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McGriff v. Marks

United States District Court, Third Circuit

April 30, 2013

CLYDE McGRIFF, Plaintiff,


MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

This is a § 1983 case in which Plaintiff Clyde McGriff alleges that Defendant Pittsburgh Police Detective Matthew Marks falsely arrested/imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted him for burglary and receipt of stolen property. The heart of the parties' dispute is whether there was probable cause for Mr. McGriff's arrest, and in particular whether Defendant Marks misrepresented and omitted certain material facts in his state court Probable Cause Affidavit that preceded the issuance of a warrant for Mr. McGriff's arrest.

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 10 ("Motion"), whereby Defendant seeks judgment in his favor as to all of Mr. McGriff's claims. The Court has carefully considered Defendant's Motion; Defendant's Brief in Support, ECF No. 11; Defendant's Concise Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 12; Plaintiff's Response/Brief in Opposition, ECF No. 25; Plaintiff's Responsive Concise Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 26; Defendant's Reply, ECF No. 28; and Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Additional Material Facts, ECF No. 29. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion is granted with respect to Plaintiff's federal law claims, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims.


A. The Robbery and Preliminary Investigation

The facts of this case are dense. On December 6, 2009, Officer Michael Waltenbaugh of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police was dispatched to investigate a reported burglary at 5217 Kincaid Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. See Investigative Report dated Dec. 6, 2009 ("12/6 Report"), ECF No. 11-3; Def.'s Concise Stmt. Mat. Facts § 1, ECF No. 12. Officer Waltenbaugh spoke with the victim Zachary Wooldridge, who related that the house he owned, which was vacant because he was renovating it, had been burglarized. 12/6 Report. Wooldridge stated that he left the house around 11:00 a.m. that day and returned at approximately 6:00 p.m. that day, and discovered that the back door had been kicked in and a number of his tools and supplies he had inside the house were gone. Id. Wooldridge provided Officer Waltenbaugh with a list of the items he was missing, which included a number of tools and various supplies, together valued at approximately $2, 960. Id. The supplies included boxes of electric outlets, a box of light switches, and assorted fuses and circuit breakers. Id. Waltenbaugh then spoke with a neighbor, Fannie Blackman, who stated that at 11:30 a.m. she saw an unknown black male going in and out of the house loading tools into a white pickup truck. Id. Ms. Blackman said that she assumed the man was a friend of Wooldridge, because he had a lot of friends who would come and help him work on the house. Id. She described the man she saw as a "black male 5'5, 150lbs in his 30's clean shaven, " and wearing "Jacket Brown - Hooded sweat shirt with zipper: Jeans Blue." Id. Officer Waltenbaugh recorded all this information in the 12/6 Report.

On December 8, 2009, an Officer Lee Dewberry filled out another report in the case. Supplemental Report dated Dec. 8, 2009, ECF No. 11-5 ("12/8 Dewberry Report"). The report stated that Wooldridge "states Lisa Payne who is the manager at Home Depot in East Liberty, informed him a black male entered the location during the time frame of his burglary, with all the items victim listed stolen from residence. The transaction was recorded on the surveillance video." Id.

Sometime on that same date, the case was assigned to Defendant Detective Matthew Marks. ECF No. 12 § 7; Supplemental Report dated Dec. 8, 2009, ECF No. 11-6 ("12/8 Marks Report"). Marks contacted Wooldridge and spoke with him regarding the missing items. ECF No. 11-6. Wooldridge described further the items that were missing, stating that while he had old tools, all of the supplies that were missing were brand new and still in the original wrapping, except for one 36" § 72" window blind that was opened because he had tried installing it but it was the wrong size. Supplemental Report dated Dec. 10, 2009, ECF No. 11-7 ("12/10 Report"). Wooldridge relayed that he spoke with Melissa DePiero, an Asset Protection Specialist at Home Depot, who confirmed with him that the East Liberty Home Depot store "had a return with the exact list of items he provided her including the 36§72 blind that was open." Id. Marks also personally contacted DePiero, who confirmed with him that Wooodridge's list of stolen items "was an exact match" of items returned in the East Liberty Store at 1:53 p.m. on December 6, just two hours after the alleged burglary. Id. She informed Marks that the store requires photo identifications for returns, and provided the driver's license number of the man who returned the goods at 1:53 p.m. Id. She also provided Marks with a surveillance video of the return, as well as a copy of the return. Id.

Marks then ran the driver's license information, which corresponded to Plaintiff Clyde McGriff, Jr. It appears that from the driver's license information, Marks learned that Mr. McGriff was an African-American male, six feet tall, weighing over 200 pounds, approximately fifty-one (51) years old, with facial hair. Ans. § 17, ECF No. 5. Marks also viewed the store surveillance video, and saw that it matched this description. ECF No. 11-7. According to Marks, the man on the video also matched the description provided by Ms. Blackman.[1] Id. (Additionally, at some point between December 8 and December 10, Marks himself spoke with Ms. Blackman, who confirmed her prior statements.).[2]

B. Warrant Application and Arrest

With this information in hand, on December 10, 2009, Marks filed a Police Criminal Complaint, charging Plaintiff with one count of Burglary, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3502, and one count of Receiving Stolen Property, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3925. See ECF No. 11-8. The Affidavit of Probable Cause ("Affidavit") that accompanied in Marks's Complaint contains the same information as the 12/10 Report verbatim. While the contents of the Affidavit are provided in their entirety and discussed below, Marks relayed the major facts of his investigation as they appear above, with certain exceptions. Most importantly, the Affidavit left out eyewitness Blackman's description of the physical characteristics of the man she saw (height, weight, age, and facial hair), and the fact that that description differed from Mr. McGriff's characteristics in a number of respects. See id. The State Magisterial District Judge signed the Criminal Complaint on that date, and issued a warrant for Mr. McGriff's arrest. It appears that Mr. McGriff was arrested either on that same date or on December 11, 2009. See ECF Nos. 11-9; 11-17; 11-21.

