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Wright v. Altland

December 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John E. Jones III


This is a civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, brought by plaintiff Shaun Wright, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution-Somerset. In relevant part, Wright asserts claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, and unreasonable seizure against defendant Detective Scott Altland arising out of Wright's arrest and prosecution for the robbery of a Hardee's restaurant in York, Pennsylvania. Presently before the Court is Detective Altland's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28). For the reasons set forth below, this motion will be granted.


Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985).

However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.


At approximately 8:33 p.m. on September 15, 2005, an armed robbery was committed at the Hardee's of York in Springettsbury Township, York County, Pennsylvania. (Def.'s Statement of Facts ["DSF"], Doc. 30, ¶ 2.) Detective Scott Altland of the Springettsbury Township Police Department was assigned to investigate the robbery. (Id.)

On September 15, 2005, Springettsbury Township police officers interviewed Hardees's employees Rachel Watkins and Christina Osborn who reported that a black male, 5'8" to 6' tall with a thin build and wearing a white t- shirt, blue jeans with red stitching around the pockets, and a black knit cap pulled down over his face, entered the store carrying a black revolver in his right hand and demanded "give me all your money, you have twenty seconds, hurry up." (Id. at ¶ 3.) Watkins reported that she gave the robber $300 from her cash drawer and that the robber then fled the restaurant. (Id.)

On September 20, 2005, Detective Altland heard a radio dispatch reporting the armed robbery of the Fulton Bank in Hellam Township, a municipality adjoining Springettsbury Township. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Detective Altland and Detective Ogden Dickerson proceeded to the bank and were provided with a description of the bank robber and the vehicle utilized by the bank robber to flee the scene, and told that the bank robber had brandished a gun and stolen a bag of money. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.) Investigation of the bank robbery revealed that the description of the bank robber matched the description of the individual who had robbed the Hardee's, in that the bank robber also wore a white t-shirt and a black knit cap pulled down over his face and carried a black revolver. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

Later on September 20, 2005, Hellam Township Police advised Detective Altland that the vehicle used by the bank robber to flee the scene was a teal Mercury Tracer registered to Jora Rial who resided in the Yorkshire Apartments in Springettsbury Township.*fn1 (Id. at ¶ 7.) Detectives Altland and Dickerson then proceeded to the Yorkshire Apartments. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Once there, Detective Altland interviewed Rial who was cohabitating in an apartment with Wright. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Rial stated that she and Wright had attended the York Fair on the evening of September 15, 2005 and that she was with Wright until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., at which time Wright left stating he had something to do. (Id.) Rial told Detective Altland that Wright stated he would be back around 8:00 p.m., but that he did not return until 8:45 p.m. Detective Altland avers that Rial told him that when Wright returned he had "a lot of money" and that she questioned him about the money because Wright was unemployed. (Id.) Wright contends that Rial did not question him about the money and did not see how much or how little money he had. (Doc. 32 ¶ 9.) Rial's physical description of Wright, however, generally matched the description of the perpetrator of the Hardee's robbery. (Doc. 30 ¶ 9.)

Detective Altland had learned that on September 20, 2005, after the bank robbery had occurred, Wright had made a cash purchase of three money orders in the amounts of $1,000, $500, and $15. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Wright gave the money orders to Rial and told her to pay the rent with them. (Id. at ¶ 20.) When Detective Altland met with Rial in the rental office of the Yorkshire Apartments later that day, he asked Rial for the money orders and took them from her.*fn2 (Id. at ¶ 10.; PSF at ¶ 10.) The money orders taken from Rial were in the amounts of$1,000, $500, and $15, and were immediately turned over to Hellam Township police. (DSF ¶ 10.) These money orders would later be introduced as evidence in Wright's trial on criminal charges arising from the bank robbery. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

Wright was charged with robbery, theft by unlawful taking, and three counts of simple assault relating to the September 20, 2005 bank robbery. (Id. at ¶ 10.) On September 22, 2005, Wright was apprehended in Camden, New Jersey. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Wright was interviewed in New Jersey by detectives ...

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