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Regan v. Upper Darby Township

March 11, 2009

LYNNE A. REGAN
v.
UPPER DARBY TOWNSHIP, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Presently before the Court are the Motions for Summary Judgment of Defendants Thomas A. Johnson and Michael Kehrle (Doc. No. 77) and Defendant James Johnson (Doc. No. 78). For the following reasons, the Motions will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

Lynne A. Regan ("Plaintiff") brought this civil rights action after she was arrested several times for violating a Protection from Abuse Order that prohibited her from having any contact with her ex-boyfriend, a firefighter named Donald Kuhfuss ("Kuhfuss"). A detailed review of the facts is necessary to fully understand how this relationship found its way into the criminal and civil courts.

A. The Circumstances Surrounding Plaintiff and Kuhfuss's Relationship

In December 2002, Plaintiff began a relationship with Kuhfuss when he was a firefighter with the Upper Darby Fire Department. (See Pl.'s Dep. 310; Pl.'s Am. Omnibus Resp., Doc. No. 94 at 3.) In July 2003, Plaintiff and Kuhfuss moved in together and resided in a house owned by Kuhfuss in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Pl.'s Dep. 54, 76, 311.) Plaintiff and Kuhfuss became engaged to be married in the Spring of 2004. (See Pl.'s Omnibus Resp., Doc. No. 94 at 3; Pl.'s Dep. 56-57.) The engagement, however, would not last. Within months, the couple began to experience serious "problems" in their relationship. (Pl.'s Dep. 57.) In late October 2004, Plaintiff discovered that Kuhfuss was having an affair with a woman by the name of Lauri Millet ("Millet"). (Pl.'s Dep. 53.) The relationship between Plaintiff and Kuhfuss became unsteady and changed "on a daily basis." (Id. at 56.) On some days Plaintiff and Kuhfuss "[would] be getting along fine . . . as if nothing else occurred, [but] then . . . it would all blow up." (Id.) "It was back and forth, back and forth." (Id.) Their wedding was off. (Id. at 109.)

In late October 2004, Plaintiff told Kuhfuss that she was moving out. (Id. at 62.) Plaintiff did not tell Kuhfuss precisely when she was moving and on November 6, 2004, when Kuhfuss was not home, she began to remove her belongings. (Id. at 63, 66, 205.) Plaintiff removed a variety of items from the house including a couch that she and Kuhfuss had purchased jointly. (Id. at 88.) That evening, Kuhfuss arrived home and realized what Plaintiff had done. (Id. at 66-68, 88.) Plaintiff returned to the house at Kuhfuss's request and was greeted by police officers that Kuhfuss had called to the scene. (Id. at 67-68.) A police officer asked Plaintiff to turn over her keys, which were given back to Kuhfuss. (Id. at 71.) Plaintiff agreed not to return to the house again that night even though she had not finished removing all of her belongings. (Id. at 71, 79.)

Later that night, Kuhfuss called Plaintiff again and told her that he "was going to kill himself." (Id. at 72.) Plaintiff called 911 and reported what Kuhfuss had said, but Plaintiff had no further contact with authorities. (Id. at 73.) A few days later on November 8, 2004, Plaintiff went to the Delaware County Courthouse and filed a petition for a Protection from Abuse order ("PFA") against Kuhfuss. (Id. at 74.) In her petition, Plaintiff wrote that when she was at Kuhfuss's house on November 6, Kuhfuss had "c[o]me out chasing [her]" and "broke the [bedroom] door down." (Id. at 77; Pl.'s PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. I.) Plaintiff wrote that Kuhfuss was "erratic in behavior" and "increasingly violent." (Pl.'s Dep. 77.) Plaintiff listed Kuhfuss's address as her residence on the PFA petition even though she was no longer living there. (Id. at 77, 82.) The words "evict" and "exclude" were circled in the petition near Kuhfuss's address indicating the relief that Plaintiff was requesting. (Id.) Plaintiff denies that she circled these words and denies that she was trying to evict Kuhfuss from his own home. (Id.) However, Plaintiff admits that "when [she] signed [the petition] and saw that 'evicted' and 'excluded' w[ere] circled," she did not bring this to anyone's attention. (Id. at 80.) Plaintiff did not "feel [that] it was important" to tell the court that Kuhfuss owned the house and that she had moved out. (Id. at 83-84.) The court entered a PFA order evicting Kuhfuss from his own home. (Id. at 85; see also Pl.'s PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. I.) The PFA order was later amended to remove the eviction provision. (See id.) The PFA also ordered Kuhfuss not to contact Plaintiff and granted "Plaintiff an opportunity to remove her and her children's personal belongings from the premises under police supervision" at a later, unspecified time. (See Pl.'s PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. I.)

