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Red Carpet Inn, LLC v. Kratz

August 19, 2010

RED CARPET INN, LLC PLAINTIFF
v.
FRANK KRATZ AND THE CITY OF WILKES BARRE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Magistrate Judge Blewitt)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court are the cross-Summary Judgment Motions of the Plaintiff and the Defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docs. 35 and 38).

I. Background

On July 16, 2008, Plaintiff Red Carpet Inn, LLC ("RCI") filed a Complaint against Frank Kratz ("Kratz") and the City of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania ("City"), collectively referred to as "Defendants". (Doc. 1). On September 9, 2008, Defendants jointly filed their Answer to the Complaint. (Doc. 9). On October 8, 2008, both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned for all matters, including trial, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c). (Doc. 17). On June 23, 2009, the Court denied Plaintiff 's Motion to Amend Complaint. (Doc. 32). On September 11, 2009, after the close of discovery, both parties filed Motions for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 35, Defendants, and Doc. 38, Plaintiff). Also, both parties submitted exhibits with respect to their motions. (Docs. 36, 50 and 56).

The Complaint alleges civil rights claims, under 42 U.S.C. §1983*fn1 , against Defendants. (Doc. 1, ¶4). More specifically, the Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights against an illegal search and seizure, and Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights to substantive and procedural due process. (Doc. 1, ¶s 14 and 15).

At all times relevant, Plaintiff RCI was a limited liability corporation located at 400 Kidder Street, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 at ¶1). Plaintiff RCI was a motel business that accommodated guests on daily, weekly, and monthly stays, as well as long-term tenants. (Doc. 36 Ex. A at 37). Plaintiff RCI consisted of five buildings that all were used for either motel guests or long-term tenants. (Id. at 62). Kiran Patel was the sole managing member of Plaintiff RCI. (Id. at 24).

At all times relevant, Defendant Kratz was the Chief Code Enforcement Officer for the City. (Doc. 36 Ex. B at 13 ¶5). Defendant Kratz's job duties as Chief Code Enforcement Officer included enforcing and interpreting the City's and State's building codes. (Doc. 36 Ex. B at 17). The City has adopted the Uniform Construction Code ("UCC") as its building code. (Doc. 36 Ex. B at 29). The City is an existing municipality in Pennsylvania with its principal place of business at City Hall, 40 East Market Street, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶3).

II. Standard of Review

A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue of fact is "'genuine' only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented, could find for the nonmoving party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-694 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)).

The burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact is initially upon the movant. Forms, Inc. v. American Standard, Inc., 546 F. Supp. 314, 320 (E.D. Pa. 1982), aff'd mem. 725 F.2d 667 (3d Cir. 1983). Upon such a showing, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. Id. The nonmoving party is required to go beyond the pleadings and by affidavits or by "depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file" designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Electric Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In doing so, the court must accept the non-movant's allegations as true and resolve any conflicts in his favor. Id., quoting Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 340 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010 (1985); Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976) cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1038 (1977).

III. Undisputed Material Facts

The parties agree on several material facts in this case.*fn2 On April 2, 2006, a fire occurred at Plaintiff RCI's premises. The fire only affected the two-story, 48-unit building on the premises. (Doc. 36 Ex. A at 59). That same night, the City On-duty Line Chief and Assistant Chief with the Fire Inspector conducted an on-site investigation to determine the cause of the fire and inspect the damage caused by the fire. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. C at pp. 5-7). As a result of the investigation, the Inspectors noticed that the fire caused damage to the two-story, 48-unit building, in part, because the building lacked fire stops between the rooms and had other fire safety deficiencies. (Id. at 7). These deficiencies were found to be building code matters. (Id.). Accordingly, the City Inspectors contacted Defendant Kratz so he could inspect the Plaintiff's two-story, 48-unit building.*fn3 After Defendant Kratz's investigation of the Plaintiff's two-story, 48-unit building, Kratz notified Patel of all fire safety deficiencies that had to be corrected, while the building was closed for fire damage, via a letter dated April 10, 2006. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. B at pp. 24-28 and Doc. 56, Pl. Appendix, p. 7a). From April 2, 2006 until on or about July 24, 2006, the Plaintiff's two-story, 48-unit building was the only building located on Plaintiff's subject property which was closed. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex A, Patel Dep. at pp. 74-76).

On July 28, 2006, Defendant Kratz re-investigated the Plaintiff's two-story, 48-unit building and determined that all of the fire safety corrections had been adequately made. Accordingly, Defendant Kratz allowed Plaintiff RCI to re-open the stated building. On July 24, 2006*fn4 , the City Department of Health received complaints about possible health code violations and insect infestation at Plaintiff RCI. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. L at pp. 22-24). As a result, the Department of Health conducted an investigation of all the Plaintiff's other buildings except the two-story, 48-unit building. (Doc. 36, Ex. L at pp. 34-35). The Department of Health determined that the other buildings were unfit for human habitationand, thus, posted notices to shut down the buildings and vacated guests immediately. (Id.).

Although Plaintiff initially sought punitive damages against the Defendant City, both parties agree that Plaintiff, even if successful in this action, could not recover punitive damages against the City. (Doc. 9, ¶ 29, and Doc. 11, ¶ 29).

In Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Serv. Of NYC, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) the Supreme Court held "municipalities and other local government units are among those 'persons' to whom Section 1983 applies." Although §1983 applies to municipalities and other local government units, such entities are not subject to punitive damages under the statute's provisions. See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981) (holding that respondents were not entitled to punitive damages against the City of Newport under their §1983 claim when the city revoked respondents' license to promote music concerts). Thus, the Court will grant Defendants' Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff 's claim for punitive damages against Defendant City since the City is immune from such damages.

