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Wright v. Altland

November 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III



On January 7, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an opinion affirming our grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff's false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution claims and vacating the grant of summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff Shaun Wright's ("Plaintiff" or "Wright") unconstitutional seizure of property claim. Specifically, the Third Circuit concluded that the record did not conclusively establish that there was an adjudication on the merits of Wright's seizure of property claim in state court, thus this Court's grant of summary judgment on that claim on collateral estoppel grounds was in error.*fn1 Thereafter, we reopened this matter and ordered briefing from the parties on the issue of whether there was an adjudication on the merits in the state court, in either the civil or criminal action, with regards to the seizure of property claim. The issue has been fully briefed by the parties and is therefore ripe for our review.

The following analysis is in essence a reconsideration of our determination relative to Plaintiff's seizure of property claim, based on the submissions we solicited from the parties and the facts developed therein.


Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "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). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them.

Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.


On September 15, 2005, at approximately 8:30 p.m., Detective Scott Altland ("Detective Altland") was assigned to investigate an armed robbery that occurred at a Hardee's restaurant in Springettsbury Township. On the night of the robbery, Springettsbury Township police officers interviewed Hardee's employees Rachel Watkins and Christina Osborn, who identified the robber as a black male, 5'8" to 6' tall with a thin build, and wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans with red stitching around the pockets, and a black knit cap pulled down over his face. Watkins and Osborn stated that the male entered the store carrying a black revolver and demanded all of their money. Watkins gave the robber $300.00 from her cash register and the robber fled.

On September 20, 2005, Detective Altland heard a radio dispatch reporting an armed robbery at a bank in Hellam Township, the neighboring municipality. Detective Altland and another detective went to the bank. Like the robber of Hardee's, the bank robber reportedly wore a white t-shirt and a black knit cap pulled down over his face and carried a black revolver. Later that day, Hellam Township police advised Detective Altland that the car used by the bank robber to flee the scene was registered to Jora Rial, who lived in the Yorkshire Apartments in Springettsbury Township.

Detective Altland went to the Yorkshire Apartments and interviewed Rial, who lived with Wright. Rial told Detective Altland that she and Wright went to the York Fair on September 15, 2005, the night of the Hardee's robbery. Rial explained that she was with Wright until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. on that night, then Wright left the apartment because he had something to do. Rial stated Wright returned at 8:45 p.m. and they went to the fair. Rial told Detective Altland that Wright had a lot of money on him, and when she asked him where he got the money (since he was unemployed), Wright did not respond. During this interview, Detective Altland learned that Wright had given money orders to Rial. Detective Altland asked Rial for the money orders and she turned them over to him in the Yorkshire Apartment rental office. The money orders were in the amounts of $1,000.00, $500.00, and $15.00. Detective Altland thereafter gave the money orders to the Hellam Township police. Detective Altland later learned that Wright had bought the money orders on September 20, 2005, after the bank robbery had occurred.

Subsequently, Wright was arrested for the bank robbery. York County Detective Ray Taylor interviewed Wright after his arrest about the Hardee's robbery. Detecctive Taylor reported that Wright told him that he had met "P" at Hardee's and that "P" had asked Wright to check how many people were inside the restaurant. Wright went inside and asked for a cup of water and then told "P" what he saw. Wright then asked "P" why he wanted to know the number of people inside and "P" replied, "I'm about to get 'em." Wright stated that he understood that "P" was about to rob Hardee's, so he left the area and ...

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