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Dull v. West Manchester Township Police Dep't

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Donna Dull brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants used excessive force to effectuate her arrest in spring 2005. Her daughter, plaintiff Holly Dull, who was arrested at the same time, advances § 1983 claims for unlawful arrest and unlawful imprisonment. Plaintiffs also maintain claims for municipal and supervisory liability and seek redress under state tort law. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 30). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

This case originates with certain indiscreet photographs that plaintiff Donna Dull ("Donna") took of her four-year-old granddaughter, H.D., who is the daughter of plaintiff Holly Dull ("Holly"). (Doc. 72 ¶ 4; Doc. 82 ¶ 4.) Donna, Holly, and H.D. live in the same residence, and Donna participates in the care and upbringing of H.D. (See, e.g., Doc. 72 ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 19-22.)

A. Donna's Arrest

On March 13, 2005, Donna left the film containing the suspect photos at a Wal-Mart store located in the West Manchester Mall in York, Pennsylvania, to be developed. (Doc. 72 ¶ 24; Doc. 82 ¶ 24.) Donna had taken the photographs while undressing H.D. for a bath, and they consequently depicted H.D. in ten nude poses. (Doc. 74, Ex. 15; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 21-22.) H.D. is smiling in most of the photographs, and her chest and buttocks are visible in several of them. (Doc. 74, Ex. 15; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 34-38; Doc. 83, Ex. B at 55-67.) Her genitalia can be also be seen in one of the photos. (Doc. 74, Ex. 15; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 37-38; Doc. 83, Ex. B at 65-66.) Donna contends that she took the photographs for H.D.'s childhood photo album, (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 18), and the record contains no evidence of predatory intent.*fn2

Donna and Holly returned to the mall the following day, and Donna retrieved her prints while Holly went to a fast-food restaurant for lunch. (Doc. 83, Ex. B at 33-34.) A Wal-Mart employee informed Donna that the photo center staff had questioned the propriety of the photographs and had turned them over to defendant West Manchester Township Police Department. (Doc. 72 ¶ 25; Doc. 82 ¶ 25; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 41-42.) Donna was told to contact the police to resolve the situation. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 42.)

Donna then left Wal-Mart and purchased a sandwich, which she took to her car. (Doc. 72 ¶¶ 28-29; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 28-29.) In the interim, a Wal-Mart staff member contacted the police, and defendants West Manchester Township Police Officer Sean Conway ("Conway") and York City Police Sergeant Nicholas Figge ("Figge") were dispatched to the mall.*fn3 (Doc. 74, Ex. 3 at 15; Doc. 74, Ex. 8 at 8.) The officers located Donna's vehicle, found it unoccupied, and withdrew to a position from which they surveiled the car. (Doc. 74, Ex. 3 at 16; Doc. 74, Ex. 8 at 9.) Donna soon emerged from the mall and entered her vehicle, where she began to eat the sandwich. (Doc. 72 ¶ 29; Doc. 82 ¶ 29.) The officers approached Donna to take her into custody, and Conway blocked her vehicle's egress with his police cruiser. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 55.) Conway approached Donna's vehicle, opened the door, and instructed her twice to exit the car. (Id. at 14-15, 54, 57-60; Doc. 72 ¶¶ 31-32; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 31-32.)

Donna stepped out of the car, and Conway rotated her body so that she was facing a sport utility vehicle parked in the next space. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 15.) From this position, he grasped her wrists and prepared to handcuff her. (Id. at 15, 65-67.) She testified that this maneuver caused her to experience considerable pain in one of her fingers, which was swollen due to arthritis. (Id. at 15, 68.) She stated that Conway "was rough" and that he "was just really twisting" her afflicted finger. (Id. at 68.) In response, she said either, "Don't do that," or asked, "[W]hat are you doing?" (Id.) She also "tried to twist to the right to look at him," but he immediately turned her back toward the SUV and placed her in handcuffs. (Id. at 69-71, 229.) After Conway restrained her, she was slammed with great force into the side of the SUV. (Id. at 15, 71, 80, 229.) As a result of the blow, she sustained nerve damage in her lower back and experienced neck pain, which has persisted since the incident. (Doc. 83, Ex. C at 5-6.)

