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McGowan v. Borough of Ambridge

September 5, 2008

PATRICIA MCGOWAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF AMBRIDGE, MICHAEL MCQUAIDE, POLICE OFFICER, BOROUGH OF AMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND JAMES ESSEK, POLICE OFFICER, HARMONY TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Presently before the Court are the following:

* MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendant, Police Officer James Essek, Harmony Township Police Department (Document Nos. 31 and 32, respectively);

* MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendants Borough of Ambridge and Police Officer Michael McQuaide (Document Nos. 35 and 36, respectively); and

* MEMORANDUM OF POINTS and ANSWER in opposition to the Defendants' motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff, Patricia McGowan (Document Nos. 37-1 and 37-2).

The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. The factual record has also been thoroughly developed via the CONCISE STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS NOT IN DISPUTE filed by Defendant Police Officer James Essek (Document No. 32), the APPENDIX TO DEFENDANT ESSEK'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 34), the CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT filed by Plaintiff (Document No. 39), and the APPENDIX IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT filed by Plaintiff (Document No. 40).

After a careful consideration of the motions, the filings in support and opposition thereto, the memoranda of the parties, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that there is not sufficient record evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Plaintiff, Patricia McGowan, on her claims of alleged civil rights violations brought under § 1983. Therefore, for the reasons that follow, the Motions for Summary Judgment will be granted in their entirety.

PROCEDURALBACKGROUND

Plaintiff initiated this proceeding on June 30, 2006, by the filing of a five-count Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which she alleges that her civil rights were violated as a result of the conduct of Borough of Ambridge Police Officer Michael McQuaide and Harmony Township Police Officer James Essex when they responded to a police call which reported a fight in progress, arrested Plaintiff at the scene, and then subsequently prosecuted her. Specifically, Plaintiff claims general violations of her rights under the Fourth Amendment (Counts I and II), as well as separately enumerated claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Counts III and IV). Plaintiff also alleges a civil conspiracy against Defendants to violate Plaintiff's rights by arresting her without probable cause and subsequently "agreeing" to fully prosecute. (Count V). At the heart of each of these claims is Plaintiff's allegation that she was arrested on July 5, 2004, without probable cause when she was arrested and charged with failing to disperse upon official order and disorderly conduct.

Defendants have filed the instant motions for summary judgment in which they contend that Plaintiff has failed to proffer sufficient evidence to establish a violation of her constitutional rights.

BACKGROUND

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are to be resolved most favorable to the Plaintiff.

On July 5, 2004, Plaintiff and her son, Jeffrey McGowan, visited their friends Julia and Jennifer Pringle at their apartment in Crestview Village, arriving at approximately 1:00 p.m. Crestview Village is a 200-unit low income housing project situated along the border that separates the Borough of Ambridge from Harmony Township.

While there, Plaintiff and her son spent time in the Pringles' apartment (Apartment 111), as well as in the Pringles' backyard where a cook-out was underway. At approximately 3:00 p.m., Pam Townsend, another resident of Crestview Village who resided in Apartment 105, began to cause a commotion in the vicinity of the front of the Pringle apartment by yelling and screaming at Mary Urquhart, who was also attending the Pringles' cook-out and was also a resident of Crestview Village in Apartment 109. Shortly thereafter, a large-scale brawl erupted in the Pringle yard that involved approximately twenty (20) people.*fn1 The altercation included Jeffrey Rogers (son of Pam Townsend), Miguel Ogbara, Ashly Marshman (daughter of Mary Urquhart), Julia Pringle, and Jennifer Pringle. Plaintiff denies that her son was involved in the brawl.

Police Officer Michael McQuaide ("McQuaide") responded to a 911 call which reported an assault in progress at the Community Center in Crestview Village and that a man was beating a woman. As the police arrived, they saw Jeffrey Rogers flee the scene on foot. McQuaide was told that Jeffrey Rogers had a weapon on his person. McQuaide lost sight of the fleeing Rogers; accordingly, McQuaide requested additional units from other departments to set up a perimeter and also requested a K-9 unit.

Defendant James Essek ("Essek"), a sergeant with the Harmony Township Police Department, was one of the officers who responded to McQuaide's request for backup. As Essek arrived, other responding police officers were attempting to regain control of the situation. Essek described the scene as follows:

When I first arrived, the main person who seemed to be causing a lot of problems there was a woman by the name of Pam Townsend. I was familiar with her. That is, her son is Jeffrey Rogers, and she was screaming about the fight and the other people that were involved and that they had run into another house. . . . the Ambridge officers were chasing people and trying to round people up. So I got Pam Townsend, asked her to sit in my car until Officer McQuaide and the officer from Ambridge came over. I decided we were just going to try to deescalate the crowd and try to get things settled down.

Essek testified that when he arrived at the scene there were probably "50 to 75 people" all yelling at each other, but that the actual fighting between the residents had "broken up" upon the arrival of the police.

Witnesses gave conflicting reports to the police of what had occurred. Ashley Marshman told the police that Jeffrey Rogers attacked her by punching her in the face, dragging her across the street, and pulling a gun on her. Julia Pringle told the police that she saw Jeffrey Rogers attacking Marshman, that she yelled at Rogers to stop, and was then pushed to the ground by Rogers. Jennifer Pringle told the police that she attempted to pull Jeffrey Rogers off of Marshman, and was punched and scratched in the face as she did so. Marshman and the Pringles then told the police that Jeremy Shoup and Jeffrey McGowan, Plaintiff's son, intervened and that a fight occurred between Shoup and Rogers.

Other witnesses at the scene told the police that Shoup and Jeffrey McGowan had jumped Rogers and began beating him until others intervened to attempt to break it up.

Upon witnessing what was occurring, Plaintiff instructed her son to leave Crestview Village with her. They were given the car keys to Jeremy Shoup's vehicle and began walking to the car with the intention to leave the scene. However, they were not able to leave as the vehicle was blocked by police and other emergency vehicles.

As Plaintiff and her son passed Pam Townsend, Ms. Townsend identified Jeffrey McGowan to the police and said something to the effect that Jeffrey McGowan was one of the individuals who had attacked her son, Jeffrey Rogers. Pam Townsend specifically pointed to Jeffrey McGowan and said, "That's the one. He's the one that was beating on my boy."

Plaintiff and her son, Jeffrey McGowan, were sitting in Shoup's vehicle, when both Essek and McQuaide approached the vehicle. McQuaide instructed Plaintiff not to leave the scene. The officers then left the vehicle, arrested another individual, Miguel Ogbara, and then returned to the vehicle in which Plaintiff and her son were sitting. Defendant Essek told Jeffrey McGowan to get out of the car. Defendant McQuaide then arrested Jeff McGowan for disorderly conduct. Defendant Essek testified that with the arrest of Jeffrey McGowan, all persons involved in the fight-brawl had been arrested or were in transit to the police station.

As she saw her son being arrested, Plaintiff exited the vehicle and began protesting his arrest. Plaintiff told both Essek and McQuaide that her son was being wrongly accused. Plaintiff described her exchange with Defendant McQuaide as follows:

I tried to tell them what happened. I was continually told to shut up. I was told to shut up several times. At one point, one of the police officers asked what I was doing at the Village. I go to the Village because I try to help out the single ...


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