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Poindexter v. Carroll

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 23, 2013

MARK W. POINDEXTER, Plaintiff,
v.
JACKIE MUSTO CARROLL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:

This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab (Doc. 108), filed on March 12, 2013, which recommends that Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 57 and 81) be granted and that pro se Plaintiff Mark W. Poindexter's ("Plaintiff' or "Poindexter") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 95) be denied. Objections to the R&R were originally due by March 29, 2013, however Plaintiff was granted two extensions of time to file objections thereto. The May 6, 2013 extended deadline for the filing of Plaintiff's objections has now passed without a filing by Plaintiff. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's R&R in its entirety and close this case.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When, as here, no objections are made to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court is not statutorily required to review the report before accepting it. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). According to the Third Circuit, however, "the better practice is to afford some level of review to dispositive legal issues raised by the report." Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987). "[T]he court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), advisory committee notes; see also Henderson, 812 F.2d at 878-79 (stating "the failure of a party to object to a magistrate's legal conclusions may result in the loss of the right to de novo review in the district court"); Tice v. Wilson, 425 F.Supp.2d 676, 680 (W.D. Pa. 2006); Cruz v. Chater, 990 F.Supp. 375-78 (M.D. Pa. 1998); Oldrati v. Apfel, 33 F.Supp.2d 397, 399 (E.D. Pa. 1998). The Court's examination of this case confirms the Magistrate Judge's determinations.

II. DISCUSSION

As noted above, within her thorough and well-reasoned 45-page R&R, Magistrate Judge Schwab recommends that Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment be granted and that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge concludes that the Defendant parole and police officers are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity as a matter of law. We agree entirely with the Magistrate Judge's analysis and conclusions, thus we shall only endeavor to briefly summarize the contents of the R&R herein.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for their participation in constitutionally impermissible conduct if the officials' actions did not violate clearly established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); see also Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002). The Magistrate Judge determined here that, although the state trial judge suppressed drugs and drug paraphernalia as fruit of the poisonous tree resulting from a search conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate Plaintiff's clearly established rights. We agree with the Magistrate Judge that despite the suppression order, the Defendants conduct relative to Plaintiff at the time the search took place was objectively reasonable. Specifically, the parole officer Defendants detained the Plaintiff and other occupants of the home of a parolee for a short period of time while they secured the premises. Then, in response to a sudden movement that suggested that one of the occupants might be trying to hide something, the parole officers executed patdown searches on Poindexter and the other occupants. Before all of the occupants in the premises were secured, the parole officers found a bag of drugs and called the police. After the police officer Defendants arrived, they conducted a consent search of the home and found additional drugs. When questioned, Poindexter gave the police a name that was later determined to be false. The police officer Defendants arrested the Plaintiff and charged him with crimes. Applying the benchmarks of qualified immunity to these facts, we agree with the Magistrate Judge that it would not have been clear to a reasonable officer that the Defendants' actions under the circumstances violated Poindexter's clearly established rights.

As we have already mentioned, neither Defendants nor the Plaintiff have filed objections to this R&R. Because we agree with the sound reasoning that led the Magistrate Judge to the conclusions in the R&R, we will adopt the R&R in its entirety. With a mind towards conserving judicial resources, we will not rehash the reasoning of the Magistrate Judge; rather, we will attach a copy of the R&R to this document, as it accurately reflects our consideration and resolution of the case sub judice. An appropriate Order shall issue.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. Introduction.

The defendants found the plaintiff, Mark W. Poindexter, in possession of drugs, and they arrested him and charged him with a number of crimes. After the state court suppressed the drugs on the basis that they were seized as a result of an unlawful search, the criminal charges were dismissed. Poindexter then filed this action alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights. The remaining five defendants are county police officers and state parole agents. The defendants have moved for summary judgment as has Poindexter. Because the defendants did not violate clearly established law, they are entitled to qualified immunity from Poindexter's constitutional claims for damages. Thus, we recommend that the defendants' motions for summary judgment be granted and that Poindexter's motion for summary judgment be denied.

