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Jamison v. Keppel

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 10, 2013

SHERELL M. JAMISON, Plaintiff
v.
TROPPER KEPPEL, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM

LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

This is an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Sherell Jamison contends that Trooper Christopher Keppel of the Pennsylvania State Police violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Am. Compl. §§ 20-21.[2] Before me is Trooper Keppel's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion.

I. BACKGROUND[3]

On July 5, 2007, officers from the York City Police Department and the Pennsylvania State Police, including Trooper Keppel, arranged for a confidential informant to purchase over three ounces of cocaine from Abdullah Jamison, Ms. Jamison's brother. The parties agreed to meet near Ms. Jamison's house, at the intersection of Pershing Avenue and Front Street in York, Pennsylvania. Mr. Jamison arrived at the agreed-upon location and was arrested, but police found no drugs on his person or in his car.

Soon thereafter, Trooper Keppel and Corporal Barton Seelig[4] observed a van, driven by Ms. Jamison, leaving the area where Mr. Jamison was arrested. Trooper Keppel and Corporal Barton followed the van, which stopped in an alleyway directly behind Mr. Jamison's house. Mr. Jamison's house was under surveillance in connection with the arranged sale, and police were awaiting a warrant to search it. Ms. Jamison exited the van and began walking toward Mr. Jamison's house. Trooper Keppel and Corporal Barton approached, and Ms. Jamison identified herself as Mr. Jamison's sister. According to Trooper Keppel and Corporal Barton, Ms. Jamison began yelling toward Mr. Jamison's house and at the officers on scene.[5] Ms. Jamison took out her phone and attempted to place a call, but Trooper Keppel took the phone before she could do so. Fearing that Ms. Jamison was attempting to warn the house's occupants of the impending search, and after she refused to stop yelling, Trooper Keppel handcuffed her. An unknown officer placed Ms. Jamison on the curb. Trooper Keppel last saw Ms. Jamison roughly two hours later, following the search of Mr. Jamison's house, [6] in the back of a York City Police cruiser.[7] Ms. Jamison was later released without being charged.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be "genuine, " a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

A party moving for summary judgment always bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing relevant portions of the record, including depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations, or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or showing that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut the moving party's argument that there is no genuine issue of fact by pointing to evidence that is "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. , 477 U.S. at 322; Harter v. GAF Corp. , 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992).

Under Rule 56, the court must draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255. The court must decide "not whether... the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented." Id. at 252. The non-moving party cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or conclusory allegations, such as those found in the pleadings, but rather, must present clear evidence from which a jury can reasonably find in its favor. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E. , 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).

III. DISCUSSION

The sole claims before me are those under the Fourth Amendment for false arrest and false imprisonment against Trooper Keppel. Am. Compl. §§ 20-21.[8] Lack of probable cause is a required element of both claims. McNeil v. City of Easton , 694 F.Supp.2d 375, 390 (E.D. Pa. 2010) ("[P]laintiff's claims for false arrest [and] false imprisonment... must necessarily fail if the defendant officers had probable cause to arrest him."). Trooper Keppel is therefore entitled to summary judgment if he had probable cause to arrest Ms. Jamison.

"An arrest by a law enforcement officer without a warrant is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment where there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed.'" Wright v. City of Philadelphia , 409 F.3d 595, 601 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Devenpeck v. Alford , 543 U.S. 146, 152 (2004)). "Probable cause to arrest requires more than mere suspicion; however, it does not require that the officer have evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police , 71 F.3d 480, 482-83 (3d Cir. 1995). "To determine whether an arrest is valid, we look to the law of the state where the arrest took place." Wright , 409 F.3d at 601. Because "[p]robable cause need only exist as to any offense that could be charged under the circumstances, " Barna v. City of Perth Amboy , 42 F.3d 809, 819 (3d Cir. 1994), the analysis should not be approached "with too narrow a focus, " Tate v. W. Norriton Twp. , 545 F.Supp.2d 480, 487 (E.D. Pa. 2008).

Trooper Keppel testified that in his opinion, there were "a few things [Ms. Jamison] could have been charged with." Keppel Dep. at 59. He identified disorderly conduct as one possible offense. Under Pennsylvania law, "[a] person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (1) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; (2) makes unreasonable noise; (3) uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or (4) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor." 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5503(a).

Based on the undisputed facts, Trooper Keppel had probable cause to arrest Ms. Jamison for violating § 5503(a)(4). Trooper Keppel and Corporal Seelig observed Ms. Jamison leaving the scene where Mr. Jamison had just been arrested for attempting to sell over three ounces of cocaine. She pulled into an alleyway directly behind Mr. Jamison's house, which officers on scene were awaiting a warrant to search. She exited her vehicle, identified herself as Mr. Jamison's sister, and began approaching Mr. Jamison's house. When confronted by Trooper Keppel and Corporal Seelig, she began yelling "directly at [Mr. Jamison's] house." Keppel Dep. at 31. Trooper Keppel "advised her not to scream at the residence" but she continued doing so. Id. at 30-33. Ms. Jamison took out her cell phone and attempted to place a call, but Trooper Keppel grabbed the phone before she could do so. Id. at 33-34. Eventually, "her focus turned from yelling at the house to yelling at [the officers on scene, including Trooper Keppel]." Id. at 33. Only after "she continued to keep yelling" did Trooper Keppel handcuff her. Id . Trooper Keppel and Corporal Seelig both testified that they believed Ms. Jamison was trying to get the attention of the house's occupants. Id. at 31; Seelig Dep. at 25. Trooper Keppel in particular felt that Ms. Jamison "was trying to warn the residents after she was told not to" and that "she was a threat because [he] didn't know what was in that house." Keppel Dep. at 59, 74; see also id. at 75-76 ("The fear I was concerned about [was] that she was going to tip off whoever was in the residence and they might be armed and know we're coming in at them.").

Under these circumstances, Trooper Keppel could have reasonably believed that Ms. Jamison "create[d] a hazardous... condition... with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creat[ed] a risk thereof." § 5503(a)(4). "A hazardous condition is one that involves danger or risk, ' particularly situations raising the possibility of injuries from public disorder." Clifton v. Borough of Eddystone , 824 F.Supp.2d 617, 625 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Com. v. Williams , 574 A.2d 1161, 1164 (1990)). Ms. Jamison's confrontation with Trooper Keppel and Corporal Seelig took place in a neighborhood alleyway directly behind a house which was actively and covertly being surveilled by officers awaiting a search warrant. § 5503(c) (defining "public" as "affecting or likely to affect persons in... any neighborhood"). There is no question that Trooper Keppel reasonably perceived Ms. Jamison's conduct as "creat[ing] a significant risk or danger of injury" to the officers surveilling the house and executing the search, to the occupants of the house, to any bystanders, and to herself. Williams , 574 A.2d at 1164. Trooper Keppel had probable cause to charge Ms. Jamison with disorderly conduct, [9] and he is therefore entitled to summary judgment.[10]

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Trooper Keppel's motion for summary judgment is granted.

An appropriate order follows.


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