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McKenna v. Schauer

April 6, 2009

BRIAN MCKENNA, PLAINTIFF
v.
RUSSELL SCHAUER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

We are considering a motion for partial summary judgment filed by the Defendant, Russell Schauer ("Schauer"). Schauer argues that no reasonable jury could find in favor of the Plaintiff, Brian McKenna ("McKenna"), on his claims for 1) false arrest, 2) First Amendment retaliation and 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED").*fn1

We will examine the motion under the well-established standard. Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d. Cir. 2008). Upon review of the motions, the supplemental briefs, and the record, we will grant Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment.

II. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff's claims arise from two encounters with Schauer, a police officer for Springettsbury Township. The first occurred on November, 26, 2006 when McKenna was riding his all-terrain vehicle ("ATV") on private property owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad and/or the Army Corps of Engineers. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") ¶ 2. At the time, Schauer was off-duty and in civilian attire. Id. at ¶ 3. He was at the location to check on one of his hunting stands that he had set up next to property owned by Norfolk Southern and the Army Corps of Engineers. Schauer was on property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers when he heard McKenna's ATV near the railroad tracks. Id. at ¶ 8. He stopped McKenna and called back up. After their arrival, Springettsbury Township police took the Plaintiff's name and address, and released him. Id. at ¶ 10. McKenna later complained to the Chief of Police and the York County District Attorney about the behavior of Schauer during the incident. Def.'s SMF ¶ 12.

The second encounter occurred on April 9, 2007 when Police Officer Wales arrested McKenna pursuant to three active warrants. Id. at 13. Defendant Schauer, on duty at the time, arrived on the scene and recognized McKenna from the November 26th incident. At this time, Schauer allegedly screamed and spit at the Plaintiff while he was handcuffed in the rear seat of Officer Wales' police vehicle. Id. at ¶ 21.

B. Procedural History

On April 11, 2008, McKenna initiated this action by filing a Complaint against Schauer as well as Springettsbury Township and three unidentified Township police officers. Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on April 22, 2008. The Amended Complaint alleged: (1) federal false arrest/unlawful seizure against Schauer and John Does I and II based on the encounter of November 26th; (2) use of excessive force by Schauer; (4) IIED by Schauer; (5) federal false arrest/unlawful seizure against John Doe III involving the April 9, 2007 incident; (6) First Amendment retaliation against Schauer; (7) Conspiracy against Schauer and John Doe III involving the April 9, 2007 incident; and (8) Monell*fn2 claim against Springettsbury Township.

Plaintiff agreed to voluntarily dismiss the (1) false arrest/unlawful seizure and conspiracy claims arising from the April 9, 2007 incident, (2) all claims against Springettsbury Township, and (3) all claims against the "John Doe" officers. Stipulation of Voluntary Dismissal, January 14, 2009. Four claims remain against Schauer, namely: (1) use of excessive force; (2) false arrest; (3) First Amendment retaliation; and (4) IIED.

III. Discussion

A. False Arrest

McKenna alleges that Schauer violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from false arrest. Schauer argues that he had probable cause to arrest McKenna for criminal trespass for riding his ATV on private property owned by Norfolk Southern and/or the Army Corps of Engineers. Schauer contends that the existence of probable cause defeats any claim for false arrest.

A police officer violates a person's right to be free from false arrest when he arrests a person without probable cause. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995). At trial, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate that "the police lacked probable cause" in order to prevail on a claim of false arrest. Id. (emphasis added). "The proper inquiry...is not whether the person arrested in fact committed the offense but whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense." Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988); Groman, 47 F.3d at 634. Thus, in order to proceed on his false arrest claim, McKenna must present evidence that Schauer lacked probable cause to arrest him.

The existence of probable cause is an issue of fact. Groman, 47 F.3d at 635 (citing Deary v. Three Un-Named Police Officers, 746 F.2d 185, 191 (3d Cir. 1984)). "Probable cause exists whenever reasonably trustworthy information or circumstances within a police officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to conclude that an offense has been committed by the person being arrested." United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 255 (3d Cir. 2002)(citations omitted). Our analysis is based upon "the objective facts available to the officers at the time of the arrest." Taylor v. City of Philadelphia, 144 Fed. Appx. 240, ...


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