United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 41)
ARTHUR J. SCHWAB, District Judge.
Currently before the Court is Defendants' (City of Washington and Ron McIntyre ("McIntyre"), collectively "Defendants'"), Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. No. 41. Plaintiffs Gary and Kathy Yoders, in their Complaint and Amended Complaint, allege that Defendants unjustly used a condemnation proceeding to prevent them from accessing their property and, in doing so, Defendants wrongfully used a legal process and defamed Plaintiffs. Doc. No. 29.
Count I of the Complaint, "42 U.S.C. § 1983 Equal Protection banning Plaintiffs from use of their property and to be secure in their property, " alleges that Defendants prevented Plaintiffs from the use, enjoyment, and security of their property, and in so doing violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Doc. No. 1, ¶¶ 31-38. Count II, "Wrongful use of the Legal Process, " alleges that Defendants wrongfully used the legal process by threatening to arrest any party who entered Plaintiffs' property and for threatening to discontinue utility services to the property without due process. Id . at ¶¶ 39-43. Count III, "Defamation, " alleges that Defendants defamed Plaintiffs by publishing material falsehoods about the condition of their property, which harmed Plaintiffs' reputation. Id . at ¶¶ 44-48. At Count IV, Plaintiffs additionally allege that Defendants had did not properly train, supervise, or discipline Defendant McIntyre. Doc. No. 29. Defendants move this Court to grant summary judgment in their favor on all four counts. Doc. No. 41.
II. Statement of Facts
The following are the undisputed material facts of this case:
Plaintiffs own a rental property located at Addison Street, within the city of Washington, Pennsylvania, a municipal entity. Doc. No. 40, ¶¶ 1-2, Doc. No. 43, ¶¶ 1-2.
On or about June 29, 2012, City of Washington police officers pursued Robert Noble, Plaintiffs' tenant, within their property. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 4, Doc. No. 43, ¶ 4. During the pursuit, Noble kicked a hole into a basement wall and ruptured a waterline. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 4, Doc. No. 43, ¶ 7. Noble was apprehended by the police who secured the site. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 5.
Defendant, Ron McIntyre, is an employee of the City of Washington and has served as a Code Enforcement Officer since November of 2010. Doc. No. 40, ¶¶ 3, 16, Doc. No. 43, ¶ 3. McIntyre was a former City of Washington police officer. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 15. He was summoned to Plaintiffs' property by the City of Washington Police department. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 5, Doc. No. 43, ¶ 8. McIntyre inspected the building and condemned the property. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 6.
McIntyre notified Plaintiffs of the condemnation by a letter dated June 29, 2012, and issued a summary offense citation for unsafe structure. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 9, Doc. No. 43, ¶ 10. A hearing was held before a local magistrate judge for Plaintiffs' summary offense citation. Id . at ¶ 11. Plaintiffs were found not guilty. Doc. No. 40, ¶ 11, Doc. No. 43, ¶¶ 13, 17.
Plaintiffs have pled the following additional facts which have not been addressed by Defendants:
Plaintiffs' property included a one story side addition which was deteriorating. Doc. No. 43, ¶ 11. The addition was not accessible from the main structure. Id . McIntyre did not take any steps to shut off the water at the meter before he padlocked and boarded up the property, evicted the tenants, terminated utilities, and condemned the property. Id . at ¶ 9. The basement filled with two and a half feet of water. Id . at ¶ 15. As a result, the home was damaged and the furnace and hot water tank were ruined. Id.
Plaintiffs were not permitted to access their property even after they were found not guilty of the summary citation. Id . at ¶ 13. Based upon McIntyre's assertions, Plaintiff Kathy Yoders believed that she had to communicate with McIntyre directly to regain access to their property. Id . at ¶ 21(h). Plaintiffs attempted to contact McIntyre to gain entry, but they were unable to communicate with him. Id . at ¶ 14. The City's prior Code Enforcement Officer allowed residents ten days to fix their property before the owner would be fined. Id . at ¶ 21(j). McIntyre sent "numerous letters" before taking action in "all other cases." Id . at ¶ 26.
Plaintiff Kathy Yoders attempted to have the electricity turned on, but could not because McIntyre listed the property as condemned. Id . at ¶ 21(k). McIntyre never told Plaintiffs what they needed to repair. Id . at ¶ 21(l).
McIntyre was not vetted before he was hired by Defendant City of Washington. Id . at ¶ 22(a). McIntyre is supervised by a City Council Member, Kenneth Westcott Id . at ¶ 22(d). His actions are to be reviewed before the City Solicitor, then Lance Turturice, before they are taken. Id . at ¶ 22(e). The Councilman did not meet with McIntyre in regards to Plaintiffs' property, did not know about the utility termination letters, did not know Plaintiffs were found not guilty, and has never seen a condemnation letter. Id . at ¶ 25(b). The Councilman told McIntyre to handle everything through the City Solicitor. Id . at ¶ 24(c). The City Solicitor did not know McIntyre sent letters to terminate utility service to properties and did not advise McIntyre on utility turnoffs. Id . at ¶ 23(b). The City Solicitor did not give advice on Plaintiffs' property or the charges against them. Id . at ¶¶ 23(c)-(d). According to the City Solicitor, a series of letters need to be sent before a property is condemned and boarded up. Id . at ¶ 23(h).
Other persons, including tenants, were allowed to enter Plaintiffs' property. Id . at ¶¶ 18, 21(f). Plaintiffs have not been permitted to re-enter. Id.
The following material facts are in dispute: the state of Plaintiffs' property on June 29, 2012; whether Plaintiffs' property should have been condemned; the extent of McIntyre's training; and McIntyre's supervision or lack thereof.
III. Standard of Review
Summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, "the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Melrose, Inc. v. Pittsburgh, 613 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2010). Manolovich v. Park, 461 Fed.Appx. 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2012).
A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, (1986); see also Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011). Smith v. Borough of Dunmore, 516 Fed.Appx. 194, 200 (3d Cir. 2013). Disputes must be both: (1) material, meaning concerning facts that will affect the outcome of the issue under substantive law, and (2) genuine, meaning there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute "to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial. In re Lemington Home for Aged, 659 F.3d 282, 290 (3d Cir. 2011); see also S.H. ex rel. Durrell v. Lower Merion School Dist., 729 F.3d 248 (3d Cir. 2013).
A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of supporting its assertion that fact(s) cannot be genuinely disputed by citing to particular parts of materials in the record - i.e., depositions, documents, affidavits, stipulations, or other materials - or by showing that: (1) the materials cited by the non-moving party do not establish the presence of a genuine dispute, or (2) that the non-moving party cannot produce admissible evidence to support its fact(s). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The moving party may discharge its burden by "pointing out to the district court" the "absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case" when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof for the claim in question. Conoshenti v. Public Service Elec. & Gas Co, ...