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Ruiz v. Lebanon County

February 15, 2008

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

I. Background

Plaintiffs Samuel Ruiz and Carmen Lydia Fret Aponte sued numerous Defendants because of a mistaken arrest that occurred in October 2002. The Defendants that remain party to this action are Lebanon County ("County"), Lebanon City ("City"), the Lebanon County Drug Task Force ("Task Force"), the Lebanon County Prison ("Prison"),*fn1 Richard A. Radwanski, Todd Breiner, and Martin Barrett. The operative facts surrounding the arrest are set forth in the memorandum issued by this court on October 3, 2007. (Doc. 89.) The court presumes familiarity with that memorandum.

On October 3, 2007, this court denied Breiner and Barrett's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. They have appealed that order. On October 19, 2007, counsel for the parties met with the court for a pretrial conference. At the conference, it became clear that this case was prepared to move swiftly to trial. Accordingly, the court allowed counsel to brief additional matters appropriate for judgment by the court. To that end, the Municipal Defendants and Radwanski filed motions for summary judgment on November 15, 2007. (Docs. 110-114.) Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motions on November 30, 2007. (Docs. 117-18.) The issues are ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard -- Summary Judgment

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); accord Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992).

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 its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] 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." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations 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 at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "'Such affirmative evidence -- regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial -- must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

III. Discussion

The Municipal Defendants argue that summary judgment is proper because Plaintiffs have failed to show that municipal liability may properly be imposed under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).*fn2

Radwanski submits that he is entitled to qualified immunity. These arguments will be addressed in turn.

1. Municipal Defendants

All claims in this case are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides, in relevant part:

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 ...


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