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Briscoe v. Jackson

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

February 24, 2014




Plaintiffs, a police officer and her sons, have brought a civil rights action against Defendants, the Borough of Upland and two of the Borough’s police officers, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants engaged in an unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment and state law. Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, this motion will be granted with respect to the federal claims, and the remaining state law claims will be dismissed without prejudice, to be refiled in state court.


On the evening of September 19, 2010, Plaintiff, Diane Briscoe (hereinafter “Briscoe”), a police officer with the City of Chester Police Department, [2] along with her two sons, Plaintiffs Jonathan and Alton Briscoe, entered a residential property at 23 Second Street, Upland, Pennsylvania. The owner of the residence, Deborah Robinson, had contacted Briscoe and requested that she conduct a paranormal investigation on the premises. Briscoe had conducted other paranormal investigations in the past, and agreed to do so for Robinson. Robinson provided Briscoe with a key and granted her permission to enter the home. (Diane Briscoe Dep., Doc. No. 13-2, pp. 39-43, 50-51.) While it should be self-evident that paranormal investigations are not conducted as part of normal police practices, to be clear, Briscoe was not present at this residence as part of her duties as a police officer, but was instead on a private business assignment.

The property at 23 Second Street had recently suffered damage from a fire and had been deemed uninhabitable by the Borough of Upland. (Officer Jackson Dep., Doc. No. 13-8, p. 13.)[3]Accordingly, no one was permitted to enter the residence between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., and the Borough of Upland placed notices of the restriction on the entrances to the home. (Doc. No. 13-4.) While Robinson had informed Briscoe that the home had sustained a fire, she did not inform her that no one was permitted in the home at night. (Deborah Robinson Dep., Doc. No. 13-3, pp. 16-17.) The parties agree that the condemnation notices that had been posted at the property by the Borough had been partially removed, although there is some dispute as to whether any legible part of the notice remained on the night in question. (Diane Briscoe Dep., pp. 43-44; Officer Jackson Dep., pp. 13-14.)

Diane, Jonathan and Alton Briscoe entered Robinson’s home for the paranormal investigation sometime after 7:00 p.m. on September 19, 2010. They were accompanied by two other individuals, Joanna Melnyk and Michael Miller, who are not parties to this action. (Diane Briscoe Dep., pp. 60-61.) Around 8:00 that evening, one of Robinson’s neighbors, who knew that the home had been deemed uninhabitable, noticed someone in the back of the house and directed his wife to call the police. (DeViato Dep., Doc. No. 13-7, pp. 10-12.)

Defendants, Officers Jackson and Carr of Upland’s Police Department, were on special detail on the night in question due to a number of recent burglaries in the Borough. (Officer Carr Dep., Doc. No. 13-9, p. 8.) The Officers arrived at the scene shortly after receiving the report from the neighbor’s wife that there was a potential burglary in progress. (Officer Jackson Dep., p. 7.) Officer Carr testified at deposition that he had been called to that residence numerous times in the past, and thus was familiar with the identity of the homeowners. (Officer Carr Dep., p. 17.)

The Officers announced their presence at the home, at which point, Briscoe made her way to the front door. (Diane Briscoe Dep., pp. 71-72.) As the door was opened, the Officers had their guns drawn and told Briscoe to lie on the ground. (Id.) While getting on the ground, Briscoe repeatedly stated that she was a police officer and that she was conducting a paranormal investigation. (Id.) The Officers entered the home, which did not have electricity due to the fire, and ordered all other occupants, including Jonathan and Alton Briscoe, to come outside and lie down, also at gun point. (Officer Jackson Dep., pp. 9-10.) Upon entering the house, Officer Jackson noted that there were things strewn about, which he interpreted as evidence of a burglary. (Id. at p. 12.)

The Briscoes were questioned by the Officers in front of the house, and it is undisputed that no one was handcuffed or physically contacted by the Officers, although Briscoe did allow her service weapon to be confiscated. (Diane Briscoe Dep., pp. 76-77, 79.) During the investigation, Briscoe told the Officers numerous times that she was a police officer and that she had the permission of the homeowner to be in the residence. (Id. at pp. 92-93.) Plaintiffs concede that while they were being questioned, Briscoe raised her voice at the Officers, and Alton Briscoe raised his voice and swore at them. (Id. at pp. 72-75, 88.) After approximately twenty to thirty minutes, Plaintiffs were permitted to leave the scene. (Id. at pp. 104-05.)

Plaintiffs acknowledge that, at some point, the fact that Briscoe was a police officer was investigated by Defendants, as she later discovered that a call was made to her chief of police. However, it is also undisputed that no one contacted Robinson to ascertain whether she had given Plaintiffs permission to be in the home, or if she had informed Plaintiffs of the property’s condemned status. (Id. at pp. 22-23; Officer Jackson Dep., p. 13.) The Briscoes were mailed citations following the incident, charging them with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. (Jonathan Briscoe Dep., Doc. No. 13-5, p. 38.) These charges were subsequently dismissed. (Id. at p. 58.)

On September 11, 2012, Plaintiffs initiated the present action, bringing claims for the following: (1) unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officers Jackson and Carr;[4] (2) Monell liability for failure to train, supervise and discipline under section 1983 against Upland Borough; (3) failure to investigate against Officers Jackson and Carr under section 1983; (4) assault and battery against Officers Jackson and Carr; and (5) malicious prosecution under section 1983 and state law against Officers Jackson and Carr. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-37.) On June 4, 2013, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts. The motion is now fully briefed and ready for disposition.


A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment has been made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could rule in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence presented. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). The non-moving party cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or conclusory allegations, but rather must cite to the record. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment, the court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.


Defendants argue that, even accepting all evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, they have not established that an unlawful seizure took place or that any other constitutional right was violated. According to Defendants, Officer Jackson and Officer Carr made an investigative stop at the condemned property, and they had reasonable suspicion to do so. Defendants further argue that there was no failure to investigate that could reach the level of a due process violation, nor was there an assault and battery or malicious prosecution. Alternatively, Defendants assert that, even if a constitutional violation took place, summary judgment should be granted because Officers Jackson and Carr are protected by ...

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