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Thompson v. Petrof

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 12, 2014

DIANNE M. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW PETROF, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

This civil action arises out of an incident occurring in the early morning hours of October 31, 2009 which culminated in Defendant Matthew Petrof, a Pennsylvania State Trooper, arresting Plaintiff Dianne M. Thompson for driving under the influence of alcohol. Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, in relevant part, that Defendant violated her Fourth Amendment rights by arresting her and subjecting her to chemical testing without probable cause.[1]

The case was originally assigned to United States District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin. Following a four-day jury trial, Judge McLaughlin entered judgment in favor of the Defendant (ECF No. 59). The case was transferred to the undersigned on August 28, 2013.[2]

Currently pending in this case is the Plaintiff's motion to alter or amend the judgment and for a new trial (ECF No. 62). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion will be denied.[3]

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[4]

Plaintiff is the owner of the Corner Bar & Grill located in Bradford, Pennsylvania. (Trial Tr. vol. 6, p. 3 Oct. 24, 2012, ECF No. 75.)[5] At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Plaintiff's brother, Don Cummins, was a member of the Bradford Township Board of Supervisors, and her other brother, Bob Cummins, was a local contractor. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 19-20, Oct. 22, 2012 ECF No. 70.)

On June 6, 2009 and again on August 21, 2009, the local Bradford newspaper published guest commentaries written, respectively, by Don and Bob Cummins. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 24-25, 35; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 26, 26A, 29.) Both commentaries were critical of the practices then being employed by the Pennsylvania State Police operating within the Bradford area. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 24-25, 35-36; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 26, 26A, 29.) Trooper Petrof was among the Pennsylvania State Police officers stationed in the Kane Barracks and assigned to the Bradford area during this time. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 25, 39-40.) It is undisputed that, as of October 31, 2009, Trooper Petrof was acquainted with the Plaintiff and her brothers, knew that Plaintiff owned the Corner Bar & Grill, and was also aware of the guest commentaries written by the Cummins brothers. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 19-20, 24-25, 31, 35-36, ECF No. 70; id. at pp. 64-66, ECF No. 70-1.)

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 2009, Plaintiff was operating her vehicle after having left the Corner Bar & Grill. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, p. 3; Trial Tr. vol. 2, p. 49, Oct. 23, 2012, ECF No. 71; Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 4-7 Oct. 24, 2012, ECF No. 75.) Plaintiff had not consumed any alcoholic beverages throughout the day, there was no alcohol present in her vehicle, and her blood alcohol content was zero. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, p. 13; vol. 6, pp. 5-6, 12, 25.)

As the Plaintiff drove home, she was observed by Trooper Petrof stopping at a yellow flashing light for a prolonged period of time and tossing a lighted cigarette butt out of her car window. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 4, 7, 9; Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 9-10; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 9.) Based on these observations, Trooper Petrof signaled for Plaintiff to pull over, unaware at first that Plaintiff was the driver of the vehicle. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 16-19, 21-22; vol. 6, p. 11; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 15, 15A.)

Upon approaching the Plaintiff's car, Trooper Petrof stated that the Plaintiff was emitting a slight odor of alcohol and that she appeared to have bloodshot and glassy eyes. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 20-21, 38; vol. 6, pp. 11-13.) Plaintiff contends she denied smelling of alcohol or having consumed any alcohol that day. (Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 11-12.)

Trooper Petrof ordered Plaintiff out of the car and directed her to perform several field sobriety tests - namely, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the heel-to-toe walk, and the one-legged stand, each of which Plaintiff either refused to perform or failed to complete successfully. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 10-11, 28-30, 35, 45, ECF No. 70; id. at pp. 67-69, ECF. No. 70-1; Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 31, 34, 50, ECF No. 71; Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 14-15, ECF No. 75; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 9.) Trooper Petrof then attempted to administer a Portable Breathalyzer Test (PBT), but Plaintiff refused to comply because she did not trust that Defendant would administer the test accurately. (Trial Tr. vol. 2, p. 33, ECF No. 71; id. at p. 51, ECF No. 71-1; Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 15-16.)

Plaintiff was subsequently handcuffed and taken to the Bradford Regional Medical Center for a blood draw. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 40, 50; Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 39, 51-52; Trial Tr. vol. 6, p. 19.) After the results came back negative for alcohol, Plaintiff was re-handcuffed, transported back to her vehicle, and released. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 44, 47, 50, ECF No. 70; id. at pp. 53, 56, ECF No. 70-1; Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 40-41, 53.)

Several days later, Trooper Petrof issued citations against Plaintiff for remaining stationary too long at the yellow flashing light and for littering. (Trial. Tr. vol. 1, pp. 16-18; Pl.'s Trial Ex. 15, 15A.) The matter eventually proceeded to a summary trial before a district justice, and Plaintiff was found not guilty of the summary offenses. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 16-18.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This lawsuit was commenced on May 19, 2010 with the filing of Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1), which alleged numerous causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §1983.[6] At the conclusion of pretrial proceedings, Plaintiffs only remaining claims were her Fourth Amendment claims premised upon her allegedly unlawful arrest and blood draw. At trial, the central issues in dispute were: (1) whether the arrest and blood draw were supported by probable cause and (2) whether Plaintiff had consented to the arrest and chemical testing.

