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Donnelly J. Leblanc v. Craig Stedman

December 12, 2011


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



In this pro se civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff Donnelly LeBlanc asserts claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution stemming from his arrest on January 8, 2008. LeBlanc named seven defendants: Craig Stedman, Brian Chudzic, and Dean Morgan of the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office; Thomas Zell, chief of the Akron Borough Police Department; George Pappas, a detective in the Penn Township Police Department; John Doe, chief of Penn Township Police Department; and Lancaster County. The complaint has been dismissed as to Morgan, Stedman, Chudzic, Doe, and Lancaster County; and summary judgment has been granted in favor of Zell. Pappas, the only remaining defendant, has now moved for summary judgment.

The following facts are undisputed. On October 7, 2007, LeBlanc and his wife Darla were engaged in a heated argument at their home. During the fracas, Darla attempted to leave in her Mercury Sable. As she tried to pull out of the driveway, LeBlanc slammed his Chevrolet pickup truck into his wife's car. The force of the collision shoved the rear of the Mercury into the LeBlancs' porch. LeBlanc and Darla then drove separately to their friends' home nearby. Pappas and an officer from the Manheim Borough Police Department encountered them there in response to a report of a domestic disturbance. After photographing the car and interviewing LeBlanc, Darla, and their friends, Pappas had the car towed to Garmen's Garage nearby. Pappas arrested LeBlanc for assault and recklessly endangering another person. LeBlanc does not challenge the validity of this arrest.

Shortly after the incident, Pappas warned LeBlanc's insurance agent, Christine Flomerfelt, that LeBlanc might attempt to file a false insurance claim.*fn1 Around October 10, LeBlanc went to Flomerfelt's office and sought reimbursement for the towing bill. He told Flomerfelt's assistant, Angela Neifert, that he was driving the Mercury when it blew a tire, causing him to lose control and hit a tree. He suggested that a bystander must have seen him driving the car home and called the police to assist him. LeBlanc said that he was not filing an insurance claim for the damage to the car because it was old and he wanted to replace it anyway.

Recalling the warnings about LeBlanc, Neifert discussed the matter with Flomerfelt, who referred the file to State Farm. Flomerfelt informed State Farm that LeBlanc's account was inconsistent with the information she had received from the police.

LeBlanc disputes several aspects of the police report's account of his fight with Darla. According to the police report, LeBlanc rammed his truck into his wife's car twice. LeBlanc claims that he only did so once, and that Darla then accelerated her car into LeBlanc's truck. He argues that the skid marks in their driveway and the damage to the Mercury support his claim. The police report also states that Darla drove her car to the friends' home and that LeBlanc followed. LeBlanc counters that he drove there first to escape the situation and that Darla followed him. These disputed facts about how many times LeBlanc struck Darla's car and who initially drove to the friends' house are immaterial.

LeBlanc does not dispute that he was not truthful with Flomerfelt and Neifert about how the Mercury was damaged. He admits he wrecked the Mercury during the fight with his wife because he wanted to purchase a new car. His wife had been urging him to fix the Mercury and he decided to "fix it permanently." LeBlanc Dep. 74:5-19, June 23, 2011. His excuse for lying to his insurance agents was that he did not think they would understand his reasoning, and the cause of the damage was not relevant to the towing reimbursement. He contends that State Farm provides complementary towing reimbursement to its long-time customers regardless of how the car became disabled. LeBlanc claims that because he was only seeking reimbursement for the towing bill, Flomerfelt and Neifert did not need to know what happened to the Mercury.

While State Farm was reviewing LeBlanc's reimbursement request, Darla called Flomerfelt's office and asked about the status of the payment. During this conversation, Darla gave Neifert a different account of how the Mercury was damaged. She told her that LeBlanc had hit a tree along the street on which she and LeBlanc lived. LeBlanc had told the agent that he hit a tree along nearby Route 322. When Neifert told Darla about the discrepancy, Darla initially tried to insist that her account was correct, but then quickly ended the call.

During the course of its investigation, State Farm obtained a copy of the police report. The State Farm investigators saw that the report's account of how the Mercury was damaged was very different from LeBlanc's. They contacted Pappas, who was listed as an investigating officer on the report, to obtain more information.

After his conversation with the State Farm investigators, Pappas spoke to the assistant district attorney about bringing charges against LeBlanc. Zell, the police chief, then obtained an arrest warrant and instructed Pappas to arrest LeBlanc. LeBlanc was arrested on January 8, 2008, and charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in violation of Pennsylvania law. Those charges were eventually dropped.

Pappas claims that the charges were nol prossed because LeBlanc had already been convicted of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and other related crimes, which carry a much heavier penalty than insurance fraud.*fn2 He contends that the prosecutor determined that any sentence for insurance fraud would run concurrently with the sentence LeBlanc was already serving, and thus there was no reason to proceed with the insurance fraud charges. Pappas also claims that the prosecutor declined to prosecute the case because LeBlanc had been arrested before State Farm suffered any harm.

LeBlanc denies Pappas's account and argues that the charges were dropped because they lacked merit. He argues that any insurance fraud sentence would likely have run consecutively to the sentence he was serving.

Construed liberally, the complaint alleges that Pappas violated LeBlanc's Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizure without probable cause arising out of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. He claims that Pappas lacked probable cause to arrest him because he acted outside his jurisdiction and knowingly provided false information to support the arrest warrant. Pappas has moved for summary judgment on all ...

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