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Harrison v. Ammons

August 19, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Mark Harrison ("Harrison") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his civil rights were violated when he was arrested by the Camp Hill police on November 9, 2003. Harrison also raises claims for municipal and supervisory liability and seeks redress under state tort law. Defendants Gregory Ammons and the Camp Hill Borough have filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 39); defendant Warren Cornelius has filed a separate motion for summary judgment (Doc. 42). For the reasons that follow, both motions will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts

The facts underlying this matter are largely undisputed.*fn1 After dark on November 9, 2003, Harrison was driving a gray Ford minivan through the Camp Hill Borough. (Doc. 43 ¶ 1; Doc. 54 ¶ 1.) The minivan belonged to Tina Cornelius ("Tina"), the estranged wife of defendant Warren Cornelius ("Cornelius"), and Harrison was using the vehicle with Tina's permission. (Doc. 43 ¶ 1; Doc. 54 ¶ 1.) As Harrison traveled northbound on South Seventeenth Street, he passed Cornelius, an officer with the Camp Hill police department who was on patrol in a marked police cruiser. (Doc. 43 ¶ 2; Doc. 54 ¶ 2.) Cornelius observed Harrison travel through a red traffic light; he thereafter activated his lights and siren and commenced pursuit. (See Doc. 43 ¶¶ 2-3; Doc. 54 ¶¶ 2-3.)

Harrison saw the lights and heard the siren, but neglected to pull the minivan to the shoulder. (Doc. 43 ¶ 3; Doc. 54 ¶ 3.) Instead, he continued driving for an additional two and one-half blocks, making one left and one right turn, and thereafter parking his vehicle on the street outside Tina's residence. (See Doc. 43 ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 54 ¶¶ 3-4.) Harrison explained that he knew Cornelius was following him, and his intention was simply to "proceed[] to a safe location." (Doc. 65 at 51-52.) Harrison recognized Cornelius because he had been confronted by the officer on at least two occasions, during both of which Cornelius aggressively warned Harrison against socializing with Tina.*fn2 (See id. at 36-39; 63.)

After Harrison parked the minivan, he exited the vehicle and stood beside it. (Doc. 43 ¶ 4; Doc. 54 ¶ 4; Doc. 65 at 54-55.) Cornelius approached and informed Harrison that he was under arrest for fleeing and eluding, and ordered him to turn and face the minivan. (Doc. 43 ¶ 5; Doc. 54 ¶ 5; see Doc. 65 at 62.) Harrison complied, positioning both hands atop the hood of the vehicle. (See Doc. 65 at 59.) Cornelius then placed a handcuff around one of Harrison's wrists, but Harrison would not permit his other wrist to be restrained. (See Doc. 43 ¶ 5; Doc. 54 ¶ 5.) One eyewitness, Kelly Whitman ("Whitman"), stated that she saw Harrison cross his arms in front of his chest, thwarting Cornelius' attempt to shackle him. (See Doc. 43, Ex. B at 12.) Harrison acknowledged as much, explaining, "I just didn't allow my other arm to be handcuffed." (Doc. 65 at 59.) At some point, Tina emerged from the front door of her residence and began "yelling . . . profanity" at Cornelius; Cornelius ordered Tina to re-enter the home. (See Doc. 43, Ex. B at 11-12.) According to Whitman, the scene was one of complete "chaos." (Id. at 12.)

A second police officer soon arrived on the scene and began to assist Cornelius in his attempt to complete Harrison's arrest. (See id. at 13; Doc. 43, Ex. C at 14.) Both officers spent the next several minutes unsuccessfully endeavoring to restrain Harrison, who continued to resist. (See Doc. 43, Ex. B at 13; Doc. 43, Ex. C at 15, 19.) Cornelius eventually deployed pepper spray upon Harrison's face. (See Doc. 43, Ex. B at 13; Doc. 43, Ex. C at 14.) Shortly thereafter, the officers were able to fully handcuff Harrison and place him under arrest. (See Doc. 43 ¶ 9; Doc. 54 ¶ 9.) Harrison was later charged in a criminal information with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, failure to stop at an intersection, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. (See Doc. 43, Ex. G.) He was adjudicated not guilty on the charge that he failed to stop at an intersection; the Commonwealth dismissed the remainder of the charges contained in the information. See Docket, Commonwealth v. Harrison, No. CP-21-CR-0002531-2003 (Pa. C.P. Cumberland County).