Donna could not identify the officer who forced her against the SUV because the conduct occurred with the officers at her back. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 75-76, 80). Conway was the only officer she saw during the arrest, and she first noticed Figge after being pushed against the SUV. (Id. at 62-63.) Conway testified that the force he used to handcuff Donna would likely have pressed her body against the neighboring vehicle. (Doc. 74, Ex. 3 at 19.) He could not recall whether Figge assisted with the arrest, (id.); however, Donna was eventually transported to the West Manchester Township police station, where an unidentified individual informed her that a York City officer was responsible for the shove. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 76.) Figge was the only York City officer who responded to the incident. Figge could not remember whether he aided Conway, but he recounted that a privately employed mall security officer was present at the arrest and may have provided assistance. (Doc. 74, Ex. 8 at 10-11.) Conway and Donna recalled no such individual being present. (Doc. 74, Ex. 3 at 20; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 62-63.)

B. Holly's Arrest

Defendants West Manchester Township Police Sergeant Peter Haines ("Haines"), and Officer David Keller ("Keller") arrived at the scene after Donna was placed in the rear of Conway's police cruiser. (Doc. 72 ¶ 47; Doc. 82 ¶ 47; see also Doc. 74, Ex. 3 at 23; Doc. 74, Ex. 4 at 17; Doc. 74, Ex. 7 at 9.) Keller immediately departed after learning that Donna was already in custody. (Doc. 72 ¶ 47; Doc. 82 ¶ 47; see also Doc. 74, Ex. 7 at 9.) Conway and Figge were briefing Haines on the situation when Holly, who had since exited the mall, approached the officers. (Doc. 72 ¶¶ 61-62; Doc. 74, Ex. 4 at 17; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 61-62.) Haines initially instructed her to move away but relented when she informed him that Donna was her mother. (Doc. 72 ¶¶ 63-64; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 63-64.) Haines was unfamiliar with the details of Donna's case and radioed defendant West Manchester Township Police Detective David Bixler ("Bixler"), who was acquainted with the case file, to ask whether to arrest Holly. (Doc. 74, Ex. 4 at 18; Doc. 74, Ex. 5 at 7-8.) Bixler, who was then investigating a recent bank robbery, stated that Haines should "have her come back to the station to be interviewed." (Doc. 74, Ex. 5 at 8-9.) Haines apparently interpreted this as a request that Holly be taken into custody because he placed her in a police vehicle and apprised her of her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). (Doc. 74, Ex. 4 at 18; Doc. 83, Ex. B at 128.) Holly was not placed in handcuffs. (Doc. 83, Ex. B at 117.)

C. Plaintiffs' Detention and Citizen Complaint

Defendants transported Donna and Holly to the West Manchester Township police station in different vehicles. (Doc. 72 ¶¶ 70, 81; Doc. 82 ¶¶ 70, 81; Doc. 83, Ex. B at 138.) At the station, Donna remained handcuffed and complained to Conway that the restraints felt excessively tight. (Doc. 83, Ex. A at 111-112.) Conway checked the cuffs, informed Donna that they were applied correctly, and refused to loosen them. (Id. at 112.) Conway eventually removed the cuffs for Donna to use the restroom, and he replaced them with leg shackles when she returned. (Id. at 112-13.) Holly was never confined in any way. (Doc. 83, Ex. B at 165-66.) Both Donna and Holly were later released.

Following the arrest, Donna scheduled an appointment with defendant West Manchester Township Police Officer Steven Crider ("Crider") to file a citizen's complaint regarding the force used to apprehend her. (Doc. 74, Ex. 6 at 9; Doc. 83, Ex. A at 84-85.) Crider was otherwise uninvolved in her arrest. (Doc. 72 ¶ 47; Doc. 82 ¶ 47.) The current record does not describe the outcome of this complaint. West Manchester police filed a criminal complaint against Donna on June 17, 2005 charging her with exploitation of children. (Doc. 74, Ex. 16.) The district attorney dismissed all charges on June 21, 2006 due to a lack of evidence establishing criminal intent. (Doc. 74, Ex. 14 ¶¶ 6, 12.)

D. Procedural History

Plaintiffs commenced the instant suit on February 16, 2007, alleging violations of their constitutional rights under § 1983 and advancing various tort claims under state law. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 71) asserting that plaintiffs have failed to produce sufficient evidence to support their claims and that, alternatively, qualified immunity shields them from suit. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Donna and Holly advance ยง 1983 claims for excessive force, unlawful arrest, and unlawful imprisonment against Conway, Figge, Haines, Keller, Bixler, and Crider (hereinafter collectively "the individual defendants"). They also maintain state tort claims for assault, battery, false ...

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