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Ridge v. Campbell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 5, 2014

LUTHER T. RIDGE, JR., Plaintiff,
THOMAS R. CAMPBELL, individually and in his official capacity; COREY L. BRITCHER, individually and in his official capacity; DAVID R. KELLER, individually and in his official capacity; and JAMES MULLER, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this section 1983 civil rights action, Plaintiff has sued a county sheriff for knowingly arresting him on a closed warrant in violation of, inter alia, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Presently before the court is the sheriff's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 26.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion in its entirety.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

Proceeding in this matter pro se, Plaintiff, Luther T. Ridge, commenced this action on June 12, 2013 by filing a complaint, naming as defendants two waterway conservation officers for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge, and James Muller ("Sheriff Muller"), the Sheriff of Adams County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, p. 1.) All of the defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the court granted by memorandum and order on October 25, 2013. (Docs. 19 & 20.) However, the court provided Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint only with respect to his allegations against Sheriff Muller within fifteen days. ( Id. ) No such amended complaint was filed, and an order closing the case was entered on January 9, 2014. (Doc. 22.) On January 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion for an extension of time to file an amended complaint, wherein he claimed that he had not received the court's October 25, 2014 order. (Doc. 23.) The court reopened the case and granted Plaintiff an extension of time until January 31, 2014, to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 24.)

Plaintiff filed his amended complaint against Sheriff Muller on January 31, 2014. (Doc. 25.) In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged violations of his First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and Article 1 Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.[1] A fair reading of the complaint also includes an alleged violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizures. On February 20, 2014, Sheriff Muller filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim (Doc. 26) and a brief in support (Doc. 27). On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 28), and Sheriff Muller filed a reply brief on March 17, 2014 (Doc. 29). On June 11, 2014, the court converted the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) because the motion relied on matters outside the complaint in the nature of incident reports and sheriff's office procedures. (Doc. 30.) In compliance with the court's order, on July 30, 2014, Sheriff Muller filed a statement of material facts and supplemental brief in support of the motion for summary judgment (converted from the motion to dismiss). (Docs. 33 & 34.)

According to the June 11, 2014 order, Plaintiff was to file his response, if any, pursuant to applicable federal and local rules. (Doc. 30.) On August 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed a document titled, "Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. 35.) The document is nearly identical to Plaintiff's response to Sheriff Muller's motion to dismiss ( compare Doc. 28 with Doc. 35), and fails to comply with Local Rule 56.1, see M.D. Pa. 56.1. Significantly, the document reads as a brief in opposition rather than as a brief for summary judgment. Accordingly, the court will treat it as an opposition to Sheriff Muller's motion for summary judgment.[2]

Recognizing the likelihood that the court would treat the document as an opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Sheriff Muller filed a reply brief on August 22, 2014. (Doc. 36.) Thus, this matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

B. Factual History

The following facts are undisputed or, where disputed, reflect Plaintiff's version of facts in the record, pursuant to this court's duty to view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

As a method to expedite the warrant service process, the Adams County Sheriff's Office ("ACSO"), located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania, utilizes a "Sign and Release Process, " whereby an individual who has been issued a warrant for failing to appear in court may contact the ACSO and complete a "Temporary Release From Bench Warrant Detainer" form ("Release Form") to guarantee his appearance in court at a later date. ( See Doc. 33-7, pp. 3-4 of 4.) By signing the Release Form, the individual acknowledges his understanding that, "pursuant to authority granted by the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County[, ] the Sheriff is hereby releasing [him] from custody with specific directions to appear on [a specified date] at [a specified time] in the Sheriff's Office and to answer for his failure to appear." (Doc. 33-7, p. 4 of 4.)

On February 19, 2013, a bench warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest due to his failure to appear on February 12, 2013 for a Gagnon I hearing at the Adams County Courthouse. On February 23, 2013, after receiving notice of the warrant, Plaintiff reported to the ACSO and completed a Release Form, which directed him to appear at the Adams County Courthouse on February 28, 2013, for a hearing on the bench warrant. ( See Doc. 33, ΒΆΒΆ 3-4; Doc. 25, p. 2.) Upon completing the form, Plaintiff was assured by the ACSO that no further action would be taken pursuant to the warrant. (Doc. 25, p. 2.) On February 26, 2013, an entry was placed on the docket of the underlying criminal case indicating that the bench warrant for failure to appear had been "Returned Served-Closed." (Doc. 25, p. 5 of 5.)

On February 28, 2013, Plaintiff appeared at the Adams County Courthouse for his scheduled hearing. He attempted to enter the Courthouse at approximately 7:37 a.m., but was denied access because the courthouse did not open to the public until 8 a.m. (Doc. 33-3, p. 4 of 5; see Doc. 25, p. 2; Doc. 35, p. 2 of 21.) Plaintiff was instructed to depart the building and wait outside.[3] (Doc. 33, p. 4 of 5; Doc. 35, p. 2 of 21.) As Plaintiff sat in his vehicle, several uniformed sheriff's deputies approached, told him they had a warrant for his arrest, and placed him in handcuffs. (Doc. 25, p. 2; Doc. 35, p. 3 of 21.) Plaintiff was then taken to a holding cell, where Sheriff Muller attended to a cut on Plaintiff's wrist from ...

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