II. Background and Procedural History.

On April 11, 2011, Poindexter, proceeding pro se, commenced this action by filing a complaint naming the following as defendants: Jackie Musto Carroll, the District Attorney of Luzerne County; M. Collins, an assistant district attorney; the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department; Sergeant Elick and Patrolmen Reh and Amditis; and state parole agents Ruzicki and Dwyer.

Poindexter's claims stem from an incident on November 5, 2008, during which defendants Ruzicki and Dwyer entered a home where Poindexter was present, detained Poindexter while they searched the home, found drugs on the couch where Poindexter had been sitting, and called defendants Elick, Reh, and Amditis who subsequently arrested Poindexter. Poindexter was charged with several crimes. In June of 2009, Judge Toole of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County conducted a suppression hearing and granted Poindexter's motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized. All charges against Poindexter were then dismissed, but that was after Poindexter had already spent 210 days in prison.[1]

Poindexter claims that the defendants conducted an unconstitutional search and seizure, unlawfully arrested him, filed false charges against him, and falsely incarcerated him for 210 days. He also claims that the defendants maliciously and selectively prosecuted him, denied him equal protection of the law and due process, and conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights. He further claims that the defendants failed to supervise and monitor each other's actions to ensure that his rights were not violated. He claims that the defendants violated his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as his rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution. He also presents state law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, wrongful use of proceedings, common law conspiracy, and intentional, reckless, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

After screening the case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915A, the court dismissed defendants Musto Carroll, Collins, and the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department. The court also dismissed all claims against defendants Elick, Reh, Amditis, Ruzicki, and Dwyer in their official capacities. Thus, the only remaining claims are the claims against defendants Elick, Reh, Amditis, Ruzicki, and Dwyer in their individual capacities.

In August of 2011, defendants Dwyer and Ruzicki filed an answer to the complaint. After the court denied their motion to dismiss the complaint, defendants Elick, Reh, and Amditis filed an answer to the complaint in March of 2012. The discovery period ended on September 4, 2012. There are three motions for summary judgment pending: a motion filed by defendants Elick, Reh, and Amditis, a motion filed by defendants Dwyer and Ruzicki, and a motion filed by Poindexter. For the reasons that follow, we recommend that the court grant the defendants' motions and deny Poindexter's motion.

III. Summary Judgment Standard.

The parties have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). "Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a genuine dispute as to any material fact' and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality." Goudy-Bachman v. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 811 F.Supp.2d 1086, 1091 (M.D. Pa. 2011)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). With respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, the moving party may discharge that burden by "showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleading; rather, the nonmoving party must show a genuine dispute by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If the nonmoving 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 appropriate. Celotex, supra, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, supra, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute about a material fact 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. Id. at 248-49. When "faced with a summary judgment motion, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" N.A.A.C.P. v. N. Hudson Reg'l Fire & Rescue, 665 F.3d 464, 475 (3d Cir. 2011)(quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)).

At the summary judgment stage, the judge's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter; rather it is to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, supra, 477 U.S. at 249. The proper inquiry of the court "is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

Summary judgment is warranted, after adequate time for discovery, against a party who 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 of proof at trial. Celotex, supra, 477 U.S. at 322. "Under such circumstances, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.'" Anderson v. CONRAIL, 297 F.3d 242, 247 (3d Cir. 2002)(quoting Celotex, supra, 477 U.S. at 323). "[S]ummary judgment is essentially put up or shut up' time for the non-moving party: 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. Group, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006).

The court may resolve cross-motions for summary judgment concurrently, but when doing so, it "is bound to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party with respect to each motion." Goudy-Bachman, supra, 811 F.Supp.2d at 1091-92.

IV. The Material Facts.

Although the parties dispute the legal import of and the inferences to be drawn from them, the underlying facts are largely undisputed. The following statement of the material facts is derived from the defendants' statements of material facts and Poindexter's responses thereto, Poindexter's statement of material facts and the defendants' responses thereto, and the underlying documents.

