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Cooper v. Roberts

September 16, 2009


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


Plaintiff David T. Cooper, pro se, has brought this § 1983 action against Defendants Reginald Roberts, Barry L. Grimm, Raymond J. Havrilak, Steven L. Hatfield, and Dennis Powell*fn1 for alleged constitutional violations. The allegations include the use of excessive force during Plaintiff's arrest and the subsequent illegal search of his residence. Before the Court are three motions: Grimm, Hatfield and Havrilak's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; Roberts's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; and Powell's Motion for Summary Judgment.

For the reasons articulated below, Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, trial shall proceed on Plaintiff's claims for excessive force against Defendant Roberts and for the failure to intervene to prevent excessive force against Defendant Powell, in his individual capacity, and Defendants Grimm, Havrilak and Hatfield. All of Plaintiff's other claims are dismissed.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts of record, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows: On February 17, 2006, Plaintiff, using his cell phone, arranged to meet with Justin Olinger, at Olinger's home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff drove himself there, in a vehicle owned by Esther Saunders, who also owned the residence where Plaintiff resided at the time. Upon arrival, Olinger presented Plaintiff with a large quantity of cocaine and requested that Plaintiff assist him in its distribution. Plaintiff claims that he turned down Olinger's proposal, but before he could leave, Defendants' Powell, Grimm, Hatfield, Havrilak, and Roberts stormed the apartment with guns drawn and pointed at Plaintiff. (Am. Complaint, ¶ 2; Cooper Dep., pp. 149-159, 167-191; Saunders Dep., p. 74.)

Plaintiff admits that he had to be asked three times to get on the ground and place his hands above his head before he complied. Once on his knees, Plaintiff alleges that Roberts forcefully grabbed him by the neck and "slam[med]" him to the floor. Plaintiff further claims that Roberts then placed his knee on the middle part of his back, pinning him to the floor while two officers secured his arms and attempted to handcuff him. (Cooper Dep., pp. 190-195.)

Before he was handcuffed, Plaintiff's breathing became impaired as a result of Roberts's weight on his back. Plaintiff attempted to inform the officers that he could not breathe and that he suffered from asthma. When Plaintiff's repeated attempts to receive relief from this restraint proved ineffective, he began "wiggling" so that he could breathe easier. In response, Plaintiff alleges that Roberts punched him twelve (12) times in his mid-section. In pain, Plaintiff then curled up into a fetal position and cooperated with Roberts's efforts to handcuff him. Hospital reports later confirmed that Plaintiff suffered multiple rib fractures. (Cooper Dep., pp. 199-205; Pottstown Memorial Medical Center Records.)

After Plaintiff had been successfully restrained, Defendant Powell, a Parole Agent, took possession of his keys and, without a warrant or consent, entered his residence in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, which was owned by Saunders. During the search of the residence, Powell allegedly stole some of Saunders's personal property. Meanwhile, at the police station, Plaintiff was presented with a series of charges which he alleges were fabricated. However, Plaintiff ultimately pled guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, sell, deliver, or possess a controlled substance. (Am. Complaint, ¶ 2; Cooper Dep., pp. 207-208, 227-229; Saunders Dep., pp. 48-49, 59-63; Montgomery Court of Common Pleas Criminal Docket.)

At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was on parole and subject to a number of parole conditions, which included: (1) consent to the search of his person, property or residence, without warrant by agents of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole;*fn2 (2) abstainment from the unlawful possession or sale of narcotics; and (3) prohibition from possessing a cell phone and using a vehicle without prior permission. (Cooper Dep., pp. 275-276; Exhibits to Depositions, p. 15.)

Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against Defendants on March 12, 2008.*fn3 He then filed an amended complaint on August 26, 2008, alleging several claims under § 1983 for violations of his Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff's amended complaint raises claims against Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that: (1) Defendants subjected him to unlawful excessive force during his arrest; (2) he was falsely arrested by Defendants without probable cause; (3) Defendants unlawfully searched his residence following the arrest; (4) he was unlawfully discriminated against in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause; and (5) property belonging to Saunders was stolen during Defendants' search of her home.

Defendants Havrilak, Grimm, and Hatfield jointly filed a motion for summary judgment on December 4, 2008. Roberts moved for summary judgment on January 16, 2009, and Powell likewise filed for summary judgment on January 20, 2009.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment may be granted only, "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). This initially requires the court to determine whether the moving party has demonstrated that there is no dispute concerning the factual resolution of an essential element of the cause of action. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party carries the initial burden of demonstrating there is no genuine issue of material fact, then the non-moving party, to withstand a motion for summary judgment, must "come forward with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

At the summary judgment stage, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In doing so, a district court must consider the evidence presented by the moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Med. Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1999). Additionally, ...

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