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Gary M. Kovala v. William M. Steele

May 11, 2011

GARY M. KOVALA, PLAINTIFF
v.
WILLIAM M. STEELE, STEPHEN S.,
SNOOK, BARRY HOWE, AND CHIEF WILLIAM HERKERT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by William Steele, Barry Howe, and William Herkert. The motion seeks summary judgment on Gary Kovala's*fn1 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim against all three defendants and his Fourteenth Amendment interference with custody and care of one's children claim against Officer Steele. The parties have fully briefed the motion and it is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, I will grant Defendants' motion in full.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

A. Undisputed Facts

On January 18, 2007, a computer repairman informed police that he had found nude images of a "female juvenile" on a computer owned by Daniel Sharps.*fn3 At least one of the images found was focused on the female juvenile's "crotch/genital area." See Appendix of Exhibits at Exh. 1 at 41-42. The repairman also reported finding images of a "male juvenile," who in one photograph was nude "and covering his genital area with his hands." Id. Based on this information the police began an investigation of Mr. Sharps and, after securing a warrant, conducted a search of his residence on January 18, 2007. Id. at 42-43. When questioned, Mr. Sharps told police that the nude photographs of the female juvenile on his computer were photographs of his daughter. Id. On January 25, 2007, the police examination of a computer taken from the Sharps residence confirmed the presence of "several photos of a young female in various stages of dress and posing for photos. The young female was shown exposing her genitals, standing in a bath tub totally nude, posing with an older female where she and the older female are both nude and partially dressed." Id. at 43.

On January 20, 2007, an individual contacted the police to inform them that Mr. Sharps had given a computer to Mr. Kovala. See Appendix of Exhibits at Exh. 1 at 44. Police interviewed Mr. Kovala's former wife who informed police that Mr. Sharps had been spending time at Mr. Kovala's residence. Id. at 45. Based on this information the police secured a search warrant and conducted a search of Mr. Kovala's residence on January 20, 2007, where they recovered a computer and other items. Id. at 46. Officer Thomas Laino filed an incident report on February 10, 2007, indicating that he located picture and movie files of suspected child pornography on a computer recovered from Mr. Kovala's residence. See Appendix of Exhibits at Ex. 2.

Officer Steele prepared a police criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause in support of that complaint alleging that Mr. Kovala was guilty of violating 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. ' 6312(d).*fn4 In determining what charges to bring against Mr. Kovala, Officer Steele consulted with District Attorney Stephen Snook.*fn5 District Attorney Snook instructed Officer Steele that probable cause existed to file a police criminal complaint charging Mr. Kovala with a violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. ' 6312(d). There is no allegation, supported or unsupported, that Officer Steele made any misrepresentation to District Attorney Snook when consulting with him regarding the appropriate charges to bring against Mr. Kovala. On April 30, 2007, Magistrate Judge Tammy L. Hunter issued a warrant for Mr. Kovala's arrest.*fn6

On April 3, 2008, Judge Rick Williams of the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin County, held a pretrial suppression hearing regarding the validity of the search warrant issued for Mr. Kovala's residence as well as Mr. Kovala's habeas corpus petition. See Plaintiff's Exhibits at Exh. 2. Following the hearing, Judge Williams issued an order quashing the search warrant of Mr. Kovala's home for a lack of probable cause and excluding the evidence obtained therein. See Plaintiff's Exhibits at Exh. 1. Judge Williams held that because the affidavit of probable cause in support of the search warrant neither indicated the age of the suspected victim nor alleged that Mr. Kovala knowingly possessed the suspected images the search warrant must be quashed. Id. After suppressing the evidence collected as a result of the search, Judge Williams granted Mr. Kovala's motion for habeas corpus and dismissed the charge of possession of child pornography. Id.

B. Procedural History

Mr. Kovala filed a complaint against Officer Steele, District Attorney Snook, Officer Barry Howe, and Chief William Herkert on April 29, 2009. District Attorney Snook filed a motion to dismiss on July 23, 2009. Officer Steele, Officer Howe, and Chief Herkert filed a joint motion to dismiss on July 24, 2009. Following briefing by the parties, the Honorable Yvette Kane granted District Attorney Snook's motion to dismiss in its entirety and granted the remaining Defendants' motion to dismiss in part. Mr. Kovala was granted leave to file an amended complaint, but he declined to do so. The only counts remaining in this action are a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim against Officer Steele, Officer Howe, and Chief Herkert and a Fourteenth Amendment interference with custody and care of one's children claim against Officer Steele. Following discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it 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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. 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).

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 non-moving 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. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving 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 warranted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt ...


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