Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

McNeil v. City of Easton

March 10, 2010

ELIJAH MCNEIL, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE CITY OF EASTON; POLICE OFFICER PETER GUERRIER, POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY CHANEY, POLICE OFFICER DARREN SNYDER, POLICE LT. DAVID BEITLER, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS EMPLOYEES OF THE EASTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the Brief in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendants' Brief"), Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Brief"), and the Statement of Relevant Undisputed Facts in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Undisputed Facts"), and for the reasons articulated in this Opinion, I grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and dismiss this action with prejudice.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Elijah McNeil commenced this action on March 4, 2008 by filing a Complaint against The City of Easton, the Easton Police Department, Police Officer Peter Guerriere*fn1 , and various John and Jane Does individually and in their official capacities as employees of the Easton Police Department.

On May 2, 2008, the named defendants filed the Motion of Defendants, The City of Easton, the Easton Police Department, and Officer Peter Guerrier, [to Dismiss] Portions of Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On May 28, 2008, I approved the parties' Stipulation for Extension of Time for Plaintiff to Respond to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and granted plaintiff an extension until June 16, 2008 to file an amended complaint.

On June 16, 2008, plaintiff filed his amended Complaint*fn2 against The City of Easton, Police Officer Peter Guerriere, Police Officer Anthony Chaney, Police Officer Darren Snyder, and Police Lieutenant David Beitler in their official capacities as employees of the Easton Police Department.

In some respects plaintiff's Amended Complaint is not entirely clear. However, it appears to raise five Section 1983 (42 U.S.C. § 1983) claims for alleged constitutional violations*fn3 : (1) unlawful entry*fn4 ; (2) false arrest*fn5 ; (3) false imprisonment*fn6 ; (4) malicious prosecution*fn7 ; and (5) excessive force*fn8 .

Plaintiff also brings related Monell*fn9 claims against The City of Easton for failing to train, supervise, or otherwise correct the defendant officers' alleged unconstitutional conduct.*fn10 Finally, plaintiff raises pendent state law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and assault and battery.*fn11

Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on behalf of all defendants on April 30, 2009, together with Defendants' Brief and Undisputed Facts. Plaintiff filed his Affirmation in Opposition and Plaintiff's Brief on May 15, 2009, but did not file a statement of disputed material facts in response to defendants' Undisputed Facts.*fn12

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction in this case is based upon federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343. The court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's pendent state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because the events giving rise to plaintiff's claims allegedly occurred in the City of Easton in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, which is located within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. § 118(a).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court should grant summary judgment 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 movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); Startzell v. City of Philadelphia, 533 F.3d 183, 192 (3d Cir. 2008); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The court must view all evidence and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and summary judgment is appropriate only if there are no genuine issues of material fact. Startzell, 533 F.3d at 192. Only facts that may affect the outcome of a case are "material." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d at 211.

Once the party moving for summary judgment has satisfied its burden by showing that there are no genuine disputes as to any material facts, the non-movant must provide evidence to support each element on which it bears the burden of proof. See Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 206-207 (3d Cir. 2008); Padillas v. Stork-Gamco, Inc., 186 F.3d 412, 414 (3d Cir. 1999).

Plaintiff cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or by resting on the allegations in his pleadings, but rather must present competent evidence from which a jury could reasonably find in plaintiff's favor. Ridgewood Board of Education v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999); Guinan v. A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, 597 F.Supp.2d 485, 493 (E.D.Pa. 2009) (Surrick, J.).

FACTS

Based upon the pleadings, record papers, exhibits, and defendants' Undisputed Facts, the relevant facts, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, are as follows.*fn13

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on October 14, 2007, plaintiff Elijah McNeil and his girlfriend, Pamela Davis, returned to plaintiff's home in Easton, Pennsylvania after a night of drinking and "got loud," turned the television on "loud," and engaged in "loud" sexual intercourse during which Miss Davis screamed.*fn14 Plaintiff and Miss Davis were making "[l]ots of noise.... Two o'clock, three o'clock in the morning, lots of noise, surrounded by lots of senior citizens."*fn15

At approximately 3:30 a.m., an unidentified woman called Northampton County's emergency 911 telephone line to report a domestic dispute in which a woman was calling for help.*fn16 The 911 caller reported that "the male at the residence never lets the female come to the door when she needs help."*fn17

Defendant Officers Peter Guerriere and Darren Snyder responded to plaintiff's residence, where they heard a woman screaming and loud banging coming from the house.*fn18 Based upon the nature of the 911 call and the loud noises coming from plaintiff's home, the officers believed that there was an assault in progress and were concerned for the woman's safety.*fn19

Officer Snyder called for backup, and pursuant to Easton Police Department procedure, sought and obtained permission from defendant Lieutenant David Beitler to enter the residence without a warrant.*fn20 Officers Guerriere and Snyder then entered plaintiff's home.

