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Rinehart v. Hamilton

September 3, 2010

KIMBERLY RINEHART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER HAMILTON OF ROBINSON POLICE DEPT., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cathy Bissoon Cathy Bissoon U.S. Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon*fn1

MEMORANDUM ORDER

I.MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court is Defendant‟s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) and Defendant‟s Motion to Strike Affidavit of Jack Wallace Wilson, III (Doc. 20). For the reasons that follow, Defendant‟s Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Defendant‟s Motion to Strike will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Pro se Plaintiff Kimberly Rinehart filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sergeant Joel Hamilton of the Robinson Township Police Department, alleging that he arrested her without probable cause. (Compl. at 1 (Doc. 1).)

At the outset, the Court notes that the parties‟ submissions discuss three arrests of Plaintiff that occurred on the following dates: (i) July 19, 2009; (ii) July 20, 2009; and (iii) August 11, 2009. In her Complaint, Plaintiff cited the August 11 arrest as the factual basis of her Section 1983 claim. Id. at 1-2 (describing August 11 arrest and averring that she "was arrested without probable cause by Officer Hamilton who didn‟t investigate or have good cause that [she] was guilty" of the offenses charged). Despite the allegations in Plaintiff‟s Complaint, in his motion for summary judgment, Defendant posits that Plaintiff also may be alleging that her July 19 and 20, 2009 arrests lacked probable cause. (Def.‟s Mem. of Law in Support of Mot. for Summ. Judg. (Doc. 17) ("Def‟s Br.") at 4.) In her response to Defendant‟s Motion, Plaintiff made several counter-allegations regarding these two arrests that have led the Court to believe that Plaintiff may be challenging the constitutionality of those arrests, despite not making any formal declaration to that effect.*fn2 See generally Pl‟s Response to Def‟s Mot. for Summ. Judg. (Doc. 22) ("Pl‟s Response"). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant and because the parties have devoted significant attention to the July 19 and July 20 arrests, the Court will address Plaintiff‟s Section 1983 claim as to all three arrests. But, because it expressly is the focus of Plaintiff‟s Complaint, the Court first will address the August 11 arrest, and then the two prior arrests.

August 11, 2009 Arrest

On August 11, 2009, Officer Noel Pilewski responded to a report from a resident at 117 Village Drive in Coraopolis, PA that a seven-year-old boy had been kicked out of his home by his mother because he wanted ice cream. (Def‟s Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. Judg. (Doc. 18) ("Def‟s Facts") at ¶¶ 89.) Officer Pilewski investigated and confirmed that the seven-year-old boy was Plaintiff‟s son and that he was locked out of his home. (Def‟s Facts at ¶¶ 90-92.) He then went to Plaintiff‟s home, where he first spoke to Plaintiff‟s friend, Jack Wilson. Id. at ¶ 94. Mr. Wilson was not aware of the situation with Plaintiff‟s son, and informed Officer Pilewski that he believed Plaintiff was at a doctor‟s appointment. Id. at ¶ 95. Officer Pilewski then went to his vehicle to call Children, Youth and Families to determine if there were any active cases involving Plaintiff and confirmed that there were no open cases. Id. at ¶¶ 96-97.

Prior to going to Plaintiff‟s home, Officer Pilewski contacted Defendant, who was acting shift supervisor at the time, and requested that he respond to the scene. Id. at ¶ 99. Defendant, accordingly, arrived on the scene. Id. at ¶ 98. Although there is some dispute over what occurred next, the parties‟ disagreement does not alter the Court‟s legal analysis. Plaintiff alleges that she became silent and still as soon she saw Defendant, whom she recognized from past encounters. (Compl. at 2; see also Aff. of Jack Wallace Wilson III ("Wilson Aff."), attached as Exhibit 1 to Pl‟s Response (Doc. 22)*fn3 .) Defendant, however, asserts that Plaintiff instantly began to shout and curse at him. Id. at ¶¶ 102-03. Plaintiff continued this behavior, despite warnings that she would be arrested for intimidating a police witness or victim (based on the outstanding criminal complaint against her, see infra) if she continued directing remarks towards him. Id. at ¶¶ 104-05. Defendant subsequently placed her under arrest for endangering the welfare of a child and intimidation of a police witness or victim. Id.at ¶¶ 106-112.

The Court takes judicial notice that, on July 6, 2010, Plaintiff was tried in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County for the charges related to her August 11, 2009 arrest.*fn4 See Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Docket No. CP-02-CR-0013524-2009. Plaintiff was found not guilty for intimidating a police witness or victim. Id. The Court additionally takes judicial notice that the charge for endangering the welfare of a child was withdrawn prior to the July 6 trial. Id.

July 19, 2009 Arrest

On July 19, 2009, while on duty patrolling, Defendant observed Plaintiff operating a blue Nissan Altima. (Def.‟s Facts at ¶¶ 7-10.) In an unrelated conversation earlier that day, Plaintiff had informed Defendant that her driver‟s license was suspended, and on that knowledge, Defendant initiated a traffic stop of Plaintiff‟s vehicle. Id.at ¶¶ 2-5, 11-12. Defendant asked Plaintiff to provide her driver‟s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff acknowledged that her driver‟s license was suspended and provided Defendant with a Pennsylvania identification card. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. She failed to provide either her signed vehicle registration card or proof of insurance. Id. at ¶ 16. Upon verifying Plaintiff‟s driver‟s license with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Defendant not only confirmed that Plaintiff‟s driver‟s license was suspended, but also learned that it had expired on October 30, 2005. Id.at ¶ 21.

As Defendant spoke with Plaintiff, he observed that her eyes were slightly bloodshot and glassy, and additionally detected an odor of alcohol. Id.at ¶¶ 17-18. Defendant suspected that Plaintiff was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Id. at ¶¶ 17-20, 22. Defendant asked Plaintiff if she had been consuming alcohol, which she initially denied and then later admitted that she had consumed several beers.*fn5 Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. He asked her to step out of her vehicle and observed that her gait was unsteady. Id. at ¶ 25. As a result, and with Plaintiff‟s consent, Defendant administered a series of field sobriety tests, including a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, a walk and turn test, and a one-leg stand test. Id. at ¶¶ 26-40. The field sobriety tests Defendant conducted revealed signs of impairment. Id. at ¶¶ 32-41. Based on the results of the various tests he had administered, Defendant placed Plaintiff under arrest for driving under the influence. Id.at ¶ 42. Defendant also later administered a preliminary breath test, which indicated the presence of alcohol on Plaintiff‟s breath. Id. at ¶ 44, 47. Plaintiff also submitted to a chemical test of her breath, which additionally showed that she was under the influence of alcohol and a central nervous system depressant which rendered her incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. Id. at ¶¶ 51-56. In ...


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