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Mary K. Primrose v. Trent Mellott and Township of Upper Allen

June 19, 2012


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


Presently pending before the Court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 12). For the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion and will grant Defendants' motion in part and deny the motion in part.


Defendant Trent Mellott is a police officer employed by Defendant Township of Upper Allen ("Upper Allen"). (Doc. No. 11 ¶¶23-24.) On May 4, 2009, he responded to a call made by Dixie Anderson, a resident of the Geneva Greens apartment complex, located in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 35; Doc. No. 13 at 2.) Upon his arrival at Geneva Greens, Defendant Mellott obtained written statements from Ms. Anderson, Plaintiff Mary K. Primrose, who also resides at Geneva Greens, and Tammy Zechman, a Geneva Greens employee. (Doc. No. 11 ¶ 25.)The parties agree that an argument between Plaintiff and Ms. Anderson, at least part of which occurred in the presence of Ms. Zechman, prompted Ms. Anderson to call the police. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5; Doc. No. 13 at 2.)They, however, dispute the accuracy of the statements made by Plaintiff, Ms. Anderson, and Ms. Zechman. According to Ms. Zechman's statement, Plaintiff had raised her voice, waved her finger close to Ms. Anderson's face, and called Ms. Anderson a "noisy bitch." (Doc. No. 11 ¶¶ 26, 28, 36; Doc. No. 12-2 at 12.) Similarly, Ms. Anderson reported that Plaintiff was angry, screamed at her, repeatedly used the word, "fuck," and called her a "noisy bitch." (Doc. No. 11 ¶¶ 29-33; Doc. No. 12-2 at 11.) Plaintiff, however, stated that, although she was angry "about car parking," she only called Ms. Anderson a "nosy biddy" and pointed her finger. (Doc. No. 11 ¶ 41; Doc. No. 12-2 at 13.)

Plaintiff avers that after she provided a written statement to Defendant Mellott, he instructed her to return to her apartment and not to leave until he spoke with her again. (Doc. No. 11 ¶¶ 13-15.) Thereafter, Defendant Mellott arrived at her apartment and issued her a summons for disorderly conduct pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5503(a)(3). (Id. ¶¶ 16-17; Doc. No. 12-2 at 14.) Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant Mellott informed her that she was "arrested for disorderly conduct," but she admits that he never touched her, placed handcuffs on her, or removed her from the apartment. (Doc. No. 11 ¶¶ 18, 20-21; Doc. No. 23 ¶¶ 17-18, 20-21.) Plaintiff challenged the summons in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Magisterial District No. 09-3-05, and Magisterial District Justice Mark W. Martin found her not guilty of disorderly conduct following a summary trial held on July 16, 2009. (Doc. No. 12-4 at 23-24.)

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint on May 4, 2011, raising claims under the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as a state-law false arrest claim, against Defendant Mellott and a failure-to-train claim against Defendant Upper Allen. (Doc. No. 1.) The parties filed their respective motions for summary judgment on May 14, 2012. (Doc. Nos. 11, 12.)


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).


Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has not set forth facts supporting the existence of her false arrest, her First Amendment retaliation claim, and her failure-to-train claim.*fn2 (Doc. No. 15 at 2-11, 16-22.) In the alternative, they contend that Defendant Mellott is entitled to qualified immunity. (Id. at 11-15.) Plaintiff has also moved for summary judgment on her First Amendment claim. (Doc. No. 12.) The Court will address each claim in turn.

A. False Arrest Claims

Plaintiff raises false arrest claims against Defendant Mellott under both the Fourth Amendment and state law. To succeed on a false arrest claim under either the Fourth Amendment or Pennsylvania law, Plaintiff must demonstrate that she was arrested and that the arrest was made without probable cause. See, e.g., Bell v. City of Harrisburg, 457 F. App'x 164, 166 (3d Cir. 2012); Renk v. City of Pittsburgh, 641 A.2d 289, 293 (Pa. 1994). Defendants contend that summary judgment must be entered in their favor on these claims because Defendant Mellott did not arrest Plaintiff and because he had probable cause to issue the summons for disorderly conduct. (Doc. No. 15 at 2-10, 20-22.)

1. Arrest or Restraint on Freedom of Movement Plaintiff's false arrest claims fail as a matter of law to the extent that they are based on the issuance of the summons for disorderly conduct. See, e.g., Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998) ("A claim for false arrest, unlike a claim for malicious prosecution, covers damages only for the time of detention until the issuance of process or arraignment, and not more."); see also Colbert v. Angstadt, 169 F. Supp. 2d 352, 358-59 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (holding that a plaintiff could not establish a false arrest claim where he was not formally arrested but received a summons by mail, instructing him to appear in court on a particular date). Further, the evidence of record reflects that Plaintiff was not formally arrested, as she was not handcuffed, fingerprinted, taken to a police station, required to post bond, or even removed from her apartment. Although Defendant Mellott issued the summons, Plaintiff has set forth no evidence reflecting that a bond was posted or a warrant was required to secure her appearance at a court date. Thus, the question before the Court becomes whether Plaintiff was "arrested" for purposes of the Fourth Amendment while she remained in her apartment in compliance with Defendant Mellott's purported instruction. Absent a formal arrest, a plaintiff may only succeed on a false arrest claim if she establishes that a reasonable person in her position would have believed that "there [was] a 'restraint on freedom of movement of the degree of the degree associated with a formal arrest.'" Colbert, 169 F. Supp. 2d at 359; see also United States v. Lampkin, 464 F.2d 1093, 1095 (3d Cir. 1972) ("There can be no arrest where there is no restraint, or where the person sought to be arrested is not conscious of any restraint."); 5 Am. Jur. 2d Arrest § 4.

Plaintiff contends that she "felt that she was confined to her apartment and that she would be in trouble if she left" because Defendant Mellott "instructed her to return to her apartment and not to leave" and repeated this instruction after "Plaintiff advised [him] that she needed to take her daughter to the doctor." (Doc. No. 21 at 1-2.) In opposition, Defendants aver that "no reasonable person would believe that [Plaintiff] was confined to her apartment," especially in light of the facts that she "was already present inside of her apartment when [Defendant Mellott] arrived at the apartment complex" and that she voluntarily went to the complex office to explain her version of events to Defendant Mellott. (Doc. No. 15 at 5.) Further, Defendant Mellott testified at his deposition that he did not tell Plaintiff to remain in her apartment and that Plaintiff did not inform him that she needed to take her daughter to an appointment. (Doc. No. 11-5 at 9.) Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendant Mellott instructed Plaintiff to return to her apartment and not to leave until he spoke with her again. Accordingly, the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that a reasonable person in Plaintiff's position would have felt free to leave the apartment. See Syfu v. Cooke, No. ...

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