C. Proceedings After Arrest

It appears that at the time of his arrest, Mr. McGriff was already on parole for a prior burglary. See ECF No. 11-9. The record is unclear as to what transpired next, but it appears that around December 10 or 11, 2009, Mr. McGriff also provided a urine sample that tested positive for cocaine. See ECF Nos. 11-17; 11-21. It is unclear exactly what the outcome of this positive testing was or its bearing on the burglary and receipt of stolen property charges. However, it seems that on January 4, 2010, Mr. McGriff was again arrested for those burglary and receipt of stolen property charges, was detained, and bail was set. See ECF Nos. 11-14; 11-15; 12 § 17; 26 § 17. Also, on December 15, 2009, Marks and a Parole Agent completed a Confiscation and Disposal Report, detailing that they found and confiscated a number of hand and power tools located in Mr. McGriff's truck. ECF Nos. 11-12; 12 § 15; 26 § 15.

A preliminary hearing was held on March 25, 2010, where Mr. McGriff was represented by counsel, and at which Wooldridge and Marks testified before Pittsburgh Municipal Court Judge Randy C. Martini regarding the government's evidence of the charges against Mr. McGriff. ECF Nos. 11-22, 12 § 18, 26 § 18. Upon hearing the testimony, Judge Martini ruled that "[i]t is a very, very small bit of evidence, but [the case] will be held for trial." ECF No. 11-22 at 15:1-2. Following a number of preliminary proceedings and continuances of trial, the Government entered a petition of nolle prosequi on November 11, 2010, and both charges against Mr. McGriff were dropped. ECF Nos. 11-15; 11-16.

D. Procedural History

Mr. McGriff filed this suit pro se in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on December 8, 2011, which Defendant removed to this Court. See ECF No. 1. The Complaint sets out five counts: Count I, Unlawful Arrest/Unlawful Imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count II, Malicious Prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count III, False Arrest/False Imprisonment; Count IV, Malicious Prosecution; Count V, Outrageous Conduct. While Counts III-V do not state the legal source of those claims, they can be fairly read to assert state common law tort claims, especially given that the Court has the "obligation to liberally construe a pro se litigant's pleadings, " Higgs v. Att'y Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), which are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Plaintiff admits that he was the man who returned the Home Depot goods and was the man in the surveillance video, but asserts that those items "belonged exclusively to" himself, and maintains that he was wrongfully arrested and prosecuted. Compl. § 4, ECF No. 1-2.


Summary judgment is proper "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). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Emerson Radio Corp. v. Orion Sales, Inc., 253 F.3d 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2001). "When there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences to be drawn from them, a trial is required to resolve the conflicting versions of the parties." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation and marks omitted).


A. Malicious Prosecution and False Arrest

Section 1983 provides a vehicle to assert claims for violation of an individual's federal constitutional rights. Dique v. N.J. State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010). When analyzing a § 1983 claim, the court's initial inquiry must focus on two essential elements: "(1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981); see also Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 421 F.3d 185, 189 (3d Cir. 2005). Defendant Marks, a police detective, does not dispute that he was acting under the color of law in this case. Therefore, the Court need only consider the second requirement of § 1983 - whether a constitutional violation has been asserted.

Whether a constitutional violation is claimed to have occurred is also a prerequisite for a § 1983 defendant's assertion of qualified immunity. In general, the doctrine of qualified immunity shields government officials from defending a claim of civil liability when they perform discretionary functions. Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). A government official, such as a police officer, will be entitled to qualified immunity from suit unless (1) the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right possessed by the plaintiff and (2) the right was "clearly established" at the time of the officer's allegedly unconstitutional conduct. Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 325-26 (3d Cir. 2009). These two steps need not be applied in sequence, and a trial court may exercise its discretion to craft the most effective sequential analysis given the circumstances of a particular case. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 242 (2009).

Claims for false arrest and false imprisonment under § 1983 originate from the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable seizures. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). "False arrest and false imprisonment overlap; the former is a species of the latter." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007). "[W]here the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee has a claim under § 1983 for false imprisonment based on a detention pursuant to that arrest." Groman, 47 F.3d at 636.

To prove malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment via § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: "(1) the defendant[] initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in 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 deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding." Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 186 (3d Cir. 2009) ( en banc ).

Therefore, claims of both false arrest and malicious prosecution require that the plaintiff was arrested without probable cause. Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007). Importantly, when a plaintiff is arrested on multiple charges, the presence of probable cause as to any one charge will defeat a false arrest claim as to all charges. See id. However, as this Court has recently explained, the Third Circuit "has wavered as to whether the same rule applies for a malicious prosecution claim." Posey v. Swissvale Borough, 2:12-CV-955, 2013 WL 989953, at *9 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 13, 2013). This Court considered the tension between the Third Circuit's pronouncements in Wright v. City of Phila., 409 F.3d 595, 602 (3d Cir. 2005), Johnson, 477 F.3d at 82, and Kossler, 564 F.3d at 194 n.8 with regard to that question, and held that especially where the doctrine of qualified immunity applies, the prevailing rule in this Circuit is that "if probable cause is present as to any one count, a [criminal] defendant charged on multiple counts cannot state a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution, " as held in the Wright case. Posey, 2013 WL ...

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