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Campbell-Bieber v. May

June 5, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge McClure)



On January 30, 2008, plaintiff Debra L. Campbell-Bieber instituted this civil action against defendants, Cathy Jo May, Joseph Fellencer and the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("PSPCA"), setting forth a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by searching her residence and seizing various animals during the execution of a warrant that was not supported by probable cause. The complaint also includes supplemental state law claims of negligence, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

The parties have completed discovery. On January 30, 2008, defendant PSCPA filed a motion for summary judgment and sanctions. (Rec. Doc. No. 16.) On February 1, 2008, defendant May filed a motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 19.) Opposing and reply briefs have been filed for both motions and the matters are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, we will grant Defendant PSPCA's motion for summary judgment and sanctions and deny Defendant May's motion for summary judgment.


On April 21, 2005, defendant May, a corporal with the Pennsylvania State Police, received a complaint from plaintiff's daughter, Amy Jo Duitch, and her husband, Kenneth Duitch, regarding the living condition of various animals at plaintiff's residence. (Def. May's Br., Rec. Doc. No. 30, at 2.) On May 4, 2004, defendant May applied for a search warrant based on the information provided by the Duitchs. (Search Warrant Application, Rec. Doc. No. 16-7, Ex. D, at 2.) The affidavit provided by defendant May stated that:

[The Beibers] relate that Amy's 13 year old daughter, Kayla [] had been living at Debra and Dale BIEBER's residence. In February this year, Amy was granted sole custody of Kayla due to the deplorable, unsanitary living conditions at the BIEBER residence. Amy and Ken said that since then, they have been trying to get someone to do something about the animals at the BIEBERS', whereas: there are animal carcasses lying in, on, and about the Bieber property; animals, such as but not limited to dogs, cats, kittens, goats, rabbits, horses and chickens have resided at the BIEBERS'; at one time there were 10 dogs, now there may only be 5; it is believed that the other (5) dogs also died due to neglect/abuse; dogs are lving in one room in the house, in their own urine and feces-said room never being cleaned; on separate occasions two goats were left to rot in the barn; in approximately August 2004, Debra purposely ceased buying rabbit food for a rabbit, failing to feed it, all that remained were it's bones; several kittens were residing on the BIEBERS' front porch and being uncared for by Debra, they died-Debra did not dispose of the carcasses, but covered them up with trash/garbage where it is believed the kitttens are still located; Debra keeps adopting animals; sanitary conditions are non-existant at the BIEBERS'; Amy and Ken provided photographs depicting animal carcasses and filthy conditions of the BIEBER property; the photos were taken by Kayla. (Id.) (emphasis in original). The application for the search warrant sought to search the "[r]esidence, barn, curtilage, buildings, structures, vehicles, and any and all places where any animal could be located" and to seize "[a]ny and all animals that appear to be in ill health, depraved, neglected, living in insufficient shelter and or otherwise abused in any way; and to take photographs of any criminal activity discovered." (Id. at 1.) The same day, a district justice authorized the search warrant. (Id.)

Later the same day, defendant May, accompanied by defendant Fellencer, an agent for defendant PSPCA, proceeded to plaintiff's residence. (Def. May's Br., Rec. Doc. No. 30, at 4.) When they arrived, plaintiff was not present. (Id.) Defendants entered the residence and seized 28 animals from the house, barn, and surrounding property. (Search Warrant Inventory, Rec. Doc. No. 16-7, Ex. D, at 4-5.) The animals were placed in the custody of defendant PSPCA. (Def. May's Br., Rec. Doc. No. 30, at 4.)

Plaintiff was then charged with twenty-eight counts of animal cruelty pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5511(c). (Id. at 5.) On September 22, 2005, a magisterial district judge (formerly district justice) found plaintiff guilty of twenty-five counts of animal cruelty and dismissed the counts concerning a rabbit, a goose, and a parrot. (Id.) On September 23, 2005, plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas. (Id.) On September 30, 2005, she filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the search and seizure of her property were illegal because the warrant lacked probable cause. (Id.)

On February 28, 2006, after a suppression hearing, the court granted plaintiff's motion to suppress, concluding that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause. (Id.) The government filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which affirmed the suppression order. Commonwealth v. Campbell-Bieber, No. 842 MDA 2006 (Pa. Sup. Ct., May 25, 2007). The government did not seek review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the case was nolle prossed. (Def. PSPCA's Br., Rec. Doc. No. 17, at 10.) In June of 2007, all the animals were returned to plaintiff except for three dogs that had passed away while in PSPCA's custody and a pig and horse which had been adopted out. (Id. at 10-11.)


I. Legal Standard

A district court may properly grant a motion for summary judgment "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). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Id.; Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

Regardless of who bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1080 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). To meet this burden when the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party must show 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.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). More simply put, a party moving for summary judgment who does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial is not required to ...

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