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Snell v. Camacho

October 23, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John E. Jones III


Plaintiff Edward Snell filed this § 1983 action against Defendant Sergeant Roland Camacho*fn1 , as well as the City of York and York's mayor and police commissioner. Snell alleges violations of his constitutional rights of free exercise of religion, speech, and assembly as well as claims of unlawful arrest and excessive force. By an order of May 10, 2007, the Court dismissed Snell's claims against York, the mayor, the police commissioner, and Sergeant Camacho in his official capacity. (Doc. 24.) Currently before the Court is Sergeant Camacho's motion for summary judgment on Snell's claims against him in his individual capacity. (Doc. 33.) For the reasons set for below, the Court will the motion.


The following facts are derived from the complaint and the briefs, exhibits, and other evidence submitted by the parties in support of and opposition to the current motion. These facts, and any reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Snell. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

Plaintiff Edward Snell is a Christian, pro-life advocate who has traveled to the Planned Parenthood of Central Pennsylvania facility in the City of York to state his beliefs regarding abortion approximately one day a week since October 1999. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ["SUF"] ¶ 18; Pl.'s Statement in Opposition ["SIO"] ¶ 18; Snell Aff. ¶¶ 3-4.) These actions are motivated by Snell's sincerely held religious beliefs. (Snell Aff. ¶ 7.)

The Planned Parenthood facility is located on South Beaver Street in York between Hancock Street and Rose Alley. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 18, 19-20; Snell Aff. ¶ 5.) Planned Parenthood's parking lot is located across Rose Alley from the facility. (Snell Dep. at 16, Ex. 1.) Public sidewalks are located in front of the facility along Beaver Street and along the side of the facility from the parking lot to Beaver Street. (SUF, SIO ¶ 21; Snell Dep. at 16-17, Ex. 1.) Rose Alley is a narrow alleyway that is subject to two-way vehicular traffic. (SUF, SIO ¶ 20, 23; Snell Dep. at 19, 23.) In addition to vehicles accessing the Planned Parenthood parking lot, Rose Alley is also subject to traffic going to and from a printing business located further down the alley, including tractor-trailer trucks. (SUF, SIO ¶ 22.) There are no signs restricting the direction of travel, the size of vehicles using the alley, or the hours during which vehicles may use the alley. (SUF, SIO ¶ 23.)

When patrons park in the Planned Parenthood parking lot, they cross Rose Alley to enter the Planned Parenthood facility. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 5-6; Snell Dep. at 26.) Patrons are escorted from the parking lot to the main entrance of the facility by escorts who are Planned Parenthood personnel or volunteers. (Id.)

Businesses in and around the City of York contract with and pay the City to have off-duty police officers work overtime details at their facilities. (SUF, SIO ¶ 2.) Planned Parenthood has such a contract with the City. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 2-3.) Sergeant Camacho was assigned to the overtime detail at the Planned Parenthood facility on November 3, 2004. (SUF, SIO ¶ 3.) This was the second time that Sergeant Camacho had worked the overtime detail at the Planned Parenthood facility. (SUF, SIO ¶ 4.) Prior to working the November 3 detail at the Planned Parenthood facility, Sergeant Camacho consulted with an Assistant District Attorney for legal advice with respect to situations which may arise on the detail. (SUF, SIO ¶ 9.) The Assistant District Attorney advised Sergeant Camacho that he would be legally justified in making an arrest for disorderly conduct if an individual bumped, impeded, or blocked someone from crossing Rose Alley. (SUF, SIO ¶ 10.)

On November 3, 2004, Snell traveled to the Planned Parenthood facility to state his beliefs regarding abortion. (Snell Aff. ¶ 10.) When Snell arrived at the facility, Sergeant Camacho advised him and another pro-life advocate to stay out of Rose Alley.*fn2 (Snell Aff. ¶ 11; Snell Dep. at 28-29.) Sergeant Camacho did not otherwise restrict Snell or any other pro-life advocate from making comments, distributing literature or displaying signs, nor did Sergeant Camacho restrict Snell or any other pro-life advocate from engaging in any activities on any of the public sidewalks surrounding the Planned Parenthood facility. (SUF, SIO ¶ 24.) Prior to this date, Snell had been instructed by another officer that he was not allowed to stand, linger, or remain in Rose Alley. (SUF, SIO ¶ 19.) In an April 2000 criminal proceeding which arose from an incident at the Planned Parenthood facility, Snell had also been warned by a District Justice that there was to be no physical contact between pro-life advocates and Planned Parenthood patrons or personnel. (SUF, SIO ¶ 26.)

When the first Planned Parenthood patron arrived on November 3, 2004, she parked in the parking lot, was met by escorts, and together they proceeded to walk across Rose Alley toward the Planned Parenthood facility. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 5-6.) As the patron and escorts were in the middle of the alley, Snell moved into the alley and attempted to hand literature to the patron. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 7, 27.) Sergeant Camacho perceived some physical contact between Snell and the individuals attempting to cross the alley. (Id.) Sergeant Camacho advised Snell that he was not to be in the alley or impede or make physical contact with individuals attempting to cross the alley and that, if he did so, he would be arrested. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 8, 12, 30.)

Later on November 3, 2004, a second patron arrived at the Planned Parenthood facility. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 13, 31; Snell Dep. at 40-41.) Snell again moved into Rose Alley to distribute literature or say something to the patron. (Id.) Sergeant Camacho then arrested Snell. (SUF, SIO ¶¶ 14, 31.) Sergeant Camacho directed Snell to place his hands behind his back, and after Snell complied, placed handcuffs on him. (SUF, SIO ¶ 14.) Sergeant Camacho contacted another officer to come to the facility and transport Snell to the police department. (SUF, SIO ¶ 15.) When Officer Hernandez arrived, Sergeant Camacho removed his handcuffs from Snell, and Officer Hernandez placed his handcuffs on Snell "very, very tight." (SUF, SIO ¶ 33; Snell Dep. at 45.) Snell made no complaint to Sergeant Camacho that the handcuffs were on too tight or that he had sustained any injury during the arrest. (SUF, SIO ¶ 32.) At the end of his overtime detail, Sergeant Camacho went to the police station and issued Snell a summary citation for disorderly conduct and released him. (SUF, SIO ¶ 15.)

An Assistant District Attorney prosecuted the disorderly conduct charge against Snell and, at no time, indicated that the charge was inappropriate or unsupported by probable cause. (SUF, SIO ¶ 37.) At a December 13, 2004 hearing, District Justice Haskell dismissed the summary citation against Snell. (SUF, SIO ¶ 16.) District Justice Haskell indicated on the record, however, that he did not fault anything Sergeant Camacho did, that he would also have warned Snell after the first incident, and that Snell was "right at the line" of committing disorderly conduct. (SUF, SIO ¶ 17; Tr. of Proceedings of Preliminary Hearing, Dec. 13, 2004 at 55-57.)


Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary ...

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