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Creveling v. Columbia County

April 22, 2008

RYAN CREVELING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

BACKGROUND

On April 10, 2007, plaintiff Ryan Creveling instituted this civil action. In his amended complaint, plaintiff sets forth six claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I-VI), as well as state law claims for assault (Count VII), battery (Count VIII), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX). Defendants are are Columbia County, Columbia County Deputy Sheriffs James Arter, Steven Hartzel, Kristopher Keefer, William Beitz, Paul D'Angelo, Columbia County Sheriff Tim Chamberlain, the Town of Bloomsburg, and Bloomsburg Police Officers Leonard Rogutski and David Edgar. The complaint arises out of an allegedly unlawful arrest of plaintiff by defendants.

Plaintiff has brought six separate claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His first claim is against defendants Arter, Hartzel, Keefer, Beitz and D'Angelo for illegal entry into plaintiff's home in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Rec. Doc. No. 14, ¶ 54.) This count also contains a claim that defendants' conduct violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights as it was in retaliation for plaintiff's exercise of protected speech. (Id.) His second claim is against defendants Arter, Hartzel, Beitz, and D'Angelo for illegal seizure of plaintiff in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 58.) This count also appears to set forth a claim that the use of force when making the arrest was excessive. (Id.) His third claim is against defendant Chamberlain for failing to supervise and train his deputy sheriffs and having no policies concerning warrantless entries and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 62.) His fourth claim is against defendants Rogutski and Edgar and sets forth another claim for an illegal seizure. (Id. ¶ 66.) His fifth and sixth claims under § 1983 are against the Town of Bloomsburg and Columbia County, respectively, and claim that each has a custom or policy of permitting its law enforcement officers to violate the constitutional rights of citizens. (Id. ¶¶ 70, 74.) Finally, plaintiff's complaint contains state law claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 77-88.)

On November 11, 2007, plaintiff and the Bloomsburg defendants filed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal concerning all claims against the Town of Bloomsburg, David Edgar, and Leonard Rogutski. (Rec. Doc. No. 28.) Thus, Counts IV and V, which only named the Bloomsburg defendants, have been dismissed.

The parties have completed discovery. On January 15, 2008, the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 32.) Opposing and reply briefs have been filed and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, we will grant the motion.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On January 11, 2006, defendant D'Angelo attempted to execute a valid arrest warrant of nonparty Justin Betts at his residence of 29 East Sixth Street, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶¶ 1, 4.) D'Angelo had a JNET photograph of Betts with him at the time he attempted to execute the warrant. (Id. ¶ 6.) At the time of the incident, Betts was 29 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inches tall, and weighed approximately 155 pounds. (Id. ¶ 7; Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 7.)

D'Angelo arrived at the residence and plaintiff, who was Betts' roommate, answered the door. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶ 11.) At the time of the incident, plaintiff was 28 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighed approximately 180 to 190 pounds. (Id. at ¶ 8; Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 8.) Plaintiff informed D'Angelo that he was not Betts but did not identify himself as Betts' roommate or provide any identification. (Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 11.)

What happened next is disputed. Defendants contend that plaintiff forcefully closed the door and smashed it against D'Angelo's foot which was between the door and the doorjamb. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶ 14.) D'Angelo then tried to push against the door with his shoulder in order to get his foot out and plaintiff again slammed the door, which struck D'Angelo in the right shoulder. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that after he informed D'Angelo that he was not Betts, he asked D'Angelo to remove his foot and informed him that he was closing the door. (Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 15.) Plaintiff then closed the door and D'Angelo's foot slid off the jamb. (Id.) Plaintiff also contends that he did not slam the door a second time and strike D'Angelo's shoulder. (Id.)

D'Angelo then called for backup and defendants Keefer, Arter, and Hartzel soon arrived. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶¶ 16-17.) What happened next is also disputed. Defendants contend that Keefer then knocked on the door and that plaintiff began yelling profanities. (Id. ¶ 22.) Defendants then observed plaintiff through a window pacing around the house and then running towards the kitchen. (Id. ¶ 25.) At this point, defendant Keefer forced the door open. (Id. ¶ 26.) Defendants entered the house and told plaintiff to get on the ground. (Id., ¶ 28.) Plaintiff stood there with his hands out rather than getting on the ground, and defendants then took him to the ground and arrested him. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that after backup arrived, defendants were the individuals using profanities and that he was simply sitting on a stool by the door rather than pacing around the house. (Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 22.) Furthermore, he contends that he remained on a stool the entire time and never ran towards the kitchen. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.) Defendants then broke down the door, tackled him to the ground, put his face in the carpet and his hands behind his back, and handcuffed him. (Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶¶ 22, 28-29.)

After plaintiff was arrested, defendants asked him to identify himself. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶ 42.) Plaintiff again refused to identify himself and instead responded "I'm in handcuffs. I'm under arrest. You broke down my door. Take me away." (Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 42.) Plaintiff was then taken to the Bloomsburg Police Station. (Rec. Doc. No. 33, ¶ 48.) At some point thereafter, defendants became aware that plaintiff was not Betts. Defendants then contacted an assistant district attorney to inquire as to whether they should file charges against plaintiff for his alleged actions involving the door and defendant D'Angelo and were instructed not to do so. (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff was then returned to his residence. (Id. ¶ 50.)

Plaintiff experienced redness on his wrists from the handcuffs, but was otherwise uninjured from the arrest. (Id. ¶ 51.) He never sought any medical attention for this redness. (Id. ¶ 53, Rec. Doc. No. 38, ¶ 53.) Plaintiff did seek psychological counseling as a ...


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