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Baker v. Fenton

March 20, 2009


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


I. Background Information

A. Facts

This case arises out of a physical altercation that occurred on Election Day, November 8, 2005, in Bristol Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Defendant Sam Fenton, Mayor of Bristol Township, and Defendant Karen Lipsack, former Councilwoman for Bristol Township, were both up for re-election. After the election, there was a post-election gathering for the Bristol Township Democrats at Georgine's Restaurant.

Present at the gathering were Defendants Karen Lipsack and John Lipsack, the husband of Karen Lipsack and a constable for the township, and Plaintiff James Baker, a member of a local union who was participating in an electioneering effort called "Get Out the Vote" during the election. Also present was James Baker's wife, Cathy Baker.

Two other Defendants in this case are Sam Fenton, Mayor of Bristol Township, and Don Lorady, a Councilman and constable for the township. Both Mayor Fenton and Mr. Lorady were originally at the restaurant on November 8, 2005, but had left to obtain election results prior to the start of the altercation in the parking lot. They returned as the altercation was escalating. The final defendant, James McAndrew, Chief of Police of Bristol Township, was not at the gathering and was not involved in the altercation that followed.

According to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, as Plaintiff was leaving Georgine's Restaurant, John Lipsack accused Baker of "cutting the ticket." James Baker later explained that the phrase referred to when "you cut a person off and you vote for someone else instead of going with the party ticket." (James Baker dep., p. 81). John Lipsack asserted that James Baker responded to his accusation with a verbal threat to run over John Lipsack with his car. Plaintiffs do not dispute that fact but allege that John Lipsack next began walking towards James Baker.

What started as a verbal exchange between John Lipsack and James Baker in the parking lot then escalated into a physical altercation. James Baker testified in his deposition that John Lipsack "shoved me and I swung at him . . . and he got me into a headlock and he was choking me." According to the testimony, Defendants Fenton and Lorady arrived at the scene upon returning from their trip to collect election results. Defendants Fenton and Lorady then became involved in the physical altercation, although there is conflicting testimony as to the nature and extent of their involvement.

The testimony of several witnesses also reflect that at some point during the altercation, one of the Defendants called for "cuffs." However, the testimony is conflicting as to whether that request was made by Defendant Lorady or by Defendant Fenton. At some point, police responded to the scene, but Plaintiffs had already driven home when the police arrived. Police Officer Caron later interviewed Plaintiff James Baker at the hospital, where he was being treated for injuries sustained during the brawl.

The next day, November 9, 2005, a disorderly citation was issued against Plaintiff by Police Officer Caron, who testified that she was instructed by Chief McAndrew to issue the disorderly conduct citation. There is no evidence in the record as to why Chief McAndrew ordered Officer Caron to lodge the disorderly conduct citation. At a hearing, Baker was convicted of disorderly conduct and was fined. He did not appeal.

Patrolman Caron testified that she was upset with the order from McAndrew to cite only Baker because she thought it was "unethical" not to cite the others as well. Caron initially refused to obey the order and issue the citation, but eventually did so when she was advised that she would be disciplined if she did not obey.

The Court is obliged to take the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs for purposes of summary judgment.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on September 8, 2007. (Doc. 1). In their Complaint, Plaintiffs alleged four Counts: (1) violation by all defendants of Plaintiffs 4th and 14th Amendment rights under ยง 1983; (2) common law assault and battery by Defendants John Lipsack, Fenton, and Lorady; (3) false arrest and malicious prosecution by Defendant McAndrew; and (4) conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights by all Defendants. Plaintiffs agreed to drop Count III alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. All Defendants ...

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