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Johnston v. City of Pittsburgh

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 27, 2014

CITY OF PITTSBURGH, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.


On August 12, 2014, Plaintiffs, Blaine Johnston and Matthew Mazzie filed a Motion for Default Judgment [ECF No. 87] against Defendant Garrett Brown. A hearing on the matter was held on August 27, 2014. See Minute Entry of 8/27/2014 [ECF No. 89].

After careful review of Plaintiffs' Complaint, the testimony presented at the default judgment hearing and the evidence of record, for the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment against Defendant Garrett Brown be granted and the Order set forth below regarding damages be entered against Defendant Brown.


The Complaint in this matter was filed against, inter alia, Defendant Garrett Brown on November 16, 2012. Compl. [ECF No. 1]. Plaintiffs made various attempts to effectuate service on Defendant Brown, and on April 3, 2013, this Court granted Plaintiffs' motion to effectuate service by publication by posting the documents at Defendant Brown's residence. See Order of April 4, 2013 [ECF No. 31]. Default was entered against Defendant Brown by the Clerk on May 13, 2013. See Clerk's Entry of Default [ECF No. 37]. Plaintiffs' civil rights claims were dismissed against the Defendants and the remaining claims against Defendant Johnston are state law claims of assault, battery and malicious prosecution, which this Court will, in the interests of justice and judicial economy, exercise its supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. As the facts of this case have been set forth at length in this Court's Memorandum Opinion on Summary Judgment, they will not be recounted here and are incorporated as if fully set forth herein.[1] See Memorandum Opinion [ECF No. 81].

Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment against Defendant Brown on August 12, 2014 seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A hearing on that motion was held on August 27, 2014 at which Plaintiff Johnston was in attendance and presented testimony and evidence in support of his claim for damages. Plaintiff Mazzie was not in attendance at the hearing and no testimony was submitted on his behalf.

At the hearing, Plaintiff Johnston testified that he incurred economic damages in the amount of $302.00-$150.00 attributable to court reporter costs and $152 attributable to parking costs - in connection with this case and the charges filed against him in state court. Additionally, he testified that he suffered from sleep deprivation, anxiety attacks, nausea and vomiting and complications to an aneurism as a result of the road rage incident, the false charges filed against him, and attending the preliminary hearing for those charges. He also testified that he suffered emotional distress as a result of Defendant Brown's actions.

Plaintiff Mazzie offered no evidence as to any economic damages, bodily harm or emotional distress he endured as a result of Defendant Brown's conduct.

Plaintiffs also seek punitive damages against Defendant Brown for his extreme and outrageous conduct displayed during the road rage incident. It is undisputed that Defendant Brown used his vehicle, a pick-up truck, to overtake Plaintiffs' vehicle numerous times, threw a handful of coins at Plaintiffs' vehicle, exited his vehicle in an irate manner yelling profanities at Plaintiffs, punched and broke the driver's side mirror and window and the back of the truck, opened the driver's side door and violently grabbed Plaintiff Johnston on his left arm, and drove his pick-up truck into the side of Plaintiffs' vehicle pushing Plaintiffs' vehicle off of the road.

Compensatory damages may be awarded for intentional torts with or without proof of pecuniary loss. See generally Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 905-906. This includes "compensation for bodily harm and for emotional distress." Id. at § 905; Little v. York Cnty. Earned Income Tax Bureau, 481 A.2d 1194, 1197-98 (Pa.Super. 1984). Additionally, punitive damages "may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others." Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 747 (Pa. 1984) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908). "As the name suggests, punitive damages are penal in nature and are proper only in cases where the defendant's actions are so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton or reckless conduct." Empire Trucking Co., Inc. v. Reading Anthracite Coal, Co., 71 A.3d 923, 937 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citing SHV Coal, Inc. v. Continental Grain Co., 587 A.2d 702, 704 (Pa. 1991)). When imposing punitive damages, the actor's state of mind "is vital. The act... must be intentional, reckless or malicious." Id. (quoting Feld, 485 A.2d at 748). Here, the conduct displayed by Defendant Brown's during the road rage incident was certainly intentional and reckless and arguably malicious such that punitive damages are appropriate.

Accordingly, based upon the undisputed facts and the testimony presented at the hearing, it is respectfully recommended that the following Order be entered:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment is GRANTED as follows:

1. Plaintiff Blaine Johnston has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant is liable to Plaintiff Johnston for assault, battery and malicious prosecution and caused Plaintiff economic damages in the amount of $302.00. Additionally, the Court finds that Plaintiff Johnston is entitled to an amount of ...

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