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Deangelo v. Strimel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 21, 2014

DAN STRIMEL in his individual capacity, Defendant.


TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Before the Court are the following: the DEFENDANT'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY (ECF No. 30) filed by Dan Strimel; and PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN OPPOSITION OF APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY (ECF No. 31). Accordingly, the issues have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The actions leadings up to this litigation began sometime around July 2012 when Plaintiff sought to engage in target practice with his firearms on a tract of industrial property he privately owns in North Strabane Township. The 185 foot by 82 foot tract is located approximately five-hundred yards from Interstate 79 North Exit #45, commonly referred to as the "Canonsburg Exit." One side of the land faces I-79, but lies roughly eighty feet below the highway with a sixty-foot tall hillside separating the two areas. The land is accessible only by foot and does not contain any roads, paths, or lanes that allow for ingress or egress. According to Plaintiff, if he were to discharge a firearm projectile toward the direction of the sixty-foot tall hillside, there would be no danger of a ricochet or fragmentation striking any motorist, person, or property.

Sometime before July 2012, Plaintiff contends that he "made arrangements and took all necessary and reasonable precautions to ensure that discharging firearms and engaging in target practice on the land would be done in a safe and reasonable manner." (ECF No. 1 at 4). Among his preparations, Plaintiff examined "all relevant Commonwealth statutes, [ ] local ordinances, and relevant regulations" that govern his intended activities. From his reading, Plaintiff concluded that he was legally permitted to discharge firearms on his land.

Plaintiff likewise attempted to contact law enforcement officials from North Strabane Township and the neighboring Borough of Canonsburg to alert them of his intent to "lawfully discharge firearms" on his property. Plaintiff first attempted to contact Defendant Strimel in July 2012 to place the North Strabane police on notice regarding his target shooting should they receive reports of gunshots in the area. Strimel was unavailable at that time, and Plaintiff left a message requesting a return call. Plaintiff also reached out to Canonsburg Police Department Chief R.T. Bell to make him similarly aware of his intended target shooting given the close proximity between the industrial land and the Borough. During their discussion, Bell stated that he would pass along the information to Strimel who would likely call Plaintiff in the near future.

On August 6, 2012, Strimel contacted Plaintiff by telephone to discuss his intended target shooting. During this call, Strimel allegedly acknowledged that he was unaware of any local ordinances or state laws prohibiting the Plaintiff from target shooting. Strimel nonetheless informed Plaintiff that he would promptly be placed under arrest if he discharged a firearm on his land. Plaintiff attempted to explain that other persons or property would not be placed in any danger due to the precautions in place and the landscape of the property, but apparently to no avail. Strimel instead advised that he would charge Plaintiff with a crime, possibly "Recklessly Endangering Another Person, " irrespective of whether the target shooting was done in a safe and lawful manner. Plaintiff made one final attempt to persuade Strimel that no persons would be endangered; however, Strimel again instructed that he would file charges and retorted that "we will let the courts decide."

Plaintiff thereafter consulted with his counsel of record to evaluate his legal options. Plaintiff's attorney contacted the Solicitor for North Strabane in December 2012 who reiterated Strimel's position that Plaintiff would be criminally charged if he discharged a firearm on the property. This lawsuit followed.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this action on March 19, 2013 by filing a one-count Complaint against Strimel, in his individual and official capacity as Chief of Police of North Strabane Township, and against North Strabane Township (collectively, "Defendants"), in which he alleged municipal liability as well as violations of his Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights and the corresponding provisions set forth in Article I, §§ 8 and 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In response, Defendants filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

By Memorandum Opinion, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss on October 29, 2013. The Court ultimately (1) granted the motion to dismiss (a) all claims alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment and its state-level analog; (b) the official capacity claims against Strimel; and (c) the Monnell claim against North Strabane; (2) denied the motion to dismiss the individual capacity claims arising under the Second Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution; and (3) permitted Plaintiff to file a curative amendment.

Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on December 9, 2013 in which he alleges that Strimel violated his rights secured by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Both theories are once again pled under the umbrella of a single count.

Strimel filed another Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on December 23, 2013, which Plaintiff opposed. The gravamen of the motion was that Strimel-the then-Chief of Police of North Strabane Township-was not a state actor because Plaintiff has brought ...

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