At the same time, Kuhfuss petitioned the court and received a reciprocal PFA order against Plaintiff.*fn2 (Pl.'s Am. Omnibus Resp., Doc. No. 94 at 3.) Kuhfuss's PFA order against Plaintiff arose out of the same November 6, 2004 incident. (See Kuhfuss's PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. J.) The PFA order provided that Plaintiff not contact Kuhfuss and Jane Minster ("Minster"), Kuhfuss's 74-year-old mother. (Id.; see also Pl.'s Dep. 288.) The PFA order provided that "[Plaintiff] is prohibited from having ANY CONTACT with [Kuhfuss and Minster] at any location." (See Kuhfuss's PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. J.) The PFA order also evicted Plaintiff from the Kuhfuss residence, providing that Plaintiff "shall have no right . . . to enter or be present on the premises." (Id.)

On November 9, 2004, the day after Plaintiff and Kuhfuss petitioned for reciprocal PFA orders, a local television station aired a special news report about the ease with which a person can be involuntarily committed to a hospital for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. (See WPVI Tr., Nov. 9, 2004, Doc. No. 80, Ex. I.) The subject of the news story was a woman who had her ex-boyfriend involuntarily committed to a hospital after she falsely alleged that he was suicidal. (See id.; see also Doc. No. 78-2 at 3 n.2.) Plaintiff indicates that she did not see this news story.*fn3 (Pl.'s Dep. 108.) On November 10, 2004, the day after the story aired on television, Plaintiff filed a petition to have Kuhfuss involuntarily committed to Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital on grounds that Kuhfuss was "a clear and present danger to others" and presented "a reasonable probability of suicide." (Pl.'s Dep. 89-92, 220; see also Involuntary Commitment Pet., Doc. No. 79, Ex. T.) In the petition, Plaintiff wrote that "[Kuhfuss] has been acting irrational and has shown erratic behavior." (Id.) Plaintiff also wrote that Kuhfuss was "confused" and he "does not know why he is acting the way he is." (Id.) On the same day, November 10, 2004, Kuhfuss filed a civil complaint against Plaintiff with the Delaware County District Justice in connection with Plaintiff's removal of the items from his home. (See Civil Compl., Doc. No. 79, Ex. U; see also Pl.'s Dep. 97-99.) It is unclear which was filed first, Kuhfuss's civil complaint or Plaintiff's petition to have Kuhfuss involuntarily committed to the hospital.

B. Kuhfuss Suffers from a Massive Stroke

On the evening of November 10, 2004, while Kuhfuss was at the Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital being interviewed by doctors as a result of Plaintiff's involuntary commitment petition, he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. (See Pl.'s Dep. 108, 240-241, 291; Am. Compl. ¶ 27; Deputy Chief Johnson Dep. 14, 30; Letter from Deputy Chief Johnson to Detective Johnson, Dec. 3, 2004, identified at Deputy Chief Johnson Dep. 30.) As a result of the stroke, Kuhfuss was admitted to the hospital. (Deputy Chief Johnson Dep. 14.) Plaintiff was notified of the stroke the next morning. (Pl.'s Dep. 134, 251.)

C. Millet Files a Police Report about Plaintiff

On November 12, 2004, Lauri Millet, Kuhfuss's paramour, contacted Detective Johnson at the Upper Darby Police Department and reported receiving "threatening and harassing phone calls from a female she [knew] as [Plaintiff]." (Millet Dep. 38-40; Crim. Compl., Jan. 12, 2005, Doc. No. 79, Ex. M.) Millet reported that Plaintiff had threatened to "kill her" during one of the calls.*fn4 (Crim. Compl., Jan. 12, 2005, Doc. No. 79, Ex. M.) Millet further reported that the calls started in September 2004 "but did not become threatening until October." (Id.) Detective Johnson reviewed Millet's cell phone account statements and found "numerous brief or hang-up calls from blocked phone numbers." (Id.) Millet reported her belief that at least 28 of those calls were from Plaintiff. (Id.) Detective Johnson sought a search warrant to obtain Plaintiff's cell phone records from Cingular Wireless. (Id.) The court issued the search warrant that Detective Johnson then transmitted to Cingular Wireless. (See Search Warrant and Cell Phone Records, Doc. No. 79, Ex. P.)

