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Leonard Bridges v. Ashland Borough and Mark O'hearn (Individually and As A Police

November 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition is the motion for partial summary judgment filed by Defendant Ashland Borough and Defendant Mark O'Hearn. The matter has been fully briefed is ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff suffers from an array of medical problems and is totally disabled due to diabetes, heart problems, end stage renal disease and kidney failure. (Doc. 30-3, Pl. Dep. at 41 - 42). He and his fiancee, Laurie Grose, have leased and lived in the same residence since July 2008. (Doc. 29, Def. Stmt. of Mat. Facts ("SOF") ¶ 4).*fn1 Grose works as an in-home caretaker for plaintiff through the Anthracite Regional Center for Independent Living, an area independent living company. (Id. ¶ 5).

On September 30, 2009, a dispute arose between Grose and plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9). Grose called 911 to report that plaintiff had a sledgehammer and a butcher knife and that he was going to damage her car and smash her toes. (Id. ¶ 15). Defendant Mark O'Hearn, a patrolman with the Ashland Borough Police Department, reported to the residence. (Id. ¶ 16). When he arrived, O'Hearn drew his service weapon and ordered plaintiff to relinquish the sledgehammer and butcher knife and to lay face down on the ground. (Id. ¶ 18). O'Hearn arrested plaintiff. Grose told O'Hearn that plaintiff's left arm had restrictive movement; thus, O'Hearn handcuffed plaintiff in front with two sets of handcuffs linked together instead of cuffing him behind his back with one set of handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 19). After defendants arrested and processed plaintiff, they allowed him to return to Grose. (O'Hearn Dep. 29).

On the next day, plaintiff and Grose had another dispute. (SOF ¶ 22). Plaintiff struck Grose in the hip and leg area with a metal cane. (Id. ¶ ¶ 23-25). Then plaintiff himself called the police. (Id. ¶ 26). When the police arrived, Hearn proceeded to plaintiff's bedroom where he was receiving kidney dialysis. (O'Hearn Dep. 49). Plaintiff had not taken his prescribed anti-depressant medication on that day or the day before. (SOF ¶ 32). He screamed at O'Hearn and Grose who repeatedly asked him to calm down. (Id. ¶ 35). The parties dispute what happened next. Defendants claim that plaintiff swung his fist at Defendant O'Hearn. (SOF ¶ 38). Plaintiff claims that he never took a swing at O'Hearn and that such an act would have been impossible while he was hooked to the dialysis machine. (Pl. Cntrstmt. of Mat. Facts ("CSOF") ¶ 39). Defendants indicate that O'Hearn then informed plaintiff the he was under arrest and injured his arm will trying to handcuff him. (SOF ¶¶ 40-41). Plaintiff maintains that O'Hearn never advised plaintiff that he was under arrest and never tried to handcuff him. (CSOF ¶ 39). Rather, according to plaintiff, O'Hearn grabbed him from behind and twisted his arm up behind his head until the arm bones snapped and cracked. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that O'Hearn intentionally broke his arm. (Id. ¶ 40).

Based upon these facts, the plaintiff instituted the instant case by filing a complaint on May 19, 2010. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on July 21, 2010, which asserts three causes of action. (Doc. 6). Count 1 is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for violation of the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. 6). He asserts that the excessive and unreasonable force used by Defendant O'Hearn constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. Count II asserts a state law cause of action for assault and Count III alleges a state law cause of action for battery. Counts I is asserted against both defendants and Counts II and III are against Defendant O'Hearn in his individual capacity. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and attorneys' fees. He also seeks punitive damages on Counts II and III.

Defendants move for summary judgment on Count I with respect to Ashland Borough and for summary judgment with respect the punitive damages claims in Counts II and III. The matter has been fully briefed, bringing the case to its present posture.


As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Standard of review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing 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. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts ...

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