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Clouser v. Johnson

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 25, 2013

NATHAN W. CLOUSER, Plaintiff,
v.
TODD JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction.

The plaintiff, Nathan W. Clouser, claims that the defendants violated his constitutional rights in connection with criminal proceedings against him. Clouser has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking summary judgment in his favor as to some of his claims. Because Clouser has not established that he is entitled to summary judgment, we recommend that his motion for partial summary judgment be denied.

II. Background and Procedural History.

Clouser, proceeding pro se, began this action by filing a complaint naming as defendants the following officers: Todd Johnson, a detective in charge of the Dauphin County Drug Task Force (task force); Regis Vogle, III, an officer with the task force; and John Goshert, a supervisor of the Dauphin County Criminal Investigative Division (CID).

Clouser alleges that, on March 15, 2011, the defendants, other members of the task force, Pennsylvania State Police troopers, and DEA agents executed a warrant at his residence in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. When the police entered his residence, Clouser was placed in restraints, moved to the rear of the residence, and given Miranda warnings. According to Clouser, he immediately requested an attorney. During the search, Clouser was moved to the front of the residence, where defendant Vogel allegedly questioned him for approximately an hour. Clouser alleges that he was then again given Miranda warnings, and he again immediately requested an attorney.

After the search, Clouser was arrested for attempt to manufacture Fentanyl and unlawful use of a communication device. Defendants Johnson and Goshert then transported him to central booking in Harrisburg, and from there Clouser alleges that he was remanded to the Dauphin County Prison in lieu of $250, 000 bail. According to Clouser, on March 17, 2011, he met with a representative of the Dauphin County Public Defender's Office, and a case file was opened.

Clouser alleges that, on March 29, 2011, members of the Sheriff's Office transported him to a holding cell in the Dauphin County Courthouse, and defendant Johnson then transported him to CID offices. According to Clouser, after he informed Johnson that he had met with the Public Defender's Office, he asked whether his attorney would be present, and Johnson stated that he would attempt to contact Clouser's attorney. Johnson asked Clouser to sign consent-to-search forms for two packages that were seized after his arrest as well as for six electronic devices that were seized during the original search. Clouser asserts that he again asked for a lawyer. According to Clouser, Johnson then responded that he did not believe that any attorneys were available, that it would help Clouser later if he signed the consent forms, and that, if Clouser did not sign the forms, he would just get a search warrant anyway. Clouser eventually relented and signed the forms. According to Clouser, defendant Vogle was aware of his request for counsel, and Vogle witnessed him signing the consent forms. Clouser claims that by asking him to sign the consent forms without his attorney, defendants Johnson and Vogle violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Clouser alleges that defendant Johnson repeatedly continued his preliminary hearing knowing that there was no probable cause to hold him and that a preliminary hearing would fail. Clouser was federally indicted on October 5, 2011, [1] and all local charges were withdrawn before a preliminary hearing was held.

Clouser alleges that defendant Johnson intentionally or with reckless disregard included false statements in the affidavit for probable cause for the search warrant and that those statements were necessary to the finding of probable cause. More specifically, Clouser alleges that Johnson stated in the affidavit of probable cause that he had been involved in Clouser's arrest and conviction in 2003 for manufacturing MDMA. According to Clouser, although he was arrested in 2003, that arrest was for delivery of Heroin and escape, and at no time was he arrested for, or convicted of, manufacturing MDMA. Clouser also alleges that Johnson stated in the affidavit of probable cause that he had confirmed that Clouser ordered and received all of the components to manufacture Fentanyl. According to Clouser, the evidence that he received in discovery in his criminal trial shows that he did not order or receive any of the main precursors, or the incidents to make them, of Fentanyl. Clouser alleges that Johnson's false statements resulted in a warrant authorizing an illegal search in violation the Fourth Amendment, and defendants Vogle and Goshert were present and participated in the illegal search. Clouser also claims that by making false statements in order to subvert the processes that are meant to protect against illegal searches and seizures, Johnson violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.

Clouser also alleges that defendant Johnson intentionally or with reckless disregard included false statements in the affidavit for probable cause for the warrant for his arrest. More specifically, Clouser alleges that Johnson stated in the affidavit of probable cause that, at the time of the search, a DEA chemist had identified all the components necessary to manufacture Fentanyl. According to Clouser, however, the chemist identified only minor precursors of Fentanyl at the time of the search. That false statement, according to Clouser, rendered the arrest warrant illegal. While Clouser acknowledges that there were other, valid warrants for his arrest for other outstanding charges, he alleges that those other charges were dealt with on April 11, 2011, and, after that date, the only thing holding him in custody was the invalid arrest warrant. Clouser claims that he suffered unlawful imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment from April 11, 2011, until October 4, 2011.

According to Clouser, after his arrest, two packages were seized without a warrant and without probable cause. One of the packages was sent through the United States mail. The other was sent through UPS and was taken off the porch of his residence. Clouser believes that Johnson altered the chain-of-custody documents to make it appear that the package sent via UPS was sent through the United States mail. In response to discovery requests propounded during Clouser's criminal case, Johnson allegedly failed to submit a consent-to-search form for the package sent through the United States mail. Rather, he submitted two copies of the consent-to-search form for the package sent via UPS. Clouser believes this to have been an effort by Johnson to hide his tampering with evidence, and, according to Clouser, this violated his Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Clouser further alleges that the defendants were involved in an incident in 2008 that was the subject of a federal lawsuit- Perry v. Borough of Middletown, 1:10-CV-00911 (Carlson, M.J.). That case was dismissed, in April of 2011, after the parties settled the case. According to Clouser, the defendants' involvement in that case shows a pattern of abuse and reckless disregard for civil rights by the defendants.

In response to motions to dismiss the complaint filed by the defendants, the Court dismissed all claims against defendant Goshert and all claims against defendant Vogel except the Sixth Amendment claim. The Court also dismissed the Fifth Amendment and substantive due process claims against defendant Johnson. Thus, the remaining claims are the Sixth Amendment claims against defendants ...


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