IV. Discussion

1. Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kratz acted in an arbitrary, capricious, and irrational manner and acted with specific intent to deprive it of its civil rights. (Doc. 1). Further, Plaintiff alleges that Kratz acted in an arbitrary, capricious, and irrational manner by summarily closing its motel and displacing all of its occupants. (Id. at ¶ 12). Plaintiff avers that the closing of its property by Defendants on July 24, 2006, violated its Fourteenth Amendment substantive and procedural due process rights.

Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claims.

The Court agrees with Defendants that their Summary Judgment Motion should be granted with respect to Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim. As Defendants point out (Doc. 50, pp. 17-18), claims of substantive due process violations are cognizable under Section 1983 only when another constitutional provision does not provide a more explicit source for the right asserted. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273 (1994). In other words, "[when a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of governmental behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process must be the guide for analyzing these claims." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989).

In this case, the "particular sort of governmental behavior" the Plaintiff is alleging "constitutional protection against" lies in the Fourth Amendment, against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment, procedural due process, which are essentially the claims Plaintiff raises throughout its Complaint. (Doc. 1, ¶'s 11-17).

The Court also disagrees with Plaintiff's argument that this case is completely distinguishable from Para v. City of Scranton, 2008 WL 2705538 (M.D. Pa.). As in Para, the "crux of this case" is both the alleged seizure of Plaintiff's business by Defendants and the alleged lack of procedures available to Plaintiff to challenge Defendants' seizure. Therefore, Plaintiff's claim is properly brought under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees procedural due process. Plaintiff argues that because it has more constitutional violation claims than did the Plaintiff in Para, this Court should distinguish the instant case from Para. (Doc. 55 at p. 25). Just because there are more claims to Plaintiff's case, the stated rule annunciated in both Graham and Albright, which was applied by this Court Para, is also applicable to the present case. As the Albright Court, 510 U.S. at 273, stated:

"When a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of governmental behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process must be the guide for analyzing these claims."*fn5

Accordingly, since Plaintiff's claim against Defendants is grounded in an explicit textual source, it the Fourth Amendment's protections, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process claim, and it will deny Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Motion with respect to this claim. See El Malik v. City of Philadelphia, 2007 WL 984455, *7, n. 2 (E.D. Pa. 2007)("Although Plaintiffs do allege that Defendants acted arbitrarily and oppressively in the demolition of their buildings, their claim fits squarely within the contours of the Fourth Amendment's protections (applicable to the Defendants via the Fourteenth Amendment)".).

2. Fourth Amendment Illegal Search and Seizure Claim

Plaintiff alleges in its Complaint that Defendant Kratz unlawfully entered its premises, performed an unlawful search of its premises, and closed down its premises, which constituted an illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

First, the Court does not find any evidence to support Plaintiff's claim of an illegal search by Defendant Kratz. While Patel, the owner and sole managing member of Plaintiff RCI, was not always on the Plaintiff's premises during all Defendant Kratz's visits to RCI, Ray Vega, RCI's daytime on-site manager, was present. The undisputed evidence shows that Vega gave consent to Kratz to perform the investigations on RCI's premises. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. D at pp. 17-18). Vega, as manager, could give consent to allow people onto the premises. (Id.). Further, in Patel's own deposition, he states that he never told Vega to keep Defendant Kratz off the RCI premises. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. A at p. 113).

As the Court stated in United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974):

Although municipal searches of apartment buildings for code violations typically require a warrant, Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 533, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967), the defendants "may show that permission to search was obtained from a third party who possessed common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected."

In this case, as Defendants contend (Doc. 50, p. 6), the evidence demonstrates that Vega was a third party who possessed both the authority to allow inspectors onto the RCI premises, as well as a sufficient relationship to the premises, as on-site manager, to allow for City code violation and health department investigations to be conducted on the premises.

Therefore, the issue is whether the alleged seizure of Plaintiff's premises by Defendant Kratz rose to a level of unreasonableness that would constitute a violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Neither party contests that Plaintiff had a possessory interest covered by the Fourth Amendment, and that the closing of Plaintiff's property constituted a seizure.*fn6 As Plaintiff correctly points out, "a seizure of property can violate the Fourth Amendment even if the preceding search [that lead to the seizure] was constitutional." (Doc. 55 at p. 14, citing Soldal v. County Cook, Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 67 (1992)). The Third Circuit, however, held in McGroarty v. Gardner, 68 Fed. Appx. 307, 312 (3d Cir. 2003), "where the seizure occurs after a valid demonstration of consent to the search, the seizure does not violate the owner's privacy or possessory interests."(citation omitted).

Accordingly, the Court uses the same analysis to determine whether there was a valid demonstration of consent as it did to determine whether the search was reasonable. Again, the Court arrives at the same conclusion. As stated, the evidence shows that Vega was the daytime on-site manager of RCI who had the authority to give consent to City inspectors to enter the property. Vega gave Defendant Kratz permission to enter and inspect the premises every time Kratz came to RCI. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. D at pp. 17-18) Further, Patel, the owner of the premises, never directed Vega to do otherwise. (Doc. 36, Def. Ex. A at p. 113). Moreover, as Defendants state (Doc. 50, p. 6), the evidence is undisputed that Defendant Kratz allowed RCI to re-open its two-story building at issue on July 28, 2006, four days after he closed it. (Doc. 36, Ex. B, pp. 197-198 & Ex. A, pp. 65-66).

Thus, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim, and it will deny Plaintiff's Summary ...


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