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Lennon v. Sharon Hill Borough

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 10, 2014

JAMES LENNON,
v.
SHARON HILL BOROUGH, et al.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings claims under Section 1983 and state law against police officers and the Borough Sharon Hill for events related to an altercation with police and Plaintiff's subsequent arrest and prosecution for assault, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct. Plaintiff contends these charges were brought without probable cause to cover up a police assault. Defendants move for partial summary judgment.

I. UNDISPUTED FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendants are the Borough of Sharon Hill, Police Chief Robert Tinsley, Police Officer Stephen Mummo, Police Officer John Scanlan, Police Officer Richard Herron, Police Officer Michael Attix, and Thomas Hendrick who was on medical leave from his job in the Borough of Sharon Hill Highway Department.[1]

Plaintiff was working at Malz Hardware Store on December 22, 2010. Defendant Scanlan entered the store to talk with Plaintiff about a series of complaints between Plaintiff and a neighbor. After Scanlan left the store, Plaintiff suffered a panic attack, and was laying on the floor in the back "electrical and bolt" room of the store where his employer, Art Lender, found him and called 911. Mummo heard the call on the police radio, and came into the store. Mummo found Plaintiff lying on the floor, breathing into a paper bag, and engaged in a "scuffle" with Plaintiff. Lender Dep. at 45:11-21. Shortly thereafter Tinsley, Herron and Attix entered the store and engaged in an altercation with Plaintiff.

Eventually, paramedics arrived and Plaintiff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.[2] At the police station Herron, Attix, Tinsley and Mummo discussed the incident and decided to file charges against Plaintiff.[3] Herron drafted an affidavit of probable cause stating that Plaintiff hit Mummo in the chest, pushing him back against the wall, resisted police efforts to subdue him, hitting and kicking several police officers, and "the entire time [he] was yelling obscenities and was saying I'll kill you cops, I'm going to get all of you.'" Pl's Ex. C. Based on this affidavit a warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff was charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats, harassment, recklessly endangering another person, and disorderly conduct.

The following day, Plaintiff returned to work where Herron arrested him.[4] Plaintiff was imprisoned and prosecuted on all charges. A bench trial commenced on October 12, 2011. Before the government concluded its case-in-chief, the parties reached a plea agreement where Plaintiff plead guilty to disorderly conduct and harassment, and the government petitioned the court for nolle prosequi on the remaining charges. Two weeks after this plea agreement Plaintiff had new counsel who appealed the guilty plea. The appellate court granted a new trial, and Plaintiff was acquitted of all charges after a bench trial. Pl's Ex. L.

Plaintiff brings a Section 1983 claim for excessive force and state law claims of assault and battery against Defendant Tinsley. Plaintiff brings claims under Section 1983 and state law for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution against Defendants Tinsley, Mummo, Scanlan, Attix, Herron, and Hendrick. The Complaint also alleges a Monell claim against the Borough of Sharon Hill. Finally, Plaintiff alleges state law claims of conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendants Tinsley, Mummo, Scanlan, Attix, Herron, and Hendrick. Defendants moved for summary judgment, with the exception of the claims for excessive for or assault and battery against Tinsley and the claim of malicious prosecution against Herron.

II. DISPUTED FACTS

Plaintiff has introduced eyewitness testimony from his employer, Art Lender, that Plaintiff never hit, punched or threatened the police officers. Lender Dep. at 46:21-47:1; 49:6-9; 53:9-16; 57:9-58:23. Lender testified that after the police arrived, while Plaintiff was in the midst of a panic attack, Defendant Tinsley went over to Plaintiff "and started arguing with him, " saying "fuck you and fuck your lawyer. I ought to come over there and punch you in the face." Lender Dep. at 53:18-54:12. Then Tinsley "came across the aisle here toward us" and "swung at Mr. Lennon" about two times. Lender Dep. at 54:18-55:3. Lender did not believe the punches connected with Plaintiff. Plaintiff testified that the first punch hit him in the face. Lennon Dep. at 28:20-25. Then "[t]he other officer said to get out" and Tinsley left the store. Lender Dep. at 56:4-12. That was when the medics arrived, evaluated Plaintiff and took him to the hospital. Lender Dep. at 56:15-21.

Plaintiff also produced a video surveillance of the hardware store, but the altercation is not visible in the frame. Plaintiff points to several images in the video that contradict the version of events as recounted in the affidavit of probable cause. In Plaintiff's version of events, Tinsley verbally harassed Plaintiff and punched him in the face, and the individual Defendants then conspired to fabricate false charges against Plaintiff to cover up Tinsley's conduct.

Defendants concede there are disputed material facts on Plaintiff's claims against Tinsley for excessive force and assault and battery, and the claim of malicious prosecution against Herron. Defendants do not seek summary judgment on these claims.

III. ANALYSIS

A district court should grant a motion for summary judgment if the movant can show "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). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id . Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Id. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)).

A. False Arrest and False Imprisonment

Plaintiff contends Defendants fabricated material facts in the affidavit of probable cause in application for the arrest warrant to cover up Tinsley's assault. Plaintiff brings claims for false arrest and false imprisonment without probable cause. Defendants contend only Herron was the affiant, and ...


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