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Stacy Strange v. Officer Avery Freeman

November 13, 2012

STACY STRANGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER AVERY FREEMAN, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

According to Stacy Strange, her constitutional rights were violated by police officers when she tried to intervene in an altercation involving her family members that took place right outside of her window. The case was originally brought against Officers Avery Freeman, Luis Rodriguez, and William Swanson, as well as the City of Chester. The Court dismissed the claims against Officers Freeman and Rodriguez. Presently pending is the summary judgment motion of Officer Swanson and the City of Chester. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Around 1 a.m. on August 31, 2009, Strange heard a banging on the front door of her home. When she opened the door, her niece, Janay Bowers, and her daughter, Stacia Strange, were at the door. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. F [Strange Dep.] at 14.) Janay was irate because she had been hit in the face with a stick and claimed that she was going to exact revenge upon the person who had hit her. (Id. at 18.) Janay grabbed a hammer from Strange's dining room and ran out the door. (Id.) Strange yelled at Janay to come back, ran upstairs to put clothes on, and told Stacia to remain downstairs. (Id.) Strange proceeded to the alley near her home to retrieve Janay, who was involved in a fight outside. (Id. at 18-19.) Strange estimated that there were fifty or more people in the alley. (Id. at 19.) As Strange took the hammer from Janay, Officer Avery Freeman arrived on the scene in his police car. (Id. at 21.) Strange was attempting to get Janay and Stacia, who had left her home and was in the alley, to leave the scene and return to Strange's house. (Id. at 28, 48.) Janay ran towards Officer Freeman, who was standing in Strange's yard. (Id. at 30.) Officer Freeman grabbed Janay by the arm and Strange walked up to them and tried to explain that Janay was her niece, that she was trying to call Janay's mother, and that she was trying to get Janay to return to Strange's home. (Id.) As Strange was on a cell phone trying to call Janay's mother, she was tackled from behind and knocked to the ground. (Id. at 31-32, 46-47.) Despite Strange's protests that she did nothing wrong, she was handcuffed and cursed at by Officer William Swanson. (Id. at 33-34.) Officer Swanson then tasered Strange. (Id. at 34-36.)

Officer Swanson transported Strange to the police station. (Id. at 54.) Strange claims that at some point, Officer Swanson choked her in the back of the car while he was sitting on her lap and her hands were handcuffed behind her back. (Id. at 56-58.) Officer Swanson also threatened to kill her and refused to take her to a hospital when she requested medical care, telling Strange that "[she] could die on the seat for all he cared." (Id. at 57-58, 76.) After Officer Swanson transported Strange to the police station, she had no further contact with him. (Id. at 86.)

An arrest warrant sworn to by Officer Luis Rodriguez charged Strange with criminal conspiracy, simple assault, terroristic threats, ethnic intimidation, endangering the welfare of children, obstructing the administration of law or other governmental functions, resisting arrest, rioting with the intent to prevent or coerce official action, failure of disorderly person to disperse upon official order, disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or other public passage, and possessing an instrument of crime. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. C [Arrest Warrant].) The arrest warrant included an affidavit of probable cause, also sworn to and signed by Officer Rodriguez, that lays out the basis for the charges contained in the arrest warrant. (Id.) Of course, the story contained in the affidavit of probable cause, as well as Swanson's deposition testimony, did not recount the vicious police misconduct that Strange attributes to Defendants, though Officer Swanson admits to having used his taser on Strange. (Id. Ex. G [Swanson Dep.] at 5, 50-53, 57, 68-71.) Ultimately, the case against Strange was dismissed. (Id. Ex. D [Police Report].)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Strange filed her Complaint on December 30, 2011. She included seven counts: violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be secure in her person; false arrest and imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; "deprivation of federally-protected rights"; a Monell claim against the City of Chester; assault and battery; malicious prosecution; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On February 13, 2012, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On March 6, 2012, this Court issued a Memorandum addressing Defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court concluded that a number of Plaintiff's claim were time-barred. As a result of that Memorandum, the only claims remaining are the malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against Officer Swanson, and the Monell claim against the City of Chester. Defendants' summary judgment motion seeks to dismiss these remaining claims.

A. Officer Swanson

To succeed on a claim for malicious prosecution under § 1983, the plaintiff must show: (1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding. DiBella v. Borough of Beachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 601 (3d Cir. 2005). The elements of a common law malicious prosecution claim under Pennsylvania law are similar, but the plaintiff is not required to show a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of a seizure. See Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 791-92 (3d Cir. 2000). As a general matter, a malicious prosecution claim must proceed against a prosecutor, not a police officer, because it is the prosecutor who brings charges against an individual. Harris v. City of Phila., Civ. A. No. 97-3666, 1998 WL 481061, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 1998). Thus, a police officer can be liable for malicious prosecution only if he or she provides false information to the prosecutor or prevents the prosecutor from making an informed decision about whether to file charges. See Brockington v. City of Phila., 354 F. Supp. 2d 563, 569 (E.D. Pa. 2005); see also Cruz ex rel. Alvarez v. City of Phila., Civ. A. No. 07-493, 2008 WL 4347529, at *11 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 23, 2008) ("Police officers may, however, be liable for malicious prosecution where the plaintiff can establish that the police officers exerted pressure or influence on the prosecutor to initiate proceedings or made knowing misstatements to the prosecutor."). A police officer can be liable for malicious prosecution if he or she "fails to disclose exculpatory evidence to prosecutors, makes false or misleading reports to the prosecutor, omits material information from the reports, or otherwise interferes with the prosecutor's ability to exercise independent judgment in deciding whether to prosecute." Zeglen v. Miller, Civ. A. No. 04-1940, 2008 WL 696940, at *8 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2008).

Based on the above-stated standards, Strange has failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution. The affidavit of probable cause was signed by Officer Rodriguez. Plaintiff contends that this fact is irrelevant because Officer Swanson provided information to Officer Rodriguez and that this information was the basis for the criminal complaint against Strange. Regardless of who signed the affidavit of probable cause, there is no basis for this Court to conclude that Officer Swanson played a role in bringing charges against Plaintiff. Officer Swanson testified that he completed no paperwork regarding the incident with Strange and did not initiate the prosecution against her. (Swanson Dep. at 73.) Officer Rodriguez bolstered this conclusion when he stated that Officer Swanson had nothing to do with the affidavit of probable cause. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. H [Rodriguez Dep.] at 52.) After Officer Swanson brought Strange to the police station, she had no further ...


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