C. Police Order Plaintiff to Leave the Kuhfuss Premises and Plaintiff Refuses

On November 13, 2004, Plaintiff called the police to make arrangements to pick up her personal belongings from Kuhfuss's house. (Pl.'s Dep. 126.) Plaintiff's PFA order permitted her to retrieve these items under police supervision. (See Pl.'s PFA Pet., Nov. 8, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. I.) Sergeant Michael Kehrle ("Kehrle") met Plaintiff in the driveway of the Kuhfuss residence for this purpose. (Pl.'s Dep. 126-27.) Plaintiff gave her paperwork to Kehrle, who then entered the Kuhfuss residence while Plaintiff waited inside her car with her teenage daughter. (Id. at 126-28, 278.) Minster, Kuhfuss's mother and a protected person under Kuhfuss's PFA order against Plaintiff, was inside the house when Kehrle arrived. (Id. at 133-34.) Minster was "upset" that Plaintiff was there and telephoned Ed Cubler, Chief of the Upper Darby Township Fire Department and Kuhfuss's boss, to ask him to come to the house. (Deputy Chief Johnson Dep. 18, 33, 36-37; Cubler Dep. 16-17.) Cubler then called the Deputy Chief of the Fire Department, James Johnson, and asked him to come to Kuhfuss's house. (Deputy Chief Johnson Dep. 18.) Plaintiff and her daughter, while waiting inside their car in the driveway, observed Cubler, Deputy Chief Johnson, Detective Thomas A. Johnson*fn5 and unknown firefighters arrive on the scene and enter the Kuhfuss home. (Pl.'s Dep. 130-32.) Deputy Chief Johnson parked his car in the driveway behind Plaintiff's car. (Id. at 141.) As Deputy Chief Johnson walked past Plaintiff's car to enter the house, he yelled, "I hope you go to hell, you fucking bitch." (Id. at 133, 232-33.)

"More than twenty minutes" after Kehrle first entered the Kuhfuss house, Kehrle came out and told Plaintiff that Minster "didn't want [Plaintiff] in the house." (Id. at 133-34, "[Kehrle] told me that he wanted me to leave and that he wasn't going to allow me into the house because [Kuhfuss's] mother didn't want me in the house."). Rather than leaving the premises as Kehrle directed, Plaintiff remained inside of her locked car. (Id. at 135-36.) Plaintiff's "doors were locked" and her "windows were up." (Id. at 137.) Plaintiff testified that she "wouldn't say [that she] was hysterical," but she was "definitely crying" and "really scared" inside of her locked car. (Id. at 136, 140.) Plaintiff's daughter, who was also inside of the car, tried "to calm [Plaintiff] down." (Id. at 141.) Plaintiff called 911 "two or three times" and demanded to speak with "somebody of rank." (Id. at 135, 238.) Meanwhile, Kehrle began "banging on [Plaintiff's car] window" with his hand and "telling [Plaintiff] that he wanted [her] to open the door." (Id. at 138.) Kehrle thought that Plaintiff "was having a panic attack." (Kehrle Dep. 17-18.) She was "breathing erratically." (Id.) Kehrle told Plaintiff "that [she] had a choice: . . . [Plaintiff] could either be arrested or [she] could go to the hospital." (Pl.'s Dep. 139.) Kehrle explained Plaintiff's choice as follows:

Well, by her refusing to leave, she was in violation of the PFA order that was filed against her; so, she had a choice of either getting arrested or if she would leave and go with the paramedics, that would be fine, but she was not in a condition to drive the vehicle away on her own. That was pretty apparent. (Kehrle Dep. 18.) Eventually Plaintiff opened her door, Kehrle "grabbed [her] keys," and Plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the hospital. (Pl.'s Dep. 142-43.) Once there, Plaintiff spoke with a nurse and was released from the hospital after a "half hour, [or] 45 minutes." (Id. at 146.)