Defendant Ruzicki has been employed by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole since March of 2000. In November of 2008, he was a Parole Agent II supervising clients in the city of Wilkes-Barre and in the Wilkes-Barre Township area, and he had been supervising Patrick Herbert for more than two years. On November 5, 2008, at 12:30 p.m., defendant Ruzicki, accompanied by defendant Dwyer, went to Herbert's residence in Wilkes-Barre Township. After knocking on the door and receiving no answer, he tried the door knob and finding the door unlocked, he opened the door.[2] Defendant Ruzicki stepped into the doorway, and he saw two men-Poindexter and Gaddis-seated on a sofa a few feet away in the living room. After Ruzicki identified himself as a parole agent, one of the men made a sudden movement reaching to the side of the sofa, apparently trying to conceal something between the cushions of the sofa. Defendant Ruzicki pulled his weapon, as did defendant Dwyer, who was standing behind Ruzicki. Ruzicki then ordered the men off of the sofa, and he and Dwyer handcuffed them and conducted a pat-down search of them. No contraband or weapons were found on Poindexter's person.

Ruzicki then found Patrick Herbert and Foxie Peterson in a bedroom, and he ordered them to get dressed and join the others in the living room. Upon returning to the living room, Ruzicki noticed a plastic baggy sticking out of the sofa cushions. He retrieved the baggy, which appeared to contain a white rocky substance, and placed it on the coffee table. Defendant Dwyer then contacted the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department, and defendants Elick, Reh, and Amditis responded to the scene. Defendant Ruzicki turned the baggy over to them.

The police defendants advised Poindexter that he was the subject of an official investigation and that providing false identifying information is a violation of law. Although Poindexter falsely identified himself as Markeen Woodson, the police defendants subsequently determined his true identity and that he had an active capias against him.[3] Herbert consented to a search of his house, and the police officers contacted a K-9 unit, which arrived and searched the residence. Including the baggy that had been found in the couch, the following items were seized: one plastic bag that contained 16 packets of an off-white colored, powdery substance that weighed approximately 6.7 grams and that field tested positive for heroine and 16 individually packaged pieces from baggies that contained an off-white colored, rocky substance that weighed approximately 5.3 grams and field tested positive for cocaine.[4]

As a result of the drugs found, Poindexter was taken into custody. He was charged with manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance; use of, or possession with intent to use, drug paraphernalia; and false identification to law enforcement authorities.

Poindexter filed a motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized, and in June of 2009, after a hearing, Judge Toole granted that motion. In doing so, Judge Toole made the following findings of fact:

On November 5th, 2008, Defendant Poindexter and Defendant Gaddis were legally visiting the residence of Patrick Herbert. Patrick Herbert was on state parole supervision at the time of this visit on November 5th, 2008.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. that day State Parole Agents Jeff Ruzicki and James Dwyer came to the residence for the purpose of making contact with Mr. Herbert and if upon making that [contact] discovered that he had been in any way using any illegal drugs for the purpose of arresting him.
Agents Ruzicki and Dwyer do not in any way supervise either of the two defendants, Mr. Poindexter or Mr. Gaddis.
At the time of the agents' arrival, Agent Ruzicki entered the residence, after knocking and receiving no response determined that the door was not locked. He entered first followed closely by Agent James Dwyer. When he observed both defendants seated on a couch, he saw Mr. Poindexter make a movement, a movement which he could not clearly describe or define in terms of seeing, witnessing, or testifying concerning any object that may or may not have at that point been in the possession or proximity of Mr. Poindexter including any illegal contraband, drugs, or weapons.
Agent Ruzicki immediately drew his weapon. Upon seeing Agent Ruzicki draw his weapon, Agent Dwyer drew his weapon.
Both of the defendants were, in the words of the agents, taken into custody. At that point at gunpoint they were ordered from the couch, they were handcuffed, they were frisked. Mr. Gaddis was cuffed laying facedown on the floor. Mr. Poindexter, according to the credible testimony, was cuffed and was facing a ...

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