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Merring v. City of Carbondale

March 27, 2008

BENJAMIN WAYNE MERRING, PRO PER AND RUHAMAH CLARA MERRING, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS
v.
THE CITY OF CARBONDALE, PENNSYLVANIA; JEFF TAYLOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND AN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF POLICE, CARBONDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT; BRIAN BOGNATZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SERGEANT CARBONDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT; DOMINICK ANDIDORA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS OFFICER OF THE CARBONDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT; THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; PAUL CAVISTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CONSTABLE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; AND NORMAN LOHREY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CONSTABLE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition are the defendants' motions for summary judgment. The matter has been fully brief and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiffs assert that on July 6, 2005 at approximately 7 p.m., two Carbondale police officers, Defendants Brian Bognatz and Domnick Andidora, and two Pennsylvania Constables, Defendant Paul Caviston and John Doe, met in front of plaintiffs' home at 104 Park Street, Carbondale, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 22, Amended Complaint, ¶ 17). Defendant Caviston had an bench warrant to execute on Plaintiff Benjamin Wayne Merring, and he had solicited the aid of the police officers in order to arrest the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 14-15).

Plaintiffs aver that they were both home at the time and sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. (Id. at ¶ 20). The two police officers and the John Doe Constable came to the front door of plaintiff's residence. (Id. at ¶ 19). They opened the front screen door. They then knocked and opened the front door. They entered plaintiffs' home. (Id. at 21). The three men stayed in the home for several minutes then returned outside to speak with Defendant Caviston. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 25-26).*fn1 After speaking with Caviston, the two police officers and the constable re-entered the house. (Id. at ¶ 27). Defendant Bognatz took the stairs to the second floor and "banged" on the bedroom door where the plaintiffs were. (Id. at 28). Bognatz opened the bedroom door, and the plaintiffs awoke, aware for the first time that the officers had entered their home. (Id. at 29). Plaintiff Benjamin Wayne Merring spoke to the officer and said, "What are you doing in my house? You can't come in my house. Who the hell do you think you are?" (Id. at 31). Plaintiff Benjamin Wayne Merring began shouting repeatedly, "Get out of my house!" (Id. at 32).

Eventually Plaintiff Benjamin Wayne Merring said to Defendant Bognatz, "I'm getting a gun." (Id. at 35). Then the three men left the home. (Id. at 36). The defendants did not leave the area of plaintiff's home, however. They set up a "swat like setting" surrounding the home. (Id. at 37-38). At 10:15, the plaintiffs discovered that the police had left. (Id. at 45-46).

Plaintiffs assert that the Carbondale News reported the incident in a factually inaccurate manner due to false statements provided by the defendants. (Id. at 50).

Based upon these incidents, the plaintiffs file a pro se complaint on April 28, 2006. (Doc 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on January 9, 2007 after obtaining leave of court. (Doc. 22). The amended complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985, is comprised of twelve counts. The first six counts are for "Degradation of Civil Rights." Count VII and VIII assert "failure to train" claims against the City of Carbondale and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania respectively. Count IX is a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Count X is a state law claim for invasion of privacy. The amended complaint includes two counts labeled "Count XI." The first asserts a state law cause of action for false imprisonment, and the second is a state law claim for libel.

At the close of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought in part pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985 for constitutional violations, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Standard of Review

Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where 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 evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving 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.

Discussion

A motion for summary judgment was filed by the City of Carbondale, Jeff Taylor, Brian Bognatz and Dominick Andidora (hereinafter collectively the "Carbondale Defendants"). Also, a motion for summary judgment was filed by Defendants Paul Cavitson and Norman Lohrey (hereinafter "Constable Defendants"). We will address the two motions separately.

I. The Carbondale Defendants' Motion

The Carbondale Defendants motion for summary judgment discusses the following seven issues: 1) the constitutional claims; 2) supervisor liability/failure to train; 3) Monell claim; 4) conspiracy; 5) qualified immunity; 6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and 7) governmental immunity. We will address these issues in seriatim.

A. Constitutional Claims

The Carbondale Defendants argue that plaintiffs do not allege a valid constitutional claim against them. Plaintiffs claim that the defendants actions violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizures as made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the Carbondale Defendants entry upon the premises is constitutionally permissible without a search warrant where officers are acting on an arrest warrant founded on probable cause and they enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe that the suspect is within. We agree, but summary judgment will nonetheless be denied on this issue.

The United States Supreme Court has explained that "for Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980). Plaintiffs argue that this law is applicable to felonies, but is not applicable to their case, because the crime charged is a misdemeanor. We are not convinced. The case law makes no distinction between a misdemeanor offense and a felony offense in this instance. Courts that have addressed this issue have held that the principle of warrantless entry applies equally to misdemeanor warrants as felony warrants. See United States v. Spencer, 684 F.2d 220, 222-24 (2d Cir. 1982); Shreve v. Jessamine County Fiscal Court,453 F.3d 681, 689 (6th Cir. 2006); United States v. Clayton, 210 F.3d 841, 843 (8th Cir. 2000) cited with approval in United States v. Agnew, 407 F.3d 193, 196 (3d Cir. 2005).

Thus, if the defendants were acting on a valid warrant, there is a two-part analysis to determine if entry into the plaintiffs' residence was valid. We must determine if the officers had a reasonable belief that the arrestee 1) lived in the residence; and 2) was present within the residence when they entered. United States v. Veal, 453 F.3d 164, 167 (3d Cir. 2006).

In the instant case, it is uncontested that plaintiffs' resided at the home that the defendants entered. We must, therefore, focus on the second factor of whether the defendants had a reasonable belief that the subject of the bench warrant was present when they entered. The Carbondale Defendant's indicate that they acted upon information from an informant who believed that Plaintiff Benjamin Wayne Merring was home. (Doc. 30-3, Carbondale Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 10). In support of this position, the Carbondale Defendants cite paragraph 21 of the plaintiff's complaint, which in fact does not support this contention. Paragraph 21 provides: "One Police officer Brian Bognatz followed by the second police officer Dominick Andidora and one constable (John Doe) opened the front screen door then knocked and opened the front door and entered the plaintiffs home." (Doc. 22, Plaintiff Amended Complaint ¶ 21). Additionally, plaintiffs object to defendants' "statement of fact" made by the plaintiff and indicates that they have asked for the name, address of this alleged witness and had not been provided with this information. (Doc. 37, Plaintiff's Objection/Response to Defendants' Statement of Fact, ¶ 10).

As the Carbondale Defendants have not provided evidence that they had a reasonable belief that the arrestee was present within the residence that they entered, summary judgment on this ground is inappropriate.

B. Supervisor Liability/Failure to Train

Counts III of plaintiffs' amended complaint asserts that Defendant Jeff Taylor, the Carbondale Chief of Police, failed to adequately train and supervise the Carbondale police. Defendant Taylor moves for ...


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