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Davis v. Malitzki

March 16, 2010

CHRISTOPHER DAVIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEPHEN B. MALITZKI, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A DETECTIVE IN THE BETHLEHEM TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT , BETHLEHEM TOWNSHIP AND JOHN DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry S. Perkin United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Stephen B. Malitzki, Jr., individually and in his official capacity as an investigator in the Bethlehem Township Police Department, the Bethlehem Township Police Department, and Bethlehem Township pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), and the Response to the Motion. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

Plaintiff Christopher Davis ("Mr. Davis"), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 20, 2009. The case was originally assigned to the Honorable Lawrence F. Stengel. On June 26, 2009, Judge Stengel entered an Order, based upon the parties' consent, for the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and enter an adjudication in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Rule 72.1(III)(b) of the Rules of Civil Procedure for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

On June 30, 2009, Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint in which he omitted Defendants Bethlehem Township Police Department and Northampton County. Accordingly, both the Bethlehem Township Police Department and Northampton County were terminated from this case on June 30, 2009. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss portions of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint on July 7, 2009. On October 27, 2009, the Motion to Dismiss was partially granted.

On November 16, 2009, Plaintiff filed his Third Amended Complaint against Stephen B. Malitzki, Jr., Bethlehem Township and John Does 1-10.*fn1 On December 1, 2009, Defendants filed their Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint. On January 13, 2010, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff's Response to the Motion was filed on February 21, 2010, following two extensions of time.

II. STANDARD

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." F ED. R. C IV. P. 56(c). The essential inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248.

To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings, but rather that party must go beyond the pleadings and present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." F ED. R. C IV. P. 56(e). Similarly, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)(citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). The non-moving party has the burden of producing evidence to establish prima facie each element of its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-323. If the court, in viewing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, then summary judgment is proper. Id. at 322; Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987). When the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party's burden can be "discharged by 'showing' - that is, pointing out to the District Court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Jones v. Indiana Area Sch. Dist., 397 F. Supp.2d 628, 642 (W.D. Pa. 2005) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325).

III. DISCUSSION

In his Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff withdraws all claims except Count I, malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Count II, selective prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also withdraws all claims against all Defendants except Defendant Stephen B. Maliztki, Jr. in his personal, or individual, capacity.*fn2 Accordingly, summary judgment is granted for Defendants on Counts III, IV and V of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, and Defendants Bethlehem Township and John Does 1 through 10 and Defendant Stephen B. Malitzky, Jr., in his official capacity.

A. Whether Defendant Malitzky is Entitled to Qualified Immunity on Plaintiff's Remaining Claims

Defendant Malitzky contends that qualified immunity applies to shield him from liability in this case because:

[i]n the present case, Judge Joseph Barner approved the charges and bound the case against Christopher Davis over for trial. Furthermore, Assistant District Attorney Robert Eyer represented the Commonwealth at Mr. Davis' Preliminary Hearing. Investigator Malitzky is not a lawyer and was clearly within his rights in relying upon the good faith advice of the Assistant District Attorney Eyer in pursuing his claim against Mr. Davis. Further, it was not objectively unreasonable for Investigator Malitzky to believe that Mr. Davis committed an assault given that two persons were in the hospital for stab wounds, one of whom required emergency surgery. Independent witnesses as well as the victims confirmed that Mr. Davis was the only person at the party who had a weapon.

Given that an officer is permitted to rely upon testimony of one witness in order to find probable cause, Officer Malitzky enjoys qualified immunity since his pursuit of criminal charges against Davis which were signed off on by the Assistant District Attorney and approved by the Court, did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

Def.'s Mem. Law, p. 11 (unnumbered in orig.).

Plaintiff contends, in response, that Defendant Malitzky is not entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff challenges whether probable cause existed for Plaintiff's arrest, prosecution and post-trial detention. Plaintiff contends that the affidavit of probable cause is insufficient because it lacked facts presented by all of the eyewitnesses, not just those individuals who were stabbed, saw blood, or said Plaintiff had a knife following the June 15, 2006 altercation. According to Plaintiff, the mere occurrence of a stabbing, like any accident, does not even comport civil liability, let alone provide probable cause towards a criminal warrant. Plaintiff contends that if Defendant Malitzky ...


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