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Andrew Carman and Karen Carman v. Jeremy Carroll

March 29, 2012

ANDREW CARMAN AND KAREN CARMAN, PLAINTIFFS
v.
JEREMY CARROLL, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 20, 24). Having been briefed, the motions are ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiffs Andrew and Karen Carman (hereafter "plaintiffs") resided at 101 Raspberry Path, Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 21, Pls. Statem. of Mat. Facts (hereafter "Pls. Facts") ¶ 1). On July 3, 2009, plaintiffs were sitting in their kitchen with Jacqueline Vergottini, Karen Carman's sister. (Id. ¶ 4). Ms. Vergottini glanced out the window and noticed police officers near plaintiffs' shed.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 25). Mr. Carman also looked out the window and saw two officers, Pennsylvania State Troopers Defendant Jeremy Carroll and Brian Roberts. (Id. ¶ 26).

The troopers were dispatched to the Carman residence to look for an individual named Michael Zita, a felon parolee who had stolen a 2002 Chrysler Convertible and two loaded firearms. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 13; Doc. 25, Def. Statem. of Mat. Facts (hereafter "Def. Facts") ¶ 1). The police believed that Zita may have been on his way, to or was at, the Carman residence. (Def. Facts ¶ 2). The troopers did not have a search warrant for Carmans' property or an arrest warrant for Zita. (Pls. Facts ¶ 22). Upon arriving at the Carman residence, the officers looked to see if the stolen vehicle was parked outside their home. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 1, 3). It was not. (Id.) The Carmans' home is located on a corner property with a road in front of and on the left side of their house. (Doc. 26, Ex. 4, Def. Carroll Tr. at 17). Defendant and Trooper Roberts parked their respective cars on the side of the property and proceeded to walked across plaintiffs' back yard where there was an open garage. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 3-4). Defendant described the garage as a structure open in the front, back and partially on the sides that had several cars in it. (Id. ¶ 4; Doc. 26, Def. Ex. 6). Without going inside, the Troopers looked into the garage, but did not see the stolen vehicle.*fn2

(Id. ¶ 4). They then proceeded up to the back deck attached to the Carman residence. (Id. ¶ 6). Mr. Carman walked onto the deck to see what the officers wanted. The parties largely dispute the events that occurred after Mr. Carman went outside.

Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Carman asked if he could help the officers. (Pls. Facts ¶ 28). The Troopers asked Mr. Carman, "Where is he?" referencing the whereabouts of Michael Zita. (Id. ¶ 29). After Mr. Carman learned who they were looking for, he explained that he went to school with Michael Zita twenty-five or thirty years ago. (Id. ¶ 32). Defendant asked him if he could take a look around and Mr. Carman refused. (Id. ¶ 33-34). After Mr. Carman told defendant that Michael Zita was not on the property, defendant told him to sit down. (Id. ¶ 40). Mr. Carman told the officers he did not have to sit down. (Id. ¶ 41). The officers threatened to arrest Mr. Carman. (Id. ¶ 42). Mr. Carman asked if they had a search warrant, which they did not. (Id. ¶¶ 44-46). He told the officers that if they wanted to search his home they would need a search warrant. (Id. ¶ 46). Mr. Carman started to walk back to his home when Defendant Carroll pushed him up against the sliding glass door and tackled him down the stairs, off the deck. (Id. ¶¶ 49-50).

Mrs. Carman and Ms. Vergottini said that they saw Defendant Carroll slam Mr. Carman against the sliding glass door. (Id. ¶ 51). When they went outside Defendant Carroll was sitting on top of Mr. Carman and pushing his head into the ground. (Id. ¶¶ 53-54). The women yelled at defendant to get off Mr. Carman. (Id. ¶ 58). Mr. Carman yelled to call 911. (Id. ¶ 61). At some point, Ms. Vergottini did call 911. (Id. ¶ 62). The 911 operator informed her that police were already at the residence, however Ms. Vergottini explained that they were beating up her brother-in-law. (Id. ¶ 64). When Mr. Carman got up he had blood on his face and his shoulder was injured. (Id. ¶ 60).

Defendant provides a different account of what happened after Mr. Carman went outside onto the deck. Defendant explained that both he and Trooper Roberts went onto the back deck of the house and were going to knock on the back door. (Def. Facts ¶ 6). Mr. Carman exited the house and said "Who the fuck are you?" (Doc. 29, Def. Resp. to Pls. Statem. of Mat. Facts ¶ 28). Defendant explained who the troopers were and that they were looking for Michael Zita. (Id. ¶ 29). Mr. Carman refused to identify himself and was belligerent. (Id. ¶ 49). When Mr. Carman turned to go back into the house, he put his hands "down his front" and out of view of the officers. (Doc. 28, Def. Br. in Supp. of Def. Mot. for Partial Summ. J. at 2). Defendant then grabbed Mr. Carman by the shoulder/forearm and Mr. Carman suddenly whirled around, lost his balance and fell down two steps onto the ground. (Id.).

Both parties agree that Mrs. Carman and Ms. Vergottini were yelling at the officers and Trooper Roberts told them to back off or he would use his taser. (Pls. Facts ¶ 59; Def. Facts ¶ 10). After Mr. Carman got up, defendant explains that everyone was standing on the deck talking. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 11-12). The officers informed the plaintiffs and Ms. Vergottini that they were looking for Michael Zita. (Pls. Facts ¶ 66; Def. Facts ¶ 12). Mrs. Carman explained to Defendant Carroll that she had not seen Michael Zita for ten years and he was not on the property. (Pls. Facts ¶¶ 67-68). Plaintiffs claim defendant then told Mrs. Carman that he wanted to search their home. (Id. ¶ 69). After learning why the officers were there, defendant asserts that Mrs. Carman invited everyone inside the house. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 12, 13; Doc. 32, Pls. Reply Br. at 9).

Mrs. Carman claims that she felt compelled to give the officers permission to search their home. (Pls. Facts ¶ 70). She explained that she allowed the search because "[b]asically we weren't hiding anything. And I just wanted them to leave at that point." (Def. Facts ¶ 14). The officers searched the house with their guns drawn. (Pls. Facts ¶¶ 72-73). Michael Zita was not in the house. (Id. ¶ 74). After the search, the officers spoke with plaintiffs and Ms. Vergottini in plaintiffs' kitchen. (Id. ¶ 75). The plaintiffs were not charged with any crimes. (Id. ¶ 76).

On May 11, 2010, plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendant Jeremy Carroll pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Count I of the complaint alleges that defendant's conduct constituted illegal entry on to their property and into their home in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) Count II of the complaint alleges that defendant's conduct, including his use of force, constituted an unreasonable seizure of Plaintiff Andrew Carman in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) Defendant filed an answer on July 13, 2010. (Doc. 5).

At the close of discovery both parties moved for summary judgment. (Docs. 20, 24). Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on all of their claims. Defendant moved for partial summary judgment on Count I of the complaint alleging illegal entry.

Jurisdiction

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.").

Legal Standard

Before the court are the plaintiffs' and defendant's motions for summary judgment. 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).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l 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 if 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 non-moving 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.

Discussion

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs bring both counts in the complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereafter "Section 1983"). Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights. Rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). In pertinent part, Section 1983 provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress . . . . 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under Section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law. Second, the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998).

In the instant case, the parties do not dispute whether the defendant acted under color of state law during the alleged violations. They only move for summary judgment as to whether there was an illegal entry and whether defendant unreasonably seized Mr. Carman with ...


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