The Defendant's theory at trial was that Plaintiff had attempted to orchestrate an unlawful arrest because of the animosity which she and her family members felt with regard to the State Police, Trooper Petrof testified that Plaintiff had initially exhibited numerous signs of impairment, to wit, she was emitting a "slight" or faint" odor of alcohol, she exhibited glassy eyes and thick speech, she was non-responsive when asked if she had been drinking alcohol, and she appeared either unable or unwilling to properly perform the standard field sobriety tests. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 27-31, 36-38, 66-68; Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 33-34, 49-50, 61-62; Pl.'s Ex. 6.) Despite these signs, Trooper Petrof testified that he had doubts about whether Plaintiff was legally drunk; he thought she might be deliberately failing to perform the field sobriety tests, but he could not be sure without the benefit of chemical testing. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 62-64, 69-70; vol. 2, pp. 31-34, 69-70.) Trooper Petrof then attempted to administer the PBT but Plaintiff refused and indicated that she did not trust him, considered him a "liar, " and wanted to be taken for a blood test. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 30, 62; vol. 2, pp. 33-34, 51-52.) At that point, Trooper Petrof sent Plaintiff back to her car while he contacted his supervising officer as he was required to do when dealing with individuals who were connected in some way to the adverse news articles. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 11-12, 30-32, 38-40.) After speaking with his supervising officer and confirming that he would transport the Plaintiff for chemical testing, Trooper Petrof awaited transport assistance from the Bradford city police while Plaintiff continued to wait in her car. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 12, 14, 40; Trial Tr. vol. 2, p. 60.) Upon the arrival of the Bradford city police cruiser, Plaintiff was handcuffed, placed in that cruiser, and taken to the Bradford Regional Medical Center, where she underwent a blood test. (Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 59-60, 70.)

Concerning the issue of consent, Trooper Petrof posited that Plaintiff had essentially engineered her own arrest by pretending to be intoxicated and/or by insisting that she be taken to the hospital for chemical testing. (Trial Tr. vol. 1, pp. 62-63, 69; Trial Tr. vol. 2, p. 29.) Trooper Petrof variously described Plaintiff's words as "requesting" or "demanding" that she be taken to the hospital. (Trial Tr. vol. 1 pp. 62, 69; Trial Tr. vol. 2, pp. 51-52.)

Plaintiff's theory at trial was that Trooper Petrof is an overly zealous officer who falsely claimed to have detected an odor of alcohol in an attempt to manufacture grounds for an arrest that was not supported by probable cause. Plaintiff denied consuming or coming into contact with alcohol at any point during the day leading up to her arrest, and she also denied exhibiting signs of intoxication. (Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 5-6, 12, 27-28.) She testified that, upon being pulled over, she attempted to explain to Trooper Petrof that the reason for her delay at the yellow flashing light was that her dog had knocked over the contents of her purse onto the floor of her car and she had paused at the light to pick them up; however, Trooper Petrof was not interested in the explanation. (Id. at pp. 9, 12-13, 51.) Plaintiff further testified that, when confronted by Trooper Petrof about an alleged odor of alcohol, she adamantly denied having consumed any alcohol beverages and further denied that she could be emitting any odor of alcohol. (Id. at 11-13.) At that point, Plaintiff claims, Trooper Petrof replied that she was either drunk or on drugs, which was untrue. (Id. at 13.)

Plaintiff explained that she could not perform the HGN properly because Trooper Petrof had failed to demonstrate the test clearly. (Trial Tr. vol. 6, pp. 14-15.) She stated that she had difficulty with the walk-and-turn because of the fact that she was required to attempt that test on an inclined surface. (Id. at 15.) She claimed that she did not complete the one-legged stand because she perceived that Trooper Petrof was terminating the test and did not want her to continue. (Id. at 15.) Plaintiff testified that she refused the PBT because she did not trust that Trooper Petrof would administer the test accurately. (Id. at 16.) She claimed that she eventually submitted to the blood draw only because she believed that a refusal would result in a one-year license suspension. Plaintiff described the incident as follows:

When Trooper Petrof first asked me to take the test and I refused, he went on to explain to me how important the test was, and I listened to what he had to say. And I again refused the test. I said I'm not taking that test. He came at me with the test again, and I said no. He went on to talk to me about the test. I think the other officer in the patrol car [Trooper Palmer]... had come out of the car, he came up to where Officer Petrof and I were.
Q. How close did Trooper Palmer get to you, I mean the jury can look at it on the film?
A. I think he was about six feet away at that point, maybe closer, four to six feet away.
***
A. So, again, I had refused to take the PBT test. Four times he came at me with that and I had kept backing up, saying to him I'm not going to take that test. I do not want to take that test. It finally ended up that I was against the back of the car and he was still shoving this test in my face. And I went like this (indicating), I said I'm not taking that test.
THE COURT: I'm sorry, you say you went like what?
THE WITNESS: I made a motion with my hands like this (indicating). That I just wasn't going to do it. But at the same time I didn't want to lose my license for a year. So I had asked him questions about losing my license for a year. If I didn't take that test, would I lose my license. And this kind of conversation went back and forth for a little bit. How important the test was, I should take it, and I'm not going to take it. And he just kept getting angrier and angrier. Finally I just stood at the back of the car until he was finished. And then my concern at that point was that I not lose my license for a year. I didn't understand at that time that you could take a PBT test, and then you had to go and get a blood test, I had never been through it before, I thought it was one or the other. Either you take the machine that you blow in or you go get a blood test. Apparently I was wrong, you could blow into the machine, and then you go get a blood test. I didn't have a clue about that. So after this went on for quite sometime [sic] at the back of the car, I said, officer Petrof, I am not going to ...

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