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Scheller v. Point Township

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 6, 2014



MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.


This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arises out of the prosecution of Benjamin Scheller for the alleged rape of Tammy Lahr ("Victim"). Plaintiff, Scheller, brings suit against Point Township, Point Township Police Chief Joshua Van Kirk, and former Policeman Wade Lytle for a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from malicious prosecution and false imprisonment, a Monell claim against Point Township, a § 1983 conspiracy claim against Van Kirk and Lytle, and related state law claims for malicious abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

On January 19, 2012, Victim reported to Van Kirk that Plaintiff had sexually assaulted and raped her on November 27, 2011. On March 4, 2012, Lytle interviewed Victim and then on March 13, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested with bail set at $250, 000. The offences on the criminal complaint were: 1) Rape - by forcible compulsion, 2) Sexual Assault, 3) Aggravated Indecent Assault - by forcible compulsion, 4) Indecent Assault - by forcible compulsion, 5) Terroristic Threats - to commit violence, 6) Unlawful Restraint - for servitude, 7) Simple Assault - intentional, 8) Simple Assault - fear by physical menace, and 9) False Imprisonment. According to the criminal complaint, Counts 5, 6, and 9 occurred during the course of the crime of rape. On April 25, 2012, Plaintiff was held over for court on the above charges, and on May 21, 2012, the Information was filed. On February 4, 2013, Plaintiff plead guilty to charges 5-9, while charges 1-4 were nolle prossed.

Meanwhile, on October 30, 2012, Lytle was placed on administrative leave and subsequently terminated from Point Township Police Department on November 5, 2012. Plaintiff alleges that Lytle had a romantic interest with Victim, and included the felony charges (charges 1-3) to ensure that Plaintiff would be unable to post bail. Plaintiff further alleges that Van Kirk's animus towards Plaintiff led him to participate in the conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of his rights.

Plaintiff filed suit on April 8, 2013 and was promptly confronted with a Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint and the first Motion to Dismiss was found moot.

Defendants then jointly filed a Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, which Plaintiff opposed. On November 11, 2013, Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt issued a Report and Recommendation to grant Defendants' Motion and Dismiss the Complaint with prejudice, finding that probable cause existed as found by the state magistrate. The Report and Recommendation also discussed and found that Plaintiff did not satisfy the favorable termination requirement laid out by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation, arguing that Heck was not applicable, that the claim does not attack the validity of the underlying conviction, that a state judge's finding of probable cause is not binding upon this Court, and that the Report and Recommendation improperly decided findings of fact at this stage of the litigation. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's objections are overruled and the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice as required by Heck.


Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation should be adopted in part as far as it finds Plaintiff's § 1983 claims barred by the U.S. Supreme Court's favorable termination rule in Heck v. Humphrey . The report and recommendation goes on to find that probable cause existed to defeat Count I of the complaint, but this Court does not need to reach that issue. Plaintiff did not object to the dismissal of his Monell claim against Point Township, but this Court also will dismiss Count II without prejudice unless and until Plaintiff can satisfy Heck 's favorable termination requirement.

In Heck, the U.S. Supreme Court held that

in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.

Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. This rule prevents a collateral attack on a state criminal conviction by requiring a showing that the state proceedings terminated favorably for the plaintiff.

In the matter at hand, Plaintiff asserts favorable termination because the felony charges were "voluntarily dismissed" by the district attorney, but public records produced by Defendants show that Plaintiff also plead guilty to five of the charges.[1] To determine whether Plaintiff's § 1983 clam is cognizable, this Court "must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff ...

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