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Kate Bell, et al v. the City of Harrisburg

January 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

On August 20, 2008, the now fifty-one plaintiffs filed the instant lawsuit against the City of Harrisburg, Charles Kellar, Tina Manoogian-King, and Pierre Ritter. (Rec. Doc. No. 1). The action stems from a mass arrest that occurred on September 2, 2007. In their amended complaint, filed on August 25, 2008, plaintiffs allege violations of a number of constitutional rights and seek both compensatory and punitive damages. (Rec. Doc. No. 3).

II. Procedural History

After the filing of the plaintiffs' amended complaint, the defendants filed their answer on November 11, 2008. (Rec. Doc. No. 12). On March 3, 2009, the defendants filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (Rec. Doc. No. 25). On March 5, 2010, the then-assigned judge, the Honorable Thomas I. Vanaskie, granted the motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, dismissing with prejudice those claims raised by plaintiff James DeFrancesco. (Rec. Doc. No. 56). In addition, on March 30, 2010, Judge Vanaskie approved a stipulation agreed to by the parties to dismiss Stephen Reed as a defendant. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 59 and 60).

Currently at issue before this court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. On April 1, 2010, the defendants filed their motion for summary judgment, as well as their statement of material facts and brief in support. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 63, 64, and 65). On April 26, 2010, the plaintiffs filed their own motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 70). The plaintiffs filed their brief in opposition to the defendant's motion and in support of their own motion on April 28, 2010. On April 29, 2010, they filed a responsive statement of material facts and their own statement of facts. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 75 and 76). The defendants filed a reply brief on May 14, 2010. (Rec. Doc. No. 81). By an ordered dated June 9, 2010, Judge Vanaskie referred the pending motions for summary judgment to United States Magistrate Judge William T. Prince for the preparation of a report and recommendation. (Rec. Doc. No. 86).*fn1

On June 28, 2010, Magistrate Judge Prince issued a twenty-three (23) page report and recommendation. (Rec. Doc. No. 88). Pursuant to this report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Prince recommends that the defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted, that the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment be denied on all counts, and that the plaintiffs' complaint be dismissed.

III. Standard of Review

A district court reviews de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party objects. Middle District Local Rule 72.3. The court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." (Id.).

Summary judgment is appropriate when 1) there are no material facts in dispute; and 2) one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Int'l Union, United Mine Workers of Am. v. Racho Trucking Co., 897 F.2d 1248, 1252 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

A district court may properly grant a motion for summary judgment 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). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

Regardless of who bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1080 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). To meet this burden when the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party must show that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). More simply put, a party moving for summary judgment who does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial is not required to negate the non-movant's claim, but only point out a lack of evidence sufficient to support the non-movant's claim. Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir. 1991).

Once the moving party meets its burden of showing an absence of genuine issues of material fact, the nonmoving party must provide some evidence that an issue of material fact remains. Matushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The nonmoving party, however, cannot do so by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 32; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).

IV. Factual Background

In his report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Prince recited those facts not in dispute:

Over the Labor Day weekend of 2007, plaintiffs attended the "Seventh Annual Camp Out with the Djs" (campout), held on McCormick's Island in the Susquehanna River. (Doc. 76, 15, 1.) On the morning of September 2, 2007, Christian Yanez learned about the campout and tried to swim to McCormick's Island. (Id. 34.) Mr. Yanez never made it. With cocaine and alcohol still in his system, Mr. Yanez lacked the strength or stamina to complete the swim and drowned. (Id. 34-35.) Harrisburg officials launched a search for Mr. Yanez, in the process learning for the first time about the campout on McCormick's Island. (Doc. 64, 2.)

In the hours following the Harrisburg officials' discovery of the campout, City officials and police officers took boats over to the island to inspect and investigate the situation.

(Id. 5.) Upon arrival, the officials and officers discovered trees cut down, primitive pit toilets that had been dug, a lingering smell of herbicide in the air, and evidence of drug and alcohol use. (Id. 6-8.)

Police officials subsequently transported over one hundred attendees of the campout back to the mainland by boat. (Id. 9.) Upon arrival, Harrisburg police checked attendees' identification and ran a warrant search. (Id. 10.) Meanwhile, the police contacted the District Attorney's office to discuss what charges might be brought against the campout attendees, but received no guidance concerning whether the attendees violated any of Harrisburg's ordinances. (Id. 11.) The Director of Harrisburg's Parks and Recreation Department, Tina Manoogian-King, was the City official most knowledgeable about the ordinances pertaining to Harrisburg's parks. (Id. 12.) Director King reviewed the ordinances and highlighted the ones that she believed were violated by the campout attendees. (Id.) She gave her highlighted list to the police, who conducted their own review and concluded that there had been multiple violations of the ordinances. (Id. 13.) The police decided to charge the attendees with only one violation of the Harrisburg ordinances: the provision prohibiting attendance of an unpermitted gathering of twenty or more people in a city park. (Id. 14.)

Once the decision to charge the campout attendees was made, attendees who had proffered Pennsylvania identification were issued citations for a summary offense and released from custody.[] (Id. 19.) Attendees who proffered out-of-state identification were issued citations and taken into custody. (Id.) These out-of-state attendees were handcuffed or leg-shackled and taken to the Harrisburg Police Station, where they were processed and placed in holding cells while awaiting arraignment. (Id. 20.) At the arraignment, which took place within 48 hours, a Magisterial District Judge set the out-of-state attendees' collateral at $1000, which, including court costs, required each attendee to tender $1051 in order to be released on their own recognizance. (Id. 22.) Some attendees were able to pay the full amount; others negotiated the collateral to a lower amount that they could afford; but many were unable to post the collateral. (Id. 23.) Those who could not pay were transferred to the Dauphin County Prison. (Id.) The following hearing for the first group of out-of-state attendees led to the dismissal of the charges against them. (Id. 24.) During the same hearing, the charges against all other attendees were dismissed by agreement of counsel. (Id.) (Rec. Doc. No. 88 at 1-3) (footnote omitted). In filings with this court, plaintiffs contend that the magistrate judge has "largely glosse[d] over Tina King's role in directing the arrests of the Plaintiffs." (Rec. Doc. No. 96 at 3; see also Rec. Doc. No. 95). Plaintiffs contend that the magistrate judge did not go far enough in describing the actions of Manoogian-King, contending that she made such statements as, "I want these people f*cking arrested," and demanded that the campout's organizers be arrested for murder. (Rec. Doc. No. 96) (citing Rec. Doc. Nos. 70-5, 70-8). Plaintiffs argue that Manoogian-King was in an irritated state, "ranting and raving" and referring to McCormick's Island as "[her] island." (Id.) (citing Rec. Doc. Nos. 70-5, 70-8). Plaintiffs contend that Manoogian-King "played the central role" in the arrest of the plaintiffs. (Id. at 4).

Except for two limited areas, the plaintiffs object to all aspects of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. (Rec. Doc. No. 96 at 6-7).

V. Discussion

A. The Merger of Plaintiffs' Claims Against Those Municipal Officers Sued in Their Official Capacities with Those Claims Against the Municipality.

In his report and recommendation, the magistrate judge concludes that, "[t]o the extent that plaintiffs make[] claims against Kellar and King in their official capacities, those claims should be treated as claims against the City of Harrisburg." (Rec. Doc. No. 88 at 6-7). The plaintiffs do not object to this conclusion. (Rec. Doc. No. 96 at 6-7) (noting that "[t]he Plaintiffs object to each and every portion of the Report and Recommendation, with the exception of . . . the dismissal of official capacity claims against the individual defendants"). As such, we will uphold this ...

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