Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sanford v. O'Rourke

June 23, 2008

GREGORY AND MICHELLE SANFORD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
OFFICER JOHN O'ROURKE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants Officer John O'Rourke, Officer Jessie Romanchick, and Officer Robert Stelmak's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 74.) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. As the municipal defendants were previously dismissed from the case, no failure to train claim remains in Counts I, II, and III. Such a failure to train claim does not create a claim for supervisory liability, as there were no allegations of any of the Defendants acting as a supervisor, nor was any evidence presented that any of the Defendants acted in a supervisory capacity. Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted as to the Section 1981 claims in Counts I and II, because Plaintiffs have failed to present evidence of racial animus or discriminatory intent and conclusory allegations are insufficient. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of all Defendants as to Plaintiff Michelle Sanford's unlawful detention and investigation claim in Count III, as there is no evidence that a seizure of Plaintiff Michelle Sanford occurred. Defendants O'Rourke and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Plaintiff Gregory Sanford, as there is no evidence of a seizure by these Defendants against Mr. Sanford. However, there is a question of material fact regarding whether Officer Romanchick's interrogation of Mr. Sanford constituted a seizure, and therefore summary judgment will be denied as to Officer Romanchick. The Court will deny Defendant Romanchick's motion for qualified immunity, because a reasonable person could know of Plaintiff's right to be free from unlawful seizures. Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Count IV conspiracy claims will also be granted as to Michelle and Gregory Sanford, as there is no evidence of any agreement or concerted action, or any evidence that could lead to an inference of an agreement or concerted action.

Defendants Romanchick and O'Rourke's motion for summary judgment on Count V's assault claim will be granted as to Michelle Sanford, as there is no evidence that they placed her in imminent apprehension of harm or offensive contact. As there is a question of material fact regarding Defendant Stelmak's intent, and Michelle Sanford's imminent apprehension of harm or offensive contact, Defendant Stelmak's motion for summary judgment on the assault claim in Count V will be denied. Defendant O'Rourke's motion for summary judgment on the assault claim in Count V with respect to Plaintiff Gregory Sanford will be granted. Defendants Romanchick and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment on Count V's assault claim by Plaintiff Gregory Sanford is denied, as there are material questions of fact regarding Defendants' intent, as well as whether there was imminent apprehension on the part of Gregory Sanford. Defendants Romanchick, O'Rourke, and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment on Count V's battery claim will be granted as to Plaintiff Michelle Sanford, as there is no evidence of physical contact between Mrs. Sanford and any of the Defendants. Defendants O'Rourke and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Gregory Sanford's battery claim in Count V will be granted, as there is no evidence that these Defendants made contact with Plaintiff Gregory Sanford. Defendant Romanchick's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Gregory Sanford's battery claim in Count V will be denied, as there is a question of material fact regarding the intent of Defendant Romanchick. Defendant Romanchick, O'Rourke, and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Plaintiff Michelle Sanford's false imprisonment claim in Count VI. Defendant Romanchick, O'Rourke, and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Plaintiff Gregory Sanford's false imprisonment claim in Count VI. Defendants Romanchick, O'Rourke, and Stelmak's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Count VII, as Plaintiffs may not pursue a conspiracy claim against these Defendants due to the single entity doctrine.

The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("federal question jurisdiction") and 28 U.S.C. § 1367 ("supplemental jurisdiction").

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Gregory and Michelle Sanford were members of a ski trip staying at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center during the weekend of February 17, 2006 to February 19, 2006. (Pls.' Counterstatement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 1, Doc. 86.) Defendants John O'Rourke, Jessie Romanchick, and Robert Stelmak were, at the relevant times, on duty police officers for the City of Scranton. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., ¶ 1, Doc. 75.)

On February 18, 2006, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Defendants O'Rourke, Romanchick, and Stelmak responded to a call to the Scranton Police regarding a "large fight." (Id. ¶ 2.) The call did not describe the race of the individuals alleged to be involved in the fight. (Id. ¶ 3.) Defendant Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke were the first two officers to arrive at the scene. (Id. ¶ 4.) Upon arriving at the Hilton, they were directed to the fifth floor by hotel personnel. (Id. ¶ 5.)

