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Schneyder v. Smith

April 26, 2010

NICOLE SCHNEYDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GINA SMITH, DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAURA DAVIS, ESQUIRE, AND THE DEFENDER ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction............................................................. 2

II. Factual Background....................................................... 3

III. Procedural History........................................................ 5

IV. Legal Standard........................................................... 9

V. Discussion............................................................. 10

A. Qualified Immunity................................................ 11

1. Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claim............................ 11

a. Plaintiff Has a Clearly Established Constitutional Right Under the Fourth Amendment.................................... 12

i. Detention As a Material Witness Is a Seizure Under the Fourth Amendment.............................. 12

ii. Detention As a Material Witness Requires Probable Cause.............................................. 14

b. Plaintiff Alleges Facts Sufficient to Establish a Violation of Her Fourth Amendment Rights............................... 16

2. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Claim......................... 20

3. Plaintiff's Argument That Defendant Was Obligated by Court Order to Inform Judge of Trial Continuance.............................. 21

B. Absolute Immunity................................................ 22

1. Law of the Case Doctrine...................................... 23

2. Defendant's Argument That the Third Circuit's Opinion in Schneyder Does Not Control This Case Because of Its Different Procedural Posture Is Rejected................................................... 24

3. Defendant's Argument That Van de Kamp v. Goldstein Constitutes a Change in the Controlling Law Is Rejected....................... 26

C. Availability of Pretrial Appeal........................................ 29

1. Plaintiff's Argument That Defendant Has Waived an Appeal on Qualified Immunity is Rejected......................................... 29

2. Plaintiff's Request That the Court Certify Any Appeal as Frivolous Is Rejected................................................... 32

VI. Conclusion............................................................. 32

I. Introduction

This case arises out of the detention of plaintiff Nicole Schneyder as a material witness in a Pennsylvania homicide prosecution, Commonwealth v. Michael Overby (CP No. 9501-0580 2/3). In the Complaint, plaintiff asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Gina Smith, Esq., who was the prosecutor in the Overby homicide case. Specifically, plaintiff alleges in a two-count Complaint that she was detained as a material witness without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Count One), and that her detention deprived her of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count Two).

Presently before the Court is defendant Smith's Second Amended Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's Motion is denied.

II. Factual Background

The relevant facts of this case are stated in detail in the Court's Memorandum and Order of January 9, 2007, Schneyder v. Smith, No. 06-CV-4986, 2007 WL 119955, at *1-*2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 9, 2007), and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit's Precedential Opinion of August 4, 2008, Schneyder v. Smith, 538 F.3d 202, 205-08 (3d Cir. 2008).*fn1

Accordingly, this Memorandum sets forth only the factual and procedural background necessary to resolve the Motion presently before the Court. Unless noted otherwise, the facts are undisputed.

Plaintiff "was a reluctant but essential witness in three attempts by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to convict Michael Overby of first-degree murder." Id. at 205. During the first two trials against Overby, plaintiff did not appear, leading the court to declare her unavailable and admit her sworn statement into evidence. Id. Defendant Smith, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, who was assigned to prosecute Overby for the third time,*fn2 secured a material witness warrant for plaintiff's arrest on January 26, 2005, which was signed by Judge Rayford Means of the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County. Schneyder, 2007 WL 119955, at *1.

Before the hearing on the material witness petition on January 27, 2005, Judge Means met with defendant and public defender Laura Davis, who was representing plaintiff for the purposes of the hearing, in his robing room. (Mot. 5, ¶11.) Among other things, Judge Means instructed defendant to inform him if the case was continued, and would not commence as planned on February 2, 2005.*fn3 (Id.) At the hearing, Judge Means found plaintiff to be a "flight risk" and set bail for her at $300,000. (Bail Hr'g Tr., Jan. 27, 2005, Ex. 1 to Mot. 19:5-8, 21:8.) Plaintiff did not post bail and was detained. Schneyder, 538 F.3d at 205; Schneyder, 2007 WL 119955, at *1.

At the bail hearing, Judge Means articulated his dislike for "setting bail on people who are not accused of a crime." (Bail Hr'g Tr. 21:12-13.) In open court, he told plaintiff, "[i]f the case breaks down, let me know early and I'll let you out." He continued,

I only intend to keep you on this bail until you testify or the trial is concluded. If you did have it on February 2nd and the Commonwealth says, we don't need you anymore, we're done with you, okay, then I will want them to come back to me and say, look, we don't have any need for her. If they make a decision at some point on January 31st, we changed our mind, we don't even need this lady, come back to me so I can bring her down and remove this. (Id. 22:1-11.) Finally, Judge Means set a status date of February 14, 2005 -- two days after the trial was to be concluded -- for the parties "to come down and see me" in case the trial was still ongoing. (Id. 21:4-7).

On February 2, 2005, the Overby trial was continued until May 25, 2005. Schneyder, 1007 WL 119955, at *1. However, defendant never informed Judge Means that the trial was continued,*fn4 and plaintiff was not released. Id. Plaintiff alleges that "[b]etween February 2, 2005... and March 21, when Judge Means finally released plaintiff, [her] mother and sister telephoned the defendant approximately 25 times... inquiring why plaintiff was still in jail and wondering when she would be released, explaining that plaintiff's father was gravely ill, and asking the defendant to call them back to discuss these matters." (Pl.'s Resp. 32; see Decl. of Mary-Anne Schneyder, Ex. 21 to Pl.'s Resp.; Decl. of Tamyra Schneyder, Ex. 22 to Pl.'s Resp.)

Upon the death of plaintiff's father on February 28, 2005, plaintiff's sister hired attorney Paul Conway, who obtained a court order allowing plaintiff to attend, for only a few minutes, her father's funeral. Schneyder, 1007 WL 119955, at *2; Schneyder, 538 F.3d at 206. Thereafter, Conway learned that Judge Means had instructed defendant to notify him of the Overby continuance. Schneyder, 2007 WL 119955, at *2; Schneyder, 538 F.3d at 206. Conway subsequently informed Judge Means of the continuance. Schneyder, 2007 WL 119955, at *2; Schneyder, 538 F.3d at 206. Judge Means immediately ordered plaintiff's release, and plaintiff was released on March 21, 2005, "54 days after she was first detained and 48 days after the Overby case was continued." Schneyder, 2007 WL 119955, at *2; Schneyder, 538 F.3d at 206.

III. Procedural History

On November 13, 2006, plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint against defendants Smith and the Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia ("ODA"). In Count One, plaintiff alleged against both defendants detention without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. ¶¶ 31-37.) Count One also alleged that the ODA was liable for its failure to supervise defendant Smith and monitor plaintiff's status as a detained witness. (Id. ¶ 34.) In Counts Two and Three, plaintiff alleged pendent state law claims of false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress against both defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 38-41.)

On December 12, 2006, defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). By Memorandum and Order of January 9, 2007, this Court: (1) granted defendants' motion with regard to plaintiff's § 1983 claim against defendant Smith on the ground the defendant Smith was entitled to absolute immunity;*fn5 (2) denied defendants' motion with regard to plaintiff's ยง 1983 claim against defendant ODA; and (3) granted defendants' motion with regard to plaintiff's state law claims against both defendants on the ground that defendant Smith was absolutely immune from ...


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