On November 8, 2005, Harrison commenced the instant action by filing a three-count complaint, which invoked an array of constitutional provisions, the federal civil rights statutes codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988, and the Pennsylvania common law. (See Doc. 1 ¶ 8.) Harrison asserted that he had been falsely arrested, that he had been subjected to malicious prosecution, that he had been targeted for arrest because of his race, and that law enforcement utilized excessive force when effectuating his arrest. Defendants moved to dismiss count three of the complaint on May 16, 2007.*fn3 (See Doc. 14.) The court granted this motion on July 24, 2007, (see Doc. 17), after which the parties entered a lengthy period of discovery. On June 12, 2008, defendants Gregory Ammons ("Chief Ammons") and the Camp Hill Borough (the "Borough") filed a motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 39); Cornelius filed a separate motion for summary judgment on June 16, 2008, (Doc. 42). Both motions have been fully briefed and are 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). The burden of proof is upon the nonmoving 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-movant 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

Harrison brings his constitutional claims pursuant to §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988 of Title 42 of the United States Code. These sections create no substantive rights, but instead provide a remedy for the infringement of rights created by other federal laws. See Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002) (discussing § 1983); Great Am. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Novotny, 442 U.S. 366, 372 (1979) (discussing § 1985); Krier v. Amodio, 441 F. Supp. 181, 182 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 1977) (discussing § 1988); Ammlung v. Chester, 355 F. Supp. 1300, 1304 (E.D. Pa. 1973) (same), aff'd, 494 F.2d 811 (3d Cir. 1974). Because defendants have moved for summary judgment, they bear "the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [the] motion[s], and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file'" which they believe establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (emphasis added) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56).

To meet their burden of production, defendants rely upon several admissions secured via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36. Rule 36 provides, inter alia, that "[a] party may serve on any other party a written request to admit, for purposes of the pending action only, the truth of any matters within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1) relating to . . . facts, the application of law to fact, or opinions about either . . . ." FED. R. CIV. P. 36(a)(1). Admissions obtained pursuant to Rule 36 may thereafter be used as proof in support of a motion for summary judgment. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) (explaining that judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file" show there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute); 8A CHARLES A. WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2264, at 569 (2d ed. 1994) ("Admissions obtained by use of Rule 36 may show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and justify the entry of summary judgment under Rule 56."); see also Airco Indus. Gases, Inc. v. Teamsters Health & Welfare Pension Fund of Phila. & Vicinity, 850 F.2d 1028, 1036 n.9 (3d Cir. 1988) (same).

Facts or opinions which a party admits are considered conclusive and binding. FED. R. CIV. P. 36(b) ("A matter admitted under this rule is conclusively established . . . ."); see also Airco Indus., 850 F.2d at 1037 (explaining that a Rule 36 admission whose meaning is certain is "an unassailable statement of fact that narrows the triable issues in the case"); McNeil v. AT&T Universal Card, 192 F.R.D. 492, 494 & n.4 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (stating that "[a]dmissions are conclusively binding on parties at trial, and carry more weight than a witness statement, deposition testimony, or interrogatories, because once made, admissions cannot be countered by other evidence"); 8A WRIGHT ET AL., ยง 2264, at 569-70. By leave of court, however, a party may move to withdraw or amend its admissions when so doing will advance "presentation of the merits of the action and if the court is not persuaded that it would prejudice the requesting party in maintaining or defending the action on the merits." FED. R. CIV. P. 36(b). In this way, a party that makes a damaging ...

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