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Brown v. Borough

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 23, 2014

TAHZAY M. BROWN
v.
DARBY BOROUGH, POLICE OFFICER KATHERINE REARDON, POLICE OFFICER ERIN BROWN, POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY SALVATORE and POLICE OFFICER PAUL McGRENERA

For TAHZAY M. BROWN, Plaintiff: KENNETH L. MIRSKY, LEAD ATTORNEY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For DARBY BOROUGH, POLICE OFFICER KATHERINE REARDON, POLICE OFFICER ERIN BROWN, POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY SALVATORE, POLICE OFFICER PAUL MCGRENERA, Defendants: ROBERT P. DIDOMENICIS, LEAD ATTORNEY, HOLSTEN & ASSOCIATES, MEDIA, PA.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE, J.

In moving to dismiss the amended complaint, the defendant police officers argue that because the plaintiff pleaded guilty to two of the six criminal offenses with which he was charged, his § 1983 claim based on malicious prosecution is barred by the Heck v. Humphrey doctrine and he has not stated a claim.[1] We conclude that because Brown was convicted of two offenses, he cannot demonstrate that the criminal proceedings ended in his favor -- an essential element of a § 1983 malicious prosecution cause of action. Because we decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction on his remaining claims under state law, we shall grant the motion to dismiss.

The facts alleged in the amended complaint, which we must accept as true, recite the history of this case. Brown alleges that on February 18, 2013, he was a lawful resident of 611 Walnut Street in Darby, Pennsylvania[2] when the defendant police officers entered the property without an arrest or search warrant.[3] At that time, the officers had no information concerning ownership of the property or the plaintiff.[4] In sum, he asserts that the " defendant police officers did not have any reasonable grounds for believing that [he] was committing or had committed any offense." [5]

The police arrested and charged Brown with burglary, criminal trespass, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.[6] Because he was unable to post the bail set by a magisterial district judge, Brown was taken to the county prison.[7] Nine days later, on February 27, 2013, bail was reduced and he was released.[8] Later, at a preliminary hearing on April 24, 2013, Brown pleaded guilty to two summary offenses, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. The felony charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.[9]

In moving to dismiss the amended complaint, the defendants contend that Brown's federal claims are barred by the Heck doctrine. They also argue that he has not stated malicious prosecution and false arrest causes of action under Pennsylvania law.

Federal Claims

To state a claim for malicious prosecution under § 1983, Brown must allege that: (1) the defendant police officers initiated a criminal proceeding against him; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor; (3) the defendant police officers lacked probable cause; (4) they acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing him to justice; and (5) as a consequence of the proceeding, he suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of a seizure. Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

To satisfy the favorable termination element of his malicious prosecution claim, Brown must show that his criminal case ended in a way that indicates his innocence. In most cases, an acquittal or dismissal of less than all the charges is not a " favorable termination." Thus, because Brown pleaded guilty to two of the six charged offenses, we shall begin our analysis by considering whether he can satisfy the second element of his cause of action -- whether the criminal proceedings ended in his favor -- before addressing the Heck issue.

In conducting the favorable termination analysis, we must examine the entirety of the criminal proceeding to determine whether the judgment indicates the plaintiff's innocence. We look to the statutory elements of the crimes charged and the facts of the case. Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 187 (3d Cir. 2009). The focus is on the " underlying conduct that the charges sought to punish." Id. at 189. The charges need not share common elements. But, they must arise from the same conduct. Where the plaintiff is convicted of some, but not all, charges arising from the same conduct, he cannot satisfy the favorable termination element. Id. at 188.

The charges against Brown arise out of the same conduct. He was arrested for occupying another's property in a reckless and dangerous manner. The elements of each of the charged offenses related to the same conduct. Although some of the charges were dismissed as a result of his plea agreement, Brown pleaded guilty to others. The dismissal of the charges was not the result of a declaration of innocence, but rather a part of his plea bargain. Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 580 (3d Cir. 1996) (stating " [a] prosecutor's decision to withdraw criminal charges pursuant to a compromise with the accused is not considered a [favorable termination]").[10] Thus, he cannot establish a favorable termination necessary to support a malicious prosecution claim.

Brown's conviction for his two offenses also implicates the Heck doctrine. Under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), a plaintiff is barred from bringing a constitutional claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if a judgment in his favor would demonstrate or imply the invalidity of a criminal conviction. Id. at 486-87. See also Torres v. Fauver, 292 F.3d 141, 147 (3d Cir. 2002). The purpose of the Heck Doctrine is to promote the " finality and consistency" of criminal investigations by avoiding " parallel litigation" and " the creation of two conflicting resolutions arising out of the same or identical transaction." Heck, 512 U.S. at 484-85 (citations omitted).

To determine whether a claim is barred by Heck, we engage in a two-part inquiry. We first determine whether the plaintiff's conviction has been overturned or invalidated. Id. at 486-87. If so, the inquiry ends and the claim is not barred. If not, we ask " whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff ...


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