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Benckini v. Hawk

April 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E. K. Pratter, J.


Pro se Plaintiff Gene C. Benckini, a frequent litigant in this Court, has again sued a number of law enforcement personnel. Reading the Complaint most generously, Mr. Benckini alleges a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights violation occurred during his 2006 criminal trial in which he was charged with forgery and impersonating a public servant.

Cross motions for summary judgment on behalf of Mr. Benckini and Lehigh County Detective Leroy Oswald are now pending. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the Benckini Motion for Summary Judgment and grant the Oswald Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. The Legal Standard

Upon motion of a party, summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party persuades the district court that "there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the non-movant's favor with regard to that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it could affect the result of the suit under governing law. Id.

Evaluating a summary judgment motion, the court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005). If, after making all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 217, 322 (1986); Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987). The party opposing summary judgment must support each essential element of that party's opposition with concrete evidence in the record. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). This requirement upholds the "underlying purpose of summary judgment [which] is to avoid a pointless trial in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Walden v. Saint Gobain Corp., 323 F. Supp. 2d 637, 642 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)).

The same standards and burdens apply on cross motions for summary judgment. See Applemans v. City of Phila., 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987); Peters Twp. Sch. Dist. v. Hartford Accident and Indem. Co., 833 F.2d 32, 34 (3d Cir. 1987). Cross motions for summary judgment are no more than a claim by each side that it alone is entitled to summary judgment, and the making of such inherently contradictory claims does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waived judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material face exist.

Transportes Ferreos de Venezuella II Ca v. NKK Corp., 239 F.3d 555, 560 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968)). Of course, when presented with cross motions for summary judgment, the Court must and does consider the motions separately. See Williams v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 834 F.Supp. 794, 797 (E.D. Pa. 1993), aff'd, 27 F.3d 560 (3d Cir. 1994).

To describe the background of this case, the Court sets out those facts of record that are undisputed. Moreover, they are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. The Court disregards those factual allegations that either party makes without any evidentiary support from the record. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23; Jones v. United Parcel Service, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000) (requiring more than "unsupported allegations" to defeat summary judgment). The following factual recitation separately notes those instances where a party disputes factual contentions made by the opposing party, but provides no evidentiary basis from the record for those disputes, and, in that case, the opposing party's factual contentions are treated as undisputed. See Blaylock v. City of Philadelphia, 504 F.3d 405, 413 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. 242) (when the record contradicts a party's description of the facts, it does not create a genuine dispute). Moreover, the Court has made every appropriate indulgence of Mr. Benckini in light of his pro se status throughout the time this case has been pending.*fn1

II. Factual Background

Mr. Benckini commenced this action in August 2007 when he filed suit against 18 defendants, including Coopersburg Borough, Upper Saucon Township, and various individuals from those communities and Lehigh County. The Court dismissed most of the claims, save only a § 1983 claim against Detective Oswald for a violation of due process rights that allegedly occurred during Mr. Benckini's December 2006 trial and for separate and limited § 1983 claims against four Upper Saucon police officers. See Benckini v. Upper Saucon Township, Civ. No. 07-3580, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38723 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2008). The Court's May 13, 2008 Memorandum recites an extensive factual background of this case. Id. at *3-9. A summary of the remaining claim against Detective Oswald is included here in order to facilitate an understanding of the assertions Mr. Benckini has made and the evidence presented to the Court in connection with this specific pair of motions.

Mr. Benckini asserts that ex parte communications occurred between Detective Oswald and Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge William Platt on December 15, 2006 during a break in Mr. Benckini's criminal trial. Mr. Benckini maintains that during the ex parte meeting, Detective "Oswald presented false and manufactured statements, verbally by the plaintiff's witnesses in his reports, claiming all of defense witnesses were afraid of the plaintiff for fear of their lifes [sic], stateing [sic] that the plaintiff was going to kill people if they didn't testify for him. This information was presented to the judge William Platt." Complaint ¶ 59. The Complaint suggests that the allegedly false information presented to the judge when Mr. Benckini was not present led directly to the revocation of Mr. Benckini's bail and his presentencing incarceration.

The Court has carefully and indulgently reviewed the Complaint. Even when considered in the most generous manner possible, the evidence does not support Mr. Benckini's assertions in any manner. Mr. Benckini testified during his deposition in this case that during a break in his criminal trial on December 15, 2006, he returned to the courtroom to retrieve his briefcase. He avers that he "walked into the courtroom very quietly," entering so quietly that "nobody heard [him] come in." Oswald Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. C (Benckini deposition 10/15/08) at 50. Mr. Benckini observed Detective Oswald, Judge Platt, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Lovett, Coopersburg Police Chief Daniel Trexler, and Coopersburg Police Officer William Nahrgang in the courtroom. Id. at 50-51. While Mr. Benckini was standing unnoticed "15 feet away from them," he heard Detective Oswald mention his name twice while facing the judge. Id. at 51-53. Mr. Benckini asserts that Judge Platt then noticed him and "motioned to the guard to escort [Mr. Benckini] out" of the courtroom. Id. at 51-52.

Mr. Benckini admits that aside from hearing his name, he "didn't hear [Detective Oswald] say anything else." Oswald Motion, Ex. C at 53-54, 86-87. He did not hear anyone else say anything while he was standing in the courtroom even though the courtroom ...

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