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Kundratic v. Thomas

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 26, 2013

GARY THOMAS ET AL., Defendants.


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

We consider here Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Tina Gartley ("Gartley"), Anthony Lumbis ("Lumbis"), Gary Thomas ("Thomas"), and Arthur Silverblatt ("Silverblatt")(Docs. 84, 87, 91, and 96 respectively). These motions have been fulled briefed by the parties and are now ripe for disposition.

I. Factual Background.

This case stems from a 2006 divorce action filed by Plaintiff Andrew Kundratic ("Kundratic") against his former spouse, Sophia Kundratic, in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. That divorce proceeding, as is often the case in such matters, was highly contentious and protracted. The parties argued vehemently over property distribution matters, Mrs. Kundratic's entitlement to alimony pendente lite, and custody of their then minor daughter, Brittany Kundratic. The contentious nature of the divorce coupled with the fact that Kundratic changed lawyers in midstream caused the proceeding to be protracted. During the course of the divorce proceeding, Mrs. Kundratic sought and obtained a protection from abuse order that was later extended by the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. The existence of the protection from abuse order complicated exchanges of custody on the days appointed for Kundratic to visit with his daughter and also complicated Kundratic's efforts to retrieve personal items from the marital abode.

While the Kundratic divorce proceeding was ongoing, Kundratic filed a federal civil rights lawsuit (Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 3:08-CV-1652)(hereinafter "Kundratic I") against his wife and Defendant Thomas who, at that time, were romantically involved. Kundratic I was cast as a claim under 42 U.S.C ยง 1983 that alleged that Thomas, a state actor due to his status as a Pennsylvania State Policeman, abused his official authority to cause agents of the Rice Township Police Department to prosecute Kundratic for assault and harassment and to cause the magistrate who presided over the case to set an unreasonably high cash bail.[1] William J. Nealon (a senior judge in this Court) presided over Kundratic I and dismissed that case due to his findings that, even assuming that Thomas had done the things Kundratic attributed to him, none of Thomas' actions were performed under color of state law but, rather, were performed for purely personal reasons. Judge Nealon's holding in Kundratic I was subsequently upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In denying various motions to dismiss the instant case, this Court ruled (Doc. 64) that it would not revisit facts and issues decided in Kundratic I due to the doctrine of res judicata. The Court ruled further that Kundratic would be given the opportunity to adduce evidence through discovery that Thomas had abused his position as a "state actor" to violate his constitutional rights in some fashion. Kundratic was pointedly informed in this Court's prior Memorandum and Order (Docs. 64 and 65) that to sustain this lawsuit he would be required to show that Thomas, singly or in combination with the other Defendants, abused his official authority to Kundratic's detriment between July 2, 2009 (the date Judge Nealon dismissed Kundratic I) and January 4, 2012 (the date when the instant lawsuit was filed).

Numerous depositions have now been taken in this matter, the time for discovery has run, and it is this Court's task to review such evidence as Kundratic has called to our attention in order to determine whether there are justiciable issues of material fact sufficient to require submission of this case to a jury.

II. Summary Judgment Standard.

Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant demonstrates there is no "genuine issue as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

"An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, a court must resolve all factual doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

The initial burden is on the moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986) (citations omitted). The moving party may meet this burden by "pointing out to the district court [] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof." Id. at 325. The non-moving party may not rest on the bare allegations contained in his or her pleadings, but is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324.

"In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of evidence." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Therefore, when evidentiary facts are in dispute, when the credibility of witnesses may be in issue, or when conflicting evidence must be weighed, a full trial is usually necessary. Nonetheless, the party opposing summary judgment must support each essential element of the claim with concrete evidence in the record. Celotex, supra at 322-23. This requirement upholds the underlying purpose of the rule, which is to avoid a trial "in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976). Therefore, if, after making all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, supra, at 322; Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is merely speculative, conclusory, "or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, supra, at 249-50 (internal citation omitted).

A plaintiff's mere belief is not enough to create a dispute of material fact sufficient to survive summary judgment. See Lexington Ins. Co. V. W. Pa. Hosp., 423 F.3d 318, 333 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that speculation is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment). Our circuit has stated: "...summary 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 ...

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