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Clouser v. Johnson

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 25, 2014

TODD JOHNSON, et al., Defendants

Page 426

Nathan W. Clouser, Plaintiff, Pro se, White Deer, PA.

For Todd Johnson, Regis Vogle, Defendants: Joshua M. Autry, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lavery Faherty Patterson, Harrisburg, PA; Frank J. Lavery , Jr., Lavery, Faherty, Young & Patterson, P.C., Harrisburg, PA; Lisa W. Basial, Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Civil Litigation Section, Harrisburg, PA.

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Christopher C. Conner, Chief United States District Judge.

In the above-captioned civil rights litigation, pro se plaintiff Nathan W. Clouser (" Clouser" ) asserts a variety of claims arising from the pre-indictment investigative activities of Dauphin County Drug Task Force (" DTF" ) officers Todd Johnson (" Johnson" ) and Regis Vogel (" Vogel" ) in United States v. Clouser, No. 1:11-CR-00282, and Clouser's guilty plea to the resulting charges. The court notes relevantly that Clouser neither attempted to withdraw nor appealed his guilty plea and acceded to the sentence imposed in that case. Presently before the court in the above-captioned matter are defendants' motion (Doc. 93) for summary judgment based on Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), the report (Doc. 110) of Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab, recommending the court grant in part and deny in part said motion, and the objections (Docs. 112-13) of both parties to Judge Schwab's report. Defendants also appeal Judge Schwab's order (Doc. 111) granting plaintiff's motion (Doc. 74) to compel production of certain evidence. (See Doc. 115). For the reasons that follow, the court will adopt in part and reject in part the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and deny defendants' appeal.

I. Background

A. Factual Background & Procedural History[1]

The factual background of this matter is largely undisputed.[2] DTF officer Johnson submitted an application for a search warrant for Clouser's residence on March 14, 2011. (Doc. 96 ¶ 1). In the affidavit, Johnson stated that he had known Clouser for years " and assisted in his arrest and conviction for manufacturing 'Molly' (MDMA)[3] in 2003." (Id. ¶ 2). Defendants acknowledge that this information is inaccurate, and that Clouser was not charged with manufacturing Molly in 2003, but rather pled guilty to delivery of heroin and escape in 2003. (See id. ¶ 3). Clouser did not plead guilty to delivery of " Molly" until 2006. (See id. ¶ 4). In his affidavit of probable cause, officer Johnson noted, inter alia, that Clouser and his girlfriend were known heroin addicts, that Clouser

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told a confidential informant that he was in the process of ordering chemicals from China for the production of fentanyl, and that the informant discovered and copied a list of chemicals from Clouser's e-mail which he gave to Johnson. (Id. ¶ 5). According to the affidavit, Johnson's contact at the Drug Enforcement Administration (" DEA" ) confirmed that the chemicals were component ingredients for the production of fentanyl. (Id.) Johnson also detailed the results of a search warrant executed on Clouser's Yahoo! email account and information received from chemical lab suppliers, both of which indicated that Clouser had been ordering the chemical components of fentanyl. (Id.) Based on the affidavit, a judge approved the warrant application on March 14, 2011. (Id. ¶ 7).

Vogel and Johnson, in addition to other DTF officers, DEA officers, and members of the Pennsylvania State Police (" PSP" ), executed the search warrant on March 15, 2011. (Id. ¶ 8). Officers took Clouser into custody immediately upon entry and advised him of his Miranda rights. (Id. ¶ 9). When the search was completed, Clouser was placed under arrest for existing bench warrants and again read his Miranda rights. (Id. ¶ 11). DTF officers transported Clouser to Central Booking in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, where he was arraigned and remanded to Dauphin County Prison in lieu of bail. (Id. ¶ 12). Also on March 15, 2011, based on evidence found during the search of Clouser's residence, Johnson filed a police criminal complaint requesting a warrant for Clouser's arrest; the warrant issued the same day. (Id. ¶ ¶ 17-19). Clouser contends that Johnson's false statements in the search warrant and arrest warrant applications violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

On March 17, 2011, Clouser met with an intake person from the Dauphin County Public Defender's office and filled out paperwork formally requesting a public defender. (Id. ¶ 20). Clouser was never informed that a public defender had been assigned to his case. (Id. ¶ 21). On March 29, 2011, pursuant to an earlier PSP request, United States Postal Inspector Joseph Corrado intercepted and gave to Johnson a package addressed to Clouser which originated from China. (Id. ¶ 23). That same day, Clouser was transported from Dauphin County Prison to Dauphin County Criminal Investigation Division (" DCCID" ) offices at Johnson's request. (Id. ¶ 24). Johnson asked Clouser whether an attorney had yet been appointed to represent him, and Clouser said no. (See id. ¶ 25; Doc. 1 at 3). Johnson contacted the Public Defender's Office and was informed that no attorneys were available, and he relayed that information to Clouser. (Id. ¶ ¶ 26-28). Johnson then pressed Clouser to consent to a search of the U.S. Postal Service package intercepted by Inspector Corrado. (See id. ¶ ¶ 28-29; Doc. 1 at 5). Clouser signed the forms and consented to the search. (Id. ¶ 29). Defendants note that a United Parcel Service (" UPS" ) package sent to Clouser from Elemental Scientific, LLC, in Wisconsin was also intercepted as part of their investigation; Clouser never consented to a search of the UPS package, and it remains unopened in a Dauphin County evidence locker. (Id. ¶ 31-33).

On October 5, 2011, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Clouser with one count of manufacturing, distributing, and possessing with intent to manufacture and distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1) and 846. See United States v. Clouser, No. 1:11-CR-00282, Doc. 1. On January 23, 2012, the government filed a superseding information charging Clouser with two counts of

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use of a communication facility in the commission of a felony drug offense. Id. at Doc. 23. Clouser pled guilty to both counts on January 24, 2012, see id. at Doc. 39, and contemporaneously withdrew his pre-trial motion to suppress evidence which raised many of the arguments he now reasserts. See id. at Docs. 24-25. On June 11, 2012, Clouser was sentenced to forty-eight (48) months imprisonment on each count, to be served consecutively. Id. at Doc. 48. Clouser never directly appealed or collaterally challenged his conviction or sentence.

B. Procedural History

Clouser filed a complaint (Doc. 1) initiating this action on September 19, 2012. Clouser's complaint asserts a number of civil rights claims pursuant to the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments against defendants Johnson, Vogel, and John Goshert (" Goshert" ) arising from the investigation that ultimately led to his conviction in United States v. Clouser, No. 1:11-CR-00282. On January 22, 2013, the court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Schwab for pretrial management. Following Rule 12 motion practice, the following claims remain: (1) a Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claim against Johnson arising from the March 15, 2011 search of Clouser's home; (2) a Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claim against Johnson arising from the March 29, 2011 search and seizure of the Chinese package; (3) a Fourth Amendment claim against Johnson for false imprisonment and arrest from April 10, ...

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