breiner's Affidavits

The affidavit for the drug buy on July 10, 2002, is addressed to a Samuel Ruiz residing at 197 Lebanon Village, Lebanon Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Supp. Ex. F.) Count one accuses him of knowingly delivering cocaine, or acting as an accomplice in the delivery, to Confidential Informant #15-2001 in exchange for $20. (Id.) Count two alleges criminal use of a communication facility in connection with the purported sale of drugs. Count three alleges that Samuel Ruiz knowingly delivered heroin, or acted as an accomplice in the delivery, to Confidential Informant #15-2001 in exchange for $20. (Id.) The affidavit provides the criminal statutes violated by the alleged acts. (Id.) It goes on to state the following:

Your affiants are Sergeant Brett Hopkins, Detective Todd Breiner, and Detective Sergeant Richard A. Radwanski, all members of the Lebanon County Detective Bureau/Lebanon County Drug Task Force, Lebanon County, Pa. That your affiants have extensive training and experience in the investigation of drug law violations and have been trained in the administration of drug field testing.

On 10 Jul 02, at about 2044hrs, while in the 800 block of E. Crowell Street, Lebanon City, Lebanon County, Pa, the defendant, Samuel Ruiz, sold/delivered Cocaine, a schedule II controlled substance, and Heroin, a schedule I controlled substance, to Lebanon County Drug Task Force/Drug Enforcement Administration confidential informant #15-2001, in exchange for the sum of $40.00.

Your affiants conducted chemical field tests on the suspected Cocaine and Heroin. These tests were positive, respectively, for Cocaine, a schedule II controlled substance, ...


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