D. Minster Complains to Police about Plaintiff

On November 14, 2004, Minster complained to police that Plaintiff had visited the Kuhfuss residence, unannounced, a few days earlier. Minster provided the following statement to police:

[Plaintiff] came to the kitchen door a little after 6:30 p.m. [on November 11, 2004,] and rang the bell. She told me that she knew she wasn't supposed to be there but wanted to let me know that she was trying to help [Kuhfuss]. She also wanted to tell me that she loved [Kuhfuss]. (Minster Statement, Nov. 14, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. S.) Minster's statement also indicated that Plaintiff did not try to get inside the house, but that Plaintiff "held the storm door open so [that Minster] couldn't close it." (Id.)At her deposition, Plaintiff denied visiting the Kuhfuss residence and contended that Minster's statement to police was "untruthful." (Pl.'s Dep. 167.)

E. Plaintiff Contacts Kuhfuss in the Hospital

On or about November 15, 2004, the day after Minster's report to police and several days after the incident in Kuhfuss's driveway, Plaintiff received a telephone call from an unidentified male who told her that "[Kuhfuss] wanted to see [her] because he was dying." (Pl.'s Dep. 108-09, 241-42.) Plaintiff therefore went to Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital to visit Kuhfuss even though Plaintiff knew that the PFA prohibited her from having contact with him. (Id. at 110, 151-52.) After being in Kuhfuss's room for two hours, Officer Ryan Wisely and another police officer arrived and asked Plaintiff what she was doing.*fn6 (Id. at 153, 291.) The officers asked Plaintiff to leave. (Id. at 151-55.) Plaintiff complied and the officers escorted her out of the hospital. (Id. at 294.) Once outside of the hospital, Plaintiff was asked to come to the police station since "detectives from Upper Darby wanted to speak with [her]." (Id. at 153, 156.) The detectives did not show up, however, so Plaintiff had no contact with them. (Id. at 156.) After spending two hours waiting in a cell, Plaintiff was released and taken back to her car. (Id. at 157, 299.) Thereafter, Wisely filed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff charging her with violating the PFA order. (See Crim. Compl., Nov. 15, 2004, Doc. No. 90, Ex. G.)

F. Police Arrest Plaintiff based on Minster's Report

On November 18, 2004, Detective Johnson filed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff in response to the report made by Minster. That day, Plaintiff was at her mother's house "watching church on TV" when Detective Johnson and other officers arrived early in the morning to arrest Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Dep. 159.) The officers told Plaintiff that she was under arrest for going to the Kuhfuss house "two weeks ago or something." (Id.) The officers did not enter the house and instead waited outside while Plaintiff got dressed. (Id. at 160-61.) Plaintiff was then taken into custody and transported to the police station. (Id. at 161-62.) Plaintiff posted bail and was released. (Id. at 326.)

G. Complaints that Plaintiff is Contacting Kuhfuss

On December 19, 2004, the individuals who were caring for Kuhfuss reported to Detective Johnson that Plaintiff had again tried to contact Kuhfuss. (See Crim. Compl., Dec. 22, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. O.) They reported that on December 17, 2004, at 4:03 p.m., Plaintiff sent a text message to Kuhfuss's cell phone. (Id.) Plaintiff does not deny doing this. (Pl.'s Dep. 244, "Q: Did you ever send [Kuhfuss] a text message on December 17, 2004? A: I could have."). They also reported receiving hang-up phone calls from various pay phones located between Plaintiff's home and Kuhfuss's home. (See Crim. Compl., Dec. 22, 2004, Doc. No. 79, Ex. O.) The hang-up calls allegedly continued for the next two days. (Id.) The caregivers further reported that "[i]ntermixed in these calls was a call from [Plaintiff's] known cell phone number." (Id.) Moreover, they reported seeing Plaintiff in a vehicle in front of the Kuhfuss residence.*fn7

(Id.)

On December 21, 2004, the caregivers again reported to Detective Johnson that Plaintiff had tried to call Kuhfuss, this time from her place of employment. (Id.) They reported that when Plaintiff called, the call was placed on speaker phone and they could hear Plaintiff speaking. (Id.) At her deposition, Plaintiff admitted to making this call:

Q: [The criminal complaint states] that you contacted the protected residents from your place of employment at 5:24 p.m. and spoke to Donald Kuhfuss.

Did you do that on that ...


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