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Andre D. Butler v. William Hartlaub

January 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Presently pending before the Court is Defendants William Hartlaub and John Brumbaugh's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 88.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion.


On April 11, 2008, Defendants William Hartlaub and John Brumbaugh arrested Plaintiff Andre D. Butler at a Food Lion grocery store parking lot in Hanover, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 89 ¶¶ 1-2.) During the arrest, Defendants claim that Defendant Hartlaub searched Plaintiff and "felt a bulge in [Plaintiff's] crotch area which was inconsistent with the human anatomy." (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) At this point, while still in the parking lot, Defendant Hartlaub cut a portion of Plaintiff's underwear to retrieve the object. (Id. ¶ 14.) Defendant Hartlaub found approximately one-half ounce of a substance believed to be cocaine in Plaintiff's underwear. (Id. ¶ 16.)

The exact circumstances of this search are in dispute. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hartlaub pulled down his pants and used a knife to cut off his underwear, resulting in his genitals and buttocks being completely exposed in the Food Lion parking lot for a significant length of time. (Doc. No. 92 ¶¶ 9, 15.) Defendants deny that Defendant Hartlaub pulled down Plaintiff's pants and that Plaintiff was fully exposed to the public. (Doc. No. 89 ¶¶ 13, 17.)

As a result of this arrest and search, Plaintiff was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, in violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30), in the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County, Pennsylvania.*fn2 (Doc. No. 89 ¶ 3; Doc. No. 90-4 at 2.) During the state court proceeding, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to suppress the evidence found on Plaintiff's person during his arrest, contending the search was so intrusive that it was unreasonable under the constitutions of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 90-1 at 3.) After hearing testimony at an evidentiary hearing on the matter, the court denied the motion. (Doc. No. 90-3 at 8.) In its order, the court largely adopted Defendants' version of the events and found that while the search was "thorough" and "perhaps ill-advised," it was not unconstitutional. (Id. at 6-7.) Plaintiff ultimately pled guilty to the charge against him. (Doc. No. 89 ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff initiated this action against Defendants Hartlaub, Brumbaugh, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and the Conewago Township Police by filing a complaint on December 16, 2008. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on February 24, 2009 (Doc. No. 11), and, after volunteer counsel entered their appearance in this case on January 14, 2010 (Doc. Nos. 18, 19, 20), a second amended complaint was filed on March 3, 2010 (Doc. No. 25). Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Hartlaub and Brumbaugh violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and that Defendant Conewago Township Police was liable for failure to train. (Doc. No. 25.) On March 31, 2010, Defendants Hartlaub and Brumbaugh filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 31), which the Court denied on October 27, 2010 (Doc. No. 64). On November 24, 2010, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Conewago Township with prejudice. (Doc. No. 72.) Defendants Hartlaub and Brumbaugh filed the instant motion for summary judgment and a brief in support on November 3, 2011. (Doc. Nos. 88, 91.) On November 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. No. 93.) Defendants filed a reply brief on December 7, 2011. (Doc. No. 94.)


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 as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).


The sole issue Defendants raise in their motion for summary judgment is whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Plaintiff from relitigating the constitutionality of Defendant Hartlaub's search of Plaintiff's person. (Doc. No. 91 at 5.) In Plaintiff's state court proceeding, the state court denied a suppression motion filed by Plaintiff on the basis that the search "did not offend constitutional principles." (Doc. No. 90-3 at 6.)

Collateral estoppel, which precludes parties from litigating an issue resolved in a prior judicial proceeding, "serves the twin purposes of protecting litigants from assuming the burden of re-litigating the same issue with the same party, and promoting judicial economy through preventing needless litigation." McNeil v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 680 A.2d 1145, 1148 (Pa. 1996); see also Peloro v. United States, 488 F.3d 163, 174-75 (3d Cir. 2007). As a general rule, collateral estoppel applies "[w]hen an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment." Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm'n, 288 F.3d 519, 525 (3d Cir. 2002). After the issue has been resolved by a court, that court's "determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties, whether on the same or a different claim." Id.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1738, a federal court is required to give state-court judgments "the same full faith and credit . . . as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State . . . from which they are taken." See Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 106 (1980) (collateral estoppel applicable in ยง 1983 suits). A district court must, therefore, "treat a state court judgment with the same respect that it would receive in the courts of the rendering state." Matushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Epstein, 516 U.S. 367, 373 (1996); see also Marrese v. Am. Academy ...

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