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Matthew Walters v. Officer Christopher Zubris

February 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition is Defendant Officer Christopher Zubris's motion for summary judgment in this civil rights action. The parties have fully briefed the motion, and it is, thus, ripe for disposition. Background

In December 2009, plaintiff double-parked outsides of a pizzeria in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 8). Plaintiff makes deliveries for the pizzeria. (Id. ¶ 1). Looking out the window of the pizzeria, plaintiff saw Defendant Zubris, a Mahanoy City Police Officer, writing him a parking ticket. (Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff went outside and expressed his displeasure at receiving the ticket using words that included profanity. He called defendant a "fucking asshole." (Id. ¶¶ 13 - 15). Defendant Zubris then arrested plaintiff for disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 29). According to the citation, Zubris arrest plaintiff for his use of "obscenity." (Id. ¶ 30). Defendant transported plaintiff to the police station where the police held him for approximately thirty minutes. (Id. ¶¶ 22 - 24). Subsequently, a Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge found plaintiff not guilty of the disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 31).

Based upon these facts, the plaintiff instituted the instant action. The complaint contains the following three counts: 1) violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; 2) retaliation against the plaintiff for exercise of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech; and 3) violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures based upon plaintiff's detention. (Id. ¶¶ 34 - 36). Plaintiff brings these causes of action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶ 5). Plaintiff seeks the following relief: a declaratory judgment that defendant applied the Pennsylvania disorderly conduct statute in an unconstitutional manner when he detained plaintiff and issued him a citation; compensatory damages; costs, expenses and counsel fees; and other such relief that the court may deem just and deserving. (Id. ¶ 37). At the close of discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment, bringing the case to its present posture.


As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations, we have 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.")

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 to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.


As noted above, plaintiff's complaint asserts three causes of action. Defendant seeks summary judgment on all three. He also claims that qualified immunity shields him from liability. We will address all these issues separately.

I. First Amendment claim

Count I of plaintiff's complaint alleges that defendant applied Pennsylvania's disorderly conduct statute to arrest and prosecute him for engaging in constitutionally protected speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 34).

The Pennsylvania Crimes Code defines disorderly conduct as follows:

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or ...

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