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Randy Shrey v. Raymond Kontz Iii

October 14, 2011

RANDY SHREY, JANETE SHREY, PLAINTIFFS
v.
RAYMOND KONTZ III, DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

We are considering a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant, Raymond Kontz, III. This matter relates to the investigation and confiscation of pins owned by the plaintiffs that contained logos resembling those of the Williamsport Bureau of Police and the Little League World Series. Defendant argues that there are no issues of material fact and no reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiffs.

We will examine the motion under the well-established standard. Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d. Cir. 2008). After careful review of the briefs and the record, we will deny the motion in part and grant it in part.

II. Background

This case relates to the allegedly illegal confiscation of plaintiffs' pins by defendant. The Director of Security at Little League International, James Ferguson, made a complaint to the Williamsport Police Department about pins he found for sale on the website eBay that resembled the logos of the Williamsport Police Department and Little League World Series. (doc. 31, ¶ 1.) The exact nature of his complaint is in dispute. Ferguson testified at his deposition that he was concerned about the use of the Williamsport Police logo being used by individuals seeking entrance into the Little League World Series. (doc. 31, exhibit A, pg. 5.) Defendant, Raymond Kontz ("Captain Kontz"), a member of the Williamsport Police Department, was assigned to the case. (doc. 31, ¶ 3.) Captain Kontz found the pins on eBay and investigated whether the individual selling them was a Williamsport Police officer, in violation of the department's policy on the use of logos. (doc. 31, ¶¶ 3-4.) He created a "hot sheet" to send to officers on different shifts that contained an image of the pins and inquired whether anyone had information about them. (doc. 31, ¶ 4.) The hot sheet indicated that Little League International made a complaint about the use of the Little League logo without its permission. (doc. 46, exhibit L.)

Kontz contacted eBay to obtain information about the seller of the pins. (doc. 31, ¶ 5.) In response, eBay identified Randy Shrey as the seller. Id. Defendant discussed the matter and potential criminal charges with Agent Steven Sorage of the Williamsport Police Department, telling him that Little League International had complained about the use of its logo. (doc. 42, ¶ 7.) Agent Sorage suggested that defendant contact Assistant District Attorney Ken Osokow for advice. (doc. 31, ¶ 8.) Defendant called ADA Osokow and asked if any charges could be brought against Randy Shrey. (doc. 31, ¶ 10.) According to defendant, ADA Osokow identified two criminal statutes under which charges could be brought. (doc. 31, ¶ 11.) He also suggested that defendant could confiscate the pins instead of making an arrest. Id. ADA Osokow does not have an independent recollection of being contacted by defendant. (doc. 42, ¶ 12.)

Defendant and Agent Sorage went to plaintiffs' residence and informed them that selling the pins was illegal. (doc. 31, ¶¶ 12, 14.) Defendant told plaintiffs that the investigation could be terminated if they turned the pins over to the police department. (doc. 31, ¶ 15). Plaintiffs agreed to turn over the pins, which defendant placed in a locked file cabinet in his office. (doc. 31, ¶¶ 15-16.) The pins remained there for approximately two years, until defendant turned them over to a detective investigating a complaint from the plaintiffs. (doc. 31, ¶ 19.) Plaintiffs commenced this action by filing a complaint on July 8, 2010, alleging violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as several state law claims.

III. Discussion

A. Fourth Amendment Violation

Defendant asserts that he had probable cause to confiscate the pins, relieving him of any Fourth Amendment violation. In determining whether he had probable cause, we must examine "whether at that moment the facts and circumstances within [his] knowledge and of which [he] had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the [plaintiff] had committed or was committing an offense." Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964). The existence of probable cause is an issue of fact. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1995)(citing Deary v. Three Un-Named Police Officers, 746 F.2d 185, 191 (3d Cir. 1984)). The Third Circuit has held that the question of probable cause in a § 1983 case is, generally, one for the jury. Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 124 (3d Cir.1998) (probable cause in a malicious prosecution claim); Taylor v. City of Philadelphia, 144 Fed. Appx. 240, 244 (3d Cir. 2005). However, summary judgment is appropriate on plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim if, taking all of their allegations as true and resolving all inferences in their favor, probable cause would be shown. Montgomery, 159 F.3d at 124; Taylor, 144 Fed. Appx. at 244.

The events leading up to the defendant's seizure of the property are in dispute and create a genuine issue of material fact. Specifically, there is conflicting evidence about what information James Ferguson gave the Williamsport Police when he notified them about the pins. The hot sheet created by defendant indicated "Our department has been contacted by Little League International about this pin as it is using the Little League logo without permission." (doc. 46, exhibit L.) This indicates that Ferguson was concerned about the use of the Little League logo. Defendant asked Agent Sorage for assistance in the matter, telling him that the unauthorized use of the Little League logo was the issue Ferguson complained about. (doc. 42, ¶ 7.) Ferguson, however, testified that he "contacted the Williamsport Police Department because [the pin] also had their logo on it." (doc. 31, exhibit A, pg. 5.) He was concerned "about pedophiles coming in with some kind of identification that would look like a badge to show a child." (doc. 31, exhibit A, pg. 6.)Ferguson's testimony suggests that he contacted the Williamsport Police Department because he was concerned about the use of the police logo, not the use of the Little League logo.

Plaintiffs contend that defendant trumped up the complaint from Ferguson regarding the use of the Little League logo in order to obtain ADA Osokow's approval of charges against plaintiffs, violating plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs' contention is supported by the discrepancy in the complaint made by Ferguson and what defendant described in his hot sheet and discussed with Sorage. This creates a ...


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