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Butler v. Hartlaub

October 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court is Defendants William Hartlaub ("Hartlaub") and John Brumbaugh's ("Brumbaugh") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 31.) Defendant Conewago Township Police Department has joined in the motion. (Doc. No. 42.) The motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.


A. Factual Background*fn1

On April 11, 2008, Plaintiff Andre D. Butler ("Butler") was arrested for criminal offenses related to drugs at a Food Lion grocery store parking lot located in Hanover, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 32 ¶ 1.) Defendants Hartlaub and Brumbaugh participated in the arrest. (Id. ¶ 2.) During the arrest, Defendants claim Hartlaub frisk searched Butler and discovered a section of his underwear that he believed contained a stash of drugs. At this point, while still in the parking lot, Hartlaub cut a portion of the plaintiff's underwear to retrieve the substance, which was believed to be cocaine. The exact circumstances of this search are in dispute. Plaintiffs allege that Hartlaub first pulled down Butler's pants and used a knife to cut off his underwear, leaving Butler completely exposed in the Food Lion parking lot. (Doc. No. 25 ¶¶ 11-13.) Defendants deny that Hartlaub pulled down Butler's pants and that he was fully exposed to the public. (Doc. No. 30 ¶¶ 10-12.)

As a result of this arrest and search, Butler was prosecuted for drug offenses in the Court of Common Pleas in Adams County, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 3.) During the criminal proceedings, Butler's counsel filed a motion to suppress evidence found on Butler's person during his arrest, contending the search "was so intrusive and contrary to any measure of decency that it is not a reasonable search under the Constitutions of the United States or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania . . . ." (Doc. No. 33-2, Ex. A.) After hearing testimony at an evidentiary hearing set on the matter, Judge Michael A. George denied the motion. (Doc. No. 33-4.) Judge George noted in his order that he did not find Butler's testimony credible about the circumstances of the search. (Id. at 6 n.2.) Largely adopting Hartlaub's version of the events, Judge George found that while the search was "thorough," and "perhaps ill-advised," it did not violate the Constitution. (Id. at 5-6.) Butler utlimately pleaded guilty to the charges against him and is currently serving a term of imprisonment. (Doc. No. 32 ¶ 19.)

B. Procedural Background

Butler filed his initial pro se complaint along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis in this matter on December 16, 2008. The Court granted the motion and after preliminary review of the complaint directed Butler to file an amended complaint (Doc. No. 10), which he did on February 24, 2009. (Doc. No. 11.) After Defendants answered the amended complaint (Doc. No. 15), the Court determined the issues raised under the circumstances justified the Court to make a request for volunteer counsel to represent Butler in this matter. (Doc. No. 16.) Volunteer counsel entered their appearance in this case and filed a second-amended complaint. (Doc. No. 25). Subsequently, defendants Hartlaub, Brumbaugh, and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania answered the complaint (Doc. No. 30) and filed the present motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 31).

C. Standard of Review

Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that "[t]he judgment sought should be rendered 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). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).


Defendants contend that Butler is barred from relitigating the constitutionality of this search because of collateral estoppel. (Doc. No. 34 at 5-8.) They argue Butler had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the same issue in his state criminal proceedings. (Doc. No. 34 at 5.)

Collateral estoppel doctrine has developed to prevent a party from re-litigating issues that have already been adjudicated, so "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980) (citing Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979)). This defense is available in an action brought under § 1983 where the plaintiff tries to relitigate issues decided against them in state criminal proceedings. Anela v. City of Wildwood, 790 F.2d 1063, 1068 (3d Cir. 1986). In evaluating the collateral estoppel effect of a state court proceeding, the district court must "apply the law of the state ...

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