Officers Guerriere and Snyder checked the first floor of the home and went to the staircase leading to the second floor.*fn21 Miss Davis went down to the first floor and was directed to sit down by Officer Guerriere who kept her within his view.*fn22

Officer Snyder began to climb the stairs when plaintiff appeared at the top of the stairs and descended three steps.*fn23

Officers Guerriere and Snyder ordered plaintiff to come down the rest of the stairs, but plaintiff stopped and refused to comply.*fn24 Plaintiff was very angry that the officers were in his home and told them that they would have to shoot him.*fn25

Officer Snyder observed targets in the shape of a man's silhouette on the wall or a door with what appeared to be bullet holes from target practice.*fn26 Officer Snyder was "very fearful" that plaintiff would obtain a weapon or barricade himself on the second floor, which plaintiff could have accomplished in a matter of seconds.*fn27 The requested backup had yet to arrive, and Officer Snyder was "extremely concerned" for the safety of himself, Officer Guerriere, and Miss Davis.*fn28

Plaintiff ignored the officers' commands and started to ascend the stairs back to the second floor, which was not yet checked by the police, and where plaintiff could have access to a weapon.*fn29 Officer Snyder fired his taser, embedding its darts into plaintiff and delivering a five second electric discharge, to immobilize plaintiff and to prevent him from reaching the second floor.*fn30

Plaintiff fell to the floor with his hands underneath himself.*fn31 After regaining control of his motor skills, plaintiff did not comply with Officer Snyder's commands to show his hands.*fn32 Officer Snyder then delivered a second five second electric discharge from his taser, after which plaintiff complied and put his hands out to the side.*fn33

Defendant Officer Anthony Chaney then arrived to provide backup, assisted Officer Snyder in handcuffing plaintiff, and left without further involvement in the incident.*fn34

Lieutenant Beitler arrived after Officer Chaney, but plaintiff did not see Lieutenant Beitler at his home.*fn35 Before plaintiff was handcuffed, an unidentified officer kicked him in the back of the head.*fn36

Upon searching the second floor, the officers found an unnamed male in his twenties.*fn37

In accordance with Easton Police Department procedure, Officers Guerriere and Snyder took plaintiff to Easton Hospital for evaluation and removal of the taser darts.*fn38 Plaintiff told hospital personnel that his "heart wasn't beating right."*fn39

Plaintiff's hospital records make no mention of an observation of, or treatment for, an injury to plaintiff's head.*fn40

After plaintiff was treated and released from Easton Hospital, Officer Guerriere took plaintiff to the police department for processing.*fn41 Pursuant to Easton Police Department procedure, Lieutenant Beitler investigated Officer Snyder's use of force and photographed plaintiff's injuries, which consisted of the mark from the taser dart and a small scratch on the back of plaintiff's head.*fn42 At the police department, plaintiff denied suffering any physical injuries.*fn43

However, plaintiff later reported that his "tissues were swollen."*fn44

Officer Guerriere issued plaintiff a citation for disorderly conduct.*fn45 On November 27, 2007, Magisterial District Judge Sandra J. Zemgulis of District Court 03-2-06 in Northampton County found plaintiff guilty of disorderly conduct.*fn46 Plaintiff appealed, and a trial without jury was held before former President Judge Robert A. Freedberg of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.*fn47 President Judge Freedberg found plaintiff not guilty of disorderly conduct.*fn48

DISCUSSION

Section 1983 Plaintiff's constitutional claims are actionable against defendants through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is an enabling statute that does not create any substantive rights, but provides a remedy for the violation of federal constitutional or statutory rights. Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). Section 1983 states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Thus, to state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived plaintiff of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 1913, 68 L.Ed.2d 420, 428 (1986); Chainey v. Street, 523 F.3d 200, 219 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006)).

A defendant acts under color of state law when he exercises power "possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 2255, 101 L.Ed.2d 40, 49 (1988); Bonenberger v. Plymouth Township, 132 F.3d 20, 23 (3d Cir. 1997).

Qualified Immunity

The defendant officers contend that qualified immunity shields them from plaintiff's Section 1983 claims. Qualified immunity protects government officials from Section 1983 suits under certain circumstances. Qualified immunity exists to protect officials exercising good faith in their discretionary duties from the unreasonable burdens of litigation. Any potential good from suits against government officials for discretionary acts is outweighed by the chilling effect such litigation would have on legitimate government activities. See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 506, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 2911, 57 L.Ed.2d 895, 916 (1978); Karnes v. Skrutski, 62 F.3d 485, 499 n.13 (3d Cir. 1995).

To overcome an assertion of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-prong test. The court must "decide whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate a constitutional violation" and "whether the constitutional right in question was clearly established." Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 492 (3d Cir. 2006).

Courts are no longer required to decide the first prong of this test before moving on to the second prong, but it is "often beneficial" for courts to apply the test in this order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818, 172 L.Ed.2d 565, 576 (2009).

The test for whether a constitutional right is clearly established is "whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." If the officer's mistake as to what the law requires is reasonable, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. Couden, 446 F.3d at 492.

Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit, not merely a defense to liability. Pearson, 555 U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 818, 172 L.Ed.2d at 576; Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d 272, 281 (2001). Accordingly, it is important to resolve questions of qualified immunity at the earliest possible stage of the litigation. Pearson, 555 U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 815, 172 L.Ed.2d at 573; Saucier, 533 U.S. at 200-201, 121 S.Ct. at 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d at 281.

However, the Third Circuit has explained that the importance of resolving qualified immunity questions early is in tension with the reality that factual disputes often need to be resolved before determining whether defendant's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right.... A decision as to qualified immunity is premature when there are unresolved disputes of historical facts relevant to the immunity analysis.

Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 242 n.7 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199 (3d Cir. 2007)) (internal punctuation omitted).

The normal principles of summary judgment apply when qualified immunity is at issue. It is inappropriate to grant summary judgment if there are material factual disputes as to whether a constitutional violation has occurred or whether the constitutional right is clearly established. See Curley, 499 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.