The scene and events that occurred on the fifth floor of the Hilton are highly disputed. Plaintiffs state that Plaintiff Gregory Sanford, along with Kimm Jones and Christine Jones-Combs, went to fifth floor to retrieve a stereo. (Doc. 86 ¶ 2.) After retrieving the stereo, the three headed back to the Sanfords' room. (Id. ¶ 3.) On the way to the room, Mr. Sanford and Mr. Jones stopped to speak with Joseph Frazier, a hotel employee, before continuing to the room to drop off stereo. (Id. ¶ 4.) After dropping off the stereo, Mr. Sanford and Mr. Jones reentered the hallway. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Defendants state that as Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke arrived at the scene, they observed a loud group of individuals at the end of the fifth floor hallway. (Doc. 75 ¶ 6.) They noted that several individuals in the hallway were yelling, screaming, using obscene language, and causing noise. (Id.) Plaintiffs dispute this description, and stated that there was no commotion in the hallway at the time the police officers arrived, and that there was no fighting, arguing, or loud music being played. (Doc. 86 ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs also state that neither Mr. Sanford nor Mr. Jones were drunk or rowdy, and neither acted in a rude or obnoxious way to any of the hotel employees. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke approached Mr. Sanford and Mr. Jones. According to Defendants, Officer Romanchick asked Gregory Sanford if there was a fight on the fifth floor, and Mr. Sanford responded by stating "Have you ever heard of a prank call?" (Doc. 75 ¶ 7.) In contrast, Plaintiffs state that as the police approached, Officer Romanchick pointed a finger in Gregory Sanford's face, and exclaimed "You're not going to be disrespecting me." (Doc. 86 ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs state that this occurred prior to any of the Plaintiffs speaking to the Defendants. (Id.) Plaintiffs state that the police officers never identified them by name to the Plaintiffs either during or after the altercation and arrest. (Id. ¶ 24.)

The interaction between Plaintiff Gregory Sanford and Mr. Kimm Jones and Defendant Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke is also disputed. Mr. Sanford attempted to explain that there was no fight going on, and that everything was under control. (Id. ¶ 11.) At that time, Mr. Jones attempted to intervene and speak up on Mr. Sanford's behalf (Id. ¶ 12.) However, the police officers would not permit Mr. Jones to speak to Mr. Sanford. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, as Mr. Jones attempted to speak to the officers, he was told to shut up. (Id. ¶ 13.) According to Plaintiffs, Mr. Jones did not yell or curse at the police officers. (Id. ¶ 14.) Mr. Frazier and Mr. Monahan testified that they told the police that there was no fight or problem going on prior to the police officers approaching and questioning the Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiffs point to the deposition of Officer Stelmak, who stated that had people told him there was no fight, the police officers would have left. (Id. ¶ 32.)

In contrast, Defendants state that Mr. Sanford used profanity in front of the officers, and specially said "Damn the police." (Doc. 75 ¶¶ 8, 9.) When Officer Romanchick attempted to speak to Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones said to him "I don't care about these fucking police." (Id. ¶ 11.) According to Defendants, Mr. Jones was uncooperative, and then attempted to walk away from Officer Romanchick, stating "I don't have to tell you nothing." (Id. ¶ 14.) When Officer Romanchick told Mr. Jones he was not free to leave, Mr. Jones pulled away and said "Don't fucking touch me." (Id.) At that point, Officer Romanchick struggled with Mr. Jones, placed him in handcuffs, and explained that he would be detained while the incident was investigated. (Id.) Mr. Jones continued to struggle with Officer Romanchick. (Id.)

