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McGowan v. Borough of Economy

March 5, 2008

PATRICIA MCGOWAN PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF ECONOMY AND CHAD LIVELY, POLICE OFFICER, BOROUGH OF ECONOMY POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Patricia McGowan (hereinafter, "McGowan" or "Plaintiff") filed the instant civil action against Defendants the Borough of Economy (hereinafter, "Economy") and Borough of Economy Police Officer Chad Lively (hereinafter, "Officer Lively"), alleging, among other things, constitutional abuse of process and conspiracy.*fn1 Presently pending before the Court for consideration is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 39].

FACTS

By way of background, a minor traffic accident in Beaver County on the morning of June 22, 2005 acted as a catalyst that launched a series of events culminating in the filing of this lawsuit.*fn2

On the date and time aforesaid, the vehicle belonging to and being operated by McGowan and a vehicle being operated by an individual named Robert Jablonowski*fn3 collided at the intersection of Ridge Road Extension and Conway Wallrose Road in the Borough of Economy, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Economy Borough Police were dispatched to the scene, the responding officer being Defendant Officer Lively. Officer Lively briefly interviewed McGowan regarding the accident, concluding by telling her that it was a non-reportable accident and that McGowan was free to leave. Officer Lively interviewed Jablonowski during the course of which a discussion ensued that pertained to the effect the accident would have on Jablonowski's automobile insurance rates. Officer Lively responded by explaining that he could issue a citation to McGowan, thereby identifying her to be the "at-fault" driver and, presumptively, preventing or limiting any increase in Jablonowski's insurance rates. Officer Lively further advised Jablonowski that if he were to issue the citation to McGowan, Jablonowski would be required to appear and be prepared to testify at any hearings held should McGowan challenge the citation. Jablonowski indicated to Officer Lively that he would be willing to do so. Either that same day or the following day, Officer Lively issued a citation to McGowan charging her with the summary criminal offense of careless driving. As a result of receiving the citation in the mail, McGowan wrote and mailed a letter to Borough of Economy Police Chief William Harrington complaining of unfair treatment by Officer Lively.

McGowan challenged the citation and a hearing was held on July 12, 2005 before a magistrate, at which Jablonowski appeared and testified. McGowan was convicted of the summary offense of careless driving at the hearing. That same day, Chief Harrington wrote and mailed a reply letter to McGowan advising her that after an investigation of the incident which was addressed in her letter, he concluded that Officer Lively acted in an impartial manner. McGowan appealed the careless driving conviction to the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County. A hearing was held on the appeal before a Common Pleas Judge on October 5, 2005, during which, again, Jablonowski appeared and testified. A judgment of acquittal or dismissal of the criminal prosecution was entered by the Judge in McGowan's favor after the prosecution rested its case at the appeal hearing.

McGowan again wrote and mailed a letter to Chief Harrington on October 13, 2005, reiterating her complaints about Officer Lively. McGowan never received a response to this letter.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 14, 2006, Plaintiff commenced the instant action by filing a Complaint and Jury Trial Demand, naming as defendants the Borough of Economy, Officer Chad Lively, and the Borough of Economy Police Department and alleging four counts: (1) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Economy; (2) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Officer Lively; (3) malicious prosecution against Defendant Officer Lively; and (4) conspiracy against all Defendants. (Docket No. 1). On July 27, 2006, Plaintiff amended her Complaint, filing another Complaint and Jury Trial Demand.*fn4 On October 18, 2006, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 8, 12(b)(6) and (e), (Docket No. 5), Judge Thomas M. Hardiman granted with prejudice Defendants' motion as to Defendant Borough of Economy Police Department and granted without prejudice Defendants' motion as to Defendants Economy and Officer Lively but allowing leave to amend as to the latter Defendants. (Docket No. 23). On November 1, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint and Jury Trial Demand against Defendants Economy and Officer Lively asserting the same claims save malicious prosecution.*fn5 The matter then proceeded through the ADR process and mediation before former Magistrate Judge Benson, but those efforts proved to be unavailing. On January 12, 2007, Defendants filed Defendants' Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 33).

On August 8, 2007, Defendants filed the instant motion, along with a Brief in Support, Defendants' Concise Statement of Material Facts in Support of Defendants' Rule 12 Motion to be Treated as a Rule 56 Motion, and an Appendix of Exhibits. (Docket Nos. 40-42). On August 9, 2007, Defendants filed a Supplemental Brief in Support, (Docket No. 43), addressing Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. On September 9, 2007, Plaintiff filed Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff's Concise Statement of Facts in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff's Exhibits in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 45-48).*fn6 On September 19, 2007, Defendants filed Defendants' Reply Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment. With no further entries filed, the instant motion is now ripe for disposition.

STANDARD

Summary judgment may only be granted "if 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). Pursuant to Rule 56, the Court must enter summary judgment against the party "who 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 of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In evaluating the evidence, the Court must interpret facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007). Initially, the burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence in the record creates no genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). The dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). While the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the admissible evidence in the record would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-323. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

The non-moving party "cannot simply reassert factually unsupported allegations contained in its pleadings." Williams v. Borough of West ...


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