Mr. Jones' account differs from that of the police officers. He stated that the officers pushed him against his chest, grabbed his arm, pushed him roughly against the wall, and handcuffed him, without provocation. (Doc. 86 ¶ 15.) At that time, his face was smashed against the wall. (Id.) Mr. Jones then asked the police officers why they would do this to him and told them that he had asthma. (Id. ¶ 16.) Mr. Jones also told the police officers that the handcuffs were too tight and were hurting him, but the officers did nothing. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, Mr. Jones was compliant and did exactly as he was told and did not resist arrest. (Id. ¶ 19.) Christine Jones-Combs, Mr. Jones' wife, attempted to speak up, but then an officer pushed her in the chest. (Id.; Doc. 75 ¶ 35.) She asked the officer why he was holding her against the wall, and the officer released her. (Doc. 75 ¶ 37.) Mrs. Jones-Combs was held by the officer between one (1) and five (5) seconds. (Id.) Mrs. Jones-Combs was unable to identify the officer who pushed her besides the description that he was a Caucasian male. (Id. ¶ 36.) She was not interrogated by any police officers. (Id. ¶ 41.)

Officer Romanchick called a "code red" and requested back up vehicles to keep the crowd of people calm. (Doc. 75 ¶ 12.) At the time he called the "code red", the hallway was crowded with people who were yelling or threatening Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke. (Id. ¶ 13.)

Officer Stelmak responded to the initial call of a large fight, and responded with Scranton Police dog, Blitz. (Id. ¶ 19.) When he reached the fifth floor, Officer Stelmak found that there was a loud and vocal crowd of people at the end of the hallway, and he commanded Blitz to bark a few times to let people know there was a dog in the hallway. (Id. ¶ 20.) Officer Harris also responded to the initial call of a large fight. (Id. ¶ 21.) When he arrived the situation, people were yelling at each other and at the police. (Id. ¶ 22.) Officer McDonald responded to the "code red" call. (Id.) When he arrived, he observed several persons being disorderly, loud, and making a lot of noise. (Id.) Both Officers Stelmak and McDonald testified that by the time they arrived at the fifth floor, Officers Romanchick and O'Rourke had already responded and dealing with the Plaintiffs. (Doc. 86 ¶ 26.) Sergeant Carroll also responded to the call at the Hilton, and when he arrived, he found the hallway lined with people, some of who were loud and cursing. (Doc. 75 ¶ 23.)

According to the Defendants, at the time when Officer Romanchick handcuffed Mr. Jones, several more males entered the hallway and began yelling profanities. (Id. ¶ 15.) The crowd was large and became more boisterous towards the police, refused to return to their rooms, and were yelling profanities. (Id.) Plaintiffs state that at no point did Christine Jones-Combs or Kimm Jones use profanity or yell at the police. (Doc. 86 ¶ 20.) Rather, according to Plaintiffs, the police officers were yelling and cursing. (Id. ¶ 21.)

After the arrest of Mr. Jones, Officer Romanchick led Mr. Jones downstairs through the lobby. (Doc. 75 ¶ 16; Doc. 86 ¶ 23.) Mrs. Jones-Combs requested to stay with her husband, and was permitted to do so. (Doc. 75 ¶ 38.) Officer Romanchick issued Mr. Jones a citation for disorderly conduct and released him to his wife, Christine Jones-Combs. (Doc. 75 ¶ 16.) Mr. Jones plead guilty to disorderly conduct, 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 5503(a)(4), after a hearing on the charges, and did not appeal the conviction. (Id. ¶ 27.)

Mrs. Michelle Sanford was in her room when the incident began, and opened her door to find "a lot of commotion in the hallway." (Doc. 75 ¶ 29.) Mrs. Sanford did not approach any of the officers or any of the other guests, but remained standing in the doorway. (Id. ¶ 30.) After Gregory Sanford returned to his hotel room, police officers knocked and asked to come into the room. (Id. ¶ 31.) Michelle Sanford answered the door, and told the officers that she was only going to allow one officer in the room, and the officers complied with that request. (Id.) Sergeant Carroll entered and spoke with Mr. Sanford in his room. (Id. ¶ 24.) The resultant conversation was the only interaction Michelle Sanford had with any police officers. (Id.) Mrs. Sanford stated that she was not interrogated by any police officers, was not detained by any police officer, was not physically confronted by any police officer, and did not see any police officers pull, push or shove anyone. (Id. ¶ 33.)

After the Hilton placed the initial 911 call, it placed another call to 911 attempting to cancel the call. (Doc. 75 ¶ 25.) However, even if the call had been cancelled or management had told the officers that there was no longer a problem, the officers had a duty to investigate. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Mr. Kimm Jones and Mrs. Christine Jones-Combs both testified in their depositions that they felt the Defendants were motivated by racial animus, and if they had been Caucasian, the police officers would not have been as hostile, would have communicated more effectively, and would not have pushed them. (Doc. 86 ¶¶ 35, 36.)

On April 7, 2006, Plaintiff filed their Complaint against the City of Scranton, the Scranton Police Department, and six (6) "John Doe" police officers. (Doc. 1.) On September 29, 2006, the Court issued an Order amending the caption of the case to replace the unnamed "John Doe" Defendants with the names of the now identified officers, Officer John O'Rourke, Officer Jessie Romanchick, Officer Robert Stelmak, Officer Thomas McDonald, Officer Donald Hofsummer, and Officer Joseph Harris. (Doc. 37.) Defendants the City of Scranton and the Scranton Police Department were dismissed from the case on all counts on November 7, 2006. (Doc. 42.) On January 4, 2008, the Court approved a stipulation dismissing Officers McDonald, Hofsummer, and Harris from the case. (Doc. 83.) The remaining Defendants are Officers O'Rourke, Romanchick, and Stelmak.

The present Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on December 10, 2007. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All reasonable doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

I. Counts I, II, and III - Failure to Train Claims

Defendants O'Rourke, Romanchick, and Stelmak first argue that they should be granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs' failure to train claims in Counts I through III, as the City of Scranton and Scranton Police Department were dismissed from the case on November 7, 2006. (Doc. 42.) The failure to train claims against the municipality has been dismissed. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. Of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). Failure to train claims are generally brought against a municipality, not individual defendants.

In Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097 (3d Cir. 1990), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals noted that failure to train cases may be brought as a municipal liability claim or an individual capacity claim. Id. at 1119. The Brown case considered a suit against the Borough of Roselle, the Roselle Police Department, and Chief of Police of the Borough of Roselle. Id. Suit against the Chief of Police was brought in both his individual and official capacities. Id.The court noted that a claim could be brought against the Chief of Police in his individual capacity for failure to train and supervise his officers properly. Id.

Essentially, such a failure to train claim would be considered a supervisory liability claim. See Brown v. Muhlenberg Twp., 269 F.3d 205, 216 (3d Cir. 2001). First, Plaintiffs have not alleged that Officers Romanchick, Stelmak, or O'Rourke were in any kind of supervisory position. Second, Plaintiffs have failed to present any evidence that any of these officers were in a supervisory position such that one failed to train or supervise the others. Therefore, Defendants Romanchick, Stelmak, and O'Rourke's motion for summary judgment will be granted with respect to all failure to train claims in Counts I through III.

II. Counts I and II - Section 1981 Claims

Gregory and Michelle Sanford, who are African-American, claim that the Defendants O'Rourke, Romanchick, and Stelmak committed racial discrimination and assault and battery against them in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. They argue that the Defendants interrogated and harassed the Plaintiffs even though no altercation had occurred or was occurring in the hotel.

Section 1981 states, in relevant part:

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no others.

42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Section 1981 creates a civil cause of action against private actors and does not require state discriminatory action. Brown v. Philip Morris, Inc.., 250 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2001).

To establish a prima facie case under Section 1981, a plaintiff must establish three (3) elements: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a racial minority; (2) there was an intent to discriminate on the basis of race by the defendant; and (3) plaintiff was subject to an act of discrimination. Id. (quoting Yelverton v. Lehman, Civ. A. No. 94-6114, 1996 WL 296551, at *7 (E.D. Pa. June 3, 1997), aff'd mem. 171 F.3d 1012 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Warren v. Twp. of Derry, Civ. A. No. 1:04-CV-2798, 2007 WL 870115, at *10 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 20, 2007) (Conner, J.).

Section 1981 cases are also subject to the burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Therefore, if a "plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the defendant's conduct." Schultz v. Wilson, Civ. A. No. 1:04-CV-1823, 2007 WL 4276696, at *4, (M.D. Pa. Dec. 4, 2007) (Conner, J.). The burden ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.